There Are Two Types of Porn Addicts

For many years, clinicians working with sex and porn addicts noted that the vast majority of their clients reported underlying childhood trauma, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, inappropriate emotional enmeshment with a caregiver (i.e., covert incest), and the like. In this way, sex and porn addicts were the same as other addicts. In fact, there is a considerable amount of research that tells us a primary risk factor for addiction of all types is unresolved childhood trauma.

Over the past decade or so, however, ever since online pornography became free and easily accessible to anyone who’s looking, therapists have encountered a new (and rapidly growing) category of porn users. These individuals, usually though not always young males, easily meet the basic criteria for addiction: preoccupation to the point of obsession; loss of control over use (usually evidenced by failed attempts to quit); and directly related negative consequences. But this new category of porn addicts seems to lack the usual underlying trauma.

Traditional addicts are driven by layers of unresolved early-life trauma. They learn, usually during adolescence, to escape the pain and needfulness of their abusive and/or neglectful childhoods by numbing out through use of a pleasurable (and therefore escapist) substance or behavior. Sometimes these struggling young people discover alcohol and drugs; other times they discover sexual fantasy, pornography, masturbation, and the like. Whatever the substance or behavior, they use it not to have a good time but to escape emotional discomfort—stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, shame, etc. Over time, numbing out becomes their go-to coping skill, utilized no matter what is happening. That is a sure sign of addiction.

As stated above, the new category of problem porn users lacks this underlying element of trauma. For these users, trauma does not drive the addiction. Instead, this population turns to porn because it’s infinitely more available and requires much less emotional vulnerability than real-world sex and romance. Often, their entire sexual life revolves around pornography. They are preoccupied to the point of obsession with pornography, they are unable to control their use of pornography, and they experience negative consequences related to their use of pornography. In other words, they’re porn addicts. But they’re not traditional trauma-driven porn addicts.

Dr. Robert Weiss, author of Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, refers to this new category of porn addicts as “digital-age/conditioned” porn addicts. According to Dr. Weiss (and other clinicians he has spoken with), digital-age/conditioned addicts tend to be individuals who start using porn early (often before adolescence) and simply don’t move beyond it. For them, porn is sexual education and sexual fulfillment in a quickly and easily accessed online package.

Unfortunately, their emotional and psychological development around sex and romance is stunted thanks to their compulsive/addictive use of pornography. All they learn is porn. All they know how to relate to is porn. Their ability to form meaningful real-world romantic attachments does not develop, or does not fully develop, so they find themselves turning more and more to porn until it becomes an addiction.

And when these individuals inevitably try to move beyond porn into real-world attachments, they struggle. With porn, they never experience the risk of rejection, or strange odors, or unexpected physical sensations. Instead, they are in complete control of a constantly changing array of hyper-intense sexual imagery that no real-world girlfriend or boyfriend could possibly match. These digital-age users of porn become conditioned to the intensity of porn to the point where real-world sex and romance doesn’t work for them—no matter how much they desire it.

Because this new category of porn addicts differs in this very significant way from traditional sex and porn addicts, treatment must also be somewhat different. That topic will be discussed in this space next week. In the interim, if you have questions about sex or porn addiction, including proper treatment, please check out our free webinars and podcasts, especially Noah Church’s Sunday webinar. You can also email us at this link or call us at 747.234.4325. For information about sex and porn addiction treatment, visit our SeekingIntegrity.com website.