Pornography & Sexual Addiction – Signs, Symptoms and Getting Help

Pornography addiction is a form of sexual addiction which is a process or behavioural addiction. Sex addiction is growing and becoming increasingly prevalent and problematic for many people in Ireland. The instantaneous availability of pornography, sexually explicit content, sex workers and online dating and hook up sites online makes sexual addiction more prevalent, in-particular since the introduction of tablets and smartphones.

Habitual, long-term, compulsive and impulsive use of pornography effects people in various ways. For many, pornography use damages healthy relationships, intimacy and mental and emotional health. The characteristics of problematic behaviour and addiction develop over time as individuals struggle to maintain their health and relationships. Pornography is deeply impacting and influencing some of our younger generations understanding and perception of healthy loving sex and sexuality. Ongoing exposure to pornography in a young person or adult can cause unrealistic attitudes and understanding of sex and create anxiety and internal stress regarding relationships and sexual performance. Unhealthy use of pornography can cause sexual dysfunction and intimacy disorders and in some instances leave to illegal behaviours and sexual offending.

Pornography is not automatically problematic. However, it is the association and level of use of pornography and the impact it is having on the individuals life which defines it as healthy or unhealthy. Habitual, impulsive and compulsive use of online pornography can lead to dependence and addiction thus taking the addict further and further away from themselves and others. Getting regular personal addiction counselling and attending Twelve Step Support groups to overcome pornography and sexual addiction are an alternative to residential addiction treatment centers.

Counselling provides individual one to one therapeutic support to individuals who are struggling with problematic, unhealthy or addictive sexual behaviours. The counselling approach is supportive, direct and gently challenging and is often a longer term process. Confidentiality, encouragement and unconditional positive regard are at the core of addiction counselling work. Breaking the cycle of secrecy and shame is the first step towards getting help. Early intervention is vital in breaking the cycle of problematic and unhealthy behaviours which can escalate over time.

Typically, sex with our selves or others starts us off, and just as in other addictions, it dissolves tension, relieves depression, resolves conflicts or provides  the means to cope with difficult life situations or take an action that seemed impossible before’.        (Sexaholics Anonymous, 1989:35)

Other process addictions are associated with food, sex, exercising, gaming and hoarding. Addictions associated with food and sex are considered more complex in that the addict cannot essentially survive without either food or sex as they are basic drives, instinctive and fundamental to life. It is this complexity which makes recovery from such dependencies sometimes more challenging. In addition, sexual addiction often coexists with other addictions or long term issues. Sex addiction is an invisible addiction and often goes unnoticed by partners and family for extensive periods of time. Sex may be identified as sex with self, sex with others or both.

Secrecy, shame, fear and embarrassment often envelope and conceal pornography and sexual addiction as partners and friends are unaware of their loved ones escalating and perpetuating behaviour. In many instances a strong sense of entitlement or reward distorts the addicts thinking process. Availability, accessibility and opportunity to access online sexual content have lead to a significant increase in problematic sexual behaviours and relationship breakdown. In many instances, pornography fuels exploration or preoccupation of other sexual activities both online and off-line. Excessive and prolonged use of pornography, sexual acting out or engaging in sexual relations (physical, non-physical and online) can lead to sexual addiction. Those effected are primarily male and they may or may not be in a relationship. It is recommended that attending personal counselling, support groups and relationship counselling are beneficial to successful long term recovery.

Orlagh addresses the following areas with clients in Pornography Addiction counselling;

  •    Identifying the problem
  •    Types of sexual addictions
  •    Self Assessment
  •    Functions of the Addiction
  •    Emotional, mental and psychological impact
  •    Brief Intervention
  •    Crisis Management in Relationships
  •    Denial & Rationalisation
  •    Triggers & Habits
  •    Stages of recovery
  •    Recovery process
  •    The Therapeutic Process
  •    Effects on Relationships
  •    Shame & Secrecy
  •    Healthy Sexuality
  •    Compulsive Masturbation
  •    Challenges & Resistance
  •    Motivations to Change
  •    Psychosexual Education
  •    Goals and Expectations

Counselling for Partners and Spouses

Personal counselling provides emotional support, understanding and coping mechanisms in a safe and supportive space to men and women effected by their partners sexual behaviour, infidelity or pornography use. Very often it can feel difficult to share with friends or family the private and intimate details of our closest relationship and the effect your partners behaviour or recent disclosure may be having on you personally. Counselling provides a space to explore and express the spectrum of emotions you may be experiencing such as hurt, shock, fear or confusion and how you can deal with your relationship situation going forward. Counselling may be short term brief intervention in times of crisis or disclosure from their partner or longer term personal therapy depending on each clients needs and the level of support they feel necessary at that time.

What is Sexual Addiction

The term ‘Sexual Addiction’ is used to described out-of-control, damaging sexual behaviour. Terms such as ‘sexually compulsive behaviour’ and ‘sexual dependency’ are also used to describe the same problem. As sexual addiction can take so many different forms we often use the plural term “sexual addictions” in our work. The sexual addict may engage in or feel compelled to seek out a variety of sexual behaviour and activities despite the negative consequences this may have on his or her personal life and physical or mental health. Often the addict makes continued failed attempts to stop their behaviour.

Signs of Sexual addiction and pornography addiction

  1. A pattern of out-of-control sexual behaviour;
  2. Severe consequences due to sexual behaviour;
  3. Inability to stop despite adverse consequences;
  4. Persistent pursuit of self-destructive or high-risk behaviour;
  5. Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behaviour;
  6. Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy;
  7. Increasing amounts of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficient;
  8. Severe mood changes around sexual activity;
  9. Inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experience;
  10. Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behaviour.
    (P. Carnes, 1991)

Getting help for sexual addiction:

Getting help for a sexual addiction is similar to getting help for any other addiction or personal problem. It starts with a realisation or an acknowledgement that there is a problem which you are struggling to deal. Often this is the result of negative consequences to your behaviour such as a discovery or disclosure. Early prevention or intervention is crucial to ensuring that an addictive behaviour does not develop and escalate. In Ireland, there are a number of ways which someone can get help for a sexual addiction. Below are some suggestions;

  • Attending personal counselling with an addiction counsellor.
  • Speak to your GP about your problem in confidence.
  • Attend group support such as  Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous.
  • Residential treatment centres are available for sexual addictions.
  • Educate yourself through reading book, listening to audiobooks and learning about sex and porn addiction.
  • Engage in regular Relationship amd Couples Counselling.
  • Use online resources for sexual addiction and pornography addiction such as support groups and organisations.
  • Talk to your partner or a close friend about how you are feeling.
  • Do not keep putting off getting help.
  • Set simple absence goals and develop healthy behaviours.
  • Find ways to manage and reduce stress.
  • Complementary health therapies help promote relaxation, self-care and stress management

Twelve Step Support Groups in Ireland for sex addiction:

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) 

Orlagh is a Sex Addiction Counsellor at The Centre for Sexual Addictions and a member of ATSAC The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. She provides private counselling to individuals, partners and couples for pornography addiction and related behaviour. Orlagh’s approach places strong emphasis on sexual health promotion, healthy sexuality, education and awareness. As addiction is mostly a long term problem developed over a long period of time, counselling is best attended for an extended period of time to support the recovery process.

To find out more  about Counselling & Psychotherapy, Addiction Counselling & Twelve Step Support Groups in Naas, Co Kildare visit www.orlaghgahan.ie