This is a really tough one.
I’ll start by saying right out that when it comes to this subject I can speak not only from my lens as a somatic trauma specialist, but also from extensive personal experience – both as a sufferer of porn addiction, and as a triumphant victor who overcame it.
Also, porn use does not necessarily equal porn addiction.
When it comes to addiction it’s not about the thing, it’s about the motivation, the urgency, and the underlying associations. Addictions are ways that we find to manage and soothe our trauma and can take many, many forms – drugs, food, exercise, shopping, whatever. So to be clear, this article is not about porn use, it is about porn addiction, and the deep roots in our society, and in fact our very DNA, that fuel and enable it.
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I grew up in an abusive environment, of which there are many, many kinds.
Mine was the kind where, on one hand, the environment was one of strict control and walking on eggshells with emotional, mental, and even some physical violence waiting to erupt should I step out of line.
On the other hand (my parents divorced when I was two and I switched back and forth between their houses every two weeks) there was the safe house. At the safe house I was free to be messy, free to be emotional and to rage – venting some the pressure that had built up at the other house. And yet, there were much more subtler dysfunctions in this household that were not abusive per se, but that had a profound effect nonetheless.
There was an air of guilt and very subtle emotional manipulation that was mostly delivered unconsciously in the subtext, and a clingy, smothering kind of emotional need that permeated an atmosphere of depression.
These two environments, which were almost the polar opposite of each other, resulted in me being hyper vigilant and constantly on edge and anxious on the one hand, and collapsed into depression and lethargy on the other – in other words, I got screwed up.
On top of all that, though I have no clear memory of it, I’m pretty sure that I was sexually molested as a young child outside of the home as well.
Underneath all that, I was circumcised – an incredibly traumatic experience which linked violence and violation with the sexual organs in the somatic unconscious, and also established an unconscious hatred of the feminine because my mother did not protect me from that experience, and was reinforced by my isolation and separation from her in an incubator due to being born six weeks premature.
(Just to be clear – I don’t blame my mom or my dad for any of this, as they are basically good and loving people who didn’t know any better and were simply replaying the unresolved intergenerational trauma that they themselves were handed down, for more on that, check out this past article)
It is any wonder then that I turned to porn as a teenager, once my hormones started going berserk?
Masturbation is a powerful, pleasurable experience that, when coupled with porn which is all about looking and not about feeling, gives one absolute control over that powerful pleasurable experience along with the illusion of interaction with others – something my body desperately wanted. It was both safe and socially engaging in an ultimately false, yet compelling way. With porn I was in command and could pause, rewind, skip ahead, etc… I was in charge of both my own body, and the fiction that was portrayed.
This makes total sense and I imagine lots of people turn to porn and other forms of sex addiction as a way to manage and deal with their trauma, but the roots of porn addiction are much deeper than that and reach their tendrils way back into the Stone Age.
The Caveman Experience
“Ugh! Grog want sex! Mmmmm… Grog see woman. Need woman for sex. Grog drag woman into cave and have sex. Grog satisfied.”
That’s pretty much how it went for a long time. That’s the approach and fundamental response to the sexual drive that is STILL influencing men’s attitudes and behaviours around sex to this day. This is the case in the entire animal kingdom – the male takes what he wants and it generally isn’t too enjoyable for the female.
I think it’s pretty obvious how this plays out today in the dating world, relationships, adult film industry, and advertising and media in general. Essentially, many men are still, deep down, infantile cavemen when it comes to navigating the reproductive drive, and I was no exception.
This is why this particular addiction is SO VERY DIFFICULT to come out of; it is rooted in ancient behaviours embedded in our very DNA, and the energy that fuels it is one of the most powerful life energies that exists on the planet: The drive to reproduce and continue the species.
As I mentioned we see evidence of this all around us in the objectification of women – it’s normalized. It’s not uncommon for boys of all ages to gather together and watch porn, to send pictures of porn, including naked pictures of their own girlfriends, to each other, and to generally behave like jackasses ruled by their genitals.
(If you have Netflix and don’t mind edgy comedy check out “Louis CK: Hilarious” from 12:20 – 14:10, for a brilliant and hilarious depiction of this).
Usually if your typical guy gets confronted by his partner about watching porn or sexting, etc… the response is generally, “what’s the big deal?! Everybody does this, it’s a normal part of sexuality!” And the truth is, that is accurate.
Ancient Sumeria and Egypt had porn, Ancient Greece had porn, Rome had porn, The Persian Empire had porn, The Middle Ages had Porn, The Renaissance had porn, the Victorian Era had porn, The Industrial Revolution had porn, we have porn. Granted though, the porn from these past eras was far more innocent and innocuous than what we generally see today.
This brings up an important distinction. I’m not a prude and I’m not saying all porn is “bad” or that anyone who consumes it is immoral in some way or an addict. There is a some porn and erotica out there that is quite innocent and even beautiful and artistic and, like I said at the beginning, a person can consume something and not be addicted to it, porn included.
I’m talking about the trend towards really violent, degrading porn that brutalizes women which has become the norm at this point on the internet, and this has a lot to do with the tolerance an addict develops towards their drug of choice, causing them to need more intense doses. The industry keeps making more and more intense and violent porn because the innocent stuff looses it’s effectiveness for the addict, and addicts make up the bulk of their audience. Someone who writes extensively about this is neuroplasticity pioneer and author Dr. Norman Doidge. If you want a more in-depth take on the normalization of destructive porn and the effects on neuroplasticity, check out this excerpt from his book, “The Brain That Changes Itself”.
This increasing trend towards brutality and the violent objectification of women is just part of what Dr. Gabor Maté refers to as the “toxic normal”. There are many things about our society that are “normal”, and yet are still totally destructive and counter to our successful evolution as healthy, potent, decent human beings.
Another toxic norm that plays powerfully into the hands of sexual dysfunction and addiction, and in the domination of women in general, is circumcision. I’m not saying that circumcision causes all this, but it’s part and parcel of the paradigm of shame, sexual repression, and denial of the body that permeates our culture, and I believe that if it is not addressed or repaired it establishes a deep, unconscious hatred toward the feminine and links violence with sexuality in the somatic unconscious; plus, it vastly decreases the sensitivity of the organ itself which makes rougher stimulation a necessity in achieving orgasm. This can be repaired to a great degree though, by healing the trauma and by becoming proficient at some of the energetic practices I describe at the end of this article.
It’s Not Easy
Here is a hard truth – most men who are addicted to porn are not ready to face this issue and change themselves at this level, and this connects back to the fact that not only is porn addiction usually rooted in trauma, abuse, guilt, shame, or unconscious acceptance of the societal norm, it is rooted in our DNA and fuelled by the force of Creation itself.
In other words, it is fucking hard to change.
If you are reading this and know that you are addicted to porn, or if you don’t consider yourself necessarily addicted but find yourself engaging with it nonetheless, and if you actually want to change that … congratulations!! You are in the vast minority and you are to be commended. I’m sending you a big man hug.
Now, prepare yourself… If you really want to change this, get ready for a hard road where you will often fail. Sorry, that’s how it is. If I try to make it sound like fundamentally changing your relationship with sexuality is no big deal, I would be doing you a disservice. It’s a big deal.
I wanted to beat my porn addiction decades ago, and it has taken that long to truly be free of it.
If your relationship with porn is more rooted simply in unquestioning acceptance of what was modelled for you, and not also tied in with guilt, shame, abuse, and management strategies like mine was, it will be easier for sure, but still hard; for we are confronted by, stimulated by, and enabled to behave in accordance with pornography and all it represents at every corner.
If you are a woman reading this and you want your man to stop looking at porn, it’s time to be realistic. Unless he is someone who is deeply committed to changing himself, unless he is someone for whom a path of healing and evolution is a primary focus – meaning he’s doing it because HE wants to change, not because you want him to – it ain’t gonna happen. Better to either learn to accept him the way he is, or move on.
Also, I am speaking thus far as if this is a heterosexual male problem and that is, in the vast majority of cases, the truth. But everything I’m about to share in the next section can also apply to heterosexual women who are addicted to porn, to gay women and men, and really to anyone with pain and trauma around sexuality, no matter their gender identity or orientation. Even though this addiction manifests most commonly among heterosexual men this is fundamentally a human problem, and we are all human.
With that all said, let’s look at some things you can do to beat porn addiction.
How To Escape Porn Prison
I’m going to write this basically by talking about what worked for me, and I’m pretty much a worse-case scenario when it comes to porn addiction, in that I had all the elements in play that go into making this addiction super hard to beat.
One of the most important approaches involved with successful trauma healing (which is what is fundamentally needed in order to truly recover from, and not just manage, any addiction) is titration, which is a term from organic chemistry which means adding a drop at a time into a solution until a change occurs. If you try to go cold turkey with this it most likely won’t work, or it may seem to work but then the addiction will emerge in another way – food addiction, drug use, excessive exercise and adrenaline-filled activities, emotionally abusive behaviour, etc… meaning, it didn’t work. This is why titration is so important.
These are all ways to titrate that change, and approach porn addiction from many angles.
- Do it anyway, with consciousness, and then forgive yourself: Sure, resist the urge as much as you can, that’s great and necessary and a way to build capacity for enduring, and eventually re-directing, the energy. But eventually, at least for quite a while, you will give in. When this happens go ahead and look at porn, jerk off, whatever – but be aware of what you are doing. Consciously say to yourself “well, here I go, I guess I can’t fight this anymore and I’m going to give in”. Then when it’s over really make room to feel what you feel – there is most likely a sense of shame there, or guilt, or disgust – acknowledge it and forgive yourself, remember that you are a victim of societal programming and/or abuse, and move on. One of the first steps in truly changing any addictive pattern is to change the way you engage with that pattern – meaning with consciousness and acceptance, rather than unconsciously and reflexively.
- Bring the material you consume more in alignment with Love: There are all kinds of porn out there, from horrifically atrocious and violent, demonic abuse (thankfully I was never into this camp but I saw enough to know it exists), to homemade porn that is made by couples who actually love each other which is more innocent, and even erotica that is quite artistic and beautiful. If you gravitate more towards the former camp, which is pretty normal if you have been abused, then start moving towards the latter. You may not get the same kind of thrill, but it should be enough to get the job done – there’s plenty of hot porn out there made by folks who love each other, and if you can free yourself from the really violent stuff, or material that features young, or exploited teen girls, then you will have made a significant shift in the amount of dark energy you are interacting with, which will make the recovery easier.
- If you have a girlfriend or spouse, and if they are willing, actually do the stuff you are fantasizing about: Ladies (or men, if the roles are reversed), if your man wants to change, and if he is also pursuing other steps to do this, and you want to support his process, this may be one way to do that, if you are willing and able to do so without being in denial of yourself. A lot of porn addiction is rooted in guilt and shame and feeling like it’s not ok to want what we want. Please note that I am NOT recommending that you put yourself into actually dangerous or violent situations! But if it means putting on some handcuffs or lingerie, trying out different positions, engaging in fantasy or role play, or otherwise allowing relatively harmless sexual play that your man has been unable to ask for because of fear of rejection, then this can actually help him out and build a bridge towards deeper intimacy, connection, and lead to him spending less time with a screen and more time with you. Addicts – you have to be courageous enough to ask. Partners – it’s possible you may have face some of your own sexual repression or trauma that might get in the way of this kind of risque exploration; also, your sex life can’t ALL be about facilitating their healing, you need to get what you need too. A really good book to read about this subject for both sexes is, “Passionate Marriage”, by Dr. David Schnarch
- Do the Trauma Work: Porn addiction, like all addiction, generally stems from trauma and abuse. We need to address that trauma with a qualified professional. I recommend a good Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (the work of Peter Levine), ideally one who has also been trained in Somatic Practice (the work of Kathy Kain). If you can’t find this there are other forms of somatic work like Somatic Psychotherapy, Hakomi, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Really, a lot of it comes down to the skill of the individual practitioner even more than the modality (though I will still say that a skilled SEP trained in Somatic Practice is the absolute best for trauma work) – it’s even possible to find a skilled tantric practitioner, or sex coach, or even massage therapist that may be able to help. The key is that the practitioner be sensitive, attuned, and that they understand that trauma does not live in the mind, but in the nervous system and the accompanying physiology.
- Redirecting the Energy, Reclaiming the Life Force: The fundamental energy driving this addiction is life force itself – the sexual energy. This is also your creative energy. It is also called Chi, or Kundalini energy. There are many traditions out there that work with re-directing this powerful force into different channels where it can be then used for fuelling creativity, healing of the body, evolving our consciousness, and developing spiritual abilities. This is one of the most powerful ways to change and redirect the addictive behaviour, but it is tough to do, and sometimes even dangerous to do, if the trauma piece is not addressed first. If your porn use is less rooted in trauma and more in societal conditioning though, this would be good to check out immediately. Tantra is one, there are also Shamanic practices and Wiccan practices, but my favourite is Taoist practice as it is the most scientific and doesn’t involve ritual or mythology. This is the book I read that was hugely important for me doing this work, “Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy”, by Mantak Chia. He also has books on the same practice for women, and other relevant works.
Whatever route you choose, please remember that truly recovering from porn addiction takes a lot of patience. This isn’t something that can be done “cold turkey” and it can take years and years to truly be healed at all levels and fully reclaim your life energy. It’s a long-term project and you will fail often, guaranteed. But then you will also succeed. And then you will succeed more. And eventually those successes will outweigh the failures. You will develop the capacity to ignore, and even better, redirect sexual arousal, in positive, life-giving ways. You will become less ruled by shame, guilt and dark energy and more filled with love, life force, and creativity.
If you have patience, forgiveness and acceptance for yourself, if you do the work and maintain a firm determination to change, you CAN do it. I believe in you.