​ Minimizing and Denial: Fatal Flaws in how Pornography Addiction Develops

The problem with any addiction is that most people don’t know just how far down the rabbit hole they’ve traveled until it’s too late. An addict will justify their situation, or trivialize it. “It’s just a little alcohol. It’s not like I need it every second!” “Everyone does it. No need to worry.” “I can stop when I want to.”

In the case of pornography, most addicts get stuck in a cycle, and can’t begin the process of recovery until they realize the severity of their problem. Indeed, with pornography so prevalent in today’s media culture, one can easily slip into a vast pit of darkness without realizing they ever fell away from the light.

Part of the problem arises from a misguided sense of denial, or an unwillingness to recognize the full extent of the problem. Denying that the problem exists allows addicts to avoid the discomfort of the shame and embarrassment that are involved with admitting to a pornography addiction.

In actuality, modern society makes it difficult to recognize the dangers of pornography addiction. Online websites and even health care and psychology professionals continue to claim the viewing of adult material as perfectly normal, while motion pictures and television shows make light of sexual addiction, creating a sense that pornography is merely a part of our culture, thus making it difficult for an addict to recognize his or her problem — the notion that “everyone does it” remains a misguided justification.

Once an addict finally recognizes the severity of the problem, it’s important for them to seek help. Unfortunately, denial can limit progression and lead to more years of abuse. “I used to look at pornography, but I don’t do it very often anymore, so it’s not really an addiction.” The correct thinking should be, “I know I am vulnerable to viewing pornography and could easily relapse, so I have to be constantly careful to avoid being in situations where I am exposed to it.”

What many people don’t understand is that breaking the shackles of pornography addiction often requires a lifetime of management to overcome. The temptation to view pornography never subsides, meaning an addict must work on controlling their desires on a daily basis — without minimizing the overall problem.

Minimizing can be just as dangerous as denial. By making a harmful action seem less significant, we hope to lessen the consequences that may result. Often times an addict uses the words “only” or “just” while minimizing in order to lessen the blow of his or her actions.

In the television series “Breaking Bad,” the main character Walter White, who transforms from timid chemistry teacher to criminal mastermind, continually minimizes his actions. Even when said actions lead to death and the destruction of his loved ones. He claims his actions are done “only for the love of his family,” and never fully comprehends just how far he’s fallen until it’s too late.

If we deceive ourselves that our hurtful or irresponsible behaviors are no big deal, then we won’t work on changing them.  Young people struggling with pornography addiction will often minimize the problem, and say, “I only look at pornography on occasion-it’s not like I’m doing it all the time-I’m not addicted.”                   

It is possible to become addicted to pornography after only viewing it once. Even the occasional viewing is highly dangerous as it warps the mind’s overall understanding of sex, turning one of God’s greatest gifts into a vile and repulsive act that results in shame and guilt. 

The correct thought for all men and women (no matter their age) should be, “Any viewing of pornography is a serious issue and only increases my chances of forming an addiction.”

As Gordon B. Hinkley once said, “Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive.”

If you are struggling with a pornography addiction, or know someone who is, don’t trivialize it. Seek help immediately so you may enjoy a life free of guilt and shame, full of happiness, friends, and love. 

"Failure to Launch" Syndrome and the Enabling Parent

Developmental stagnation in the transition phase between high school and the adult world is a problem that increasingly impacts families across the country. Recent studies suggest that over 70% of young men 18-30 still live at home with their parents and many of these young adults are not employed, attending college or otherwise working to become independent from their parents.  Many have termed this increasingly common phenomena as “Failure to Launch”. 

While it is true that finding a job and financing an education is more difficult than in past generations, too many young adult men are stagnated in their development and continue to approach life acting as if they are still teens attending high school.  Without any sense of urgency to move forward to the next stage in life, they become increasingly focused on being entertained, often with hours of video games, social media and pornography at the expense of developing the self-discipline needed to manage the demands of life in the adult world. 

Rather than allowing these young adults to continue on their “developmental vacation”, parents need to insist that their adult children continue on the path toward responsible adulthood.  Our society does not need more young men who lack self-discipline and live only to be entertained.   There are already too many young adult men who are going nowhere in life, who are not serious about forming families and making a real contribution in this world.

Sometimes, the problem is as much the parents as it is the young adult.  Parents need to learn to take a hard stand and require their young adult children to step up and be responsible.  Too many parents enable their adult child’s bad behavior, by allowing them to remain unemployed, to live at home without responsibility, to not pursue additional education and to focus their time and energy on hedonistic pursuits, rather than developing self-discipline.

Parents who find themselves with an adult child on developmental vacation often struggle to use “tough love” and despite knowing they are enabling bad behavior, continue to reward their adult child’s irresponsibility by simply doing nothing.   For parents who need a boost of support, Family Bootcamp can help.  Dr. Dan Sanderson and his team of clinical psychotherapists have worked with hundreds of families who have struggled with the failure to launch dilemma.  During the five day Family Bootcamp  that runs Thursday through Monday, parents spend their time with Dr. Sanderson in the developmental vacation parent seminar.  The young adults spend the five days learning to live in the remote Utah desert unplugged from all technology and away from the amenities of modern society.  The Family Bootcamp provides both parents and the young adult with a “wake-up call” and a strong reminder of the need for young adults to develop into responsible individuals capable of making a contribution to society.

TEENS AND PORNOGRAPHY: DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN ADDICTION AND BAD HABIT

We are often asked the question: is my child an addict or are they merely engaging in inappropriate behavior? In these modern times it’s hard to distinguish between the two.  Especially when it comes to pornography and masturbation.

The difficulty lies in society’s disagreement over what constitutes the needs of the “natural man.” For example, some people see masturbation as a purely healthy stress reliever, as noted by clinical sexologist Gloria Brame, who stated in a recent Men’s Health article,  "We are programmed, as best we know, to need orgasms. It's a fundamental aspect of men's health, right up there with brushing your teeth."

Just type “is masturbation okay” on Google and you’ll find a whole slew of pro-masturbation articles written by professionals. These same people often don’t see the danger of viewing a little pornography either. If it’s fun, why not do it? If it feels good, why not binge?

The argument against pornography continues to build steam, and is best summed up in this quote from LDS Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks:

“Pornographic or erotic stories and pictures are worse than filthy or polluted food. The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food. With a few fatal exceptions, bad food will only make you sick but do no permanent harm. In contrast, a person who feasts upon filthy stories or pornographic or erotic pictures and literature records them in this marvelous retrieval system we call a brain. The brain won’t vomit back filth. Once recorded, it will always remain subject to recall, flashing its perverted images across your mind and drawing you away from the wholesome things in life.”

Herein lies the problem. One side claims pornography is perfectly natural. The other claims it’s a disease. So which side is right? More importantly, which side do you listen to? And how do you know if someone you love needs help?

Listed below are earmarks of addictive behavior to help differentiate between addiction and a bad habit. Keep in mind, sexual desires, thoughts, and actions are perfectly natural. It’s when we begin to lose control over those passions that a problem arises — a notion the “Eat drink and be merry” crowd doesn’t concern itself with. 

Frequency – refers to how often the young person engages in the behavior. If viewing pornography only occurs a few times per year, the behavior is not likely an addiction, although the behavior is clearly inappropriate. If the person views pornography three or four times per week, the presence of an addiction is much more likely.

Duration – Duration refers to how long the problem has persisted. Persistent use of pornography over extended periods of time often reflects the young person’s inability to stop viewing.   A recurring problem may indicate that problem-solving skills by the young person have been inadequate or insufficient. The longer a problem has continued, the more it may require professional assistance. Some problems require more time and expertise than family members and Church leaders can provide.

Intensity – Intensity refers to the nature of the material viewed. While all pornographic images and content are inappropriate, some types of material are significantly more intense. Media that depict sexual acts are more intense and graphic than media of individuals wearing little or no clothing. The viewing of hard-core, intense pornography increases the likelihood of an addiction.

Risk Taking – Another primary factor of addiction is the level of risk-taking behaviors presented by a young person. The stronger the addiction, the more the young person is willing to take risks to satisfy the addiction. Risk-taking activities in youth may include escalating immoral behavior, skipping school, sexual abuse, lying to parents and church leaders and any unlawful or covert behavior.

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.

  

Three reasons today's teens are more vulnerable than past generations to develop a pornography addiction

Mental health counselors and psychotherapists are seeing a pattern of increasing numbers of teens and young adults seeking treatment for problems related to pornography addiction and its accompanying behaviors.   This pattern suggests a need for further analysis as to why this is occurring and what the long-term ramifications of this may be.  Studies already suggest that most adults struggling with sexual addiction first developed the addiction during adolescence.  Does this pattern predict an epidemic of future sexual addiction as these teens move into adulthood?

The Youth Pornography Addiction Center was founded in 2010 and has been studying this trend and providing treatment to teens and young adults in this area since that time.  Based on its experience, listed below are three reasons why this trend is occurring:

1.Access—Pornography has always been available, but until the age of the internet, had to be accessed in magazines, video tapes and often required entry into adult books stores and was difficult for teens to obtain.  Never before has sexually explicit material been so readily available and easily accessed.   A majority of teens and young adults have laptops, smart phones, I-pads and are constantly connected to the internet.  In a matter of seconds and virtually anywhere, pornography can viewed.  Internet porn is the medium by which most youth view pornography and most of it free of charge and without accountability for age of the viewer.

2.Potency of today’s Porn—There is a drastic difference between today’s online porn and the porn of just a few decades ago. Now, youth can go to countless websites and find more free porn than they could ever find the time to watch….all in high definition video. They can even pick their favorite template, hair color, sexual activity, and just watch video after video of it. It’s all free, easy to access, available within seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can be viewed on phones at any age.  Addicted teens find themselves driven to view more and more pornography and becoming more and more secretive and deceitful in their efforts to do so.  It is true that erotic photos and videos have been around a long time, but the dopamine arousal from turning the pages of a Playboy magazine can’t hold a candle to the steady stream of ever changing erotic stimulation that is so easily obtained from searching for and viewing online porn. This is why online erotica can create such powerful addictions in teens.  Today’s porn doesn’t satisfy teens’ needs; it distorts them. Teens are particularly vulnerable as the strength of the dopamine high is likely the strongest, most euphoric sensation they have ever experienced in their young lives. Skeptics need to understand this “high” rivals anything that could be achieved with drugs.

3.Diminished authentic relationships—The rising generation has been using technology on a daily basis for their entire lives and it is interfering with their ability to connect with others in a face to face and intimate manner.   Many teens text far more than they talk.  Some send more than 1000 texts a day.  Many teens spend hours and hours playing video games and interacting with “virtual friends” on Facebook while sitting at home alone and isolated from “real friends”.   Intimacy and connectedness can not occur in virtually or in cyberspace.  The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, which surveyed more than 12,000 high school students throughout the country, has noted that feelings of “connectedness” (feeling close to people at school, fairly treated by teachers, and loved and wanted at home) helped significantly to lower an individual’s likelihood of emotional distress, early sexual activity, substance abuse, violence, and suicide.  Another recent study found in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine has suggested that the more screen (computer, video game, cell phone) exposure teenagers get, the more detached they are from those round them.  There appears to be a relationship between adolescent screen time and the diminished social involvement with parents and peers.  Sexual addiction experts suggest that among the core issues driving the addiction is the lack of intimacy and fear of connectedness.

STAR Guides and Mending The Armor are outpatient treatment program that have been specifically designed to provide youth and young adults with a formal approach for learning to manage and overcome an addiction to pornography and other unwanted sexual behaviors.  These programs are currently being offered in eighteen locations in the United States and Canada.  See the Locations page on the website to find an office near you.  If you are therapist interested in providing this service in your office, see the Become A Provider page for information on how to join the network

STAR Guides helps therapists grow their practice by offering programs for treating Pornography Addiction

Because of the sexualization of our culture, the ease of access to explicit media and the potency of today's pornography, more and more people are seeking help for addiction to pornography.  Unfortunately, pornography addiction is a problem that has become a major factor in the destruction of marriages and families.  It is anticipated that the need for effective treatment for those addicted will significantly increase in the years to come.

The STAR Guides program provides therapists with a formal structured approach to working with individuals struggling with pornography addiction.  The program provides separate tracks for teens, young single adults and married adults. 

The program utilizes the Breaking Free workbook which is a curriculum that provides clients with a step by step, structured approach to learning to manage the addiction.  There are versions of this workbook uniquely designed for teens, young single adults, and married adults. 

Therapists in the STAR Guides network are provided an initial comprehensive training to become qualified to provide treatment.  Additionally, each month, therapists receive a one hour CEU training to continue to grow their knowledge and skill in the area of pornography addiction treatment.  STAR Guides providers can earn up to 16 CEU credits annually. 

 STAR Guides is set up to be easily implemented into any already existing outpatient counseling clinic and is currently being provided in 18 office locations around the United States.

To learn more about the STAR Guides program and becoming a provider follow the link below or call 800.584.4629.

Learn more about becoming a provider.

Five benefits of outpatient group therapy for struggling teens

A recent CDC study has estimated that one in five children in America is suffering with a mental disorder of some type and the need for quality mental health treatment for youth has never been greater.  Because of the prohibitive cost of residential treatment, more and more youth are being seen in outpatient clinics and counseling offices as concerned parents seek help for their children. 

A majority of mental health clinics and offices utilize individual therapy as the primary mode of treatment.   Finding therapists that utilize group therapy is more difficult, despite the known benefits of using group therapy with youth.   Some therapists simply prefer to not work with teens because of the difficulties involved with engaging a teen in treatment.  Many therapists shy away from using group therapy because it can be extremely difficult to run effective group therapy with youth.  It takes a highly skilled therapist to run a good group session with resistant teens. 

  Listed below are five benefits for the utilization of group therapy for treating difficult youth:

1.       Participation in group therapy sessions provides young people with the realization that they are not alone in their problems and that others experience similar problems.  Youth often feel alienated from others and experience a great deal of loneliness.  Group therapy provides the opportunity for youth to feel a sense of belonging and cohesiveness.  This allows for youth to develop the skill of learning to connect and bond with others.

2.       Participation in group therapy creates opportunities for interpersonal learning by receiving feedback from each other and experimenting with new ways of relating.  “Group think” can be a powerful tool for helping youth to find new ways of approaching their problems.  This is an opportunity that simply can’t be duplicated in an individual therapy setting.

3.       The treatment group setting provides a safe setting for accountability as the youth report their efforts to manage their unwanted behaviors.  This contradicts the self-talk of many youth who tend to keep their struggles secret because of the shame they often feel.  Participation in group reduces the shame and encourages honesty and openness.   As youth progress in their treatment, they are able to begin to give back and help newer group members.  This creates self-esteem and self-worth.   Group therapy teaches youth to turn to people instead of addictions and dependencies in their time of need. 

4.       Participation in group therapy instills hope to young people that they can recover from their problems.  Senior group members share their successes with newer group members and group members encourage one another to work to achieve their goals. 

5.       Participation in group therapy is a more cost-effective way to provide therapy.  Psychotherapy services can be expensive, particularly for those who are not able to offset the cost with health insurance.  Group therapy sessions can be a more affordable way for parents to assure their child is in treatment each week without having to pay out of pocket for more expensive individual therapy sessions.

Therapy Associates is an outpatient clinic located in St. George, Utah that specializes in the treatment of children, teens and young adults.  Group therapy is a preferred method of treatment.  The clinic provides group therapy treatment to teens and young adults and runs group therapy sessions for substance abuse, gaming addiction, adolescent girls’ issues, pornography/sexual addiction and sexual offenses.  See our website to find out more about our therapeutic services for children, teens and young adults in the St. George, Utah area.

Q & A: Can the STAR Guides program help teens who are struggling with other sexual behavior problems besides pornography?

Absolutely.  The STAR Guides program is a great treatment option for teens who are struggling with a variety of non-legal sexual behavior problems.  We have been able to successful help many teens overcome various sexual behavior issues including: fetishes, voyeurism, compulsive masturbation, sexting, sexual promiscuity, cybersex, hypersexual talk and behavior, and of course pornography addiction.

Finding treatment for sexual behavior problems for youth can be difficult.  Most communities have counseling offices that provide programs designed for juvenile sexual offenders who have committed sexual offenses, but few counseling offices offer treatment options for teens who are struggling with sexual behaviors that have not resulted in legal problems.

Because of the sexualization of our culture and the abundance of pornography and immorality, there has never been a time when the rising generation has had a greater need for guidance and direction regarding sexuality in their lives.

The STAR Guides program provides a formal, structured approach to help teens to identify what healthy sexuality is and then develop a plan to achieve it.  The program also helps teens to identify and more effectively manage the underlying emotional issues which typically drive sexual behavior problems.  The program assists teens in being able to learn to manage sexual behavior problems while they are still young and prevent future problems.

Three misconceptions about pornography addiction and youth that interfere with recovery

As part of our efforts to spread the STAR Guides program, we have had the chance to visit with many parents, church leaders, therapists and youth from various parts of the country on the topic of pornography addiction among youth and young adults.  Based on these conversations, it seems clear that many youth and young adults struggling with the addiction, but we have been surprised by how few actually seek professional treatment for dealing with the addiction.  Here are three misconceptions that we believe explain this:

1.          Yes, it’s a problem………….but is professional intervention really needed?

Too often, the chronic use of pornography by youth is not viewed as an addiction, but rather just a bad habit.   The word “addiction” is strong and there is hesitancy on the part of parents, church leaders and youth to accept that an addiction exists.  Because of shame and embarrassment, youth may minimize or downplay the extent of the problem.  As a result, parents and church leaders are often not fully aware of the depth of the issue resulting in the conclusion that professional help is not necessary.   The unfortunate reality of pornography addiction is that most are unable to break free on their own without help.

2.          “You just need to try harder.”

Overcoming an addiction to pornography can be very difficult.  Too often, those not familiar with the strength of the addiction simplify the process and expect that more desire and more willpower should result in terminating the addiction.  It is hard for those not familiar with addiction to comprehend why some youth continue to relapse into viewing pornography despite every intention to remain abstinent.  While increased commitment and effort are vital to overcoming the addiction, we need to empower our youth with every possible tool for learning to manage the addiction including spiritual support, emotional support, internet accountability and professional intervention.  In fighting pornography addiction, there is no such thing as too much intervention. 

3.          A few months abstinence equals recovery.

Some addicted youth are able to refrain from viewing pornography for several weeks and even months using willpower. While this shows a strong effort on their part, too often youth who have not participated in treatment will eventually relapse back into viewing pornography.  It is important for youth, parents and church leaders to recognize the need for those who have been addicted to have the opportunity to analyze and explore the nature of the addiction including the underlying emotional and psychological issues that lead to the formation of the addiction.  Too often, a few months abstinence is misinterpreted as the problem being resolved and thus, no need for participation in professional treatment.

Pornography Addiction Treatment Program for teens and young adults now available in Las Vegas

Jeremy Leavitt, MS, MFT-I, CADC-I has joined the network and is now offering the Mending The Armor and STAR Guides program in the Las Vegas area.  

Jeremy is a young and energetic therapist.  He possesses a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and a Master of Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy degree.  He has training in addictions and has experience providing services as a substance abuse counselor for individuals of all ages.  He also provides services for a number of other issues including couples, families, dual-diagnosis, depression and anxiety.  Jeremy has been happily married for 10 years and has two wonderful boys.  He enjoys practicing and teaching Taekwondo in his off-time.  Jeremy has a 2nd degree black belt and has been teaching martial arts to troubled youth and adults for approximately 14 years.  He feels that this experience is what led him to become a therapist.

Jeremy's professional experience and personal qualities make him a great addition to the network.  Youth and Young Adults in the Las Vegas area who are struggling with pornography addiction will surely benefit from Jeremy's counseling services.

Teen Pornography Addiction and Mental Health

Despite being considered by the APA for inclusion in the DSM V, Hypersexual Disorder is not yet recognized as a diagnosis and treatment for the problem is not covered by insurance and still questioned by skeptics as a valid psychological disorder.

Many who develop Hypersexual Disorder, become addicted to pornography during their adolescence  While it is true that not all teens exposed to pornography become addicted, and while it is not certain that every teen addicted to pornography will experience significant impairment in day to day functioning, what does seem certain is that many youth addicted to porngoraphy experience mental health issues requiring professional help.  It also seems certain that by treating the addiction early, that significant future problems can be averted.

Among the clinical issues leading teens into treatment stemming from pornography addiction include depression, low self-esteem, school failure, chronic dishonesty, parent/child relationship problems, pattern of isolation from family and friends, risky on-line behaviors, sexual acting out, legal problems and stagnated coping skills.

Increasing numbers of teens find detachment from reality and escape into a fantasy world by using pornography.  Rather than participating in more traditional forms of entertainment and socialization, these youth rely on technology and the internet to tap into a world of cybersex to satisfy their need for entertainment and socialization.  Few teens or their parents realize how quickly they fall prey to the grasp of a powerful addictive compulsion that is then used for insulation from the demands of adolescent development in a similar fashion to those addicted to drugs.

Parents and professionals need to be mindful of the mental health issues that accompany a pornography addiction.  As teens unsuccessfully attempt to break their addiction, feelings of failure and discouragement further deepen depressive symptoms leaving some feeling discouraged and worthless.  These feelings create more need to “numb” from the pain of reality leading to more pornography use. As the addiction develops, youth become increasingly isolated and secretive in their behaviors which results in distorted thinking patterns.   The shame involved with being addicted makes it difficult for teens to talk about their problems and seek help.    Without treatment, the addiction becomes a major mental health issue that many teens carry into adulthood and can develop into a sex addiction causing devastating relationship and legal issues.

If you know a young person who is struggling with an addiction to pornography, help is available.  Contact us today and speak with a therapist.