When Is Porn Use a Problem?

“We have a distorted view of our fantasies … because we don’t talk about them enough.” —Sasha Grey, actor and former porn performer

Pornography is becoming ubiquitous and ever more sophisticated. Long gone are the days of erotic wood carvings. Gone are the days of XXX cinemas in seedy neighborhoods with furtive and lurid shapes in the fog. Gone are the days of print magazines and pin-up girls. Pornography plus the internet equals a “sexplosion” of erotica — prerecorded, real-time, virtual reality, and more — confronting flesh-and-blood interpersonal relationships with compelling alternatives, which for some prove more desirable, ultimately superior, and equally, if not more, clandestine. I predict that by the end of the 21st century, sex will finally come out of the closet — and fundamentally change what being a human being means.

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Source: Stokkete/Shutterstock

In their recently published work, Daspe, Vaillancourt-Morel, Lussier, Sabourin, and Ferron (2018) investigate important questions regarding pornography use, which is going up in frequency and plays an increasingly significant and pervasive role in society. Setting aside questions of morality and direct and indirect harm, pornography use is seen by many relationship experts as being potentially healthy or potentially destructive to individuals and couples.

How Do Relationship Circumstances Shape Pornography’s Impact?

However, up until now the research on pornography has not looked at how overall relationship and sexual satisfaction affects the frequency of pornography use, or the extent to which pornography users experience distress associated with pornography use. More abusive and violent pornography also shapes attitudes about gender and sexuality, and can negatively affect relationships and contribute to harm, though men reporting both positive and negative effects from pornography attribute greater positive effects overall, and young men greater negative effects than older men (Miller et al., 2017). Studies have also shown that pornography use may mis-wire reward circuits, causing sexual dysfunction and reinforcing dependence on porn (Park et al., 2016).

Daspe and colleagues note many points which are now common knowledge. Pornography use is on the rise and diversifying. When it becomes destructive, it leads to distress and loss of control, and negatively impacts relationships. For some, internet pornography use becomes persistent. According to researchers, 17 percent of pornography users are compulsive (Cooper, Delmonico & Berg, 2000), leading to distress and dysfunction. In other work (Grubbs et al., 2015; Blais-Lecours et al., 2016), feeling out of control is only partly due to a higher frequency of use, with correlations between the two ranging from weak to strong.

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But we don’t know why that is, or what factors connect frequency and perceived loss of control. It’s easy to understand why someone who uses porn more than they want to, or who feels conflict about it or fears consequences, would perceive losing control even with relatively low levels of porn use. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t have any problem with pornography may be a frequent user and be as happy as can be. In the research review here, the role of relationship and sexual satisfaction for couples is examined as a factor in determining how frequency of use and perceived lack of control connect.

Zoom in on Pornography, and Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction

To better understand how these factors interact, Daspe and colleagues (2018) recruited people in relationships to complete an online survey about pornography use, relationship and sexual satisfaction, and other factors. They surveyed 1,036 people, about 50 percent women, mainly between the ages of 18 and 35. Most had been in a relationship over a year; 30 percent were going out, but did not live together; 54 percent lived together; and 15.6 percent were married. A third had children, and the majority were male-female couples.

They completed measures including: internet pornography use; frequency of use; type of pornography used; perceived lack of control over pornography use; relationship satisfaction; and sexual satisfaction. The data were analyzed first to look for significant correlations, and then in more detail to understand the complex moderating effects among factors of interest.

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In terms of basic results, they found that 73 percent of women and 98 percent of men reported internet porn use in the last six months, for a total of 85 percent of respondents. For porn use within the last week, the numbers were lower: 80 percent of men and 26 percent of women. Prerecorded videos were the most common type of online porn used. For both men and women, those who reported using porn more often noted a greater perceived lack of control.

For men, lower sexual satisfaction correlated with greater frequency of porn use, and perceived lack of control was associated with both lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. There were interesting correlations for relationship duration — for women, longer relationships were associated with less porn use. For men and women, longer relationships were associated with decreased relationship and sexual satisfaction. Importantly, men reported higher frequency of use, higher perceived lack of control, and lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. People who cohabited said they experienced both lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. Finally, people with kids also reported lower relationship and sexual satisfaction, but having children did not affect the relationship between frequency of porn use and feeling out of control.

When they dug into the data more deeply, there were several useful insights. In the presence of lower relationship satisfaction, frequency of use was more highly correlated with perceived lack of control. This suggests that using porn to compensate for relationship issues as a maladaptive coping strategy is more likely to become distressing. For men only, having no children enhanced perceived lack of control in the presence of both lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. This suggests that having children “protects” against excessive porn use, as accessing porn is usually more difficult with children in the household.

Good relationship satisfaction, for both men and women, reduced the connection between perceived lack of control and frequency of use, suggesting that porn use is not as likely to be destructive for satisfying relationships. Lower sexual satisfaction predicted more frequent porn use, as well as greater perceived lack of control.

Working with Pornography in Relationships

What can we do with research findings to improve relationship quality and sexual satisfaction and limit the damaging effects of pornography, while enhancing arguably constructive pornography use? When pornography use is problematic, it can damage relationship and sexual enjoyment for both partners, worsening problems already present. For both partners in a less satisfying relationship, pornography use is more likely to feel out of control, suggesting major relationship issues are being avoided. When children come into the picture, women may find satisfaction in providing care, as women are still more often the primary caregivers, and the couple’s relationship may suffer if additional steps are not taken to prevent that from happening. For many couples, children draw partners closer.

Women may end up having fewer resources available for the couple, expending more time and energy with children. Men may turn to pornography, further widening the intimacy gap and potentially causing sexual dysfunction (Park et al., 2016). Pornography may also stabilize unhappy relationships by providing an alternative to infidelity. Porn use tends to be kept secret, a source of fear and shame (perhaps echoing childhood attitudes about self-stimulation), making it even harder to talk about relationship and sexual issues. In addition to sexual frustration, pornography may also be used to cope with other stressors in life, both within and outside of intimate relationships.

When couples decide to work on their relationship issues, pornography needs to be approached thoughtfully. Couples need to understand each other’s beliefs and attitudes. If there are major gaps in how they view pornography, it is going to be difficult to discuss sexuality and the relationship in general without coming to some consensus about those conflicts; if there is an absolute moral prohibition, it may even be a non-starter. Partners may also differ in whether they see porn use as infidelity. One person may see themselves as being innocent of any transgression, while the other feels betrayed. That betrayal then becomes the main issue, especially if it is already a theme in the relationship or part of the either partner’s past (e.g., a personal history of cheating, or being cheated on, and/or a parental infidelity history).

Partners may also hold different views on the morality of pornography. One person, for instance, may believe that pornography actors are generally abused and coerced vulnerable young people who are possibly fleeing problematic home situations; women being taken advantage of in a male-dominated industry. The other may argue that porn actors are aware of their choices and able to give full informed consent. It varies from person to person, and people who make porn vary in how they select actors. The meaning of being viewed as complicit in abuseby virtue of pornography consumption is a recurring theme for many couples, a discussion which often doesn’t go well.

Being clear about what constitutes infidelity and betrayal is also at the heart of the conversation. To complicate matters, people may be unaware of how they really feel about something until it happens. We could agree in principle, for example, that it’s OK to use porn, and that it isn’t cheating — only to find out we feel very differently when we catch our partner with it. This can lead to confusion and conflict, as each sees the other as culpable in different ways.

Getting clear with one another about porn is part of a larger effort to improve relationship and sexual satisfaction. Talking through sexual issues improves both sexual and relationship quality, and can include a detailed discussion of partners’ sexual wishes, which is shown to enhance women’s pleasure. It can also help to include close other couples in relationship conversations as well. Individual factors, such as attachment style and sexual self-concept, are additional important factors to consider. When couples are avoidant and/or don’t have the tools, they should strongly consider whether they are ready to make a serious commitment to dealing with their issues and seek appropriate assistance.


Blais-Lecours, S., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Sabourin, S., & Godbout, N. (2016). Cyberpornography: Time use, perceived addiction, sexual functioning, and sexual satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and SocialNetworking, 19(11), 649–655. doi:10.1089/cyber.2016.0364

Cooper, A.,Delmonico,D. L., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives:New findings and implications. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(1–2), 5–29. doi:10.1080/10720160008400205

Daspe M, Vaillancourt-Morel M, Lussier Y, Sabourin S & Ferron A (2017): When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control: The Moderation Effect of Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2017.1405301

Grubbs, J. B., Stauner, N., Exline, J. J., Pargament, K. I., & Lindberg, M. J. (2015). Perceived addiction to Internet pornography and psychological distress: Examining relationships concurrently and over time. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(4), 1056–1067. doi:10.1037/adb0000114

Miller D, Hald, J, Martin & Kidd G. (2017). Self-perceived effects of pornography consumption among heterosexual men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, May 8. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/men0000112

Park BY, Wilson G & Doan AP. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 2016 Sep; 6(3): 17.



What is Sex Addiction? – Sex and Relationship Healing

Sex addiction is a dysfunctional preoccupation with sex that continues for a period of at least six months, despite negative consequences and attempts to either quit or curtail the problem-causing behaviors. Or, stated more simply, sex addiction is an ongoing, out-of-control pattern of sexual fantasies and behaviors that causes problems in a person’s life.

Sex addiction is diagnosed based on three primary criteria:

  1. Preoccupation to the point of obsession. Sex addicts spend hours, sometimes even days, fantasizing about, planning for, pursuing, and eventually engaging in sexual acts (with self or others). They often “lose time” when floating around in their sexual obsession.
  2. Loss of control. Most sex addicts try, usually repeatedly, to either quit or cut back on their sexual behaviors. Sometimes they even succeed for a short while. But before they know it, they are back where they started, losing themselves in sexual obsession.
  3. Negative consequences. Sex addicts typically experience the same basic consequences as other addicts—problems at work or in school, relationship woes, financial issues, declining physical and/or emotional health, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, isolation, arrest, etc.

If you identify with these three criteria, it is quite possible that you are sexually addicted. If so, it’s likely that you are compulsively engaging in one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Hour after hour of porn and/or webcam use, with or without masturbation.
  • Losing oneself in hookup apps and similar technologies—dating sites, video chat, sexting, etc.
  • Constantly “hunting” for sex—cruising in the car for sex partners, surfing online for sex partners, hanging out in the steam room at the gym, etc.
  • An ongoing pattern of intense and highly sexualized affairs or brief “serial” relationships.
  • Consistently having casual and/or anonymous sex with people met online or in-person.
  • Consistently visiting strip clubs, adult bookstores/theatres, and other sex-driven environments.
  • Paying for (or being paid for) sex, sensual massage, eroticized domination, etc.
  • A pattern of unsafe sex—unprotected sex, sex with strangers, sex in public, etc.
  • Consistently seeking sex without regard to consequences—damaged relationships, financial issues, arrest, etc.

This listing of typical sex addict behaviors is wildly incomplete. That said, at least one or two of the activities listed above are nearly always among the behaviors that any sex addict struggles with.

Sex Addiction is Not About Sex

Interestingly, sex addiction is not about sex. It’s about “numbing out” and escaping from stress and other forms of emotional discomfort, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, the pain of unresolved early-life trauma, etc. Sex addicts are hooked not on the sex act, but on the emotional intensity and escape produced by their sexual fantasies and patterns of behavior, including the endless search for the perfect video, the perfect sex partner, the perfect sexual encounter, etc. Often, sex addicts spend many hours, sometimes even days, in this elevated state—high on the goal/idea of having sex—without ever engaging in any concrete sexual act. They even have a name for this escapist, dissociated condition, referring to it as either “the bubble” or “the trance.”



The one thing dating apps will give you for sure? Addiction

A Chelsea-based physiotherapist I know saw a young woman complaining of persistent pain in her index finger. Puzzled, he tried to identify what could possibly be straining it. The patient finally admitted, slightly sheepishly, to using Tinder. A lot. The prescription? Switch hands. That will be £200 pounds please… Tinder finger treated, she’s back online for Valentine’s. But just how likely are modern-day lonely hearts to find the love, or even the sex, they seek on their smartphones?

The stats are grim: despite 26 million matches made each day on Tinder alone, Pew data reveal that only five per cent of committed relationships began online. For the vast majority of users, the game itself proves to be more arousing than the other players: fewer than 10 per cent of matches are consummated with even a half-assed “hey”, as users opt to “keep playing” instead of messaging the matches already made. Nearly half of millennials surveyed admitted to using dating apps as “ego-boosting procrastination” rather than to meet people. Perhaps no surprise, then, that – far from the image of a free-love fest at the fingertips propagated by the popular press – singles are having less sex than their counterparts a generation ago, a phenomenon the study’s author, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, attributes to the apps.

What is it about caressing a touchscreen that has become more compelling than touching another human being? Dating apps have been shown to be pathologically addictive: according to Tinder – by far the market leader – the average user logs in 11 times per day, spending about 77 minutes daily in pursuit of the neurochemical cocktail dished out each time there’s a match. The dinglights up the same pleasure centers in the brain activated by eating chocolate, viewing erotic imagery, or snorting cocaine.

Like any interface in our attention economy, there are “a thousand people on the other side of the screen” whose job it is to keep you hooked, says “design ethicist” Tristan Harris, one of a growing band of ex-tech execs reckoning with the Frankensteins of their creation. Every last detail of the user experience is engineered to keep our hands and eyes glued to the smartphone – from the colours and sounds of notifications to the timing of their receipt. “Let’s admit it: We are all in the persuasion business,” writes gaming entrepreneur Nir Eyal in Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Productsa playbook of sorts for what has been dubbed “the dark arts of attentional design”. “We call these people users,” he writes. “And even if we don’t say it aloud, we secretly wish every one of them would become fiendishly hooked to whatever we’re making.”

Lesson one of Dark Arts 101? The irresistible pull of variable-schedule rewards. The brain releases dopamine not upon the receipt of a reward but in anticipation of it (think dogs salivating at the sound signaling supper). This effect is amplified when the reward – in this case, a match – is uncertain. Research has shown that pigeons presented with a button that produces goodies (pellets of food or doses of drugs) in an unpredictable pattern will peck the heck out of the button, nearly twice as much as when the reward arrives in a predictable manner. Natasha Dow Schüll, a cultural anthropologist who studies gambling addiction, has likened the deliberate design of dating apps to that of slot machines, with the same resultant risk of tumbling down the rabbit hole.

Dopamine was long thought to be the direct source of pleasure, until lab work led by University of Michigan neuroscientist Kent Berridge determined that dopamine is in fact only what motivates the movement toward pleasure – what he refers to as “wanting”. A dopamine-deficient rat won’t get off its metaphoric rat couch to eat if it’s hungry, but will lick its lips in rapture if fed a drop of sugar water on that couch.

Our brains, explains Dr Berridge, are “more stingy with mechanisms for pleasure than for desire.” Evolution favours go-getters. But this wiring leaves us susceptible to getting stuck in “wanting” for a long – and not particularly pleasant – time. The more we spend time seeking, whether in search of drugs, sex or dating app dings, “we get less and less pleasure out of it, and the less and less balanced life becomes,” Morten Kringelbach, a neuroscientist and Senior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College at Oxford, told me. “That’s the tragedy of addiction. We’re like an animal in a cage trapped in the same circus all the time.”

Online dating apps are truly evolutionarily novel environments,” David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who specialises in the evolution of human sexuality, has said. “But we come to those environments with the same evolved psychologies.” While natural rewards contain built-in satiety signals at consummation (one can only eat/dance/make love for so long), when we’re deliberately kept in the “wanting” phase by persuasive design, there is no signal telling us when to stop. The “infinite scroll” mechanism used by most dating apps takes advantage of this vulnerability by automatically loading the next page so that users don’t have to pause, encouraging them to take just one more hit by swiping on just one more profile, and then another, ad infinitum.

Scientists have come to understand that the brain changes its physical structure as it performs various activities. Repetitive actions set grooves in neural pathways to make them the path of least resistance, allowing the brain to conserve energy. Digital daters get in the habit of automatically opening an app at certain times of the day or as the go-to solution to quell boredom or loneliness, whether or not they’re consciously aware of that feeling. Studies have yet to be conducted on the long-term effects of the dopaminergic excitation of dating apps on the brain (rats don’t have iPhones.) But even small doses of addictive drugs have been shown to lead to long-lasting or even permanent changes in neural circuitry, and behavioural cues are thought to work in much the same way as drugs. Like any addiction, it may not be so easy to walk away. (An acquaintance of mine had made it as far as a third date with a woman, only to be caught on a dating app when his date returned from the toilet.) He’s in good company: 22 per cent of men admit to the offence, according to the dating app company Hinge, although the dopamine hit was probably less powerful than the well-deserved whack he received with her handbag.)

Dating apps may seem harmless, or more efficient than attending an endless string of parties, but users may be sacrificing more satisfying long-term rewards. When singletons forgo face-to-face connection to scroll through avatars, they receive a short-term hit of validation but miss out on social interaction itself: indeed, a majority report feeling lonely after swiping. “There is pleasure in the seeking,” explains Dr Kringelbach. “But the problem is that the effect is drip, drip, drip. This only serves to sustain addiction, rather than leading to real pleasure or satiety.

“It is impossible to work with information technology without also engaging in social engineering,” warns Jaron Lanier, one of the founding fathers of virtual reality. “It takes only a tiny group of engineers to create technology that can shape the entire future of human experience with incredible speed.” We have gone to great lengths to free ourselves from societal and religious constraints on how and whom to love, only to outsource the most intimate of our endeavours to a handful of (predominantly) dudes in the Valley. And their interests lie not in our flourishing love lives, but in their bottom line.

by Mia Levitin


Love Versus Lust: Here’s What You Need To Know

In a general way, most people think of love as living in the heart. And why not, when being with a person you love causes your heart to beat faster, and breaking up with a person you love makes your chest hurt? Science, however, tells us that love lives not in the heart but in the brain. And when I say brain, I do, in fact, mean the blood-and-guts organ between our ears. In fact, thanks to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques, we even know where in the brain this wonderful emotion resides.

One neurobiological study of people who said they were “intensely in love” compared test subjects’ brain activity as they viewed photos of their beloved interspersed with photos of familiar but not beloved individuals, to see how the brain reacts to love versus a neutral stimulus. Later, other scholars replicated that study, but they did so with pornographic imagery tossed into the mix. This research was done in an attempt to separate physical attraction (sexual arousal) from romantic connection (love). Taken together, these studies give three primary findings:

1. Sexual attraction/arousal consistently activates the dopamine-rich nucleus accumbens, which is sometimes referred to as the brain’s “pleasure center.”

2. Intense feelings of love also consistently activate the nucleus accumbens, creating a sensation of pleasure.

3. In addition to the brain’s pleasure center, intense feelings of love activate regions of the brain that “give value” to life-sustaining activities (to make sure we continue to engage in them). Sexual attraction/arousal without love does not activate these other parts of the brain.

This means that our brains view love not only as pleasurable but also as a life-sustaining necessity, while sexual arousal merely gives us pleasure. As such, people who are strongly in love feel a powerful desire to be with their beloved because it gives them pleasure and because their brains are actually telling them this is part of the human survival process. This is also why we can feel real, physical pain after a breakup with someone we truly love. Basically, the “value” parts of our brain cause our bodies to react to the loss of love in a way that reminds us how important it is.

So, how can we accurately define love? Perhaps we could state that love is a pleasurable feeling that our brain values more than most other pleasurable feelings. For instance, eating a chocolate ganache gives us pleasure, but our chests don’t ache when the treat is gone because our brain doesn’t place the same value on chocolate as on love. So perhaps the 1970s rock band Sweet got it right when they sang, “Love is like oxygen.” As with oxygen, without love, we ultimately can’t survive.



With Sex Addiction, Sobriety Looks Different for Every Addict

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about sexual addiction, much of which centers around the way in which “sexual sobriety” is (and is not) defined. For starters, a lot of people, including some underinformed therapists, think that clinicians who treat sex addiction dictate to their clients what is and is not healthy, which would leave the definition of sexual sobriety open to the clinician’s personal, moral, and/or religious views about what sex should look like, with whom you should have it, and how often you should have it. This could include possible interpretations like, “If you’re not legally married to an opposite sex spouse, you should not be having sex with anyone, including yourself.”


Happily, after nearly three decades treating sex addicts and their families, and training other therapists to do the same, I can assure you that this is not the way in which sexual sobriety is defined. Certified sex addiction therapists are not the sex police, nor do we wish to be. In fact, as a rule we are incredibly sex positive, encouraging any and all forms of sexual expression, as long as they’re not obsessive, compulsive, and out of control in ways that harm self or others. Same-sex behaviors, fetishes, kinks, and all other forms of legal and consensual sexual activity are perfectly acceptable as far as we are concerned—even for recovering sex addicts. Anyone who says differently is either misinformed or lying.

A similar concern, generally expressed by sex addicts themselves, is that sexual sobriety requires long-term abstinence (as we typically see with recovery from substance and gambling addictions), or at least long-term abstinence from the types of behaviors that turn them on the most. In fact, one of the first questions I am likely to hear when starting work with a newly recovering sex addict is, “Will I ever have a healthy and enjoyable sex life, or do I have to give up hot sex forever?” Often, that is followed by a statement like, “If I have to give up sex permanently, or my favorite flavor of sex permanently, you can forget about me staying in recovery.”

I do not in any way fault my clients for this attitude. Instead, I tell them that unlike certain other forms of addiction sobriety, sexual sobriety is not defined by long-term deprivation. With sex addiction, we define sobriety as we do with eating disorders—another area where long-term abstinence is neither desired nor feasible. So, instead of permanently abstaining from all sexual activity or even certain types of sexual activity, recovering sex addicts define sexual sobriety in ways that help them be sexual in non-compulsive, non-problematic, life-affirming ways.

Individually Defining Sexual Sobriety

On the heels of the conversation described above, newly recovering sex addicts tend to ask, “If sexual sobriety doesn’t require lasting sexual abstinence, what does it require?” The good news (and maybe also the bad news, for those who like rigid rules) is there’s no cut-and-dried answer to this question. Each sex addict enters the process of recovery with a unique life history, a unique set of compulsive sexual behaviors that are causing problems, and a unique set of goals for the future. Based on this information, each sex addict is encouraged to craft a personalized definition of sobriety. This means each addict’s definition of sexual sobriety will be his or hers alone. Moreover, sexual behaviors that are highly problematic for one recovering sex addict might be perfectly fine for another. For example, sexual sobriety for 28-year-old single gay man could (and probably will) only loosely resemble sexual sobriety for a 48-year-old married father of three. The goal of sexual sobriety is not conformity; the goal is a non-compulsive, non-shaming, consequence-free sexual life.

Sexual Boundary Plans

Recovering sex addicts, after defining what sexual sobriety means to them, typically put this into effect through use of a sexual boundary plan. These plans define and set limits on which sexual behaviors are and are not acceptable for that addict.

Typically, the process of creating a sexual boundary plan begins with a statement of goals, where recovering sex addicts list the primary reasons they want to change their sexual behavior. A few commonly stated goals are as follows:

  • I don’t want to cheat on or keep secrets from my significant other.
  • I want to be present in the real world instead of living my life online.
  • I don’t want to “lose myself” in pornography ever again.
  • I don’t want to put my health and my self-esteem at risk through sexual behaviors.
  • I want to feel like a whole, integrated, healthy person, like I’m living my life with integrity.

Once a sex addict’s goals for recovery are clearly stated, he or she can move forward with the creation of a personalized plan for sobriety, using his or her pre-established goals as an overall guide. Sometimes sexual sobriety plans are simple, straightforward statements like, “I will not engage in sexual infidelity no matter what,” or, “I will not view pornography of any kind.” More often, sex addicts implement a more detailed, three-tiered set of guidelines constructed as follows:

The Inner Boundary: This boundary lists the specific sexual actions that lead to negative life consequences and incomprehensible demoralization for the addict. If the addict engages in these behaviors, he or she has “slipped” and will need to reset his or her sobriety clock (while also doing a thorough examination of what lead to the slip). A few common inner boundary behaviors are as follows:

  • Paying for sex.
  • Calling an ex for sex.
  • Going online for porn.
  • Masturbating to porn.
  • Engaging in webcam sex.
  • Getting sensual massages.
  • Hiring prostitutes.
  • Hooking up for casual and/or anonymous sex.
  • Having affairs.
  • Exhibiting oneself (online and/or real world).

The Middle Boundary: This boundary lists warning signs and slippery situations that might lead a sex addict back to inner boundary activities. Here, the addict lists the people, places, thoughts/fantasies, events, and experiences that might trigger his or her desire to engage in problematic (non-sober) sexual behaviors. In addition to obvious potential triggers (logging onto the Internet, driving through a neighborhood where prostitutes hang out, downloading a hookup app, etc.), this list includes things that might indirectly trigger a desire to act out (working long hours, arguing with a spouse or boss, keeping secrets, worrying about finances, etc.) A few common middle boundary items are as follows:

  • Skipping therapy and/or a support group meeting.
  • Lying (about anything), especially to a loved one.
  • Poor self-care—lack of sleep, eating poorly, forgoing exercise, etc.
  • Working more hours than usual.
  • Spending time with family of origin—holidays, reunions, etc.
  • Fighting and/or arguing with anyone, especially with loved ones.
  • Unstructured time alone.
  • Traveling alone (for any reason).
  • Feeling lonely.
  • Feeling bored.

The Outer Boundary: This boundary lists healthy behaviors and activities that can and hopefully will lead a sex addict toward his or her life goals—including but not even remotely limited to having a healthy, non-destructive sex life. These healthy pleasures are what addicts turn to as a replacement for sexual acting out. Outer boundary activities may be immediate and concrete, such as “working on my house,” or long-term and less tangible, such as “redefining my career goals.” In all cases, the list should reflect a healthy combination of work, recovery, and play. A few common outer boundary behaviors are as follows:

  • Spend more time with family, especially the kids.
  • Reconnect with old friends.
  • Rekindle an old hobby or develop a new one.
  • Get in shape.
  • Get regular sleep.
  • Work no more than eight hours per day.
  • Rejoin and become active in church.
  • Go back to school.
  • Work on the house and yard.
  • Do volunteer work.

Once again, and I can’t stress this enough, every sex addict is different. Each addict has a unique life history, singular goals, and specific problematic sexual behaviors. Therefore, every definition of sexual sobriety and every sexual boundary plan is different. Behaviors that are deeply troubling for one sex addict could be perfectly acceptable for another, and vice versa. As such, there is no set formula for defining and living sexual sobriety. Conformity is not the goal. Living a healthy and fulfilling life is what matters.

by Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S


Hooked on Porn? What Does That Look Like?

Porn addiction is escalating in ways we could never have imagined in the pre-digital age. Most notably, we are seeing large numbers of teenagers and women struggling with this issue. Regardless of age or gender, the internet’s unencumbered, unfiltered, 24/7/365 access to endless quantities and varieties of pornography has created significant problems for many users, including porn addiction.

Porn addiction occurs when an individual loses control over whether he or she views and uses pornography, the amount of time he or she spends with pornography, and the types of pornography that he or she uses. Porn addicts typically try and fail to quit or cut back, often repeatedly. Over time, they experience negative life consequences related to their compulsive porn use—relationship woes, trouble at work or in school, depression, anxiety, social isolation, financial issues, legal problems, etc.


Research suggests that in today’s world porn addicts typically spend at least 11 or 12 hours per week looking at (and usually masturbating to) pornography—most often videos and still photos accessed via their computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or some other internet-enabled device. (Magazines, VHS tapes, DVDs, and other “traditional” forms of pornography are still in use, but the vast majority of porn addicts prefer the anonymity, affordability, and perpetual accessibility that digital technologies provide.) Moreover, this 11 or 12 hours per week number can be the low end of the spectrum. Many porn addicts devote double or even triple that amount of time to pornography.

Signs that casual porn use has risen to the level of addiction include:

  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use.
  • Viewing progressively more arousing, intense, or bizarre sexual content.
  • Increased objectification of strangers, viewing them as body parts rather than people.
  • Hours, sometimes even days, lost to searching for, viewing, and organizing pornography.
  • Lying about, keeping secrets about, and covering up the nature and extent of porn use.
  • Escalation from viewing two-dimensional images to using the Internet for casual/anonymous sexual hookups, paid sex, etc.
  • Multiple failed attempts to quit or cut back on porn use.
  • Anger or irritability if asked to stop using porn.
  • Continued porn use despite negative consequences.
  • Masturbation to the point of abrasions or injury.
  • Reduced or even nonexistent interest in real-world sex and intimacy.
  • Male sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, inability to reach orgasm).
  • Deeply rooted feelings of loneliness, longing, and/or detachment.
  • Drug/alcohol abuse in combination with porn use.
  • Drug/alcohol addiction relapse related to porn use or feelings about porn use.

Sadly, many porn addicts are reluctant to seek help because they’re too ashamed to talk about their porn use, or because they don’t view their solo sexual behaviors as an underlying source of their unhappiness. As a result, when they do seek assistance, they tend to seek help with their addiction’s related symptoms—depression, loneliness, and relationship troubles—rather than the porn problem itself. Many see a therapist for extended periods without ever discussing (or even being asked about) pornography or masturbation. Thus, their core problem remains underground and untreated.

At this point, I think it is important to state, very clearly, that although technology does, without doubt, facilitate and drive porn addiction, it does not appear to be a root cause. In fact, most healthy people can use porn and similar technologies in non-compulsive ways, just as most healthy people can consume alcohol without becoming addicted. They do not get hooked, and they do not experience negative consequences. However, individuals who are predisposed to addiction (thanks to genetics and/or early-life trauma) can struggle with porn and other forms of sexnology the same as they might struggle with booze, drugs, gambling, or any other potential addiction. So, the growing availability of online porn does not increase the likelihood that individuals will struggle, it merely increases the odds that their struggles, if they have them, will be sexual in nature.

If you think you or someone you know might be addicted to porn, counseling is available from Certified Sex Addiction Therapists. Twelve-step groups for sex addiction recovery include Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA), Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). For more specific information, check out my book, Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S


The Red Light District in Your 8-Year-Old’s Room


“What in the world!” I said out loud to myself, while quickly clicking away. After a few seconds of shock, I decided to report each image to Instagram as being “sexually explicit,” hoping to have them removed before another innocent person stumbled across them.

Thankfully, as a female adult who wants nothing to do with porn, these images were nothing more than saddening to me. However, if I had been an eight-year-old boy or girl, the scenario may have ended very differently.

Whether we like it or not, we live in an age where pornography lurks around every online corner…even the most seemingly innocent ones.

Easy Access to the Red Light District

Not too many years ago you would have had to venture out of your house and down to the red light district to access such women. Not anymore. The red light district is no longer confined to one area of town–it’s everywhere. It’s one click away on any browser, and a few clicks away with in almost every app.

I was chatting with a mom the other day who has several younger children. As we talked about kids and cell phones she was shocked when I told her about the potential dangers of “innocent” apps like Instagram.

“My younger kids use that app all the time,” she said with wide eyes. “I had no idea porn could even be accessed on that app.”

Many well-meaning parents have the same mindset as this mom. They want what’s best for their kids, they’re just unaware of how highly sexualized our culture has become. They assume they have a handle on things but are naively in the dark about what their child is being exposed to. With cell phones, tablets, and computers being given to kids at younger and younger ages, the statistics for children being exposed to porn consistently increases.

One study found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls were exposed to online pornography during their adolescence.

What makes matters even worse are the apps and programs that appear completely innocent, but are intentionally designed to conceal sexualized content. The popular calculator app called “KYMS” is one of them. It looks and functions like a normal calculator. However, by typing in the correct number code, you can access a hidden photo and note storage folder for all of your naughty photos.

That app and others like it are widely used amongst teens and are growing more and more common each year. If you have teens or young children, I highly encourage you to read this helpful article: 7 Dangerous Apps that Parents Need to Know About.

Parents Make a Huge Difference

If you have a young child or children in your home who have access to any sort of technology device with wifi, please don’t be in the dark about how easy it is to stumble across porn. I can’t encourage you enough to take the following two steps:

1. Don’t be afraid to be “that parent” who puts filters and protection programs on your child’s phone and computer. Even if your child isn’t searching for porn, they could innocently stumble upon it without proper filters in place. Covenant Eyes is high on my list for recommended filters. Regardless of which program you choose to use, just please use something.

2. Beat your child to their sex education. Don’t let the culture and pornography inform your child about sex. Be proactive (as awkward as it may feel) and teach your child about God’s amazing design for sex. Explain why God created sexual intimacy and why it’s best enjoyed within the context of marriage alone. Explain God’s plan for purity and how it’s a battle they’re going to have to choose to fight.

As a parent, it’s impossible to safeguard your child from every inappropriate thing, however, you can do a lot to minimize their sexual blows. Don’t allow the red light district to creep into your child’s room unknowingly. Be proactive. Be alert. Keep the conversation open.

by Kristen Clark


Who Watches Porn? 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use

What if I told you that your use of pornography could reveal your way to healing? As a licensed mental health counselo. I’ve seen firsthand that sexual brokenness is the stage through which the work of redemption can play out in our lives. Although we are prone to hiding or despising our pornography use, I invite you to the counterintuitive path of curiosity. The journey to freedom from pornography involves the humility to recognize there is far more you do not understand about why you use it.


Who Watches Porn? 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use

I recently completed research on over 3,600 men and women struggling with unwanted sexual behavior, be that pornography, an affair, buying sex, etc. I found that the sexual fantasies, porn searches, and sexual behaviors we pursue are not random. They are a direct reflection of the parts of our story–past and present–that remain unaddressed. If you want to find freedom from pornography, you must identify the reasons that bring you to it.

Related: What Your Sexual Fantasies (Might) Say About You

Perhaps you’ve found yourself not able to turn off your allure to porn. If so, a far more beneficial approach to recovery than combating lust is to focus on the themes that drive and necessitate your use of pornography. Until these themes are transformed, you will find yourself in the same, pernicious cycle of pornography use. So who watches porn? Here are three major themes that predicted pornography use from men and women in my research.

Those with a Lack of Purpose

There was a very predictable increase in pornography viewing for men who experienced a lack of purpose in their life. The main takeaway is porn appeals to men who do not know who they are or do not know how to get what they most deeply desire. If you lack purpose in your life or you feel an acute sense of paralysis in your career, pornography can easily become an incessant squatter in your life.

Futility and lack of purpose are opposite sides of the same coin. In Genesis 3, the curse for a man is that everything he does will be characterized by futility. Genesis 3:17 -19 (NLT) states the curse for a man: “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you…By the sweat of your brow you will have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.” Men intuitively know that even in their greatest seasons of accomplishment and connection, there will be a looming sense that it will all fade away. Futility is the ominous experience that whatever we attempt to build will inevitably fail, crumble, or be surpassed.

It is against the backdrop of futility that pornography seduces men. Pornography is appealing precisely because it creates a world without thorns or thistles.¹ Only requiring you to bring your lack of purpose, your futility, and your disappointment, porn will give you a world where, for a moment, it all goes away. The madness of pornography use is that it appeals disproportionately to men who lack purpose and identity. When these men attempt to find freedom from porn, they inevitably fail because they attempt to maneuver through life without their most dependable getaway car. Their failure then becomes further evidence that they are consigned to a lifetime of futility.

Those Who Experienced Sexual Abuse

The heaviest consumers of pornography in my research were 8% more likely to have histories of past sexual abuse. As awful as it might sound, trust is the paradoxical foundation of sexual abuse. The majority of people who have known sexual abuse were groomed by someone they knew–their parent, brother, sister, babysitter, neighbor, or pastor. Trust sets up the diabolical impact of abuse–the same person that ushers us into sexual arousal (which may include the introduction of pornography) and sexual shame is also the one who delights in us, connects with us, and pursues us.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse are aware that their victims likely come from dysfunctional family systems. They carefully position themselves as the antidote for the harm, neglect, or boredom a child is experiencing. The madness of sexual abuse is that the initial relationship feels so right before it begins to feel so wrong. They may comment on how strong your arm is, how nice your outfit looks, or invite you to a privileged position within a group of friends. These initial moments of praise and attention set the stage for future sexual abuse.

Later in life, pornography becomes appealing because it recreates some of the original sexual experiences established in the sexual abuse. In porn, like abuse, we feel bonded and aroused by the same material that also ushers us into sexual shame and secrecy. Many people who have histories of sexual abuse often devote a lifetime to combatting pornography at the cost of healing the harmful sexual template established in abuse.

Those Who Feel Shame

The more you feel shame, the more porn you will watch. It might sound obvious that shame drives pornography use, but the stagger power of it may alarm you–men in my sample were 300% more likely to pursue pornography for each unit of shame they felt about their behavior. Women were 546% more likely to increase their porn use depending on the level of shame they experienced. It has to be said, shame, not pleasure, drives pornography use. As a clinician and researcher I am convinced of this reality: we are bonded to shame and judgment, far more than to erotic material.

Related: Silence–The Sound of Female Sexual Shame

When we experience shame, it attempts to convince us that we are unwanted. In response, we pursue behaviors that confirm it. Although contemporary addiction thinking is that we go to pornography for escape or medication, I’ve found that men and women pursue pornography for the purpose of judgment. We intuitively know that each time we indulge in pornography, we will feel less lovely and connected. Therefore, our pursuit of pornography is intended to convince us that the holy longings of our heart will never come to pass. Knowing our hope has been compromised, we experience shame.

Related: Destroying Porn Addiction Starts With Destroying Shame

Most of us attempt to hide or run from our shame. Herein lies the problem: shame’s power is so often derived from our flight from it. This sets us up to live as prey to shame rather than take authority of our life. The antidote to shame is to turn towards it by telling others the places where we harbor it. In the scriptures, the presence of God and the transforming power of the Spirit are most often found in places of weakness and shame. Why would it be any different for us? Sexual shame can be the geography for the arrival of God.

Pornography Reveals Our Way to Healing

Pornography reveals your sin, but far more, it reveals the themes of your life that God is relentlessly committed to transforming within you. In this way our sexual struggles are messengers. You may not like the news they bring, but they will continue to knock on the door of your heart until you listen to what they are attempting to tell you. Rather than exclusively focusing on saying ‘no’ to pornography, learn to say ‘yes’ to purpose, ‘yes’ to healing the harm of abuse, and ‘yes’ to turning to face your shame.

Resources and investments for your journey:

  1. Get a free chapter of my upcoming book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.
  2. For lack of purpose: Watch this TEDx talk “How to be more powerful than powerless,”based on a ten-year research study by Ron Carucci. Most of us vastly underestimate the power we have in our lives. If career paralysis or confusion is present in your life, check out the work of Liminal Space to guide you through career transitions.
  3. For healing sexual abuse: Register for the Allender Center’s e-course on sexual abuse. Use the promo code COVENANT for $50 off their course. Dr. Dan Allender is an expert in understanding the harm of sexual abuse and the path to healing.
  4. For beginning to explore sexual shame: Watch the film The Heart of Man (or read the guidebook). Through magisterial storytelling and stunning imagery, we see that sexual shame is not a barrier, but a bridge to healing.

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http://www.bevillandassociates. om


Science Reveals 3 Reasons We All Need (Good), Mentors

5 Messages Porn-Using Singles Need to Hear 

The truths I share in this article apply to both men and women. The personal, relational, and physical harms that stem from pornography are real and felt by both genders. Certainly, single men and women need to be informed of more than five truths about porn use, but these five are potentially the most impactful truths for singles.

5 Messages Porn-Using Singles Need to Hear

Pornography use rewires the brain.

Our brain operates on a system of neural pathways that send signals to and fro in the mind and body, releasing chemicals and signaling physical responses. I’ve simplified this process for illustration purposes here.

Men and women release a chemical called oxytocin at orgasm which creates a bond in the mind with what or whom the sexual release was with. In women, the amount of oxytocin released is much higher. The divine design is for the bond to be between husband and wife. The brain, however, does not know the difference–in porn’s case, it just bonds the man or woman with an image on a screen.

This builds a neural pathway in your mind that, over time, becomes difficult to extricate oneself from. Porn has a real physical effect on your mind. Fact. (For more information, read this article on hypofrontality from Covenant Eyes.)

Porn desensitizes our value of people.

People are turned into objects of pleasure for our eyes and body. People, including our spouse, become a tool to achieve orgasm and self-pleasure. Porn turns sex into an experience of getting something rather than an experience of giving. The use of porn is all about the user. God created sex, and it’s beautiful when experienced in a giving mindset.

Related: License to Lust–How Porn Trains Objectification

Pornography presents a false definition of intimacy.

When many of us hear the word intimacy, we automatically think sex. Intimacy is not spelled “sex.” It is a significant part of an overall husband and wife relationship, but it’s not just about sex.

There is a whole soul, mind, spirit, and body connection involved in intimacy. True intimacy sprouts when our greatest need of being fully known and fully loved is lived out in marriage.

Intimacy grows in daily ways in a relationship. Opening doors for her, having coffee ready for each other in the morning, holding hands, words of encouragement, and so on. For a deeper dive, read my Covenant Eyes article, “Intimacy is not spelled S.E.X.”

Sex portrayed in porn is deceptive and violent.

A healthy relationship is void of any violent elements. However, over 85% of all pornography produced today contains violence, especially towards women. Porn gives you a highly distorted view of God’s created beauty within sex. When we model our sex lives off of what we see in porn, it opens the door for all kinds of hurt and pain. God created sex to be good, and remember, it’s about giving, not getting.

Related: Porn and Sexual Violence–10 Facts from the Experts

Pornography deconstructs who you’re meant to be as future spouse.

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As we are to become more like Jesus Christ, it would follow that both men and women would take on His likeness. Sexual intimacy with your future wife or husband is about giving to one another, not taking.

The perfect time to become the husband or wife God has for you to be is today. As a single person, every choice you make regarding how you handle your God-given sexuality prepares you for marriage. Good and bad choices alike.

How much is your integrity worth to you? Your sexual integrity is part of the answer to that question. Your future spouse knows how much it’s worth to him or her, and I suspect the answer they’d give would be along the lines of “priceless.”

Related: Your Sexual Purity Isn’t Just About You

Your future spouse, marriage, and, yes, children are waiting to meet the spouse or parent they will desire and look up to. Porn will do everything in its power to destroy the man or woman you want and need to be.

Watching porn as a single will do nothing to positively prepare you for marital sexual intimacy. It will do the complete opposite. I know first hand how true this is.

If pornography or another sexual stronghold has a grip on you, take the first step toward freedom. That is a step in becoming the spouse and parent God has designed for you to become.

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