Porn addictionThe prevalence of online pornography and our increasing reliance on the internet for everyday tasks, entertainment and communication is creating a growing issue around the harmful effect that porn can have on users’ lives.

But mental health professionals have started to draw a distinction between people seeking help because their issues arise from addiction and those who seek help because of the shame they feel about their use of pornography.

It’s an important distinction because despite an underlying increase in the number of clients discussing the negative effects of porn on their lives, the reasons the two groups ask for help and the treatment they receive are completely different. And with more and more parents worried about the effects of online porn addiction on their children, it’s vital that they distinguish between the reasons behind its use.

First of all, it’s important to realise that both groups are part of a growing issue in New Zealand. A recent article in the Herald on Sunday described how telco Slingshot had “found 75% of Kiwi parents are concerned their kids have access to online pornography” and detailed “rising numbers of young males presenting with problems [and] not nearly enough trained professionals to deal with the issue”.

Robert St Clinic co-director Kyle MacDonald was quoted in the article that it’s up to parents to prevent an unregulated internet from becoming a child’s go-to sex educator.

“It is up to us to create a good basic understanding of the complex emotional issues involved in sexual relationships and protect our young people.”

But not all problem porn-users are equal, and just because someone points to their porn addiction as the root cause of their mental health issues, it doesn’t mean that they can all be treated alike. And to confuse matters, shame-based porn users are likely to self-diagnose addiction as a way to explain away their porn use.

General symptoms, though, are likely to be similar: depression or anxiety, lying about their sexual activity or porn use, and displeasure at their sexual fantasy lives.

But there are different benchmarks that categorise shame-based use from addiction.

Addiction relies on:

  • Preoccupation to the point of obsession with porn and/or real world sexual activity (lasting six months or longer).
  • Loss of control over the use of porn and/or real world sexual activity, generally evidenced by multiple failed attempts to quit or cut back.
  • Real world consequences directly related to out of control porn use and/or sexual activity. These consequences may include ruined relationships, trouble at work or in school, loss of interest in previously enjoyable hobbies and activities, social isolation, lack of self-care, declining physical and emotional health, financial struggles, legal issues, etc.

Shame-based use is divided into two groups:

  • Those whose moral beliefs demonises pornography but who uses it occasionally. It doesn’t impinge on his life but he feels dreadful about his behaviour and blames “addiction” for it.
  • Those with sexual attractions that go against their ideal self-image – for example, a married man who feels shame about using gay porn. Again he can still function day-to-day but will blame his “addiction” for his desires.

In a recent blog on the psychcentral.com website, Robert Weiss argues that getting their initial diagnosis right is vital because the treatments are very different and can work counterproductively if applied to the wrong groups.

This makes it vitally important for those who think they are addicted to online pornography or for parents who discover their children are exposed to online pornography to talk to a trained professional rather than self-diagnosing.

Certainly therapy will be able to address the resulting depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, but the way that therapy is carried out will be very different.

For more information about online porn addiction and Robert St Clinic’s range of addictions specialists, call us on 09 973 5950, email us via info@robertstclinic.co.nz or leave a message via the website.