sex addiction

Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of Porn Users

Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of PornPorn Users Users

by: Jonathan Hart, LPC

In the previous blog of this series, “Training In Use: The Pernicious Effect of Sexualization and Pornography”,I explored the reality of objectification and the way that a person’s eyes and mind are trained (particularly by porn) to use another person’s body parts.  This blog will look at ways of breaking that habitual pattern.

When a person recognizes the need to stop using porn and to stop using others in his or her mind, many find themselves stuck.  They don’t want to do this anymore but feel that they can’t stop looking.  It is certainly true that we cannot stop seeing.  As I mentioned in that previous blog, sexualization is everywhere.  The likelihood that an image specifically designed to activate our gaze and desire will enter our field of view is 100%, whether that image is an ad on a billboard or a person wearing an attractive outfit.

Please note:  I am not saying that a person wearing an attractive outfit is “asking” to be used in a sexual way.  The reason anyone wears an attractive outfit is to attract attention, that is, to activate gaze and desire on some level.  We simply want to look good to others.  There is nothing wrong with this in a healthy context.  It is the training of porn and commercial objectification that turns healthy attraction into unhealthy sexualized desire and use.

The one who realizes that they need to stop using others sexually has to learn how to stop using people with their eyes and mind.  One popular solution that is prevalent at the moment is the idea of averting your gaze. The idea is that when you find yourself looking, you yank your eyes away from the triggering image or body.  This is aimed at working against the reflexive look by removing your gaze before you shift into using or objectifying the body.

This is a needful step, much like the alcoholic staying away from bars.  However, this cannot be the only step, because there is no way to stop seeing.  Ultimately, the work for the ones who use people with their eyes is not to change what is seen, but how it is seen.  The work is to learn how not to use.

I call this “Redeeming the Look”.

People who use must learn how to see attractive people without using them in their heart and mind, to see with respect and regard for dignity.  Ultimately, the goal is to be able to see a whole person with a story, a life, with dreams and desires, rather than to focus on and use only their body parts.

We have to confront the reality of sexualized use in porn specifically.  We have to see it for what it is.  The truth is that a significant percentage of people in pornographic images do not want to be there.  This is contrary to the illusion presented by pornography.  Many have been kidnapped, involuntarily addicted to drugs, and forced to perform for the cameras.  If you think about a person in this situation, it changes how one looks at the image.  It activates compassion and sorrow rather than lust and use.  It changes our willingness to engage in the use.

…Image here…

Many people in porn are there voluntarily.  Some are there just to make money.  What about them?  I ask you to consider what it takes to get a person to set themselves up for public display and use in this fashion?  Who told them that their value or power was only in their body, that their parts are the only thing about them that matter?  I suggest that this never comes from a healthy, balanced life or self-image.

Again, confronting this reality changes how we see the person.  When we consider the whole person, their whole story and life, our willingness to use is reduced and our compassion is activated.  (For more on this, I recommend visiting https://fightthenewdrug.org/for a wealth of solid information and awareness about the pervasive effects of porn.)

There is more to challenging and changing the mental and emotional components and behaviors of those trained by porn and commercial sexualization, certainly more than a blog can contain.  This is a look at the basic principles that can begin the process.  If you are looking for to change, don’t try to do this yourself.  It doesn’t work that way.   Reach out to a professional who is experienced in treating sexual addiction. Get the help of your family and friends. Community is essential.  Change is possible.–JEH

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 4

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

We’ve already looked at how group therapy is a great way to help individuals make changes in their lives by choose to be radically vulnerable with the other group member, fostering in himself or herself an outlook of unconditional positive regard, and allowing the very personal, negative feelings about himself/herself or others to be shared and eventually challenged by the other group members.

This final piece focuses more on how the group can invest and intervene in the individual member’s life. Following the individual work of being open, the group now has the opportunity to disrupt radically the emotional foundations underlying each member’s coping behaviors that got him or her into therapy.

As the group gently and slowly does this work of disrupting the members’ coping behaviors, the internal dynamics of personal guilt and shame frequently rise to a conscious level.  At this point, every man I have seen who comes through our groups retreats back into his comfortable style of relating. It is nearly impossible in the early stages of work for the man himself to see this happening and do anything to stop it.  Often, he can no longer differentiate his personality, style of relating, and identity without an outside perspective or help.  It is no longer a conscious choice.  He may not have even noticed it happening.  But, I am willing to bet 99 times out of 100 that some other member in the group noticed.

The group is meant to be that outside reference point.

Once again, vulnerability comes into play here, because the group member who noticed should be willing to appropriately, with unconditional positive regard, call out his group mate.  This reintroduces all the dynamics of the personal work from part one: vulnerability, maintaining unconditional positive regard, and personal investment.  It also adds to it the gut check of interpersonal conflict. The group members are doing exactly as they should when they can reflect back both the positive and negative they experience in relating to each member.  This work engages members both internally and externally at once.  This may seem obvious, but it is so important, not to mention difficult.  We do this kind of thing in our lives all the time.  However, we are rarely fully engaging our awareness of both pieces simultaneously.  It takes hard work to build up this new skill.  Like learning a new language, we have to take many fumbling attempts to communicate this new way, and we usually struggle at it for a while.  The safety created in the group should promote and celebrate these attempts as well as normalize the experience as something everyone in the group is fighting to do better.  It takes time as well as higher levels of concentration, self-awareness, and intentionality than we generally are used to.

It needs to be said here that this process, in therapy as well as practicing these skills in life, will take some time to sink in.

This is especially true when you consider there are years if not decades of reinforced acting out behaviors that a client wants to change.  It is likely to require a proportionate amount of time and effort for this new way of relating or sense of self to take shape.  Other factors that might increase the length of time and work to be done might be connected to and complicated by experiences of abuse or trauma.  Though the progress may be slower than an individual may like and expect, small changes over time add up to big changes.  These small steps along the way should be highlighted and celebrated as part of the greater changes each client wants to see in his or her life.

 

A Sex Addicts Arousal Template

A Sex Addicts Arousal Template

by: Frank Theus, PLPC

According to Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., author of Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Second Edition,

“…an arousal template consists of “the total constellation of thoughts, images, behaviors, sounds, smells, sights, fantasies, and objects that arouse us sexually.”

 

These represent an array of stimuli that come from our early experiences (typically between the ages of five and eight years of age). We must keep in mind that while our conscious-self is easily aroused, much of it registers subconsciously. Such arousal templates were thought to be fixed. However, that’s simply not the case. Because the Internet provides easy access, anonymity, and opportunity to view a plethora of porn genres, trained therapists like myself see clients who have problematically expanded their arousal templates by increasingly choosing more graphic, violent, and in some cases, illegal sexual content.

This concept of escalation explains how heterosexual men might watch transsexual orgy porn, bestiality, or gay-themed porn. Similarly, women drawn to porn that is idealized love/romance, over time, pursue genres and acting-out like their male counterparts. Few of them ever imagined being attracted to extreme genres. But as their neuropathways become desensitized to standard adult male-on-female porn, they seek more and more intense stimuli. This morphs their template so as to achieve the addictive rush they crave.

Components of Your Arousal Patterns…

What makes up your template? Think about the following typical triggers:

  • Feelings that have become eroticized in some way
  • Locations
  • Sensations
  • Objects
  • Processes
  • Body types/body parts
  • Partner characteristics
  • Culture
  • Courtship stages and beliefs
  • Fantasies
  • Specific triggers (e.g. situations, scenarios, anger, traumatic experiences etc.) (Carnes)

Warning: don’t start this recovery exercise in depth apart from being in the care of an experienced therapist.

With adequate support, you will be ready to look at your particular experiences and move towards healing. What in your life needs to be jettisoned, what might be missing, and where do you wish to grow? It is important to consider the following:

  • Stay focused on the pain – As Carnes so wisely said, “Working on your arousal patterns may become stimulating in itself. Keeping in mind just how hard life as an addict has been will help you avoid being distracted by your old patterns.”
  • Do not do this work in isolation
  • Be thorough
  • Be honest with yourself (Carnes)

 

The mesmerizing effect of the Internet, along with the vast array of sexual material available, has become a powerful tool for getting too many of us involved in a world we never before knew existed. Many clients I see report feeling as though they are in a dream until somehow, by chance or misfortune, they are brusquely awakened to reality. Once they become aware of what they have done, they are dismayed by the fantasies, thoughts, or at-risk behaviors they engaged in: things they never imagined they would ever participate in.

Our sexuality is a precious gift. Affected by our environment and experiences, our sexuality can be negatively influenced, being hijacked by guilt and shame that keeps us stuck in an ever-expanding unhealthy arousal template. Recognizing your need for help and asking for it is the first step towards embracing the whole of yourself, your story and values, and your beliefs. Open up your reality of unashamedly enjoying your body, your sexual uniqueness, and fuller intimacy in all of your relationships.

Resources on this topic and healthy sexuality:

Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Second Edition by Patrick Carnes, PhD (Carefree: Gentle Path Press)

The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or Canticles, is a book of the Bible accepted as holy scripture by Jews and Christians.