Treatment not just prevention efforts needed for teen pornography problem

 Over the past year, we have had the good fortune of visiting with parents, teens and professionals from around the country regarding the topic of pornography use among youth.  We have been encouraged by the level of concern expressed by many of those with whom we have interacted.  While most are greatly concerned about the issue and agree that prevention efforts among our youth are vital, those young people who are struggling with addiction issues relating to pornography continue to remain in the shadows.  While research is limited regarding the number of teens addicted to pornography, it does seem apparent to us that very few struggling with compulsive use of pornography are actually getting help.  The fact that so few youth are accessing treatment for this issue is a big concern to us.  Certainly the shame and embarrassment that so often accompanies a pornography addiction is a factor that prevents more from seeking help.  Additionally, the use of pornography becoming more widely accepted in society and its use being considered “normal teen behavior” is likely a factor as well. 

Too often, we minimize potential problems and simply hope they will somehow go away on their own.  As parents and professionals, we need to be more vigilant to assure that those teens who are struggling with pornography addiction are able to get help in breaking free from the addiction.  Failing to do so holds both short-term and long-term damaging ramifications for youth.  In most cases, individuals addicted to pornography are unable to break the addiction on their own.

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, prolonged exposure to pornography leads to:

–– An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society

–– Diminished trust between intimate couples

–– The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy

–– Belief that promiscuity is the natural state

–– Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy

–– Cynicism about love or the need for affection between sexual partners

–– Belief that marriage is sexually confining

–– Lack of attraction to family and child-raising

Too many youth do not deal with this issue during their teen years and move into adulthood with an addiction.  As evidenced by the above mentioned study, the consequences lead to the destruction of families and healthy relationships.  In addition to prevention efforts and education about the dangers of pornography, we need to assure that teens struggling with pornography addiction have the chance to get help to break free from the addiction while they are still young.

Q & A: What is the typical profile of a youth who seeks treatment for pornography addiction?

While each youth who seeks treatment for pornography addiction is unique, generally speaking we can characterize these young people in the three following ways:

 

1.       Most youth we work with are raised with strong moral and family values.  They have been taught to avoid pornography and have been raised with a belief that sexual activity should not occur during adolescence, but rather later in life as a married adult.   Because of this belief system, the formation of a pornography addiction during adolescence creates internal conflict because pornography use contradicts the moral values that have been a part of their upbringing.  In turn this creates a sense of shame, guilt, fear, anxiety and depression.  The reality is that there are many young people who regularly use pornography, but simply do not view it as a problem or issue, and as a result, see no need to get help or even stop viewing.  Many of these youth do not adhere to the same moral standards as the youth who seek treatment.  While pornography is obviously a moral issue, the more that we learn about the impact of pornography on the brain, human behavior and development, the more it becomes apparent that pornography addiction among youth is a developmental issue and not simply a moral issue.  We also are finding that even those who don’t adhere to high standards of morality also experience significant negative ramifications later in their adult years from pornography addiction including divorce, depression and sexual dysfunction.

2.       Most youth we work with have unsuccessfully attempted to stop viewing pornography multiple times on their own and have come to realize that they can’t break the addiction on their own and need help.  It is rare when we have a youth seek treatment who hasn’t already tried to break the addiction on their own.  The youth who seek treatment for pornography addiction have come to fully realize that it a real addiction and that left on their own, they are simply unable to kick the habit.  This realization becomes a primary motivator for their seeking help to overcome the addiction.

3.       Most youth we work with are highly motivated to be successful in their lives and view their habitual use of pornography as an impediment to achieving their goals and personal potential.  Pornography addiction treatment tends to be a service that only those who are truly concerned about self-actualization pursue.  As a result, many of the youth we work with in our pornography addiction treatment programs are actually functioning fairly well in most areas of their lives.  Most are law abiding citizens, respectful, kind and thoughtful, excellent students with good grades and actively striving to improve themselves.  Were it not for their pornography addiction, we would not likely see these youth in our treatment clinic.  We encounter youth who seek treatment for other issues such as substance abuse or mental health issues that are also regularly using pornography; however, these youth are not concerned about their use of pornography and don’t believe that the use of pornography is an issue that needs to be addressed in a treatment setting.