Recovery Messages & News

SEX and PORNOGRAPHY – What is normal? When/how does it become Addiction?

By Dr. Raju Hajela
Sex is a biological function that is necessary for procreation and survival of the human species. Some degree of attachment and love have traditionally been considered pre-cursors for sex to happen between two consenting partners, such that pregnancy and raising of the resulting offspring would be cared for by both parents. Sex is also an enjoyable, pleasurable activity between consenting partners even when pregnancy is not desired.
However, sex in our society has also been associated with violence, such as in cases of rape. Some have argued that pornography provides a sexual outlet as an aid to masturbation to achieve sexual pleasure, in which no harm occurs to anyone. Reality is, though, that pornography involves exploitation of men and women in its production and generates fantasy, which damages a person’s ability to have a healthy relationship with a potential sexual partner. The fantasy images that a person has been exposed to, unfortunately, are always more enticing. The fantasy partners do everything that the person fantasizing imagines, rather than in the case of a real partner who has his/her own needs and responses. An established relationship between two people engaging in sexual activity results in more mutual respect, caring, and accommodation of each others needs.  When a relationship is not present or is based on finances, such as in prostitution, partners exploit or use each other, where one or both feel guilt and shame in the long run, even if they think they want to just have sex with no attachment. The secrecy around sexual acting out with self (masturbation) or with someone else may be enticing but invariably leads to problems when the secret comes out in the open or becomes too heavy for someone to carry, resulting in mental health problems.
Addiction is the big reason why someone continues to sexually act out seemingly without guilt or shame because of the ABCDE of the disease – inability to consistently Abstain; impairment in Behavioural control; Craving; Diminished recognition of problems in behaviours and relationships; and dysfunctional Emotional response, which can be ‘under-reaction’ just as often as ‘over-reaction’. Addiction is a disease of more, where feeding the craving makes things worse rather than leading to satisfaction. CBC news, as I write this article, is doing a story on the development of a robot that is sexually fully functional! As much as that can be seen as an alternative to someone without a consenting, available partner, engagement in such activity can be expected to lead to problems in relationships and sex with a real human. The movie ‘Her’, released a few years ago, explored this problem in fair depth illustrating the issues with this fantasy relationship with technology that looked funny, although the issues are quite sad.
In summary, pornography really has no redeeming features and is a form of sexual intoxication that is fantasy based. Those that have Addiction would be expected to pursue that intoxication for reward and/or relief pathologically, especially when the adverse consequences may not be so apparent initially. Pornography is exploitation and objectification that makes a relationship with one-self and others pathological. The argument that pornography or other sexual outlets outside of a healthy, mutually supportive relationship are a necessary outlet for those without a partner or those that are in a problem relationship, unfortunately, is not valid; as sexual acting out in fantasy makes it more difficult to work through problems in an existing relationship and makes it less likely for an individual to develop a healthy relationship if they are not currently in one. Acting out, especially in secrecy, constitutes ‘escape’ and generates shame, together with an illusion of control, which all leads to progression of the disease and its related complications. The shame can become so severe that suicide appears to be the only option for some, although in a very convoluted way at times, the blame still gets projected to someone else or some other circumstance rather than dealing with the shame in the context of recovery from Addiction. Those that are acting out without knowing the true consequences can more readily change their behaviours once reality is pointed out to them, whereas those that have Addiction have a much tougher time as they deal with the compulsion to act out because of problems in brain circuitry, even when knowing the healthier path is recovery.  Family members who blame themselves or continue to blame some other person or circumstances also have to look in the mirror, as they most likely have Addiction involving relationships, and need specialized help.

We hope that those in recovery will take an honest look at their relationship with sex in all forms and appreciate that this is an important part of recovery and recovery healing.