The “garbage in – garbage out” perception problem

Porn addiction gets in the way of relationshipsRemarks of recovering user

My father is not a very studied man, and sometimes his eloquence leaves something to be desired. But he said something to me last week, “Sure, alcohol can push aside your problems for awhile. But when the booze wears off, the problems always come back. And if you’re an alcoholic, you probably made them worse.” …

It would probably be a benefit to helping the healing process if we could do an honest examination of what led us to porn in the first place. What role has our addiction played in helping us avoid facing frustrations? What are we “missing” in our lives that has us turning to porn as a substitute?

It’s only common sense, but I think it’s fair to say that if you are a man who is/has been addicted to porn, you probably do not have emotionally healthy sexual relationships with women. (And as a corollary, if you are a woman who is addicted to promiscuity or sexual attention from men, you probably also do not have emotionally healthy sexual relationships with men. The problem in both cases is actually the same, IMHO, they just manifest differently because of our societal conditioning. If men can’t find healthy, loving sexual relationships, they turn to porn as a substitute. If women can’t find healthy loving sexual relationships, they turn to promiscuity as a substitute.)

The problem with both behaviors is the double-edged sword. Not only do our addictions allow us to easily get our short-term needs met while ignoring the root of our problems (especially our ability to find healthy sexual relationships with a partner), the also MAKE THE PROBLEMS WORSE! I finally watched “Things You Didn’t Know about Porn” [available at this site under “Videos”] One thing that struck me was realizing that not only does porn mess up our reward circuitry (which we talk about almost daily on this forum), it also prevents us from taking the real action necessary to learn the interpersonal skills required to create healthy relationships in our lives.

How does it do this? Well let me list the ways I’ve experience personally:

(1) Porn kills motivation to meet women and create healthy relationships. It’s quick and easy. Certainly much quicker and easier than meeting women, screening them for compatibility, taking emotionally vulnerable risks…and even then, no woman can have the instant feedback loop that teaches you how to masturbate to highest intensity of arousal in the shortest possible time. So from a simple cost/benefit calculation…porn is a much quicker route to orgasmic release than finding a healthy sexual relationship.

(2) Porn screws up your expectations of women and sex. And I’m not talking about the standard “societal expectations of beauty” stuff. I’m talking just at a fundamental level, watching porn and expecting real sex to look anything remotely like that is like watching a bunch of tv shows on cooking and then expecting your work in the kitchen to actually look that way.

(3) Then, on top of all of that, by numbing your SENSITIVITY (which we also talk about daily), it also screws up your PERCEPTION! (Which we don’t talk about as much). Now having been abstinent from porn for 9-10 weeks, plus long stretches of 3-4 weeks between orgasm, I’m noticing so much more when women are showing signs of receptivity to sexual overtures. And I’m wondering, “holy geez…has this been here all along? I was totally blind to it.”

It’s strange, I’ve always noticed when a woman has smiled at me longer than normal, or made eye contact with me longer than normal. But in the past, I was so numbed out by porn, that I never had the “spike” in arousal that I get now. As my libido gets more and more sensitive, a girl smiling at me will now set off a very mild – but noticeable – arousal reaction in my penis.

And here’s the crazy part. I thought, “hm…if that’s my body reacting, is hers reacting, too?” As I’ve talked to women about this reaction, I’ve asked them if they experience the same thing. They almost universally agree…when they smile at a man and he smiles back and holds eye contact, they get a small “arousal spike” too, usually manifesting in the feeling of blood rushing to their genital area. …

An example of this is that since I’ve stopped PMO [porn/masturbation/orgasm] for a time, and become more aware of my arousal spikes, it has been harder for me to be alone in a room with my mom. And I’m not talking in some incestuous kinky kind of way. I just mean that I’ll be home visiting and out of the corner of my eye, I will catch the female form walking by, and my natural reaction is get an arousal spike and look up. Well, I do, and it’s my mom smiling to say hi, and I’m like “EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW”. But I guess that’s the unintended consequence of becoming more aware of your sex.

So here’s the problem we all face as recovering porn addicts. Whether the inability to find relationships triggered porn use, or whether porn use prevented us from learning to find sexual relationships is a chicken/egg question. The bottom line is a few things:

(1) We are sexual beings. It’s impossible for us to abstain from sex forever. And any attempt to quit PMO should be combined with an honest introspection of what led us here to begin with and what are we avoiding having to face in life so that we can move toward emotionally healthy sexual relationships that we want.

(2) Porn SCREWS WITH OUR PERCEPTION. Now this alone isn’t the problem. But since our PERCEPTION is what informs our BELIEFS, we have a garbage-in, garbage-out problem. Your ability to gather accurate data has been compromised. This is worth reiterating, so I’ll say it a different way.

If you’ve been addicted to PMO for a long period of time, the beliefs you have about women – which make TOTAL sense, given your perceptions – are likely to be informed by cognitive errors, and are therefore inaccurate.

For example, beliefs such as “women aren’t interested in sex”, or “women are only attracted to good looking men” or “women don’t find me attractive” or “women are only interested in Ryan Reynolds, not guys like me” are all based on perceptions that are have been skewed by our PMO use.

Here’s another big one, people who use a lot of porn tend to have a lot of shame about it. You don’t see guys running around saying “Proud Porn User 15 years and counting”. Well if your one sexual outlet is an area which holds a lot of shame, that’s a problem. Because you’ve now taken the normal shame component present in our societal conditioning and made it 20x worse. It’s tough to find a sexual partner when you’re ashamed of wanting sex to begin with.

So if your goal is to have healthy, sexual relationships, one of the things I’ve needed to do is let go of pre-existing beliefs about what women want and how women work…because so many of those beliefs are based – logically, mind you – on our individual interpretation of our life experiences that have been misperceived as a result of our porn use. Now for some of us, our frustrations with women pre-dated our addiction to porn. That was the case with me. My father was not a masculine role model, my parents were immigrants from another country, while I excelled in scholarly pursuits, I was – at best – remedial when it came to my social development.

Unfortunately, PMO pushed that development even further and further behind. I lost my virginity at 23 and didn’t have another sexual partner until age 28.

But it’s not too late. I was a late bloomer….a VERY late bloomer. But my sexual life has transformed to the point where I’m now having purposely turn down potential mates because I’m now trying to get my body to function in a sexually healthy way. In order to get there, though, anyone who is a recovering PMO addict need to start by re-examining his life’s experiences with women with the knowledge that their perceptions of what happened (and didn’t happen) – while logical given what they perceived – aren’t totally accurate because the addiction messed up with our cognitive and perceptive abilities.