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When My Pornography Habit Became a Problem

Three dads talk about when their relationship with pornography began to harm their personal relationships.

It’s easier than ever  — and, arguably, more acceptable than ever — to look at pornography. As such, it’s also easier to look at X-rated material too much. The availability and anonymity of pornography make it easier to develop an unhealthy relationship with it.

Porn addiction, like sex addiction, remains controversial among professional therapists. It does not exist on the DSM because there is not a lot of research into the issue and because there has not yet been a list that conclusively defines the behaviors and symptoms of a porn addict. That doesn’t mean that therapists don’t see patients who experience that addiction.

While people can have a casual relationship with porn, or even share pornography with their spouse, others have found that they cannot. That porn, and subsequent masturbation, they’ve discovered, was their coping mechanism to deal with — or escape from — the struggles of life and as such affected their relationships with everything from their work to their spouse. Here, three dads explain when they realized that their porn usage was becoming a problem and what they did to stop it.

Dave, New York, 52

When I was eight, my parents got divorced. My dad left a big porn stash with magazines and stuff in our basement. My brother and I found it. My brother was a little bit older, so he thought that was really cool. I wasn’t quite sure what it all meant, but it was really, really alluring, and it became a companion for me over time when I was lonely.

I spent a lot of time alone when I was a kid, out in the country where we lived. After school it just became something fun and interesting. And then, of course, I discovered masturbation. It suddenly became an outlet for all of my emotions, whether it was happiness, sadness, loneliness, or whatever.

It suddenly became an outlet for all of my emotions, whether it was happiness, sadness, loneliness, or whatever.

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I probably recognized I had a problem in the late ’90s. I was watching some random public television documentary and they were talking about addiction, and somebody mentioned a pornography addiction, and I just thought, well, I’ve never heard of it expressed that way. But I wonder if that’s me. So I started to poke around in some online resources, take some tests about addiction, and I found that I pretty much followed all the signs. Even though it took a long time for me to address it, that was when I realized that this was probably destructive — or not good — behavior.

I started to date my wife in the mid-’90s. We were sexually active for like four years before we got married in 2000. I always assumed that once I found a stable partner, that the urge for porn and masturbation outside of an intimate relationship would kind of go away. But it didn’t. Over time, it just continued to grow and get stronger. And that’s when I really asked myself: I wonder if that’s normal?

It was a parallel life. I dove into ecstasy, on my own, by myself. It’s very isolated. A lot of us in the support group use the term ‘self care.’ Looking back, porn was the way that I would just blow off steam. I thought it was re-focusing my mind. At the worst of it, I would be acting out probably 4 to 7 times a week from anywhere for 20 minutes to an hour of just mindless searching. When I was on my binge, time stood still. And I could just be stuck for a long time. I had binges, if I was alone at night, if my wife was traveling or before we had kids, it could be two or three hours. And it was just like, what am I doing with my evening?

Robert, 33, California

When technology became available on phones, that’s pretty much when my addiction evolved. I was hooked on it. Once it became at my fingertips, at the click of a button, you can just type something in and it’s there. There were no boundaries, and no hurdles to get over to get to it.

As I’ve become sober, I continue to discover reasons and different triggers that would take me back to pornography. It’s rooted in feeling undesirable. Not just to the opposite sex, but undesirable because of my childhood, and my upbringing. I felt it was something that I could get and have instant gratification.

I would turn to it when I would feel stressed and lonely. It was a coping mechanism.

I would turn to it when I would feel stressed and lonely. It was a coping mechanism. But even in times where I was really excited, or in times where I was really happy about the way things were going, it didn’t matter. It was rain or shine. It was just kind of like a companion along the way. I could have a great day and totally feel fantastic and turn right to pornography or I could have a horrible day and go right to it as well.

I attempted to stop. I got a dummy phone. Then I made excuses to get a smartphone again, because I needed to do this, and that. And then I fell back into it. It affected my sexual performance. My wife and I were trying to get pregnant throughout our marriage and she didn’t really know what was going on. I knew what the issue was.

My wife and I are much better now — there’s a lot of open communication. But our relationship was strained. I work in construction, I do electrical contracting. There are some stereotypes about construction workers. They’re not entirely true, but we’re all pretty open with each other — so we talk about porn, joke about it. They weren’t quite understanding of my journey.

There were times where I was walking through my faith and trying to make this change happen, and not really telling my coworkers, because I didn’t want to seem less than, and then not telling my wife, because I didn’t want things to blow up and I was in fear of her reaction. I didn’t have any support. I was trying to do it on my own. I did tell my wife, eventually. It was heartbreaking to see how hurt she was. But after her first, emotional response, she said ‘What are you going to do? What’s your plan?’

It’s a freeing feeling to know that porn is not on the table. I have other hang-ups. Sometimes I’m quick-tempered. But I’m not looking at pornography, and I haven’t been. I have a good plan and great support and it’s comforting. I feel safe.

Matt, 47, Illinois

Porn was my primary way of coping. I experienced trauma early in my family. My brother died. As a kid, even though I had loving parents, the way that the death affected them, the message I received was that I was unlovable. I always felt that growing up. I remember when I first saw porn, it was so overwhelming. As I grew up, and I would feel unlovable or rejected or things would come up that would trigger that, I would immediately go to porn. Now, what happened is that porn stopped working as well at some point. When I would get done using it, I would feel all this shame. It would just make me feel more unloveable.

Porn became an easy source to go to whenever I felt stressed out, or if I had emotions that I wasn’t wanting to deal with. It was an easy coping strategy for a long time, and like a lot of religious people, I thought maybe when I got married, it would solve the problem. I would be intimate, and so my need for porn would go away.

It was almost the opposite. The more intimacy that was required in our marriage and the deep connection to my need for porn was very scary to me. I just had more anxiety, more stress, and more concern. So really, despite my best attempts, I got more involved with it after I got married.

Porn became an easy source to go to whenever I felt stressed out, or if I had emotions that I wasn’t wanting to deal with.

I knew I had a problem. I was in conflict. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I tried to get some books to figure out how to deal with it, but no one talked about it like it was an addiction. It was like people didn’t even know about it, really. It was easy to keep it hidden, too, because I felt ashamed of it, and people were uncomfortable with it. So I learned to hide it.

In the early years of our marriage, using pornography and masturbating compulsively made it harder for me to have an erection while having sex. It also made it harder for me to be present during sex. And I would bring porn into the bedroom. And it got worse. There were points where I remember my wife getting ready for intimacy and I’d roll over and put up my phone and start trying to look at something stimulating to get excited. Porn was the primary way I was sexual, and the intimacy with my wife was almost secondary.

We have to talk about our relationship with porn. That, I think, is much more powerful than a word like “addiction,” because there was a cultivated relationship that I had with porn. And when I got married, I was still cultivating that relationship, and going to it to get my needs met. It was in conflict with creating this relationship with my wife. Porn was stealing away that intimacy. The more that I went to porn, the more I withdrew from my wife and vice versa. The more that I started pursuing intimacy with my wife, I had to let go of some of the porn dependencies, otherwise it would pull me back, or I would just not really be able to pursue my wife.

What changed was my wife caught me downloading porn in our office a couple of years into the marriage. My wife is really practical and loving. She looked at it and said, ‘I know this isn’t about me.’ She was able to look past the content and really saw this as a deeper addiction or dependence.