Compulsive Porn Use and Porn Addiction Symptoms

Porn addiction is possibly the contentious and controversial topic in our field. Like all controversies, there are 2 sides. And of course, both sides believe wholeheartedly that they’re right about their positions on this topic. If you’re someone who is concerned about your porn use, it can be very difficult and confusing to figure out if you’re dealing with a problem or if you should be concerned about it at all. If you’re ever wanting to learn more about the controversy and politics of the sex and porn addiction controversies, please check out my book Bridging the Sex Addiction Divide. This book can give you a lot of information about the controversy so you can see your way through the political BS. Like most things that are controversial, the answers are usually in the middle. There are people who genuinely have a problematic relationship with porn. There are also people who risk getting pathologized for their use. I always recommend embracing context, as well as taking a holistic approach to dealing with this problem. This article should give you a lot of information to help you get started with assessing your problem and also building an early plan on figuring out what kind of help you might need. If you’re concerned that you might have a porn addiction or that your partner might have a porn addiction, there are some considerations to help you determine how much of a problem this is. I also hope this can help you take steps towards having the relationships and life that you want to have.

Perspectives on Porn Addiction

There are a few angles that we can view your problem through. These include looking at your own perspective, the perspective of your partner, and the unified perspective about this issue in your relationship. Let’s get into all three. 

1. Your perspective of your own problem DOES matter. 

Porn usage can range from no use at all to completely compulsive use. There is also a lot of in-between as well.

Believe it or not, experts out there are actually saying that your perspective on your own problem doesn’t matter. What you will hear from them is that the end of the story is whether or not they say porn addiction does or doesn’t exist. I’d be cautious to work with any professional who tells you that your opinion doesn’t matter.

I’ll spare you my long rambling lecture about how poor research egos are leading sex experts to claim that they are science. I will tell you this, however, no one has done enough unbiased research on this to make broad claims about this issue. Good research challenges itself by identifying possibilities that were previously missed. Most of the research out there on pornography addiction has agendas to prove a point.

As you assess this issue, I encourage you to start with yourself. Ask yourself the following:

  • What is your perspective about your own problem?
  • What are the issues and symptoms you see? 
  • What is being impacted and how is it being impacted?

When you look at the problem, I recommend that you’re as honest with yourself as you can be. That sounds very easy and simple, but truthfully, it’s harder than you think. We’re surrounded by a lot of opinions about pornography. This can come from the media, but it can also come from your partner. You may change your perspective over time. To accurately assess the current situation, you need to be open with yourself about whether or not you think your usage is a problem and also identify the line where you think it would become an issue. What would actually make porn viewing an issue for you? If it’s not an issue right now for you, what makes you wonder if it is a problem? If you can have some open and honest internal dialogue, you’re well on your way to figuring out what it is that you need.

2. Your partner’s perspective matters too.

Sadly, there are also a lot of opinions out there about whether or not partners’ opinions about porn use matter. I have to acknowledge that there is a huge discrepancy in our culture to this day. People don’t talk a lot about sex and masturbation, especially with their partners. On the other hand, people take their previous behaviors and perspectives on these topics into their relationships.

There are lines of privacy that people are entitled to. However, your partners’ perspective of what is private maybe be at odds with what you view as private. Ideally, you’d talk about this stuff up front.

It’s all too common, but because people don’t talk and negotiate up front, it can lead to a lot of tension. When it comes to porn usage, it can literally feel like a cheating experience to a partner.

Again, expert advice can also cause problems here. There is a lot of stuff out there (primarily about women in straight relationships) that will say that all men watch porn and women need to just “deal with it.” That is a very ignorant and even sexist perspective that will only serve to damage your relationship. Everyone in a relationship needs to authentically bring their concerns up with their partners.

Unfortunately, the set up around pornography often promotes lies and deceit. This means that partners often discover porn use on their own, which can be shaming but can also even be traumatic.

For partners, it’s best to identify where some boundaries are for you. Here are some questions that partners can ask themselves to look inward as well.

  • Where would the issue surrounding porn be significant enough for you to consider leaving the relationship?
  • If you’re not willing to leave over this, what is making this an issue for you? 
  • Do you feel like your partner understands where you’re coming from? 
  • What would you like your partner to understand about your perspective?

3. Gridlock in relationships.

The need for everyone to feel safe in a relationship. When it comes to porn use and concerns about porn addiction, people need to be able to share their perspectives and boundaries openly. However, many relationships have what is called gridlock over this issue. Gridlock means that 2 people are stuck in their positions and not willing to move or listen to the other person’s side. The trauma that some partners experience can make it even more difficult to understand because there are open wounds that haven’t even yet healed over.

The goal of this perspective on porn is that it would eventually have you and your partner come together to share a common perspective of the appropriateness of porn in your relationship. Solid relationships can handle talking about these issues. They can also accept that sexual relationships are malleable. Thus, discussion about sexual boundaries should continue.

Porn Addiction Symptoms to Look For

Whether than just get into the pure jargon of thinking about an addiction, I encourage you to first think about red, yellow and green zones. Red zones are stop zones, meaning that these are behaviors that absolutely cross a line. Yellow zones are areas that may put you at risk in your relationships and other areas of your life. Green zones are areas that appropriate use. 

Red Zone
  • Non-consensual filming and viewing 
  • Underage pornography
  • Lying 
  • Cohercing a partner to match porn (this doesn’t include negotiating fantasies with open agreement)
  • Avoiding sex with your partner and choosing porn instead
  • Using porn as a primary deactivation tool
  • Lacking sexual arousal outside of porn viewing
  • Resenting your partner for not matching the porn you’re viewing
  • Avoiding living your life (dating, being with friends, etc)

Yellow Zone

  • Spending hours watching porn (possibly “red” zone… only you can decide how much is too much)
  • Numbing with pornography 
  • Using porn to cope with boredom
  • Not addressing shame with sex
  • Relying only on porn for your sexual education
  • Avoidance of dealing with issues in your relationship and life
  • You have a lot of shame about sex
  • Comparison to porn bodies
  • Problems in your relationship, career, and other areas of your life
  • Lack of an affirming outlet for your sexuality or gender
  • Moral dilemmas about sex and porn

Green Zone

  • Enjoying porn with your partner
  • Using porn to mindfully learn about curious elements about sex
  • Helps you learn that you’re not alone in your desire
  • A way of opening dialogue with partners
  • An element of sexual pleasure

As you can see, even these zones may take some consideration on your part. Especially the yellow zone because context is always important. For example, if you spend hours watching porn, you may be giving up a lot of important things in your life. The truth is that only you can rank the importance of things in your life. Another example is having relationship problems. This can be problematic for you, but it may or may not have something to do with pornography. Therefore, this list is an example of how you can view the issues surrounding porn and identify what is problematic. When you look at this list, you’ll likely want to add other things that aren’t included here. I encourage you to do so.

You’ll also see in the yellow zone, that some of the things are directly related to porn use, while other things aren’t directly related. That’s because this area can get you into trouble. It also can be an area where you can learn a lot about yourself if used correctly. It’s also an area that can help you navigate through denial of things that can actually be creating a problem.

If there is one area, I would encourage you to spend a lot of time with, it’s actually the yellow zone. Yellow can quickly combine into orange and then into red if time isn’t taken to assess this zone. If you’re aware of this zone and working on these areas of your life, the yellow can turn into green as well.

What should you do with the zones?

Red obviously means stop what you’re doing.

Yellow means take some time to do some introspection and dig into the topic to learn more. This area is also an area to build plans, open dialogue, and identify boundaries.

Green typically means you’re good to go. However, it doesn’t mean you’re good to go even when unexpected problems emerge. If an issue emerges, place it into the yellow zone and do some work around this.

What exactly is a porn addiction?

As you can see, it can get complicated. So, let’s make it as simple as possible. Here is a statement that can make it easier to pin down for you. Here is an equation to help you identify if it’s an actual compulsive issue.

X-Factor + Ongoing use of porn despite consequences

The X-Factors can be anything in the yellow or red zones. Truth be told, this isn’t a foolproof equation. But it can give you an easy way of identifying the likelihood that this is a problem for you.

Symptoms from Symptoms

Another way of identifying whether or not you have a problem with porn is you can look at symptoms that may emerge from the behavior. For example, some people have a low desire or even are repulsed by sex that doesn’t involve porn. Another example can be mood issues. If you’re experiencing emotional or physiological problems, such as erectile dysfunction, you may want to consider your porn use patterns as a potential issue. The same goes for relationship issues. Most of the time, relationship problems aren’t all caused by porn use. But porn use, along with poor communication and a lack of comfort in discussing sex can lead to a nasty combination in a relationship. If you’re choosing porn over a partner, this too can lead to relationship problems.

Be a healthy skeptic without being defensive

As you figure out whether or not this is a problem for you, I encourage you to be a healthy skeptic. Read information that challenges your perspective, as well as information that aligns with it. Find a middle ground that makes sense to you to identify what you need to do about it.

This is very different than being defensive. Defensiveness will keep you from accepting your issues and will prevent you from ever working on yourself. Even if the issue isn’t a porn addiction, there may be something else going on. For example, if you have a moral dilemma about porn use, it may not mean you have an addiction, but you still need to do some work to feel congruent.

Get Help

If you’re struggling to identify whether this is an addiction, and not sure what to do about it, find a professional who can help. There are sex addiction professionals and sex therapists. Just know that they’re going to have different perspectives. The best of them will help you look at yourself rather than just them dishing out advice.
You may also want to find a relationship therapist to help your relationship heal if there is broken trust. If your partner is also struggling with a sense of betrayal and trauma, you may want to find a therapist who specializes in partner betrayal trauma.

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As always, if you’re in the Dallas area and looking for a therapist for compulsive porn use, please don’t hesitate to reach out

 

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