3 Non-Obvious Reasons That We Get Addicted to Porn

xxxchurch - 3 Non-Obvious Reasons That We Get Addicted to PornLust isn’t the only reason behind your porn addiction. There are subtle snakes in the grass that need to be hunted and confronted. It turns out: there’s pretty ugly stuff, way down deep, that demands our total honesty.

When you begin to kick porn and find recovery, you’re often told to watch out for “triggers,” like sights, sounds, and even smells that send you down the binge-spiral. But external triggers are internally pressing on something that’s already there.

You have a pre-existing framework in your mental basement that’s easily pushed and provoked.

Porn-users use porn for a lot of obvious reasons: unfulfilled sexual desires, drama at work, a deficit of affirmation, a deprivation of human connection. But there are also some hidden, hard-to-spot reasons that porn is a go-to “fix.” Here are three:

1) The Fear of Aging / The Idolatry of Youth

Pornography is a perpetual, poisonous snapshot of unrealistic vitality. In such a plastic fantasy world, there’s no room for aging spouses, no room for broken bodies, and an infantile coping with the inevitable loss of youthfulness.

Hollywood is already a shaming ground for older starlets and body changes, obsessed with the younger model (literally) and the “May-December Romance” fantasy.[1] Female Hollywood actresses, on average, are about fifteen years younger than their male co-stars; both Scarlett Johansson and Maggie Gyllenhaal were called “too old” for roles with much older male counterparts, John Cusack lamented 20-something year old actresses regularly called “menopausal,” and the late, great Carrie Fisher was pressured to lose a ton of weight for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.[2],[3],[4]

Even more so, the world of pornography, with bizarre exceptions, worships youthfulness as a grotesque trophy to upkeep at all costs. And though we might get older, our “appetite” for specific porn actors doesn’t age with us, and we become imprisoned to an impossible, unhealthy (and creepy) standard.

I work in the hospital as a chaplain, and even the middle-aged are bewildered and shocked by the ravages of age. No one told them what it would be like. At the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned preacher, our culture now, more than ever, is bombarded by heightened perfection, from Instagram to “wellness drinks” to lip injections. “For the first time in history,” says author and Stanford professor Robert Harrison, “the young have become a model of emulation for the older population, rather than the other way around.”[5]

Pornography, in some ways, denies us the difficult discussions around our mortality, by locking us into unchanging images of young models and vicariously placing us with them. Ironically, this “unchanging” aspect of pornography is artificially created by a rotating stage of models who quickly age out of the business (or who die trying[6]). Pornography, by its very nature, pulls us into a Peter-Pan-vacuum, to avoid aging and dying, when such fear could be confronted by direct dialogue instead of denial.

Solutions: It’s hard to let go of youth. Aging isn’t easy, and I empathize with those who try to grasp backwards for nostalgia. But pornography only buries our ability to cope with age; it keeps us blinded in the vicious cycle of demoralizing the elderly, and eventually ourselves. The only way to gracefully embrace aging is to talk about it.

2) The Loss of Power and Autonomy

One of the classic triggers of porn addiction is frustration. Maybe your kids are flipping tables, your boss beat up on you in a meeting, your marriage is far from the wedding album, your thesis or project or application or manuscript got rejected again: all these are enough to tempt you to the internet dungeon.

These events are all a natural part of life, but because “independence” and “autonomy” are overwhelming social narratives, we have an insanely difficult time with loss, failure, and rejection. Many of us never learned to cope with the eventualities of life, so we turn to porn, pills, or thrills to manage them.

Here’s the recipe: national anxiety, personal uncertainty, and positive pep-talk about the future, which all lead to a ticking time-bomb cocktail of inevitable meltdown. When you’re constantly told you can “pursue your dreams” and “follow your heart” but it leads you to a landfill, it’s no wonder we turn to pornography. Porn is a toxic dose of control that’s predictable, but ends up controlling us. Porn is a fake getaway escape that feels safe, but ends up gutting us whole.

In the Bargaining Model of Depression,[7] when someone doesn’t get their way, they use anger to negotiate their terms and then overpower others for results. But for those who are less likely to vent their anger or to overpower other people, they internalize their situation and fall into a cycle of helplessness. These daily losses of autonomy eventually create depression. And you guessed it: there are high correlations between porn users and those who are severely depressed.[8],[9]

Solutions: Get help. By help, I mean, find people to vent to. Find people who can empower you, who can aid you in smaller tasks, who help you feel “un-swamped.” Also risk the brave waters of confronting your boss, your spouse, your children, with gentleness but firm authority. Let your needs be known. Don’t give into a martyr syndrome of people-pleasing and yes-flattery. Stand up when you must, even with a shaking voice.

3) A Lack of Direction and Purpose

Not every porn addict uses porn because of trauma or frustration or personal demons.

Sometimes, we’re just bored. There’s nothing else to do. And hours are wasted on late-night binging and mindless clicking through the internet abyss.

We crave story, adventure, and purpose: we are meaning-making creatures. Without a story, we fill the void with something else. And the only way to extinguish a “lesser desire” is to expulse it with a greater one, a bigger picture, a higher calling, or the “expulsive power of a new affection.[10]

Solutions: This goes two ways. The first is in finding something greater than yourself and then living into it with all your energy. That can sometimes be enough to quit pornography, because you simply won’t have the time or strength.

The second is if you quit porn cold turkey, you’ll have a bunch of free time during the week. This has to be filled with a more attractive option, or else you’ll go right back to your addiction.

In my book on quitting porn, there’s a chapter called, “Quitting Isn’t Enough,” which says, “Quitting porn is not about quitting porn. You’ll need to find something better.”[11]

This means getting out of the house and finding a venue to serve. It means sacrificing your resources, outside your comfort zone, to lift up a particular cause. It means fighting your drift to complacency.

Pornography is easy because it requires little effort, with seemingly small risk, for a seemingly high pay-off—but in the end, pornography hijacks your brain, dulls your senses, and steals your best years. Living deliberately with purpose and momentum is more difficult, with the possibility of failure, with actual effort and high risk and a slim window of pay-off. But it’s within purposeful living that we are fully there, present, engaged, and completely ourselves. When you taste the electrifying sweetness of purpose, there’s no going back: and you wouldn’t even want to.


[1] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MayDecemberRomance

[2] http://www.vulture.com/2015/05/emma-jlaw-and-scarletts-older-man-problem.html

[3] http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/john-cusack-hollywood-is-a-whorehouse-that-spits-young-actors-out-2014299

[4] http://people.com/bodies/carrie-fisher-pressured-to-lose-weight-for-star-wars-the-force-awakens/

[5] http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/november/youthful-book-harrison-111914.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6LRAyoVsF4

[7] http://anthro.vancouver.wsu.edu/media/PDF/Hagen_2003_The_bargaining_model_of_depression.pdf

[8] Please note that this might be a bit of a “chicken-and-egg” situation. Depression can increase harmful porn use, or harmful porn use can increase depression, and even the perceived guilt of porn use can cause depression as well. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inside-porn-addiction/201111/can-pornography-trigger-depression, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150916185111.htm

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16232040

[10] Alexander Bain, M.A., Mental and Moral Science: A Compendium of Psychology and Ethics, (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1868) p. 345

[11] Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Cutting-It-Off-Breaking-Porn-Addiction/dp/1505350891, ebook: http://www.amazon.com/Cutting-It-Off/dp/B00QE2M6N2

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