Working with Porn and Sexual Dependency, Part 1

First, we need to address the definition of words used to describe a problem with pornography. Is there such a thing as porn or sexual addiction? That is, can you be addicted to sex in the same way you are addicted to drugs or alcohol? Though a number of books suggest sexual addiction (including porn addiction) should be considered the best description, the DSM-IV, (the final word of all discussions on psychological illnesses) says no.

Here is the explanation. An addiction suggests that someone brings a foreign commodity into their body. The body then develops an unnatural relationship with this substance. Heroin, alcohol and glue would all be examples of things we can form addictive relationships with. Dependencies are relationships with things we have a natural affinity to. Food, air and hormones are all things we depend upon to live. Sex is a difficult one to categorize with these definitions. Is it something we bring from the outside of us? Indeed, there are times we bring in sexual influences which are not natural to a person’s sexual experience. But then, there are other sexual influences that are quite natural and desirable for good mental and physical health.

Those who teach the “Addiction” model for sexual problems stress that sex releases enough neurotransmitters to make people addicted to those chemicals. But NTs like serotonin and epinephrine are also produced by eating, sleeping and laughing, and no one considers those activities as addictive. Therefore, I feel confident to differ from Patrick Carnes et al in defining sexuality as a dependency rather than an addiction.

With a dependency, you don’t treat sex as something to be avoided as you do with alcohol addiction. Rather, the person needs to see that elements of their dependency need to be adjusted to make the relationship to sex something healthier.

Craig is an accountant who has a huge habit of using pornography to stimulate his sexual fantasies. He views porn and masturbates every day and sometimes a few times a day. Though he has been married for ten years, his dependency on the porn and the masturbation has caused much grief and pain. He is also a regular church attender and frequent sermons and teachings on the need to be pure in thought and deed have caused Craig to live in a near constant state of guilt. He wants to become healthier with his sexual life and yet he cannot seem to end the porn habit.

As I have worked with him these last three months, we have taken a four-step approach to solving the problem:

1. Determining the motivating factors that lead him to accept two-dimensional sex over real sex.

2. Establishing safe and effective accountability for him to reveal the daily patterns of his porn use.

3. Examining the beliefs that form the structure of his sex life.

4. Planning for a healthier re-entry into real sex.

In the next four articles, we will explore how we guided Craig through each of these.

Introducing My Sex Partner

Next year, my sweetie and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage. We also knew each other for five years before that, meaning I have known her longer than any living soul. I can accurately predict her emotions, but not her thoughts. I can tell you what she probably wants to eat when we go to a restaurant, but not what she will want to see at the movie theater. I can tell you what colors look good on her, but not what perfume accents her the best. All of our children will describe her differently, not because she changes who she is for each of them but because she has such a multi-faceted personality.

And none of the children would guess how great she is at sex. When we first got married, she told me not to expect much from her in bed. And she was right; she had no sex skills when we got married. But no one learns with the gusto she does. Over these many years of our marriage, I carried our sexual relationship for the first half. She definitely took the lead these last ten years.

I have her permission to describe her in this blog. At various times, she will actually do the writing and I will sit back and enjoy. Sounds similar to our intimate life. She leads discussion groups in our church on topics like “Sex Positions”, “Oral Sex” and “How to Be Sexier to Your Spouse”. For a virgin who had never read about sex, whose parents never spoke about sex and who, initially,  couldn’t tell a dildo from a doorstop, she has become quite a nympho.

She loves hard and fast intercourse and yet oral sex (giving and receiving) has to be slow. She owns 9 different vibrators and can tell you the value and down-side of each one. She does not dress provocatively in public, but has dozens of outfits she likes to wear during sexual encounters.

She is the Rennaisance Woman for sure. I love her and I wanted you to meet her in this venue.

Women and Pornography Use

In the past 10 years,  researchers have studied women and their porn use. A recent study concluded that one out of every three people who go to a counselor for porn addiction is a woman. In 2000, that number was one woman for every 600 men.

Here is a recent article chronicling some of those changes.

I have seen the number of women addicted to porn increase dramatically in my counseling practice. And, as is the case with Christian men, Christian women may be more susceptible to porn problems than the general population. What is happening in women to bring about this change in porn usage?

I think there are five contributing factors.

1. The Internet means that women do not have to travel to the most dangerous parts of town to purchase a magazine or video. They do not even have to leave home.

2. Porn sites are also the number one place for women to go on chat lines. Being more social than men, women are drawn back time and again to easy and safe hookups.

3. Since women have the potential for many more orgasms than men, they tend to view Internet porn for longer periods of time than men. This creates a much more embedded addiction spiral in the brain.

4. Though this is changing, women still have more free time at home alone than men do. Since the majority of porn viewing by women is during the week and men view it on the weekend, we have to conclude that it has something to do with the days each are at home.

5. Women are prone to retreat from relationships when hurt or betrayed. Internet porn makes for a very easy escape. In addition, women tend to act out victimization; porn gives them a chance to view others who are victimized. Women are now in the majority when it comes to viewing violent smbd porn.

As with alcohol or drug dependence, it is not the frequency or amount of porn a person uses that determines their dependency but the reason. If porn is utilized for the purposes of tittilation leading to acting out (i.e. masturbation or mutual sex), then dependency is less likely. If one views porn to meet an emotional need such as loneliness, pain, guilt, fear or depression, then dependency is likely.

Next article, we will address both men and women in the basics of how to overcome porn dependency.

HowStuffWorks “Pleasure Center of the Brain”

Here’s a great article on what happens in the brain when we have an orgasm:

“Pleasure Center of the Brain”.

My favorite quote is this:

Interestingly, they discovered that there aren’t too many differences betweenmen’s and women’s brains when it comes to sex. In both, the brain region behind the left eye, called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, shuts down during orgasm. Janniko R. Georgiadis, one of the researchers, said, “It’s the seat of reason and behavioral control. But when you have an orgasm, you lose control” . Dr. Gert Holstege stated that the brain during an orgasm looks much like the brain of a person taking heroin. He stated that “95 percent is the same” .

There are some differences, however. When a woman has sex, a part of the brain stem called the periaqueductal gray (PAG) is activated. The PAG controls the “flight or fight” response. Women’s brains also showed decreased activity in the amygdala and hippocampus, which deal with fear and anxiety. The team theorized that these differences existed because women have more of a need to feel safe and relaxed in order to enjoy sex. In addition, the area of the cortex associated with pain was activated in women, which shows that there is a distinct connection between pain and pleasure.

Unequal Sexual Yokes

In 1 Corinthians 6:14 we are reminded to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers”. The picture is from the ancient practice of farming using two oxen. They are bound together with a heavy wooden beam across their shoulders so they can pull the plow behind them. But if farmers did not put oxen of equal size beside each other, they could  not pull evenly and the plow veered to the side.

The Apostle Paul is reminding us that if followers of Jesus Christ marry non-followers we will see things go off-track very quickly. Marriage ties two people together and if they are pulling unequally, it can end in disaster. That is just how it works.

Let me apply this picture to the sexual desires and preferences of single Christians considering marriage. In my many years of relationship counseling, I have seen many unequal sexual yokes and these cause things to go off-track very early in marriage – many times on the honeymoon. I see six different unequal yokes:

1. Dissimilar Beliefs about Sex: As much as Christianity is trying to raise its children with the idea that sex is wholesome, healthy and desirable for believers, this has only begun to happen recently. For centuries, sexuality was barely tolerated Read the rest of this entry

American Women Dislike Men

Recently, the news about marriage has not been good. Divorce rates continue to remain high. More kids than ever are growing up in single-parent households. And now, according to recent census data, there are more singles in our country than ever before. People are waiting a lot longer to marry, especially men.

There are certainly a number of factors involved in any decision to get married. A desire for more education, advancement in careers and even the widespread use and acceptance of contraceptives has contributed to the decision to postpone marriage. But I want to introduce another factor that certainly applies to America if not other places.

Women, on the whole, don’t really like men Read the rest of this entry

A Common Sexual Confusion in Marriage

“So how many times a day would be enough sex for you?” Cheryl asked Greg.

Greg decided to be honest for a change. “Twice a day would do quite nicely”. He knew where this conversation would end, but he thought he would take a shot anyways.

“You’re an oversexed pervert, Greg. You’re not getting sex twice a day. Grow up”. Cheryl left the bedroom confused and angry. Greg got dressed, just as confused and angry.

So what just happened?

They had been married for three years and the pattern was now established. Greg, a financial analyst, loved his wife Cheryl whom he had met at his brother’s college graduation. He thought she was beautiful and extraordinarily funny. Cheryl was a nurse midwife and admired how intelligent and hard working her husband was. On their honeymoon, they made love like rabbits, barely coming out of the bedroom to eat. Cheryl told me she had never had an orgasm in her life until the second day of her marriage. By the end of the two week honeymoon, she was having several a day. There was nothing wrong with their sex life.

Yet, three years into the gig, they fought more about sex than anything else. Read the rest of this entry

Sexual Release and Sex are not the same

Let me be that psychologist for a second. I am referring to that psychologist who throws charts and graphs at you as if they carry weight in an argument.

A reasonably accurate description of a person’s needs is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The chart shows Maslow’s belief that you must address the needs at the bottom of the pyramid before you can adequately meet the needs at the top of the pyramid.

Take a look at the bottom level of this pyramid. He mentions breathing, food, water, sleep, excretion….and sex! There are many people (including both followers of Christ and atheists) who cannot fathom why sex should be included in that list. Some suppose that Maslow was influenced too heavily by his early research in primates and extends the understandings of primate behavior into the realm of people. That may have some validity, but I still think Maslow is correct. Sex, as defined by sexual release, is a basic human need. Even though it is the one element of the bottom layer of the pyramid that we can live without, that does not negate its significance.

Medical science has shown that sexual release (aka “orgasm”) is somewhat regulatory in nature, helping our brains to focus more strongly and aiding in the development of several of the body’s primary systems (circulatory, excretory, immune etc.). I do not have time to mention the thousands of studies that have shown the incredible benefits of regular orgasms on the human body. And indeed, that is not the purpose of this entry.

Notice the third level. Sexual intimacy is placed there under “love/belonging”. Maslow is differentiating between sexual release and sex between two people. On the bottom level, orgasm is simply a physical function, as is eating and peeing. In a male, orgasm and peeing involve exactly the same apparatus. It isn’t until one actualizes the need for love and belonging that sex becomes more than a function.

What are the implications of Maslow’s insight for Christians?

First, as followers of God, we must recognize that God designed the body to function sexually, in such a way that orgasm is not initially connected to intimacy. The body can orgasm quite naturally when one is sleeping and not aware of any intimacy at all. The body can orgasm when one masturbates with no one else present. As we will see in the series I am doing next month on the meaning of masturbation, we need to have a theology of masturbation divorced completely from sin and shame.

Second, orgasmic release does not carry the same emotional baggage as sex between two people does. Intercourse is an application of sexual release in the context of intimacy…or at least that is the application God intended. When intercourse happens between two people who do not love each other or share a covenant relationship, all number of emotional and spiritual problems can follow. More on those problems in a later entry.

Third, if the body needs sexual release and sexual release is not the same as sex, then this changes some current teachings on masturbation, fondling, kissing, oral sex and dating than we have previously taught as Christians.

This is what we will do in the weeks to come. I intend to do this utilizing the Word of God (which I believe to be inerrant and inspired by God) and the best of logic and reason.

Why?

Why do Christians need a site dedicated to sex? There are probably hundreds of reasons, but here are the main ones:

1. We often view sex primarily in its sinful manifestations and the proper manifestations of sex are at least as plentiful as the sinful ones.

2. Those who are not followers of Christ think we are against sex…many people need to disabuse that notion.

3. Many people brought up in church were not taught anything about sex…or very little…and this needs to change.

4. Those who are ruled by the Spirit of God are supposed to redeem all things – even sex.

5. I love sex and I hate to see people so mis-taught and mis-informed about it.

6. There are ways that singles and marrieds can enjoy sex that have not been talked about much among Christians.

7. There is much awful advice given by sex therapists who claim no allegiance to God.

Enough reasons? Let’s Talk Sex then.

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