Like Sex with Dr. Jess on FacebookFollow Sex with Dr. Jess on InstagramFollow Sex with Dr. Jess on TwitterSubscribe to Sex with Dr. Jess's channel on YouTubeSubscribe to Sex with Dr. Jess's RSS feed
Sex with Dr. Jess

Blog

November 1, 2017

Is Porn Addiction a Disorder or Scapegoat? Finding Middle Ground

Sexy lingerie

If you’re familiar with my work, you already know that porn addiction is not a recognized disorder despite being a highly profitable industry. You also know that porn addiction has been rejected by the American Psychological Association for inclusion in the latest DSM and the porn addict label is iatrogenic — that is, the diagnosis (in this case, the self-diagnosis) intensifies the symptoms. You also know that I believe that porn often functions as a scapegoat when people seek to avoid personal accountability and that I believe porn can be a healthy part of happy, loving relationships.

I also believe that discussing the language of “porn addiction” is important given its popularity and the prevalence of self-diagnosis. In the interview below, I speak with  Craig Perra, J.D. Certified Professional Coach and founder of The Mindful Habit® System, to learn more about his approach to porn addiction and the role of mindful masturbation.

Dr. Jess: You offer services to those suffering from “porn addiction”. We’ve discussed the fact that this isn’t a recognized disorder, but it is a label that people who are struggling with sex, porn and relationships use. Can you explain why you use the phrase “porn addiction” in your work? 

Craig: Ultimately the goal is healthy sexuality, but it’s impossible to ignore the popularity of the “porn addiction” craze if I’m going to help these people. Millions of people all over the world are struggling to create healthy sexuality in their lives and porn is a convenient culprit, despite it ALWAYS being the symptom of deeper issues. That being said, still millions define their problem through the narrow and misplaced porn addiction lens.

Despite its limitations, the porn addiction label does have some benefits. People quickly learn that they are not alone – others also struggle to create healthy sexuality in their lives and feel the same way they do. It’s often the first time in their lives that these “addicts” reflect on the need to proactively pay attention to their sexual health.

The benefits are small. It’s critical not to stay stuck in their porn addiction and move quickly to pursuing healthy sexuality and a great life. The longer people stay stuck fighting their “disease,” the worse they get.

Dr. Jess: Some researchers suggest that problems with porn are often symptomatic of other, more serious sex and relationship issues. Do you come across this with your clients and if so, how do you address it? 

Craig: Porn is always symptomatic of other more serious relationship issues. Porn is never the root cause –
ktmp_31215_CraigPerra-7it is always the symptom. In fact, I’ve never worked with a man, whose primary problem is “sex addiction” or “porn addiction.” I often say “porn addiction” is the symptom of a shitty life. People who love themselves, practice self-care and prioritize their physical, mental, and spiritual growth are not addicted to porn.

That doesn’t mean that these clients don’t struggle with healthy sexuality because they do. Often their secret compulsive porn use reflects this. Their sexuality blossomed in an environment where sex was shamed and deemed “dirty and disgusting and you save it for someone you love.” Or it wasn’t talked about at all. Either way, this early childhood programming produces unhealthy sexuality that includes compulsive porn use, performance anxiety, as well as general challenges in connecting intimately with a real partner.

I am familiar with the research suggesting the label “porn addiction” actually causes harm – or as the scientists say is “iatrogenic.” Long term, I’ve found this to be true. The longer someone views their success through the diseased based model of addiction, the harder it is to pivot towards the goal of healthy sexuality. Their obsessive focus on not doing porn only increases the power of porn in their lives. Their demonization of porn, which is ultimately a demonization of themselves, only feeds their internal conflict, increasing shame, and inevitably makes things worse.

This is why it’s critical to educate people regarding the significant limitations of the porn addiction model.

Dr. Jess: What is the Mindful Habit? What types of mindfulness exercises do your clients practice?

Could-Mormons-Be-Right-about-Porn-AddictionCraig: The Mindful Habit System is an action-oriented, goal-centric and structured behavior change modality rooted in the science of habits, mindfulness, and success. The goal is twofold: healthy sexuality and a great life. I believe in the incredible capacity of the human organism to grow in powerful ways quickly given the right tools, techniques, and teachings.

Habits, including emotional habits, control our lives. Compulsive porn use is a habit, chronic self-deprecation is a habit, disconnecting is a habit. Becoming mindful of these habits, how they frame our reality, where they come from, and how to interrupt them in order to regain control resonate in the heart of my program.

Clients learn different kinds of mindfulness: sitting mindfulness  (or meditation), walking mindfulness, In The Moment Mindfulness, and Mindful Masturbation. Mindful Masturbation is one of my favorite exercises. Here the client is asked to connect with his/her body in a very deep and sometimes new way. In sitting mindfulness, the goal is often to focus on the breath. When the chattering mind becomes distracting, the meditator gently returns his/her focus to their breath without judgment or criticism. And repeat.

In Mindful Masturbation, the goal is to focus on the pleasure you are creating for yourself to the exclusion of all else (vs. pornography or any sexual imagery or fantasy that pops up your head). Of course, fantasy can be healthy, but the reality is that so many people have lost their connection to their bodies and are dependent upon visual stimuli to orgasm. So many clients, even when being sexual with a partner, are unable to remain present. Instead, they are stuck in fantasy and pictures in their head because of bad habits they’ve cultivated around their sexual expression, namely a pattern of numbing, coping and escaping through the combination of compulsive porn use and masturbation. So during a Mindful Masturbation session, do everything in your power to keep your focus on the pleasure you are creating for yourself. When your mind drifts to visual stimuli, gently bring your focus back to the present. And repeat until you orgasm.

Admittedly, it’s difficult at first – in some cases my clients are trying to break decades of bad habit. As your practice grows, you’ll experience a deeper more mindful and powerful sexual connection with your partner.

Dr. Jess: Your program doesn’t follow a typical addiction 12-step model. Why is this the case and how did you formulate The Mindful Habit? 

Craig: I reject the disease-based model because as you know, the data in support of the model’s efficacy (meaning, does it work?) is poor and there is virtually no data supporting the use of this 75+-year-old antiquated model to create healthy sexuality.

I was shocked to learn that the disease-based treatment fared quite poorly for the treatment of the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Books like the Biology of Desire, Why Addiction Is Not a Disease (by Marc Lewis) really opened my eyes. If the data and science hadn’t settled on a way to treat alcohol and drug addiction, then there is no way this approach was the best way to help me create healthy sexuality. When I learned the American Psychiatric Association rejected the disease-based approach for the treatment of compulsive sexual behavior, I knew there just had to be better ways to heal.

Dr. Jess: Does your program require abstinence from porn use? 

Craig: My goal is to empower each of my clients to define for themselves what healthy sexuality should look like. My program
Craigdoes not require abstinence from watching porn, but honestly, the majority of clients want to stop watching entirely. They’ve come to the deep personal conclusion that porn doesn’t make them better lovers. It negatively impacts how they see and/or treat their significant other and is a poor substitute for the real thing.

Dr. Jess: What is the ultimate goal of your program?

Craig: The ultimate goal is easy. There are two things I want each of my clients to achieve: healthy sexuality; and two: a great life. It’s that simple. Since the golden rule of behavior modification is “to break a habit, you have to make a habit,” success comes from creating a healthy, balanced life. Obsessing on not doing the thing, in this case, porn, only makes things worse over time.

Dr. Jess: Do you address some of the potentially positive outcomes of porn use and/or alternative porn genres?

Craig: I do. I share the latest science with my clients to ensure that they are making the best decisions for themselves. The truth is though, there isn’t a demand for this type of information – my clients are men who are sick and tired of wasting their life away masturbating to pixels of other people having sex. These men don’t want porn in their lives and I respect and support their choice.

Dr. Jess: Is there anything else we should know?

Craig: For men and women who believe their sexuality is out of control or that they are addicted to anything involving sex or porn, I highly recommend they do not blindly adopt the label of a sex addict or porn addict. There are so many better ways to create healthy sexuality and improve the quality of one’s life than the antiquated disease-based model. If your readers want a science-based approach to ending their “sex addiction” or “porn addiction”, or if they want to better control this area of their lives, please considering joining my Online Group Coaching Program.