Problematic Porn Use and Denial

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Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW, CSAT

Problematic porn users rarely view their sexual fantasy life as a cause of their unhappiness and life challenges. Even when they are neck-deep in consequences, they somehow don’t let themselves think about pornography as a contributing factor. In fact, they often see their behavior as the solution to rather than the cause of their emotional discomfort and various life problems.

In other words, problematic porn users are nearly always out of touch with the costs of their compulsive use of pornography – at least until a major crisis hits. Prior to that, they ignore blatant warning signs: relationship woes, social and emotional isolation, diminished self-esteem, depression, anxiety, trouble in school or at work, loss of interest in previously enjoyable non-sexual activities, etc. They simply refuse to see or are unable to see the destructive effects of their porn use. This is their denial.

Unlike healthy individuals who use past mistakes as a guide to future decision making, problematic porn users choose to ignore problems related to their use of pornography. They place their compulsive search for sexual intensity at the top of their priority list without a second thought, no matter the cost. Instead of heeding the many warning signs of a serious problem, they rationalize, minimize, and justify their behavior.

For some problematic porn users, denial is so deep that they somehow manage to stay blissfully unaware of the nature and extent of their issue for months or even years, even when those behaviors escalate to the point of ruining their lives. They continually find ways to ignore the seriousness of their compulsivity so they can continue using porn. Many are shocked, when they finally enter a process of treatment and recovery and are asked to examine their full history of porn use, to discover the extent and depth of their problem.

With problematic porn use (and other addictive/compulsive behaviors), denial is a complex series of internal lies and deceits. Sadly, users eventually start to believe their own lies. And because they swallow their own dishonesty, their behaviors, no matter how crazy, seem utterly reasonable to them. The rest of the world can easily see through their smokescreen, but they either cannot or will not. Instead, they stay mired in the murky muck of denial until their functional world disintegrates into a continually escalating series of porn-related consequences.

With problematic porn use, denial takes many forms.

  • Blame/Externalization: Frank, a 38-year-old pilot, blames others. “With the lousy sex life I have at home, who wouldn’t look at porn?”
  • Entitlement: Jeff, a 27-year-old attorney who has received multiple written warnings about his use of porn at work, feels entitled. “Just look at how hard I am working. I give and give to this firm. So if I spend a few hours here and there online, getting off on a little fantasy, that’s a reward that I deserve.”
  • Justification: Daniela, a 54-year-old copywriter, justifies her behavior. “This is what single people do. If I’m not in a relationship, then I need some kind of excitement.”
  • Minimization: Sam, a 17-year-old high school student, minimizes his behavior. “I’m not out there getting a girl pregnant or catching a disease, and I’m not hurting anyone, so I don’t know why my parents think this is such a big deal.”
  • Rationalization: Suzanne, a 40-year-old physician’s assistant, rationalizes her behavior. “I’m not having affairs like some of the other women I know. So if I go online after my husband falls asleep at night and look at porn for a few hours, it’s not a big deal.”
  • Playing the Role of Victim: Edward, a 21-year-old college student, blames external expectations for his porn use. “My parents and professors put so much pressure on me, and porn is the best way for me to cope.”

Problematic porn users don’t intend to distance themselves from their families, friendships, and lives, yet they end up in these very circumstances, arriving there incrementally as their porn use escalates and denial overwhelms their better judgment. Over time, they become less able (and less willing) to see the connection between their increasing personal problems and their porn use. Often, they are deaf to the concerns, complaints, and criticisms of those around them – even those they profess to care about – and they correspondingly devalue and dismiss (or blame) those who try to point out their problem. Instead of accepting that they may have a serious issue, they ignore attempted interventions and accuse others of nagging, being prudish and restrictive, not understanding them, or asking too much of them. They do this not because they don’t care, but to protect their use of pornography.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with pornography, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex and porn addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, SexandRelationshipHealing.com offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groups, podcasts, and more.