4 Non-Biblical Reasons Porn Is Ruining Your Life

Let’s admit it. It seems we constantly hear how porn is ruining your life. We hear how unethical pornography is and how those who consume it are sinning and on their way to hell. We hear it’s bad to look at sex and nude people on the Internet, magazines, or even sexually explicit movies.

Many say this is just the opinion of religious fanatics who “should mind their own business and leave me alone.” To be fair, I should let you know I am one of those religious fanatics, but I believe we need to meet people where they are at in their beliefs. I must admit, if religion or morals were the only case against pornography, then to much of the world we would have a pretty weak case.

So let’s take God, religion, the Bible, and morals out of the picture. How is porn ruining your life? Or is it?

Let’s address four major areas that porn negatively affects us: brain dysfunction, human relationships, human trafficking and personal success.

Brain Dysfunction

Let’s start with an overview of how the brain works and what happens.

Several chemicals are produced by the brain for the purposes of learning, controlling emotions, sensing cravings, handling cravings, etc. Dopamine is the most significant of these chemicals. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that carries neurological information relating to emotions, awareness of cravings and sense of pleasure. Large amounts of dopamine create a sense of euphoria and ecstasy.

In sexual stimulation and activity, norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin and natural opiates are introduced. These additional chemicals are responsible for the bonding to another person emotionally and cognitively, laying down long term memories in the brain, neurological adrenaline, and the wave of pleasure at orgasm.

The book Wired for Intimacy by William Struthers is an excellent resource if you want to dig deeper. Also, several articles provided by the Road to Purity explain these concepts more thoroughly.

When we look at porn, a supercharged amount of dopamine floods the brain and an artificial high is created. The brain’s pleasure center spikes, and we experience euphoria and ecstasy. Repeated exposure to porn causes the brain to be repeatedly overloaded and become fatigued, and the dopamine receptors begin to shut down. When this happens, the same experience does not produce the same result, causing a more frequent and more intense experience to bring the same “high” or euphoric experience. And thus, an addiction is born.

Additionally, with porn, the brain is unable to “bond” to the image on the screen like a real person. The unsuccessful attempt to do so leaves the brain with a “short circuit” type of experience resulting in intensifying the need to try again (increased addictive tendencies) and facilitates the unsatisfied feeling a short time after the sexual release.

The inability to bond to the image on the screen leaves the brain confused in areas of intimacy. We as humans are designed to bond to another person emotionally, relationally, and physically. We call this intimacy.

When the brain relates images to a sexual fantasy or sexual act, it begins to replace the originally wired brain structure of desiring human contact and emotional intimacy with that of the image, hence objectification. The brain actually begins to see other people as body parts for the purpose of our pleasure rather than another person to bond with in a healthy self-giving relationship.

The craving for self-pleasure overrides our logic center and addictive behavior patterns, such as deception and extreme selfishness, take over. We seek the next dopamine dump or “fix” at any cost. Two-thirds of HR professionals have found porn on employee’s computers, demonstrating that the craving for pleasure is so strong that large numbers of people risk their jobs just to get the fix.

This process of supercharging the brain begins to cause degeneration of the frontal lobe and produces multiple negative effects. Negative results include reduced concentration, depression, blurring of reality, anxiety, withdrawal from social activities, reduced willpower and erectile dysfunction just to name a few. With the flood of chemicals overloading the brain, the pleasure center of the brain becomes so fatigued that it becomes increasingly difficult to experience pleasure in normal everyday life.

To hammer this idea home, take a look at a study in 1954 by researchers James Olds and Peter Milner. They found that when rats were electronically stimulated in the pleasure center of the brain similar to sexual pleasure, the rats would be so focused on choosing the reward switch that provided this stimulus that they literally starved themselves in effort to be rewarded with pleasure. The rats chose the stimulus over food to the point of death. No, we aren’t rats, but the addiction principle is exactly the same: it blurs the sense of reality and decision making–even in humans.


When looking at porn, how many times have you watched a scene and asked yourself: What’s her real name? I wonder what her hobbies are? Does she have any kids? Does she like camping? What’s her favorite food? You get the idea.

No, of course not! You’re thinking how good she looks and picturing yourself as the guy with her. You’re thinking of how much pleasure she could bring you. And when you are done and turn off your computer, she is forgotten. She was merely an object for your enjoyment, no different than a new car or a top end fishing reel–some “thing” to enjoy.

Without realizing it, this perception bleeds to the women you see in daily life. Co-workers, bank tellers, a random woman walking down the street–all become objects.

Here’s a self-test. Are you more interested in interacting with an attractive woman than one who may be a little overweight or a little below average looking? This reveals that you may not be seeing the “person,” but rather an object or a sum total of body parts.

We need to be clear that we all typically first notice certain aspects of a person’s physical appearance. There is still a chemistry component between people, and it is wrong to deny that. However, when you notice the physical aspects of a women, do you move on to wondering who she is as a person? What is her name? Or do you begin to fantasize about physical relations with her, sealing in your mind the images of memorable parts of her body?

If you honestly realize you tend to be more interested in the latter, be aware of this fact. There may need to be a change in how you see and treat women. Let’s be fair, studies show women are becoming more and more prone to the same objectification of men as well.

This objectification isn’t limited to the opposite sex; it tends to dictate how our relationships and interactions are with all people. We first think of what we can get from the other person, rather than having some kind of friendship or relationship with them.

Common behaviors will reveal themselves in marriage by thinking, “What can my wife do for me?” Not just sexually, but from a service expectation. Do you expect her to do the laundry, clean the house, take care of the kids, etc.? Or is caring for her the first thing on your mind? Do you help around the house because you want to take some of the load off of your bride or do you help because she is nagging you or you expect something in return?

Yes, we are all guilty of self-centered behaviors and tendencies from time to time. However, studies are clear that porn consumption dramatically cultivates a selfish frame of mind rather than one of selflessness.

Remember the symptoms of brain dysfunction: depression, withdrawal, reduced willpower, etc. Do you know of anyone with these symptoms that you’d say is an outgoing, selfless person always willing to please others? The fact is, you can’t give and take at the same time.

Human Trafficking

While on the surface it may seem that human trafficking may not be ruining your life, consider that all women are somebody’s daughters. Do you have daughters or sisters or nieces?

The radical increase in pornography in the last decade has created a demand for porn that the “willing” actresses can’t keep up with. Also with the most popular porn searches being for violent acts and teen girls, the demand for younger and more innocent actresses are in high demand.

The demand has gotten so bad that the term “rape for profit” is now a standard in the industry. Even if you are of the school of thought that it only affects you and no one else, it’s no longer true. The more addicts, the more trafficking.

Personal Success

Personal success is where this will hit many of us. Success is often the foundation of our value system. We simply can’t get away from the impact of the first two points of this article.

First, the side effects of depression, social withdrawal, reduced willpower and reduced ability to concentrate will undoubtedly create road blocks in how successful a person can be. Second, most leaders in business have the ability to make people feel valued and important–something that is difficult to do when your world is self-focused. If you look closely, many successful leaders are either strong leaders because people felt valued and wanted to follow, or they obtained their status by brute force and luck.

Unfortunately, with our culture becoming more and more sexualized, it is difficult to shield ourselves from the overwhelming images. Billboards, television, and even the advertisements in our email bombard us with tempting images. Staying clean and away from temptation is no easy task. Products like Covenant Eyes are critical to keep at least some of the unsolicited images at bay. This is also something that all parents should be educated on to have appropriate discussions with our children. Young brains become addicted much faster than adult ones.

So if you’re not religious, don’t care about ethics, or you’re ok with brain damage, bad relationships, and the trafficking of young girls, then by all means–indulge.


covenanteyes.com · by Dann Aungst · April 12, 2016


3 Ways Your Porn Use Degrades Your Wife

When you value porn more than your wife, it destroys your marriage! She wants you to stop viewing it, yet you continue. She believes you don’t value her enough to quit. Sometimes she asks herself, “What did I do wrong, and why am I not good enough to satisfy him?” This puts her on an unnecessary guilt trip of self-degradation and pain. This isn’t the only way your porn use degrades your wife. Here are a few other ways it impacts your marriage.

Porn degrades your roles in the marriage.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. –Ephesians 5:25-33

God designed roles within your marriage. As a husband, your role is to love your wife so much that you would lay down your very life for her as Christ did for us. Her role as your wife is to help you be the best man you can possibly be by being your companion and friend, your lover, your helper.

When pornography enters the relationship, both of your roles slip away. You fail to love her fully as Christ loved His bride, and she loses respect for you. The marriage suffers, and you both lose.

Will you ever be asked to die for her? Likely not. But you must learn to “die to self.” That means to love her more than you love yourself, which may be harder than physically laying down your life to protect her or save her. Dying to self requires denying the flesh, putting aside selfish desires, and putting energy into someone other than yourself.

Pornography feeds the flesh and strengthens selfishness. It never satisfies, but pulls a man deeper and deeper into sins of the flesh. It is addictive! Although you may hide it for awhile, your sin will eventually be exposed, smashing her trust in you again. The bigger issue, however, is about dishonoring God. He established marriage roles, and porn devalues both the roles and the people in those roles.

Porn degrades the intimacy you share.

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. –1 Corinthians 7:2-5

Oh, that little word, self-control! Intimacy in a marriage hinges on self-control. “Avoid fornication–pornea” (1 Thes. 4:3). That takes self-control before marriage. Statistics have well established that couples remaining pure before marriage have more satisfying marital relations after marriage. Self-control may be needed during times of illness, during monthly cycles, during high-risk pregnancies, and will definitely be needed during times of temptation.

Self-control, a fruit of the Spirit, brings one’s self under the control of the Spirit in obedience to the Word. In the flesh, we lack self-control. Only as we walk in obedience to the Lord and grow through the sanctification process do we develop self-control (2 Pet. 1:3-10). Self-control is necessary for a beautiful, intimate relationship between a man and his wife.

Pornography is a fruit of the lack of self-control. Porn demands and controls. Love gives to meet needs and serve others. Masturbation, fornication, and adultery lack self-control. All of these feed the flesh and destroy aspects of intimacy for the future or current marriage. However, a man who understands that his body belongs to his wife, just as hers belongs to him, will value the intimacy they share. He’ll thank God for the beauty of a one-flesh relationship that continues to lovingly mature throughout many years of marriage.

Porn degrades her body.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. –1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Before he died in prison, Ted Bundy, a serial rapist and killer, told the story of how his path downward began as a kid with pornography. I remember wondering back then how one led to the other. However, after spending many years counseling women who have been abused by their own husbands, I’ve learned to ask not if the husband is into pornography, but to ask how long and deep his porn addiction is.

I don’t believe I’ve ever counseled a physically abused woman whose husband had no history of porn. That is not to say every man who watches porn beats or rapes his wife. But the principle remains: if you value both your own body and the body of others as the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are less likely to abuse yourself or others in any way. Porn absolutely increases the risk of degrading your wife physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Porn sees women in general as objects for self-gratification. This attitude crosses over toward the wife, disrespecting not only her person, but also her body. If she’s asked to do sexual acts that hurt her or make her feel used, she’s devastated and feels degraded.

Is her body for your abuse, or for God’s glory? Do you view her body as pure and holy? Porn clouds that picture and opens the possibility for disrespect and abuse. When you value your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and seek to glorify God in your body, then you will more likely treat your own body with respect, and also that of others, especially your beloved wife. Your role as her protector is to help your wife feel loved and safe.

Help is on the way!

My husband has counseled many men who struggle with sexual idolatry. Help comes from memorizing very specific passages of Scripture to renew the mind (Rom 12:1-2), leading to a changed lifestyle. He regularly uses a tool called “Building Blocks of Truth To Moral Purity” (pdf). He asks the men to choose and memorize the verses that empower them to grow in victory over the addiction and to develop a mindset of moral purity and self-controlled lifestyle. He spends time on each of the seven controls to help them make very personal and specific applications to their struggles.

Another essential help is finding accountability in godly men who will ask the tough questions and encourage you to change and grow. The battle is in the heart and mind. As your heart is, so you are. Do what you need to do to grow and maintain a pure heart. Persevere. Christ is worth the change, and so is your wife! Your wife will feel valued and respected, your love and intimacy will flourish, and the oneness that God intended will grow deeper to the glory of God.


covenanteyes.com · by Sherry Allchin · November 30, 2016

3 Biblical Strategies for Fighting Lust

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” – 2 Timothy 2:2

The above Scripture verse is probably one of the most concise bits of advice reminding us how we should engage in the fighting lust. Commit it to memory. Chew on this verse daily. Let your mind marinate in it, for in it lies three Biblical strategies for fighting lust.

1. Run From

“So flee youthful passions”

“Passions” refer to our cravings, our longings, our desires. More specifically the passage speaks of “youthful passions.” These fleshly lusts are said to “wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). On the surface these cravings are anchored in the members of our body (Romans 6:12), but as we look deeper we find they stem from our sinful hearts (Romans 7:7). Ultimately these passions are forms of idolatry (Colossians 3:5), revolving our lives and desires around created things rather than the Creator.

We must run from these things. Every Christian, even though he or she is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, still lives in a mortal body surrounded by worldly amusements. These youthful lusts stubbornly cling to our heals. As we see these passions stirred in us, we must habitually flee from them.

  • This might mean mentally fleeing: bouncing our thoughts away from lustful imaginations.
  • This might mean visually fleeing: bouncing our eyes away from lustful images.
  • This might mean physically fleeing: walking (or running) away from tempting situations.

2. Run To

“. . . pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace”

It is not enough to flee from youthful lusts. We must run toward a new passion. We are to “pursue,” that is, eagerly and swiftly run toward Christlikeness.

Christ promises His people a heart of . . .

  • Righteousness (real integrity, a passion for justice, and a life pleasing to God)
  • Faith (strong and welcome conviction and trust in God)
  • Love (benevolent affection toward God and others)
  • Peace (tranquility in the heart and harmony with God and others)

We are to run hard after these things each day knowing these character qualities are how we were created to live. We pursue these things knowing it is our destiny to live this way. A billion years from now, when sin is a distant memory, we will be living lives of love, peace and righteousness in the kingdom of God. Have this hope we purify ourselves, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

3. Run With

“. . . along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

We must not only run from lust and toward God’s vision for our lives, we must also run with our brothers and sisters with the same vision. We must all find companions for this stretch of the road, those who share our faith and convictions, those in the common struggle for holiness.

These friends should be those who “call on the Lord,” an expression for those who are saved (Acts 22:16; Romans 10:13). These are other men and women who have also cried out to God for the forgiveness of their sin from a “pure” (genuine) heart.

Running with others involves a certain level of intentionality. It is not enough to simply know others around us are on the same journey because they profess a Christian faith. We must have real running companions, those who actually help us flee youthful passions and pursue a Christlike heart.

James 5:16 and Hebrews 10:24-25 offer a structure of what this kind of accountability looks like. (We build this structure out even more in our free e-book )

Building a good accountability relationship takes time. There are benefits and blessings along the way, but the ripest fruit comes after a real friendship is built.

Thinking of these four building blocks together, they form a structure that gives purpose and shape to our accountability relationships.

The foundation is meeting together. This includes all the basic methods of communication and conversation: meeting for coffee, talking on the phone, writing e-mails, or anything that involves a meeting of minds.

The central pillar in the room is confession of sin: getting honest with God and one another about what we are doing that we shouldn’t do or not doing that we should.

The outer walls that support and protect this relationship are prayer and encouragement.

covenanteyes.com · by Luke Gilkerson · May 13, 2010

The Two Faces of Narcissism in Romantic Relationships



The quality of grandiose narcissism, in which people need to see themselves as superior to everyone else, is not that compatible with good social relationships and especially not good romantic relationships. It’s not pleasant to be with a partner who always needs to show his or her superiority over you. However, there is one slight exception to this general rule, and that pertains to the fact that people high in narcissism can have a certain flair that makes them seem quite attractive — to those who don’t know them well. Charisma, charm (though superficial), and their enjoyment of being the center of attention can lead others to be drawn to them. As time goes on, though, things can turn sour.

New research based on a set of studies carried out by University of Munster’s Stefanie Wurst and colleagues (2017) shows why relationships with narcissists can have a downward trajectory. The basic framework of the study compared grandiose narcissism to a chocolate cake: In the short run, you enjoy all that deliciousness, but later you start to regret having eaten it, due to the extra calories you’ve consumed. The model of grandiose narcissism tested in this study, labeled “Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Concept,” or “NARC,” proposes that narcissists strive to inflate their self-esteem in a two-dimensional way. The Admiration dimension involves the desire to seek approval from others and receive the positive social outcomes of being liked. The Rivalry dimension refers to the tendency of people high in narcissism to want to out-do others or to “protect oneself from a negative self-view by derogating others” (p. 282).

The German researchers tested the NARC model by conducting an elaborate series of investigations intended to parcel out the effects of the two dimensions of narcissism on relationship quality measures at both the early and later stages of a couple’s history. The crux of their approach rested on the NARQ, a questionnaire measure previously tested by Back et al. (2013) in their study of narcissism’s “bright” (admiration) and “dark” (rivalry) sides. Here are examples of NARQ questions for each dimension:

Admiration dimension:

1. Mostly, I am very adept at dealing with people.

2. Being a very special person gives me a lot of strength.

3. I am great.

Rivalry dimension:

1. Most people are somehow losers.

2. I want my rivals to fail.

3. I can barely stand it if another person is at the center of events.

You might be wondering how anyone could be attracted to a person who endorses the items on the Admiration dimension. However, keep in mind that this is how people respond to a questionnaire; it is not necessarily how the same individuals would behave when they’re trying to win someone over. You might also think that being high in rivalry would condemn you to never being liked by anyone else. However, as shown in the Wurst et al. study, the desire to beat others doesn’t show up right away in new relationships.

One set of the seven studies reported on in this investigation examined how attracted people would be in simulated short-term relationship settings (such as ratings based on videos) to individuals who previously completed the NARQ. Across these simulations, Admiration but not Rivalry predicted such relationship features as attractiveness as a potential mate; desirability as a short-term partner; and likeability. Those high in the Admiration dimension of narcissism also saw themselves as being attractive as mates, a factor which probably enhances their appeal when they meet new people. In short, those who believe in their own greatness but don’t do so at the expense of others can have a great deal of magnetic appeal to those who don’t know them very well.

Having established the positive contribution of narcissistic admiration to short-term romantic success, Wurst and her team then went on to assess the two dimensions of narcissism as predictors of long-term relationship outcomes. As expected, Rivalry negatively predicted relationship success as measured by a variety of indicators, outweighing Admiration. To a certain extent, Admiration could help to negate the impact of Rivalry on long-term relationship outcomes, and Rivalry can also taint a relationship in its opening stages. Nevertheless, the preponderance of data supported NARC’s prediction of the two-fold nature of narcissism’s effect on relationship quality in comparing early to late stages.

Although this study didn’t track couples over time, there’s an implicit trajectory in their data that works as follows: Having gotten into a relationship with a person who sweeps you off your feet with his or her outward charm, it’s unlikely you’ll notice right away that this magnetic individual seems to relish undercutting the good efforts of others. You might also not be aware until you get further down the road that this person constantly tries to thwart your own efforts to succeed, and resents it when you do.

As shown in the German study, the problems that rivalry creates in a long-term relationship include unwillingness to forgive transgressions; a tendency to get into arguments; and a critical attitude toward a partner in general. In the words of the authors, “Once the relationship becomes more settled… more communal character traits seem to increase in importance for romantic success (e.g. low selfishness, a propensity to forgive, sensitivity, supporting and caring qualities), because a lack of them … provokes serious romantic problems in the long run” (p. 298). The authors also conclude that of the two, narcissistic admiration is less poisonous for a relationship than narcissistic rivalry. You can think of yourself as great, and as long as you don’t resent or thwart your partner’s own greatness, your relationship isn’t fated to fall apart.

Because we normally think of narcissism in such negative terms, the Wurst et al. study is surprising in pointing out some of narcissism’s adaptive qualities. If you’re getting involved with a person high in these “bright” narcissistic tendencies, though, it’s wise to be on the lookout for the appearance of the less favorable qualities involved in rivalry. A partner who truly cares about you should root for your successes, and not your failures.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, “Fulfillment at Any Age,” to discuss today’s blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2017


Back, M. D., Küfner, A. P., Dufner, M., Gerlach, T. M., Rauthmann, J. F., & Denissen, J. A. (2013). Narcissistic admiration and rivalry: Disentangling the bright and dark sides of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(6), 1013-1037. doi:10.1037/a0034431

Wurst, S. N., Gerlach, T. M., Dufner, M., Rauthmann, J. F., Grosz, M. P., Küfner, A. P., & … Back, M. D. (2017). Narcissism and romantic relationships: The differential impact of narcissistic admiration and rivalry. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(2), 280-306. doi:10.1037/pspp0000113

Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers:

What Is the Most Overlooked Symptom of Narcissism? is a reply by Susan Heitler Ph.D.

4 Ways to Not Beat Yourself Up Over Your Breakup


The pain of rejection is intense when a person discovers that someone they loved so deeply is no longer able to reciprocate. The unrequited partner’s despair may lead them to believe that they will never be good enough to deserve enduring love. Yet every living, breathing person will face times when they will be rejected. The bridge over those troubled times is the awareness that the feelings of loss and hopelessness are not permanent.

Relentless self-criticism prolongs and confuses the grief process. Instead of self-criticism, use an agonizing breakup or divorce to grow and to better know what to look for (and look out for) the next time around. Here are four ways to stop the spiral of self-criticism that so many experience when going through a painful breakup or divorce:

1. Consider who you are, separate from this relationship.

Perhaps you lost yourself along the way with your ex. Who were you before this person was in your life? Also, consider who you want to be. Fine-tuning your interests, hobbies, and friendship goals is an extremely valuable way to start moving on. Use the painful ending of a relationship as a way to grow more into the type of person you wish to be, not as an opportunity for self-abuse. List your interests. Make short-term goals that you check off each day and longer-term goals of where you wish to be in six months, a year, five years. The path forward is easier to follow when a person knows where they wish to go.

2. Consider if your expectations for yourself are unrealistic.

For many, culture has promoted the idea that love and romance should come easily. If it doesn’t, people blame themselves for not meeting a standard that appears easy to achieve for others. In the real world, each time we break up, we discover more about ourselves and learn more about what we need romantically. The expectation that we would nail it, without a learning process, is unrealistic and self-defeating. In fact, for many it takes a few lost loves to find the one that sticks. Each time you self-criticize, consider the idea that you are not inherently flawed, but in thinking so, you may be setting yourself up for an unrealistic expectation that love should come quickly and without hardship.

3. Consider what you learned from your ex.

Each failed relationship is an opportunity — not for self-abuse, but to take stock of what we learned about ourselves. If you take in the data, you will grow, and you will be much more likely to find a suitable long-term mate. Notice each time you go down a self-critical spiral. Perhaps you chastise yourself for your personality, your appearance, or things you said (or didn’t say). As soon as you become aware of the self-critical spiral, take out a journal and write — not about your flaws, but about what the relationship taught you to work on as an individual. Examples would not be “too fat” or “too needy.” Healthy examples include “work on improving communication skills,” or “build up interests and hobbies of my own,” or “don’t give up everything for my partner.” (In my workbook, Breaking Up and Divorce: 5 Steps, I describe specific strategies for how to heal from romantic trauma and start attaching with healthy romantic partners.)

4. Consider how you will feel about your breakup in 15 years.

It may be hard to believe at this moment, but there will very likely come a day when you do not think as deeply about this current loss. In fact, the healthy future you may even be able to laugh at some of what is occurring at this moment. Believe that if you continue to grow and learn, you are going to find someone eventually. The relationship you are grieving is serving the purpose of helping you to be more ready for your future.

Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Relationship Formula Workbook Series, including and Building Self-Esteem—5 Steps: How to Feel ‘Good Enough.’ For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visitdrjillweber.com.

6 Myths About Women and Addiction



shutterstock_310310273While biology and circumstances affect who is at risk for addiction in both sexes, can shape how , loss, and family influence that risk. Women grow up with different cultural mores, process feelings differently, and in some cases appear more biologically susceptible to certain addictions. But many clients and professionals fail to recognize these important gender differences. Here are six of the most common misconceptions about women and addiction:

1. Men get addicted more often than women.

This used to be true, but the gender gap is closing. While males tend to start using drugs earlier and more often than women, both genders, once introduced, are equally likely to continue using. Women are one of the fastest-growing segments of drug users in the U.S. An estimated 4.5 million women have a substance use disorder, 3.5 million misuse prescription drugs, and 3.1 million regularly use illicit drugs. This costs more than 200,000 women their lives each year.

2. Women and men become addicted for the same basic reasons.

Women are twice as likely to suffer from and as men, partly due to differences in chemistry, and women with anxiety or depression are likely to self-medicate with drugs or as a way to manage intolerable feelings.

is known to trigger among both men and women, but research shows women may be more disposed to the harmful effects of stress and addiction than men. Both men and women struggle with drug cravings, but men’s brains tend to crave drugs when presented with drug-related cues, whereas women’s brains respond to psychological stress cues.

Women are exposed more often to certain types of trauma that can fuel drug abuse. For example, interpersonal violence can play a significant role in how and why women fall into addiction. A history of violent trauma is more common among women with drug addiction, placing them at high risk for . They’ve also had more exposure to incest, sexual abuse, and family violence, and are often more vulnerable than men to physical attacks.

Pain is another common driver of addiction. Women suffer more frequently and more intensely from pain, according to several studies, and they may require more for relief. In one study, women required at least double the morphine needed by males to achieve comparable pain relief. They also are more likely to have chronic and inflammatory pain conditions, such as and osteoarthritis.

Hormonal influences also uniquely impact women through all stages of life, possibly making them more vulnerable to certain addictions. A recent study found that estrogen can increase the possibility that females will start — and continue — to use . Researchers found that women transition faster to cocaine addiction and have more difficulty abstaining from the drug. Another study found that menstrual cycle-dependent fluctuations can impact drug cravings in females.

Women also face unique social pressures and influences. The marketing of alcohol to women and the “mommy needs wine” mentality of social media have likely contributed to addiction problems. Popular groups like “Moms Who Need Wine” have tens of thousands of fans. One company calls wine “Mommy Juice.” is celebrated with memes and photos of cocktails as a way to cope with the stress of motherhood.

3. The stigma of addiction affects men and women equally. 

Both men and women are harshly judged for having an addiction, but addicted women face even greater stigma, which keeps many from getting the help they need. Women take on many roles and responsibilities, often including the role of primary of young children, which can add another layer of and judgment. Pregnant addicts face the greatest stigma: One study showed that 25 percent of pregnant women with an opioid addiction were untreated, and researchers believe stigma was part of the barrier to them receiving help.

4. Substance abuse impacts women the same way as men.

Studies show that women get addicted to drugs faster and experience an accelerated progression from the initiation of substance use to the onset of dependence. This progression has been observed specifically for , , and alcohol. By the time women enter treatment, they are often facing more medical, behavioral, psychological, and social difficulties, even though they typically used less of the substance and were exposed to it for a shorter period of time than men.

5. Women are more likely than men to get help for their addiction.

Women face a number of unique barriers to drug and alcohol addiction treatment, including family responsibilities, financial limitations, transportation issues, and stigma. Possibly as a result of these barriers, research shows that women are less likely to receive adequate substance abuse treatment or to seek the specialized care they need. In 2011, women accounted for just 33 percent of admissions to drug rehab centers, for example.

Many women feel more comfortable in a women-only rehab center, where treatment is tailored to their unique needs and they can share sensitive feelings and experiences without the distraction of the opposite . Essential components of treatment can include focused support for working through issues of rape, , spousal violence, and other forms of trauma, as well as comprehensive treatment for co-occurring mental disorders.

6. Men and women relapse at similar rates and for similar reasons.

The good news is that women who receive substance abuse treatment fare very well. They relapse less often than men, perhaps because they’re more willing to ask for help, make needed changes, and utilize for emotional support, and are more likely than men to remain abstinent over time.

When women do relapse, it’s often for different reasons than men. Negative feelings and relationship problems most often prompt a return to drug use for women, while men tend to relapse in response to positive experiences that make them let their guard down or feel entitled to indulge their cravings.

All of these misconceptions keep women stuck in a cycle of shame and addiction. But with a greater investment in gender-sensitive research in recent years and more treatment centers offering specialized programs tailored to their needs, we understand better than ever how to support women on their path to recovery.


Source: Shutterstock

David Sack, MD, is board certified in , addiction psychiatry, and addiction medicine. As chief medical officer of Elements Behavioral Health, he oversees a network of addiction and mental health treatment centers that includes gender-separate rehabs, like the Ranch in Tennessee and Promises Malibu Vista women’s mental health retreat.

What Are the Practical Steps to Quitting Porn?

There are many practical things to keep in mind when trying to break free from porn. Here are six:

1. Education – You need to educate yourself about all the things porn is robbing from your life, the way it’s negatively impacting your brain, your body, and your relationships—even your most cherished relationships.

2. Clean House and Set Up Boundaries – You need to make sure you clean house and set barriers between yourself and access to porn. That might mean getting an Internet filter, taking a different route home from work, or even locking down your phone so you can’t access the Internet from it.

Now you’re probably going to be tempted to leave some doors open because you don’t think they’ll be a big deal. Don’t do this. Remember this mantra: “When you’re are at your best, plan for your worst.” Right now, if you have resolve to avoid porn, remember, a day will likely come when you don’t have that resolve, so making sure you have built-in protections now is key.

3. Set Small, Measurable Goals – Don’t make promises like, “I’ll never watch porn again.” Start with, “Today, I will not watch porn.” You need to stop thinking about sexual freedom as a destination and start thinking about it as a daily—sometimes hourly—choice.

4. Write Down Your Exit Strategies – Write down the places and situations where you’re most tempted and then write down how you plan to flee from those situations in that moment. In the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “Don’t be such a coward as to be ‘brave.’ Flee!” And when you write these exit strategies down, be specific.

5. Sexual Fasting – Fasting involves abstaining from a good thing for a period of time. If you’re married, then talk this idea over with your spouse. Remember, from a clinical perspective, a porn addict is hooked on the neurochemicals released in his or her brain during the pornographic encounter. This powerful neuro-cocktail of dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins, and serotonin is responsible for the physical aspects of porn addiction. Many addiction therapists recommend letting these neuro-circuits rest for 6-8 weeks.

Now, sexual fasting can also have a powerful positive effect in your marriage since it will enable you to be creative in ways you show love to your spouse. It’ll also show him or her that you view her as a person to be loved, not an object to be used. If you do this, I recommend talking it over with a counselor first.

6. Writing Down Positive Motivations – There must be some reason you want to stop looking at porn. What are those reasons? Write down a vision statement that says, “This is the kind of man or woman I long to become,” and then write down character traits and virtues that you want to have, things you know porn is robbing from you. Write it down and read it aloud to yourself every day. When you are tempted, pull it out of a pocket and read it again. Remind yourself of the person you want to be.

These are just a taste of the practical steps we can take. Learn more in the free book, The Porn Circuit.

covenanteyes.com · by Matt Fradd · May 8, 2015

Your Church Is Looking at Porn



The world is a blurry place.

I feel like the lines between right and wrong, dark and light, good and bad, used to be more obvious.

Words like “Christian,” “porn,” and “addiction” would not have been used in the same sentence just a few decades ago. But, in this post, we want to bring them together and shed light on a serious issue in the church today and how church leaders have a unique opportunity to help their people who are looking at porn.

(Here you can get a sneak peek at our answer to creating a more open, grace-filled culture at your church. But, don’t miss reading the rest of this post too.)

The Difference Between Right and Wrong Was More Obvious

“Those videos” were in that other section of the store. “Those movies” were only available at the XXX store downtown or late at night on HBO, Showtime, or Cinemax (and only rich kids had those channels). “Those people” only hung out in that part of town. Far away from the protective shield of the “Neighborhood Watch” program operating in my neighborhood.

Most depravity had some sort of physical barrier or access, distance, or cost that prevented most people from being exposed to its seductive pull. Finding it required an element of intentionality.

The Internet changed everything. The Internet took the far away, the forbidden, the hard-to-access, and the expensive, and made it accessible, affordable, and relatively anoynomous. No barrier to entry. No passwords. No limits.

Our postmodern culture also changed everything. Objective truth was replaced with factual relativism. Morality based on an absolute truth was replaced with morality that adjusts to fit the views, experiences, and feelings of every person. No one is wrong. No one is right.

Therefore, it’s hard to tell the difference.

Even Israel Lost Its Way

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). These are actually God’s words. He is talking specifically about the nation of Israel.

Israel had become a nation where darkness was pronounced as good. For the nation of Israel, the fade from clear to fuzzy (and downright backward) happened slowly. As king after king strayed further and further away from God, the nation followed. The fade to darkness happened so slowly that people didn’t realize they were in it. Everything seemed normal to them. They had so completely accepted the abject, the detestable, and the abnormal, that even evil seemed like it was good. Even darkness seemed like light.

America seems to be following suit. Increasingly, our nation accepts the loud voices of those screaming, “Evil is good! Good is evil!” Those who call attention to the darkness are often bashed as ignorant, intolerant, and old-fashioned. According to a blog written by Sunny Slope Church of Christ:

“Standing firm on righteous principles is portrayed as extreme, even eccentric.And most of the righteous among us seem to contribute to the problem by simply saying nothing in opposition to what is happening. We sit on the sidelines watching, but doing nothing to stop the digression.”

Church, where are you?

Are you a church leader who feels like sexual sin represents every other issue you deal with in your church? If so, download some quick help through our e-book, Fight Porn in Your Church.

Porn Companies Are Winning the Cultural Battle–Here’s How

Most American young people believe that looking at porn is no big deal. Data gathered by Barna in 2016 supports this assertion, as teens and young adults ages 13-24 rated not recycling as a greater societal issue than watching pornography. How did we get here? What deliberate steps were taken to move our moral tolerance from split, single beds for Lucy and Ricky to a time where minors are depicted partially nude in Abercrombie’s fall catalog?

They’re winning the attention battle.

One of the web’s largest pornographic websites publishes annual figures to brag about the quantity and types of porn consumed on its website. On the surface, what they are doing to brag about their statistics is horrifying. But, it’s genius for their cause. It gets attention. When you’re a porn company, all attention really is good attention.

They’re winning the nice battle.

The same porn company that publishes their usage statistic has campaigns that attempt to help people and the planet. A few examples of marketing efforts used by porn companies include:

  • For Arbor Day, they planted trees once a viewer watched a certain minimum number of pornographic videos, using the campaign, “We give America wood.”
  • One porn company hired plow trucks, put magnetic stickers with their name on the side, and went through neighborhoods plowing driveways for free in Buffalo, NY, under the campaign “We get you plowed!”
  • Popular porn websites are creating sex education forums (“Human beings were made for sex! We’ll show you how! Aren’t we helpful?”).

Imagine the children out building snow forts in the yard, saying to each other, “Hey, that’s really nice! We like those trucks!” as the Pornhub plow truck goes by. A dark seed has been planted.

They’re winning the cool technology battle.

Consider this excerpt from my blog post titled “Pokémon Go and the Evolution of Porn“:

“Not surprisingly, the porn industry has quickly boarded the virtual reality train. Pornhub is the largest pornography distributor in the world, with over 3 million videos, and over 60 million daily visitors. In March 2016, it launched a free virtual reality channel, the first in the porn industry, where viewers are invited to a growing library of free 360-degree trailers.

Through Pornhub, smartphone users are treated to virtual reality videos optimized for both Android and iOS, playable through most virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard.”

This same site has taken the popularity of Snapchat’s image filters and invites users to use them on nudes. Snapchat is the most popular social media platform among teens and young adults. The more that the digital porn ecosystem mirrors their favorite digital ecosystems, the more normal porn becomes.

They’re winning the needs battle.

Similar to social media companies, creators of digital porn are highly educated on the emotional needs of its consumers, and they are creating pornographic experiences to meet these deep needs. I wrote this about what porn companies know about our emotional needs:

“One VR porn creator spoke about the emphasis virtual reality porn puts on creating an emotional connection with the viewer through actual conversation. She said the “closeness” of VR porn makes fostering emotional intimacy easy. Further, she noted the desire for companionship is a big part of the adult industry that’s often overlooked, and that VR porn provides companionship that 2-D screens just can’t compete with.

Closeness. Intimacy. Conversation. Companionship. These needs are imprinted on every human soul. Our brains are wired to reward experiences that satisfy these needs.”

Ultimately, their goal is to inject porn in so many parts of regular life that it just feels normal. I heard a millennial recently say, “And porn is now seen as another rung on the sexual ladder.”

Want to learn more about how porn impacts your brain? Download Covenant Eyes’ free e-book, Your Brain on Porn, and learn five ways digital pornography warps your brain and three biblical ways to renew your mind.

Christians and Porn–We Need the Church!

What you just read is the porn narrative. “Normal.” “Cool.” “Helpful.” What is the counter-narrative? In most churches, it’s silence. And, in the silence, young people fumble around, desperately searching for sexual identity and finding it one click away. They’re finding it through the lens of YouTube, social media, and often through pornography.

Like wearing a dirty pair of glasses, watching pornography causes our view of sex to be fuzzy. Similar to the old days of watching a TV show with a misplaced antennae, you can partly make out the image, but it’s blurred and distorted.

We need the Church to be a clear voice. We need the Church to not just tell people why pornography is bad, but why God’s ideas are the best thing for us.

In April 2016, Ron DeHaas, CEO and Founder of Covenant Eyes made this bold statement in front of 900 church leaders, “The Church must take the lead in cultural change.”

4 Specific Steps for the Church

1. Reject the “me” narrative.

People love to come to church to be “fed.” While on staff in a local church, I noticed the prevalence of the “feed me, do what makes me feel good,” prosperity attitude. People have been chasing self-fulfillment for centuries. At the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, after indulging in every luxury imaginable, King Solomon came to this humbling conclusion:

“That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

In other words, we must counter the narrative that human beings need sex to survive. Instead, they need Jesus. Are we constantly reminding people that the only true satisfaction comes from Jesus Christ? Are we teaching our people that we were created as spiritual beings before sexual beings? We need more of HIM. Not more of IT.

2. Treat sin as sin.


How many times did you learn in Sunday School that all sin creates separation? Yet, many of us have placed sexual sin on the throne as the “queen mother.” After all, have you ever seen an addiction recovery group for greed or pride?

It was C.S. Lewis who said this in Mere Christianity:

“The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasure of power, or hatred […] That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

Well said, Mr. Lewis. Does church leadership exude any amount of bias, spoken or unspoken, toward sexual sin? Examine the sermon illustrations. Examine your own gossip. What do people whisper about? Are there recovery programs in place for a multitude of issues, including sexual sin, that invite participants to be open, authentic, accountable, and judgment-free? Is the pastor leading by example with open and honest sharing about his or her own struggles?

Yes, we must shine light in the dark places where porn consumption and sexual sin thrive, but maybe it’s a light with the same lumens as the light we shine on laziness and gluttony.

3. Explain the “why” behind the “no.”

Historically, the church is wonderful at giving a list of “thou shall nots!” but not so skilled at explaining why God’s plan is abundantly better.

In the case of sexual addiction and porn consumption, the Scriptures clearly scream “flee from sexual sin!” but now a growing list of scientists and activists show us why pornography harms so many people (list adapted from The Porn Phenomenon).

  • Porn erases human dignity.
  • Porn says people are property to be consumed.
  • Porn represents TAKE. Love represents GIVE.
  • Porn presents a picture of sex that is carnal, aggressive, and often unrealistic.
  • Porn preys on the vulnerable (including children) and by design or accident incites sex slavery and human trafficking.
  • Porn is cruel, degrading, misogynistic, and distorts expectations of both masculinity and femininity.
  • Porn rewires human brains and porn users show all the common markers of addiction.

How could your church embrace science and culture as a means of furthering conversation about pornography instead of simply shutting it down?

4. The Bible encourages God-honoring sex. So should the church. Talk about it.

In Genesis 1:27-28, we read, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Later in Genesis 2:23-24, there is a sense of excitement and oneness that leads me to believe that sex was intended for more than just making babies. The very design of our male and female bodies points clearly towards a physical form that just works well together.

Church leaders can talk opening about sex and pornography, showing the chasm that exists between God’s plans for oneness, unity, enjoyment, and giving and porn’s lies of distance, secrecy, consumption, and taking. Silence from the pulpit and from parents to their kids actually whispers “this is dirty, naughty, and bad” and points curious little minds toward the endless pages of Google’s answers to the question, “What is sex?”

Churches must be willing to tackle tough topics. There’s no passive pastoring in the digital age. There are too many competing, twisted, digital voices. And, many of them, like the temptations of Israel hundreds of years ago, may even look and sound pretty good.

Take a significant step toward helping your church be a beacon of hope, grace, and recovery today! Communities from Covenant Eyes gives churches, small groups, non-profits, and others the resources and consultation support necessary to address Internet pornography. Your organization becomes the hub for a whole network of Covenant Eyes accounts, facilitating conversations, and fostering a culture of accountability. Communities. Now available from Covenant Eyes.

How To Make Feelings of Insecurity Go Away

psychologytoday.com · by Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.
Source: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Feelings of insecurity can come from many sources, both real and imaginary. You may feel unsure about whether other people really like you or whether you’ll get to keep your job. Or you may just be generally insecure. Whether the basis of your insecurity is real or not, the feeling can be crippling unless you know how to handle it. A new study by Peking University’s Wenjie Yuan and Lei Wang (2016) provides a simple step you can take to keep insecurity from getting in the way of your happiness and your mental health.

As proposed by Yuan and Wang, there are specific forms of insecurity, but also a general life insecurity, which they regard as detrimental to your mental health. They define general life insecurity as “a diffuse psychological concern about the safety issues across all life domains including, but not limited to insecurities of job, food, economic affairs, public incidents, health and medicine, and traffic” (p. 312).

The authors draw from Hobfall’s (1989) classic stress theory, Conservation of Resources (COR), which proposes that insecurity drains resources from our mental bandwidth, sapping any resources that are already threatened by loss or the prospect of loss. It’s difficult to concentrate on what you need to do to improve a bad situation if the situation itself is causing your coping resources to drain away.

The potentially easy way to put an end to those insecurities, as proposed by Yuan and Wang, is to crank up your optimism levels. When you’re optimistic, you tend to attribute events that could have negative consequences in a way that reduces their threat value, primarily by seeing those events as being caused by outside factors that will undoubtedly change for the better. Being an optimist, in other words, means that you see the glass as half full, that you ultimately view it as completely fillable, and that you are not responsible for its emptying.

It stands to reason that optimism would be beneficial to your mental health, and the Peking University researchers maintain that optimistic people are not only happier and less anxious, but better prepared to handle stress as well. Their optimism becomes a resource they can draw on in times of difficulty. The beneficial effect isn’t unlimited—under enough actual insecurity, when one is in danger for prolonged periods, it can become entirely eroded.

To test the relationship among insecurity, optimism, and mental health, Yuan and Wang recruited a sample of 209 adults (52 percent male, with an average age of 29) to complete questionnaires over two time points, about a month apart. The researchers used a four-item measure of general insecurity, gauging whether participants felt that all aspects of their life were “safe,” whether they felt generally insecure in “current social conditions,” “when walking down the street sometimes,” or it they wanted to “escape” due to feeling threatened.

The tendency to attribute success and failure to external events was assessed by asking participants to indicate, for example, how much chance causes problems in their relationships with friends. A Chinese version of a measure of “psychological capital” assessed whether participants tend to “look on the bright side.” Finally, general mental health was measured by asking participants to complete a standard questionnaire that included an assessment of one’s ability to concentrate.

The prediction was that the tendency to use external attribution would play a role in affecting optimism’s role in reducing the effects of insecurity on mental health. In other words, people who tend to make external attributions could face situations that threaten their feelings of security by drawing on optimism as a coping resource. Looking at this result, you may conclude that it’s fine to be optimistic as long as you’re a “glass half full” kind of person. However, the authors argue that optimism is modifiable: It’s a state (something that one can change) and not a trait (part and parcel of your personality).

In viewing optimism as modifiable, we can now discuss the challenge of viewing situations that threaten your safety and security in a favorable enough light so that you can cope with them. The ability to do so seems to lie in the attributional piece of the puzzle. Although the study regarded the tendency to externalize as a part of one’s psychological makeup, because it is a cognitive attribute (a function of the way we think), it would also seem to be modifiable under the right circumstances.

Let’s consider what happens when you’re facing a job interview or a first meeting with someone you met online. The measure of insecurity used in this particular study involved a general sense of being threatened, not a specific situation. However, if you’re someone who goes about your day feeling uncertain and afraid, such a situation could tap into those general feelings of anxiety about how you’ll respond. You may know it’s best for you to maintain an optimistic attitude because you’ll seem more self-confident and therefore more attractive to a potential employer or date. However, in the back of your mind, all you can think about is the last time you blew an interview or first date, and how badly it reflects on your personal qualifications; your insecurity levels are now sky-high.

Instead of making an internal attribution for your failure on the previous occasion, the study suggests you find someone or something else to blame: You didn’t get enough sleep; the weather was bad; the other person lacked the wisdom to see your many stellar qualities. You were not at fault. Now you can change your outlook and approach this new situation with a much brighter view of what’s going to happen. Presumably, your lowered stress levels will make that success all the more likely to occur.

It’s not necessarily wise, of course, to chronically ignore negative outcomes or personal culpability when bad things happen to you; you can always learn from failure. In the moment of trying to prepare for a successful encounter, though, that negativity will only make things worse.

Taking a vacation from self-blame can be the key to giving yourself the latitude to succeed, even at difficult tasks. By building your optimism, you can tackle feelings of insecurity through “proactive behaviors” (p. 316) that nip them in the bud. You may not be able to fend off all forms of insecurity all the time, but you’ll at least be able to prevent the threats that are within your control.


Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychologist, 44(3), 513–524.

Yuan, W., & Wang, L. (2016). Optimism and attributional style impact on the relationship between general insecurity and mental health. Personality and Individual Differences, 101312-317. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.06.005

Sex Addiction as Affect Dysregulation: An Interview with Alexandra Katehakis, MFT

Recently, my colleague Alexandra Katehakis, founder of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, published a research-based book entitled Sex Addiction as Affect Dysregulation: A Neurobiologically Informed Holistic Treatment. Her thorough understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of sexual addiction along with ways to address these underlying issues in the treatment process is impressive. Recently, I was able to speak with her about both her book and her theories on treating sexual addiction. A partial transcript of our conversation is presented below.

Right now there is a lot of debate about what qualifies as “addictive” sex. What are your thoughts on this?

I conceptualize addictive sexual behavior as adaptive. Sex addiction is an adaptive strategy, because humans are incredibly adaptive. Our brains are highly automatic. If somebody has an experience when they are quite young that relieves some pain or some stress and it is functional for them, it becomes adaptive. So that person will repeat that experience over and over again. Automaticity in that way is a component of dissociation, and that is what we see in sex addicts. So I would say that sexually compulsive or addictive behavior is adaptive, not necessarily a choice as some would argue. It’s a result of the automatic brain. And, as such, it is often a repetition of trauma—not in an attempt to rectify what was done, which is an old definition of trauma repetition, but as a neurobiological construct, a pattern of behavior. And these are patterns of behavior that create stress and problems in people’s lives over time. So what was once pleasurable becomes problematic. Sometimes it remains pleasurable, but it also becomes problematic. Sex addicts report that they cannot stop their behaviors, even though they’re problematic.

So sex addiction is, basically, an adaptive response to early-life relational trauma?

Yes. That’s the aspect of sex addiction that I’m most interested in—what happens when people don’t get proper attunement, usually starting in infancy, so their systems aren’t brought to fruition in the way that the brain and the body are designed to develop and operate optimally. If there’s any kind of chronic unrepaired disruption, you’re going to get distortions in the organism. If you have a mother who is highly depressed or highly anxious, or is under some sort of duress where she’s traumatized, she’s not going to be able to attune to her infant in a way that’s going to bring its systems up optimally, and therein lies the intergenerational transfer of trauma. So it’s not just psychological, it’s biopsychosocial. And it’s all environmental. In other words, part of the environment is the mother’s psychology and another part of the environment is her neurobiology. So you have this problematic attunement, and if there is any sort of trauma after that, whether it’s bullying, beating, sexual, neglect, or anything else, then you are going to have problems.

One of which could be sex addiction.

Yes, because sex addiction is an auto-regulatory strategy. Because the child isn’t getting proper and appropriate co-regulation from its caregivers, the organism itself will find ways to auto-regulate. And as an adult that can manifest as an addiction.

That’s what you’re talking about when you discuss addiction as a chronic brain disorder.

Yes, the brain will adapt. It’s highly malleable. It will organize itself according to what it needs in order to function. The organism is always trying to right itself. It’s always going to try to move toward some kind of healing, so it will adapt and do whatever it needs in order to function.

So a sex addict’s brain looks different and functions differently than a non-sex addict’s (or at least a non-addict’s) brain?

Well, I would say that’s likely, but we’d have to do more research to say that for sure. But there is already some evidence to that effect, and it’s clear that clinically and phenomenologically sex addicts present differently than non-addicts. There are many different examples. Some have to do with perception, some have to do with relatedness. With perception, sex addicts perceive all kinds of distortions because they’re only focused on getting into the sexual experience. That is where their attention is all day, every day.

It’s a little like magic. You see a magician who uses sleight of hand, and the reason that works is because our attention is on one thing that the magician wants us to see, instead of what he’s doing to fool us. We don’t have our attention on other things that the magician is doing. That’s how magic works. For sex addicts, they’re only looking for the sexual experience. If you ask a sex addict how many massage parlors there are in LA, and where they are, they’ll tell you that they’re everywhere. But if you ask a 35 year old soccer mom, she’ll tell you she’s never seen one. It’s an issue with perception.

For evidence of this we might look at the Mechelmans/Voon attentional bias study, which showed that sex addicts are similar with their focus to, say, a cocaine addict. For instance, if you put a cocaine addict in a room with a pile of cocaine on the coffee table, that’s all he will see. He won’t notice the color of the couch, or the carpet, or the walls, or anything else that a normal person would typically notice.

Yes, sex addicts are the same.

In your book you write, “Once addictive sexual behaviors have been arrested, the work of repairing and supporting neurophysiological structures through human relatedness must begin.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

That means that therapy has to be a two person relational system, where the therapist is actually engaging in a real relationship with the client. Historically, psychoanalysis has been more of a symbolic relationship with the client, where the client authentically projects onto the therapist that they’re the mother or the father or some problem figure and the therapist makes interpretations about that. With sex addiction, I believe the addict and the therapist need a real relationship. And together they work through whatever their issues are, so both of their subjectivities are being worked through simultaneously. It’s a coregulatory process where both parties are engaged, both parties are changing. There are ruptures, there are repairs. There’s a slipperiness to the process, but that’s what changes brain structure and function. In the same way, 12 step meetings are enormously valuable. It’s the fellowship, the coffee, the relationship that has addicts starting to trust other human beings again. That’s what starts addicts toward feeling they’re not alone. Twelve step recovery is a come as you are program and all are welcome, so people start to recognize that they can trust other people and they can get their needs met.

So you’re saying these hardwired reactive pathways that we build very early in life need to be rebuilt or worked around with new pathways, and that happens through relatedness?

Yes, we’re rebuilding pathways that were blighted, or that were never formed to begin with. Obviously, with people who are severely dissociated you’re talking about long-term therapy that requires resonance, closeness, safety, and trust between client and therapist so that the client’s uncoupled circuits can recouple. This is the work required for neural integration; this is the process of recovering dissociated self-states. And we really do see profound changes in people over time when they’re working in this way.

I had a guy who came to group last night who’s been in recovery for a long time who has some very serious psychological problems. But he’s worked very hard for years to restore his life. Recently, he lost his job, and he started slipping with pornography, and he felt a tremendous amount of fear about coming into group and talking about it because he didn’t want to be shamed, and he has a hard time with confrontation. To his credit, he came back anyway, and the group was really compassionate with him about what he’s struggling with. I saw a distinct shift in his level of defensiveness and fear, so that he was able to be more compassionate with himself. His pornography use was inconsequential to the group because it was clearly an auto-regulatory coping mechanism and, therefore, a regressed move he made to soothe his many anxieties. What mattered most was the relationship between the men in the group.

He may also have learned that he can come back to group any time he has a problem.

That’s exactly right. When I asked him what he needed from the group, he said, “I need for everyone to tell me that I should keep coming back.” Which is not what he learned in early life, when he was shamed and ostracized. This is exactly the type of relational work that he desperately needs.

How does your PASAT treatment model, as discussed in your book, differ from the cognitive-behavioral approach that most sex addiction therapists rely on in the early stages of treatment? Or does PASAT simply formalize the process of moving, over time, from cognitive-behavioral work to trauma and relational work?

It’s different than the traditional model of using CBT first, and then moving into deeper dynamic therapy, which is a bifurcated model. With PASAT, the actual relational work is happening during the cognitive-behavioral treatment protocol. Sex addiction therapists in general tend to ascribe to Patrick Carnes’ CBT model, which lays out a road map on how to help people get sober. But therapists have to simultaneously be working on the relational aspects. So it’s not just about giving somebody an assignment and processing the assignment with them, it’s about co-regulation—tracking all the nonverbal cues of the client while the therapist is also paying attention to his or her own somatic countertransference, and tracking the client’s affect, gesture, and autonomic cues. So the therapist is in an “experience near” relationship with the addict, meaning both parties have a felt sense of each other, are processing their experience of each other while also processing cognitive material.

So it’s an integration of the relational work with the behavioral work?

Correct. It’s a holistic model. It brings everything in at the same time. Historically we’ve had addiction therapists and then we’ve had psychodynamic therapists, and never the twain shall meet. I’m proposing that we play all those notes at the same time, requiring the therapist to bring all of himself or herself into the mix. When we do this, we’re affecting and changing both parties’ neuropsychobiology. We’re working the left brain and the higher cortical functions, but we’re also working from the body up. It’s a much more integrated model that’s geared toward regulation and integration. We might also call it the affect regulating “cure” for addictive trauma.

Alex Katehakis’ book, Sex Addiction as Affect Dysregulation, is available on Amazon.com at this link.