Ending an Addiction to Pornography

This year I gave up an addiction to pornography that spanned more than forty years. I had discharged on this addiction and battled against it for many years before making a decision to end it. The decision I made included a resolve to fight off the effects of the pornography industry as well as a commitment to removing my early sexual distress.

The pornography industry is huge, and the people who work in it know about people’s particular sexual distresses. Internet pornography uses search engines1 that are very specific, leading a person to thousands of web sites with millions of pictures in his or her category of distress. Internet pornography is free, easy to keep secret, accessible in the privacy of one’s own home or some other private space, and, “thanks” to more and more powerful technology, instantaneously available. It is also well-crafted to provoke one’s heaviest sexual feelings, as well as being heart-poundingly scary.

Pornography exploits the natural drive to procreate and the way sex feels good to the individual human being. It compels the viewer to surrender control of his or her thinking and to give up2 taking charge of when to act on sexual feelings and when not to. It restimulates early feelings of victimization along with the desire to act those feelings out at others. Pornography is not really about sex; it uses sex as a vehicle for aggression. Many of the fantasies involved in pornography are about submission and domination, or even sexual abuse and rape.   

As I worked on giving up pornography, I also needed parallel sessions on being a perpetrator. (My being a perpetrator was by no means limited to times when I acted out sexual feelings at people. It included times when I was mean or bad-tempered toward my family, people at work, RC Community members, drivers in other cars, telephone marketers, and so on.) When I first started having those sessions, I felt like I was the person who was getting hurt. But as I worked more on the feelings, I realized I was acting out childhood victimization at others, especially early sexual distress. This is subsiding and becoming easier to discharge as the impact of a lifetime of pornography wears off. 

There are millions of pornography addicts in the United States alone. Through restimulation, pornography can trigger chemical reactions in one’s physiology and, like mind-altering drugs, can create a feeling of intoxication. Unlike mind-altering drugs, it is free to the portion of the population with access to computers and the worldwide web. It is also everywhere—not just in the sex industry. Beer advertisements, children’s fashion, popular movies, teen novels, billboards, cake design, tee shirts, gallery shows, contemporary music, tabloids and comics, all reflect the general trend toward pornography. Drugs affect people for a long time after they use them, but pornographic images stay in people’s minds for the rest of their lives, and remain “radioactive”3 until they discharge enough about them. Our society offers a cheap “high”4 in exchange for submission to the sexual imagery that triggers restimulation of early abuse.

In my family, like in many families in the 1950s and the first part of the 1960s, sexuality was a repressed topic. Violence, child abuse, affairs, and incest were kept hidden from other family members and especially from people outside of the family. We were able to go from immigrant status to middle class in two generations by hiding our difficulties and showing our strengths. Family members had secrets, and my older relatives probably died without ever telling theirs. I can only assume I was not the first family member to have sexual compulsions, but when no one tells you their secrets, you feel like you are the only one. You never learn that your distress has persisted for many generations and is actually fading. It is not surprising I gravitated toward an addiction that involves secrecy.

Even when a pornography addiction is concealed, the person who is addicted feels stigmatized because the society does not allow the addiction to be shown in public the way smoking and drinking can be. A layer of shame is added to an already complicated compulsion, and the addicted person is not inclined to share it even in a Co-Counseling session.

Encouraged by the work on early sexual memories that was going on5 in my RC Region, I dared myself to talk about and discharge on pornography. It was helpful to work on it openly, even if I was not able to end the addiction. At lots of RC workshops, especially men’s workshops, I led topic groups for men discharging on sexual compulsions. In these groups I tried to be honest about my struggle and invited other men to tell their secrets while noticing how that felt. Sometimes we had large groups of men, and each of us took a short turn in front of the whole group because everyone wanted to stay together and see for himself how widespread this hurt was. During one meeting I had to take client time in front of the group after each man took his turn; otherwise I would never have kept my attention out enough to counsel everyone. Each time I was client I asked the group, “Am I the only one?” or “Is mine worse than yours?” I was reassured when the other men shook their heads no and laughed.

I tried to stop using pornography a few times. Initially I quit by using willpower, but that backfired badly6. I used willpower because I became urgent about how disapproving I felt about myself. It wasn’t really a decision, and it wasn’t really for me. I tried a twelve-step program7 for sex addicts, but without discharge the members of the group were unable to maintain a useful perspective. (I had turned away from RC because I felt alone with the addiction and didn’t believe that discharge and close alliances would help.) A few years ago I quit the addiction again, but my job was too restimulating and I went back to pornography to seek comfort within feelings of self-pity. Eventually I learned to stop feeling bad about myself for practicing the addiction, but there was still a chronic layer of feeling bad due to the fact that I had not quit. If I could have discharged easily every time I resisted pornography, I would have ended the addiction years ago. But addictions are built on being shut down8, and that is what you get to face9 when you stop, and that is what you have to feel when you are done masturbating to pornography.

I realized I needed a better life. I began discharging about replacing the addiction with a life that truly made me feel good about myself. As I envisioned the details of that life, I gradually began taking my first steps toward it. I tried doing things that had always scared me, and I used RC to report back about my attempts. New opportunities were offered to me by people outside of RC, like leading meetings or forming friendships with wide-world leaders, and I could see there would be no room10 for my addiction. I discharged about how I could no longer afford the restimulation and bad feelings brought on by a hidden sexual obsession.

One beautiful morning last summer I woke up and decided I would not do the addiction that day. An imaginary door opened, and I stepped through and closed it without looking back. I realized that the door might not be available again for a while and that I needed to act and then discharge with my Co-Counselors. I sensed I could make the same decision every day of my life and that it would not be too hard for me in any one moment. In that moment, while standing in front of my computer, I decided to never use pornography again. I had no idea when I woke up that that would be the day. Looking back on that morning, it was as if I had unconsciously snuck up on11 the addiction and ambushed it.

It has been important to know that I can fight off the oppressive effects of society. I tell myself now that society cannot control me this way ever again. I want the life of a revolutionary, and I want to know what it truly means to live in the world as a Co-Counselor. As an RC teacher I want to invite others to make similar decisions, to take on12 the seemingly impossible. The only way to find out what life can be like without an addiction is to quit. In the end I became curious to know what life would be like ten, twenty, or thirty years after quitting a chronic addiction. I think the reason one leaves a chronic pattern behind is simply because it is more interesting to live another way.

I continue to need big sessions about the addiction and the early sexual hurts that fueled it. I will continue to call groups for men discharging on sexual compulsions. Given the extent of abuse in my childhood, I have a list of compulsions I need to work on, but the ending of pornography is certainly a milestone in the continuum of the sessions I need to have and a giant shock to my early sexual distress.

The decision to quit has just started having an effect. In my new life I’m closer to my daughter and we spend more time together than ever before. I’m nicer to my wife and more helpful around the house. I have a dream about the kind of work I want to do, and even if I’m far from that dream, I’m happy knowing I’ve found my calling.13 I take better care of my health, and I get more done than ever before. I can’t wait14 to enjoy all of the benefits of a life without a pornography addiction.




1. A search engine is computer software used to search data for specified information.

2. In this context, give up means abandon.

3. “Radioactive” means highly charged.

4. “High” means pleasant-feeling intoxication.

5. Going on means occurring.

6. Backfired badly means made things much worse than before.

7. A twelve-step program is a program and guiding principles for recovery from addiction, compulsion,  or other behavioral problems.

8. Shut down means numbed by distress.

9. Face means confront.

10. Room means time or space.

11. Snuck up on means stealthily approached.

12. In this context, take on means confront and do something about.

13. My calling means what I really want to do with my life.

14. Can’t wait means am very eager.

Last modified: 2018-04-14 02:20:45+00