Pornography addiction or sex addiction are not officially recognised as a mental illness or disorder in American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5) or by WHO. Although the behaviour lacks a classification, it does not change the reality of the experience for those who suffer from it themselves or for those who see their loved ones go through it.
Path to pornography addiction
No addiction happens overnight. Most of them start out as harmless experimentation. Sustained use with unfulfilled emotional needs often create the circumstances in which the seemingly harmless activity becomes a compulsive behaviour or an addiction. The “harmless” activity carries a reward in its wake. Often this is an illusion of feeling in control during the consumption.
No drugs required
Unlike alcohol or drug addiction, you don’t need to consume any drugs to reach a climax in pornography addiction as your body will manufacture the endorphins that you need to get the high. Unfortunately, as with every addiction, coming down from the highs is often accompanied with feelings of shame and guilt. This is contradictory to what you feel during consumption. The behaviour continues despite these feelings.
Stages of pornography addiction
Stage 1: Early Exposure
Viewing pornography at a young age starts out as a harmless exploration of sexuality perhaps. It exposes you to images and acts at a very young and impressionable age. This does not automatically create an addiction, but it does lay the seeds for it. Seeds that can go on to bear fruit if they are nourished with repetition of behaviour and emotional coping strategies.
Stage 2: Formulation of addiction
Viewing pornography is the creation of a fantasy. It creates an escape from reality and becomes a way to get away from your problems. The sexuality part is lost and is replaced with a spectacle. People who turn to porn, keep coming back to it again and again.
Stage 3: Escalation
Having settled into your pornography use, your appetite for risk increases. The pornography addiction has also become stronger, and you crave a new high and thrill. The pornography you used to watch becomes boring and you start to look for more graphic stuff. You start to consume what used to disgust you at one time.
Stage 4: Desensitization
The graphic stuff starts to become ineffective and can no longer satisfy you. You start to become numb and seek a new thrill. The desperation to find the thrill grows and the frustration grows with it.
Step 5: Acting out
Separating reality from fantasy become difficult as time goes on. An increase in boredom and risk taking is playing alongside this inability to separate perhaps. Playing out scenarios and story lines you have seen on screen starts to become a reality for many. Your behaviour can become risky and dangerous, potentially to yourself and others.
Are the stages compulsory
Not everyone gets to stage 5 of their addiction. Not getting to later stages does not mean that there isn’t a problem or that it will not become one in the future. It just means that you have not got there.
The stages are usually linear but don’t have to be. Wake up calls or being caught out can reduce risk taking ability and you can remind yourself to “behave” and therefore return to an earlier stage. This can be temporary, and you might return to the later stage as time goes on.
How is Counselling helpful
You might be aware of the habit but lack the objectivity to understand your pattern of behaviour or what purpose pornography addiction serves for your emotional needs. We work together in our sessions to understand the behaviour, the pattern of use and the reasons for it. And then we replace pornography usage with more healthier means of meeting your needs.
I provide counselling services online through Zoom, and in my therapy room in West London in Hampton.