Does Porn Addiction Exist? What About Sex Addiction?

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Does Porn Addiction Exist? What About Sex Addiction?

By Brian Whitney 09/27/15

A recovering sex addict examines recent reports that pornography addiction isn't real.

Image: 
Addicted to porn?
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A new study recently came out that supposedly sheds some light on the issue of porn addiction. Unless you have been living in complete isolation, porn addiction is rather a hot topic right now. With Josh Duggar copping to being a porn addict in the wake of the Ashley Madison scandal, debate on whether or not porn addiction is real has been more prevalent than usual.

Did I just perceive that I had a problem? Speaking for myself, I know this is not true.

Of course, a lot of the problem is the word “addict" in the first place in this context. As a sex addict, who has been to rehab, I have heard many times how sex addiction doesn’t exist. To a degree, I understand that. It certainly is hard to wrap one’s head around the idea that one could be addicted to beating off while staring at a screen, or in my case, to manipulating women and having sex with multiple partners.

According to the study, while one may feel he or she has an addiction to porn, that isn’t the issue at all. What is really happening is that the so-called porn addict just feels like he is addicted to porn, which then causes him to be anxious and distressed psychologically. So, in essence, it isn’t the porn itself, it is that the person feels so badly about himself because he watches porn that is the problem.

The study was published in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Roughly 2,000 adults were surveyed about their pornography use. They were also surveyed about whether they felt that their use constituted addictive behavior, as well as their anxiety and mental distress about their use. The researchers stated, “Collectively, these findings suggest that perceived addiction to Internet pornography, but not pornography use itself, is uniquely related to the experience of psychological distress.”  

Of course, this has far reaching implications, not just for porn addiction, but for all types of addiction. “Hey man, the problem isn’t all that boozing you are doing, it’s just that you worry about it so damn much." 

But all addictions are not created equal and in some ways this makes sense. I was deeply ashamed of the way I was acting out sexually. I was doing some really bizarre things, and I was hurting a lot of people. If you used to do the types of things I did and you weren’t a sociopath, you would feel an enormous of amount of anxiety and psychological distress. I was running and hiding all the time. My entire life was built around either acting out in my addiction or hiding it.   

Which was worse, the “addiction” and the actions around it, or the stress and self-hatred that I felt for being a sex addict? It truly is hard to say.

I was under incredible psychological distress, all the time. I felt like I had to hide my actions and that I had to lie. I couldn’t let anyone—my friends, my family, or my co-workers—know what I was up to. Because if they really knew, then all of them would have thought I was crazy. And, of course, what happens when an addict feels distress? They do what they need to do to get that hit of dopamine, which for me was to act out sexually all over again.

In 2007, I went to rehab because of sex addiction. Things had become extremely dark. Well, they really had been dark for years, but for the first time, I truly wanted change. I had lost houses through divorce, I had lost jobs because of my sexual behavior at work, close friendships were gone, two marriages had been lost, and my finances were in ruins. I was living with a woman that I couldn’t stand, purely because she indulged my kink. There was no way that I could have continued living that way.

Of course, there are social differences between sex addicts and porn addicts and how the different groups perceive themselves. There were the guys, like myself, that had sex a lot. We were liars and master manipulators. Most of us had an odd fetish or two, and some of us cared about the control we had over others more than the sex, but, overtly, sex was the main thing. So, of course, we felt horrible about ourselves, but we had all been told before by people, hundreds of times, that we didn’t have a problem. We had all broken women’s hearts, we'd all had friends that told us things like, “What are you complaining about man? You have sex all the time and you think it is a problem?" Most of our girlfriends and wives would have been thrilled if all we were doing was watching porn, and as pathetic as it seems to me now, we thought we were cooler than the porn addicts.

Then there were the guys that were there because they really had to be. My roomie who was an exhibitionist, although not to me thank God, was a good example of this. A survey wouldn’t matter to him, no matter how he perceived his actions; he would go to jail if he kept them up.

Most porn addicts that I know have a similar template to the sex addict, but the culture around it is slightly different. I say this not to suggest that sex addicts are cool, because we really are not. At all. But do porn addicts feel worse about themselves, about their behavior than sex addicts? Anecdotally, I think that it is possible.

If you are a porn addict, the odds are that there is some depression going on, and that you are isolated socially. It is possible that you have a wife or a girlfriend but, if so, she either knows nothing of your behavior or she finds your actions disgusting. If you are single, a factor in that might be because you are spending the majority of your time beating off. Some porn addicts had lost jobs because they watched porn at work. Others were in severe financial trouble because of their habits. When a porn addict feels anxious or alone they watch porn and beat off.

But according to this study watching porn obsessively isn’t the problem, the problem is one’s attitude towards watching porn obsessively. I stayed in touch with a few of those guys from rehab. One of the guys I stayed in touch with was a porn addict. He had this to say about the study: "When I was sacrificing both my personal and professional life to spend 6 to 10 hours per day watching porn, when I was trolling the Internet looking for women to flash me their breasts and when I was obsessing [during] the hours of the day I wasn't looking at porn about when I could get in front of a computer... well, I wasn't debating whether it was my belief [that] I was addicted or my actual addiction that was causing the harm. Hey, if you can watch porn all day and not be affected by it, more power to you. I couldn't, whether scientists want to dissect it or not."

I can’t speak for porn addicts. I do think that there are subtle differences between sex addiction and porn addiction, and even if I didn’t feel this way, sex addiction was not what the study was about. The authors of the study had previously conducted another study, which stated that most people who believed they had a problem with porn use, were also either religious or had a moral view against sex.

Would the authors of this study conclude that things used to be dark for me purely because I perceived that I was a sex addict? Would they believe that my psychological distress over my actions was worse than my actions themselves? Was my problem that I should have just accepted myself more? That I should not have worried so much about my actions, and how they affected myself and others in my life? Did I just perceive that I had a problem?

Speaking for myself, I know this is not true. I was under distress, and I was filled with anxiety, and I hated myself. All these things are true. But I hated myself and was under distress for a reason. My actions were horrible. I was harming myself, and I was harming others, and that needed to stop.

Brian Whitney is a pseudonym for an author and ghostwriter, his book Raping the Gods became available in the spring of 2015. He last wrote about reasons to go to rehab and why Jesus loves porn stars.

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