Tammy Nelson PhD is a Sex and Relationship expert and the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together
A woman sat in my therapy office today and cried. She balled her tissue into her hand and wailed, I think my husband is a sex addict!
As a therapist, I have heard those words many times, week after week, from more and more clients. There seems to be an acute spike in the level of compulsive sexual behaviors through the internet. Also, more people are recognizing the problems faced by both men and women that are dealing with sexual addiction. It may be due to the rash of news stories that have labeled sports figures and movie actors with the diagnosis of sex addict that have made more people aware of the symptoms. It may also be because the internet allows for direct access to more sexual material then ever before, and for free.
I asked her, Why do you think hes addicted, and to what?
She answered slowly.
Well, he watches porn on the computer all the time. I know he masturbates to it a couple of times a day. He doesnt come to bed until long after I am asleep. We never have sex anymore. And I think he does it at work too.
It is hard to diagnose someone with a true sex addiction particularly if they are not sitting in my office where I can ask them directly about their behavior. But some questions I would ask if her husband were in the chair where she sat would be things like, How often are you looking at porn on your computer? Have you ever thought about stopping but can't? Would you prefer not to do it but find that you are drawn to it more every day? Do you have physical problems as a result, including sores on your penis from masturbating, or on your hands? Do you lose time from work or time from your family in order to masturbate to porn? Do you find yourself looking at images that you never thought would turn you on? Do you find yourself needing more and more extreme imagery to get off?
These are some of the questions that indicate whether or not someone has a dependency on pornography. The desire to stop and the inability to change behavior is one indicator that someone has become dependant on the substance of pornography. Brain chemicals are released when looking at pornographic images on the screen, and when masturbating. Upon ejaculation more chemicals and hormones are released that create a feel-good relaxed sensation in the body which creates a relief from anxiety and can become an experience that viewers can become dependent upon after repetitive use.People can use porn to avoid intimate sexual relationships with their partners, draining off the erotic energy in what they would otherwise give to their partner. This can be an exit from the relationship or a way to avoid conflict.Porn can also be a way to explore fantasies or fetishes that they may be too afraid or ashamed to talk about in the relationship.Asking your partner about their pornography use is important. Porn is accessible, affordable and all over the internet now. It can be a way to avoid intimacy or exit the relationship. It can become something that can lead to a dependency and even an addiction.Not all pornography is addictive. Porn can also be a pleasurable way to increase desire and arousal in a relationship, and can be an erotically charged shared experience between partners. It can be a great way to find out new ways to explore fantasies without having to act them out. It can be a tool to learn new tricks that you can share with a partner. Not all erotic imagery is disrespectful nor is it harmful to the people who made the films.
However, a word of caution to couples. If you think your partner is a sex addict, explore the issues with a therapist or professional who knows the difference between viewing for pleasure and viewing that is problematic. If you catch your partner looking at porn, confront them gently and without shaming. Open the lines of communication and talk about your concerns and perhaps get help, together.Dr Tammy Nelson is the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together available on her website or on Amazon.com?