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SALT LAKE CITY — The life of any addict is a hard one, and having a pornography or sexual addiction is no exception.
What may have started as a curiosity, an attempt to cope with some form of trauma, or unintended exposure has turned into a tormenting cycle that seems to go on forever. You want to stop. You want support. You want to find someone who understands. You need help.
How do you know if you have an addiction?
Someone who is addicted to pornography can exhibit a lot of the same signs as someone with any other addiction. Signs can include not being able to control when you start or stop your compulsive behavior, not being able to stop your behavior even though you have tried to stop numerous times, keeping secrets, hiding your behavior, losing time with family, losing time at work, returning to the behavior even though it is against your value system, etc.
Another sign that you could have an addiction is when your compulsive behavior causes problems for you and those around you.
"Secrecy and lies are the lifeblood of this issue, of this addiction," said Dr. Dan Gray, LCSW, CSAT, clinical director and cofounder of LifeStar.
If keeping secrets and telling lies are what keeps this addiction alive, then it would reason that being open and telling the truth would be the best way to start in the healing process.
Why is therapy needed?
Changing thought processes, lifestyle
According to Dr. Dorothy Maryon, CMHC, of LifeStar, a therapy network that specializes in pornography and sexual addiction, those with an addiction have had that act of compulsivity programmed into their way of life and even into the way they think. Time and diligent work on the part of the addict are needed to reset the addict's thinking patterns. The addict must learn how to handle whatever is inciting their addiction in a way that is healthier than their compulsive behavior.
It is estimated that nearly 12 million people in the United States suffer from sex addiction... Casual viewing of pornography, for example, does not start as an obsession, but rather a way to self medicate from the stresses of life. Because of powerful effects on the brain, casual viewing can easily turn into a destructive addiction.
The addict must deal with the underlying trigger that is inciting this recurring behavior in a healthy manner. Many addicts have years and decades of acting out their addiction before they decide to become involved in therapy. This means that their thinking patterns and ways of life have been ingrained for a very long time. Changing those patterns and learning to make healthy decisions instead of succumbing to their addiction is done by the addict doing his or her therapeutic work.
"As we'll say that — recovery is not about sobriety and abstinence, it's about a lifestyle change," Gray said. "So it's changing the way one does life and (manages) early trauma issues."
In response to the problem of pornography in general and how it relates to the need for therapy, Dr. Todd Olsen, LCSW, CSAT, program director and cofounder of LifeStar, said that pornography does not teach healthy sexual behavior between two consenting adults.
"It becomes all about performance, and the pornography's getting more violent and more graphic and so that's what people are going to see as sexuality," he said. "That's not healthy sexuality."
Not only does viewing pornography teach unhealthy sexuality, but often the viewers connect and attach to these unhealthy images in a way that disrupts a legitimate connection, like to the spouse. Maryon warns about pornography's ability to create false attachments.
"In a healthy relationship, two people attach to each other and connect," she said. "You throw pornography into that mix, often that disrupts that attachment and the partner that's looking at a lot of pornography attaches to kind of these images (and) this easy way to get your needs met, and so (for) the other partner who's not looking at pornography … pornography becomes a competing attachment in the relationship."
Many say that there is no harm in viewing pornography. They say that it is a natural human need. Gray disagrees.
"Just ask a spouse of a sex addict what the harm is about pornography — (a) female spouse or a male spouse of a sex addict will say, 'I felt disconnected from him for a long time.' 'His attention and his affection is somewhere else.' 'I don't feel like I know him,' and it's really very true because he's been living a double life," Gray said. "So, if you want to ask what the harm is, ask them."
Spousal therapy is just as important as that of the addict's, not only to help the relationship, but to help themselves.
Pornography, using prostitutes, online chatting, sexting, habitual masturbation, voyeurism, affairs and a long list of other activities are all things that can be part of a sexual addiction. All of these activities are taxing on the addicts as well as their family members, and especially their spouses.
Types of therapy
In general, the people who successfully recover from this addiction take part in individual therapy, go to 12-step meetings, have the support of a therapeutic group system, have the support of their religious leaders if they have them, have their spouse involved if they are married, diligently do their therapeutic work, acquire a healthy education on this subject, etc. An individual can be helped through his or her therapy by surrendering to his or her higher power.
Outpatient programs include private therapy, group therapy in a three-phase plan, and an intensive outpatient program geared to boost recovery. Each of these options can be taken separately or together for an accelerated plan of recovery.
Participating in group portions of therapy gives the clients added support and a community of healing.
"If addiction is a disease of disconnection, then one of the ways of healing that is through connection," Maryon said. "And to do it alone then becomes very difficult in that regard."
The therapeutic groups provide a support system of people who are going through similar experiences. The addicts are supported in their therapeutic process by other addicts and together they work through their recovery, led by a therapist.
The average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is the shocking age of 9, according to lifestarnetwork.com. Children are being exposed to images, actions and feelings that they are not mature enough to understand or control. This can create a vicious addiction cycle very early in a person's life.
There are youth therapy programs available for teens. The best scenario for a teen enrolled in a therapy program would be to have his parents involved throughout the process. A teen who doesn't have his parents involved with him will still get help through the program, but he won't do as well as fast as a youth who does have his parents involved.
Like with all therapy, conflicts will occur and the addicts and their spouses (or parents) will have ups and downs during the process. Diligence in working through each step and staying with the program will help bring them together and will help them to heal. Many couples who have gone through this therapy together have found that they communicate at a higher level than they had before and that their intimacy is increased through the process of therapy and healing.
A road to a healthier life
"I think recovery is a call to congruency," Maryon said. "That it is for the youth as well as adults to come back to a sense of wholeness and completeness within themselves, the ability to be congruent with their actions and their thoughts and their values. That somewhere along the line that got disrupted, hijacked."
There is hope and there is help, both for the addict and for the family. Many people are dealing with this issue and many of them have found the hope and the help they need to change their lives.
"People recover from this — they get their lives back," Maryon said. "They recover a sense of connection and companionship and healthy sexuality."
For more information on addiction and the specifics of the LifeStar program, visit lifestartherapy.com.
You can contact Jenelle Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also blogs about fighting pornography, dealing with your spouse's sexual addiction, dealing with addiction in general and other related content at Get2theGist.blogspot.com.