The 10 most effective ways of dealing with addiction to porn

People who identify as having a problem with porn often refer to their life revolving around machines or devices, whether that is computers, laptops or mobiles. This form of digital attachment can resemble a kind of ‘libidinal autonomy’ when someone is eating alone, sleeping alone and seeking sexual satisfaction alone. It is like they have a ‘do not disturb’ sign hanging over their heads when they are using. They inhabit a private world where contact with the outside world is limited and controlled. Phone calls go unanswered from friends and family when a binge with porn is being planned or underway.

Dealing with your porn addiction does not mean that life will be boring or glum without it but it could mean acquiring peace of mind and serenity. Mastery over sexual compulsiveness could produce greater happiness, more fulfilling relationships and greater energy levels. You could become more resilient and robust in dealing with the daily challenges in life and be less susceptible to the lure of the quick fix.

Addiction is slavish attachment to a pleasurable substance or behaviour and where there is difficulty in stopping in spite of negative consequences. The nature of addiction can be the subject of much debate such as whether it is a brain disease or not, or a set of choices gone wrong or indeed a self-medicating behavioural activity. See my blog post on the arguments for and against each one. For now let’s assume you are reading this because you believe you do have a problem.

People with a problem will typically use porn to modulate emotional swings. ‘Affect dysregulation’, or what may be referred to as ‘labile mood’, essentially reflects an inappropriate reaction to stress and worry by soothing difficult feelings with addictive activity. Such an unhealthy self-care regime will seek to bury difficult feelings in obsessive behavioural activity, comfort eating or substance abuse. A healthy self-care regime, on the other hand, will have well-developed coping and life skills to deal with difficult emotions after a busy and stressful day at work, or when there is stress and fear about the welfare of loved ones.

Here are 10 suggestions for dealing with porn addiction:

  1. Take your life one day at a time

Stopping is the easy bit. Staying stopped is the hard part. When you stop engaging in addictive behaviour your emotions will be all over the place. Try to avoid worries about tomorrow but set daily goals that are achievable. This will help to keep the focus on the present time. Your primary role is to attend to each day’s tasks. Remind yourself that your self-care regime resolves around this one day and that sexual acting out does not have any place in that regime.

  1. Do something else

The downside of repeated porn use is that your brain became familiar in working in a specific way.  Your brain still needs to receive stimulation after stopping. You will be better equipped to cope with porn urges when your brain is focused on problem solving.  Do something else when you feel like watching porn. Physical exercise is a fantastic antidote to the draw of acting impulsively.

  1. Restrict fantasy time when with others

Mentalising sexual desire is a potent trigger for porn use. Catch your thoughts when dealing with others and restrict the amount of time spent intriguing about others.  Imagining someone being naked or what sex would be like with them will create excessive sexual energy which could lead to porn use. If you cut off the stimulus you are less likely to want to seek relief.

  1. Adhere to the 3 second rule

People who identify as problem users of porn have said that casual gazing at people that they find attractive in the street can be a toxic trigger to using porn. This can be particularly problematical when you are looking at people that match your ideal erotic template. Try to restrict casual gazing to 3 seconds. You can’t help but notice people who you find attractive but you do have the choice over the length of time you spend gazing.

  1. Know your own personal vulnerabilities

Your use of porn could be a direct reaction to a personal trigger. It could be boredom, anger or sadness or after you have had an argument with others, for instance. Or it could be a self-sabotaging mechanism when seemingly good things are happening such as celebrating a happy occasion, a birthday or a professional anniversary. Knowing your personal vulnerabilities can help you to build more robust self-protection around your abstinence strategy.

  1. Reignite an old passion or hobby

Is there a hobby or passion that has gone idle since your porn addiction took hold?  The trouble with addictive behaviour is that it stifles creativity and restricts initiative. People who identify as problem users of porn have said that their addiction has acted like a time vampire. Hours go by and people have said that they forget to even eat, such is their obsession. Putting that energy into a hobby will boost self-esteem and self-confidence.

  1. Attend 12 step meetings

The idea of attending addiction recovery meetings with strangers and listening to very private tales from participants may not be everyone’s idea of a successful relapse strategy. Added to this reluctance may be a distain for God-talk at such meetings. The potential benefits, however, are having a community of people who could empathise with your situation as well as offering the potential to create a social support network. 12 step meetings work through the power of narration and by normalising behaviour. The one thing that can weaken a relapse prevention strategy is a chronic sense of isolation. Going to meetings and hearing how others have coped with their addiction can be useful as part of a holistic recovery programme. See SA, SLAA and SAA for more information and lists of meetings in your area.

  1. Maintain a daily gratitude list

It would be a poor day indeed if you don’t have something to be grateful for.  Gratitude is the perfect antidote to the need for excitement and compulsive sexual activity. There will be less need to seek excitement and ecstasy by listing the things you are grateful for. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.

  1. Visualise a future without porn

Your ability to imagine is what sets you apart from other species. The power of imagination can help you to connect to a higher part of yourself, beyond your cognitive function. Try to meditate and get in touch with your somatic energies. Imagine you are totally free of porn addiction; what would that look like? Play with the images and symbols that emerge.

  1. Seek a therapist

Therapy is an opportunity to review your attachment style and uncover what is behind the addiction. You can find a therapist at the Counselling Directory. ‘Anticipatory fantasy’ involves planning, fantasising and intriguing about seeking sexual pleasure. In therapy you can explore the motivation behind the idealisation.

People who struggle with porn often refer to a pleasure zone of porn activity where a timeless oasis exists with little worry of the real world. When the concept of time, however, intrudes on this zone (by having to go to work or meet an outside appointment, for example) there can be tension where tensionless is sought and relationality where dissociation is sought. This is precisely when the worries that are being escaped from come flooding back into the brain and it can feel like a form of post-coital depression and a sudden awakening to a harsh reality. It is not uncommon to experience guilt and remorse for lost time and unfulfilled ambition. Therapy is a place to explore past traumas, unprocessed grief and depression.

For more information see my interview with Mary Deitch, President of the Society for Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) about problematical sexual behaviour.

See also

Addiction is not just about drink and drugs
Sex addiction – why its so misunderstood

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