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Healing Together: How Couples Can Address Porn Addiction

Porn Addiction

In my role as a sex and relationship counselor at The Truism Center in West Michigan, I frequently encounter confusion around the topic of porn addiction. In today’s digital age, the availability of pornographic content is unprecedented, making it more accessible than ever before. With just a few clicks, individuals can access a vast array of material, often for free and without any significant barriers. And there’s no shortage of strong opinions about the impact of consuming porn on mental health. Some corners of the internet consider any self-pleasuring to be a moral failing, while other parts of the internet, well, obviously not so. 

This complex issue is often misunderstood, leading to puritanical approaches that might not fully address the underlying causes. Drawing on the perspective of Douglas Braun-Harvey’s Six Principles of Sexual Health and Out of Control Sexual Behavior (OCSB), let’s explore what porn addiction is, why it may happen, and what we can do to find a balance in our lives.

Porn Addiction, or OCSB?

So is porn addiction real? The traditional view of porn addiction aligns it closely with substance addictions, focusing predominantly on the compulsive behavior and its frequency. This approach typically categorizes the regular consumption of excessive amounts of pornography as an addiction. Treatments under this model often revolve around strategies similar to those used in substance abuse, such as promoting abstinence, controlling urges, and managing behaviors through strict discipline. This path tends to pathologize the behavior, creating a paradigm where the individual is seen as having a chronic, often relapsing disorder. However, while this method can offer short-term solutions, it may not adequately address the root causes of the behavior. It often leaves deeper emotional and psychological issues unexplored, such as why the individual turned to pornography in the first place and what needs it might be fulfilling.

In contrast, Douglas Braun-Harvey’s approach to Out of Control Sexual Behavior (OCSB) offers a different lens. It reframes these behaviors not as a disease or inherent dysfunction but as manifestations of unresolved personal and relational conflicts. From this perspective, the use of pornography to excess is viewed as a misguided attempt to solve or cope with deeper issues. These could include emotional disconnect within a relationship, a lack of comprehensive sexual education, unresolved personal trauma, or unmet sexual needs and desires. This approach aims to understand the underlying emotional landscape and psychological drivers behind the use of pornography. It encourages individuals to explore their relationship with their sexuality, the role pornography plays in their life, and how it impacts their relationships. By addressing these deeper issues, the OCSB approach seeks to resolve the root causes of the behavior, rather than merely controlling its symptoms. This can lead to more sustainable change and a healthier integration of sexuality within the individual’s life and relationships.

Overall, while the traditional view of porn addiction focuses on controlling and mitigating behaviors, the OCSB approach emphasizes understanding and resolving the underlying emotional and relational dynamics. This shift allows for a more holistic and person-centered approach to treatment, potentially leading to more meaningful and lasting recovery.

how to quit porn addiction

Understanding Sexual Behavior through the Lens of Health

  • Consent: In the context of porn addiction, it’s essential to consider whether the use of porn respects the boundaries of both partners. The OCSB model emphasizes the importance of mutual consent in all aspects of sexuality, including the consumption of pornography.
  • Non-exploitation: Braun-Harvey’s principles encourage us to consider the ethical implications of pornography, promoting sexual health through non-exploitative practices. Couples are encouraged to discuss how their use of pornography may impact their perceptions and behaviors towards each other.
  • Protection from STIs/HIV and Unintended Pregnancy: While this principle primarily addresses physical sexual interactions, it can also be applied to the consumption of pornography. It highlights the importance of realistic and responsible sexual education, as opposed to learning about sex through porn, which can often portray unrealistic and unsafe sexual practices.
  • Honesty: Critical to addressing OCSB is honesty about one’s sexual desires, needs, and behaviors. This involves open communication between partners about their use of pornography and its impact on their relationship.
  • Shared Values: Couples need to explore and align their values regarding sexuality and pornography. This alignment helps in understanding the role of pornography in their relationship and how it aligns or conflicts with their shared values.
  • Mutual Pleasure: The OCSB model advocates for sexual interactions that are mutually satisfying. When addressing porn addiction, it’s important to consider how it affects the couple’s sexual satisfaction and intimacy.

How to Help Someone with a Porn Addiction (or OCSB)

Helping a partner with a porn addiction, or more accurately Out of Control Sexual Behavior, involves:

  • Encouraging Open Communication: Creating a safe space for open and non-judgmental conversations about the use of pornography.
  • Seeking Professional Help: Counseling, especially with a focus on sexual health and OCSB, can provide tailored strategies for managing the use of pornography and addressing underlying issues.

 

Here’s what a conversation may look like, following these principles.

Partner A: “I feel like we haven’t been connecting very much lately. I’ve noticed you’ve been watching porn more frequently, and I’m concerned about how it’s affecting both you and our relationship. What do you think?”

Partner B: “I didn’t realize it was impacting us. I’m open to discussing it – I think it’s been a way for me to blow off steam lately. I’ve been under a lot of pressure.”

Partner A: “I understand. Thanks for being honest. Do you think it could be masking other issues? How do you feel about exploring this together, maybe with some professional guidance?”

Partner B: “Yeah, I guess there could be deeper issues at play.  I’m willing to work on this with you.”

 

quitting porn

 

How to Stop a Porn Addiction (or OCSB)

Stopping problematic porn use involves:

  • Understanding the Underlying Causes: Identifying emotional or psychological issues driving the behavior.
  • Developing Healthy Sexual Practices: Focusing on building a healthy and mutually satisfying sexual relationship with your partner.

 

Who’s Right? Is Porn Addiction Real? What About Rebooting?

The dopamine reset, or “rebooting” as understood by proponents of the abstinence approach to pornography, particularly within the NoFap community, is based on the belief that abstaining from pornography and masturbation can ‘reset’ the brain’s dopamine system. This concept suggests that excessive consumption of pornography leads to overstimulation of the brain’s reward pathways, causing a desensitization to dopamine. Over time, this can result in a diminished response to everyday pleasures and a reliance on pornography for dopamine release. Advocates of the dopamine reset theory argue that by abstaining from pornography, individuals can normalize their dopamine responses, leading to increased sensitivity to everyday joys and improved overall well-being. This approach emphasizes the restoration of natural reward mechanisms and the enhancement of emotional and psychological health.

So who’s right? While the abstinence approach may work for some, as we just learned it doesn’t tend to address the psychological/relational roots of the issue. It can create a cycle of shame and guilt, and lead to more secretive behavior. It also tends to place all the responsibility on one partner, ignoring the complex dynamics that may be at play in the relationship. A healthy relationship with pornography and sex, as proposed by the OCSB model, can reset your dopamine just as well as complete abstinence. 

Who’s right and what’s best for you, however, you’ll have to decide. When it comes to sexual preference there is no right or wrong, just right for you.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding porn addiction or OCSB through the lens of sexual health provides a more holistic and compassionate approach to treatment. It encourages couples to communicate openly, align their sexual values, and address the root causes of their struggles. As a counselor, I advocate for a nuanced understanding of each couple’s unique situation, guiding them towards a healthier and more fulfilling relationship. To read more about relationship counseling, check out this blog. Remember, if you or your loved one is struggling with these issues, reaching out for professional help in Grand Rapids or your local area can be a significant step towards healing and growth.

 

Meet Robb Kornoelje, sex therapist, owner of the Truism Center, and creator of the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” This 30-day email course offers guidance to identify behaviors causing trouble, find ease with emotions, and enhance self-awareness. With a focus on stress-free communication, the challenge encourages a stronger connection with others, nurturing compassion, and fostering forgiveness. Join Robb on this humble journey to subtly improve the fabric of your relationships—one day at a time.

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