First of all, I will explain the difference between sex addiction and porn addiction as the 2 are very different.
Dr Patrick Carnes was the first person to coin the phrase “sex addict” in his 1983 book “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction”. Then in the first landmark study of sex addicts and their families in the 1980s (summarised in Carne’s 1991 book “Don’t Call it Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction” documenting his work with 1000 sex addicts) Dr Carnes found that those who were neglected, abused, molested or raped as children or who were otherwise exposed to violence and/ or sexually inappropriate behavior at a young age are those most at risk for developing sex addiction. Dr Carnes concluded that sex addicts use sex as a way to self medicate and to numb their psychological pain.
Sex is therefore their PRIMARY drug NOT pornography although pornography is often a huge factor in sex addiction with Dr Carnes reporting that 90% of the men and 77% of the women in his study saying pornography was significant to their addictions. The late Dr Victor Cline too – another expert in sex addiction who treated hundreds of men afflicted with sexual addictions/ sexual compulsions – found that in 94% of the cases he came across, pornography was a contributing factor or direct causal agent in the acquiring of what he called “sexual illnesses.
Pornography addiction on the other hand is a whole different addiction which is present with or without childhood trauma and can lead to escalating sexual behaviors and does as the addiction escalates but this does not make them sex addicts. Porn addiction is a separate addiction in its own right and not a sub set of sex addiction.
The two addictions are very different and need to be treated differently.
Pornography addicts are not hooked on sex. They are hooked on masturbating to virtual people – pixels and not humans in the flesh as those addicted to sex are. Often those addicted to porn end up finding it impossible to get aroused or even develop an erection with real live people and/ or are increasingly found to be virgins and can only become aroused with virtual people.
It can get complicated though to know where one addiction ends and the other begins as nothing in life is that absolute but in the main sex addicts usually have childhood trauma somewhere and sex is their primary addiction and porn addicts are less likely to have childhood trauma as compared to those addicted to sex and masturbating to pornography is their primary addiction.
THE STAGES OF PORN ADDICTION
STAGE 1 – EARLY EXPOSURE
Children are exposed to pornography at a young age and this is nearly always sooner or later accompanied by masturbation as the addiction gets a foot in the door. Pre-Internet, addicts usually found an adult’s “porn stash” (usually their Fathers and usually Playboys) between the ages of about 7 and 13 years but in our post Internet age, children are being exposed from many more places in our mainstream entertainment including music videos and video games – which is often “soft core porn” in nature. It is impossible to estimate at what ages children are being exposed in today’s high speed Internet age – and to what extent – as this is all still playing itself out as our Internet age settles into our culture…
STAGE 2 – ADDICTION
Masturbating to pornography becomes a regular part of life. Addiction has occurred. A person keeps coming back to porn and has to regularly masturbate to it. They’re hooked and can’t get through life without it. They will use it as a pain reliever for coping with life just as an alcoholic uses alcohol to cope with their life.
Dr Norman Doidge – in his book “The Brain Which Changes Itself” – where he discusses how our thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains due to a process called “neuroplasticity” says: “Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension but what they often deliver is addiction, tolerance and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it. The usual view is that an addict goes back for more of their fix because they like the pleasure it gives and doesn’t like the pain of withdrawal. But addicts take drugs when there is no prospect of pleasure, when they know they have an insufficient dose to make them high and will crave more before they begin to withdraw. Wanting and liking are two different things.”
Dr Doidge explains that “addicts experience cravings because their ‘plastic brain’ (related to neuroplasticity) has become sensitized to the drug or the experience. Sensitization leads to increased wanting.” Or in other words: addicts need more and more of the drug to get the same effect. Porn addicts end up building up a tolerance to the content and soon need harder, more violent, graphic and twisted content to get the same effect just as an alcoholic needs stronger and more frequent alcohol to get the same effect as their addiction escalates.
STAGE 3 – ESCALATION
Due to the addict’s need for harder and harder pornography, their addiction deepens and escalates. What porn worked once at getting them fully aroused enough to genitally orgasm now doesn’t even touch the sides and they have to keep upping the ante to even more dangerous and risqué images and videos including scenes involving children and animals. The things addicts end up viewing are usually things they would once have found abhorrent. With the onset of the Internet age, an addict can see more psychologically damaging sexual images in one bender session that their ancestors would have saw in a couple of lifetimes.
It is during this stage too that addicts will also begin having webcam sex, calling sex hotlines and/ or engaging in other types of virtual sex.
STAGE 4 – DESENSITIZATION/ DEHUMUNIZATION
Addicts are now so used to viewing brutal, grotesque and twisted pornography that they become desensitized to it and end up needing even more brutal, grotesque and twisted pornography to keep being surprised enough to develop sufficient arousal to be able to keep masturbating to full genital orgasms. Within that process, they become dehumanized and less and less able to feel empathy – both for performers and/ or animals in porn scenes and those who they are intimately involved with in their personal lives. Part of them shuts off and they become cold and indifferent to the suffering of those they love and the suffering of those on the screens they are viewing. They become dehumanized in the process.
Dr Victor Cline explains that “A frequent side effect (of regularly masturbating to porn) is that it also dramatically reduces (the person’s) capacity to love. Their sexual side becomes – in a sense – dehumanized. Many of them develop an alien ego state (or dark side), whose core is anti-social lust devoid of most values.” In time, the ‘high’ obtained from masturbating to porn becomes more important than real-life relationships. It makes no difference if one is an eminent physician, attorney, minister, athlete, corporate executive, college president, unskilled labourer or an average 15 year old boy. All can be conditioned into deviancy. In my experience as a sexual therapist, any individual who regularly masturbates to pornography is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself into having a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend.”
Dr Cline continues “The process of masturbatory conditioning is inexorable and does not spontaneously remiss. The course of this illness may be slow and is nearly always hidden from view. It is usually a secret part of the man’s life, and like a cancer, it keeps growing and spreading. It rarely ever reverses itself, and it is also very difficult to treat and heal. Denial on the part of the male addict and refusal to confront the problem are typical and predictable, and this almost always leads to marital or couple disharmony, sometimes divorce and sometimes the breaking up of other intimate relationships”
STAGE 5 – ACTING OUT SEXUALLY
In the end, even the most extreme, twisted, violent, grotesque and risqué porn will not be enough to do the trick and the addict will have to start acting out sexually. This may include encouraging an intimate partner to engage in more extreme sexual fantasy behavior; exhibitionism like posting explicit and out of character videos of themselves on Tube sites; inappropriate sexting; infidelity; obscene phone calls; advertising for sex online or offline; inappropriately touching family members of all ages depending upon what kind of porn they have been watching during benders; soliciting prostitutes (and often of the type that is not that person’s sexuality so a straight person may hire a gay or shemale prostitute for example and a gay addict may hire a prostitute of the opposite sex); stalking; sexual abuse of an animal; sexual violence including rape; exposing themselves and even pedophilia when that person is more often but not even a pedophile. Their acting out behavior will more often than not – be related to what porn they have been exposed to and what that porn has encouraged them to fantasize about.