Frank wanted his life back. He had been spending hours, sometimes almost all his weekends, in front of his computer, feeling compelled to look at pornographic websites. At our first appointment, he spoke about the importance of ‘getting it out in the open’ and his hope that this might help. Thinking about how things had changed or progressed since our first meeting Frank remembered the feeling of not being in control,
I was feeling very fatalistic, I was trapped in a hole. Every weekend I felt it was something that I had to do or was compelled to do and afterwards you feel so bad about yourself.
Recovering a Sense of Control
Something that comes up quite regularly in my work with people around pornography and sex ‘addiction’ is the idea of trying to ‘control’ the use of pornography. Many therapists and psychologists appear to be in favour of people trying to control themselves by putting boundaries into place around their porn use. However by all reports this just tends to flare up the ‘Addiction’. Frank and I worked together over webcam for a number of months. At our last appointment, I asked him about the benefit in us having this connection over time.
You can only tell a person things, but they have to go through it. I went over in my head what I wanted to say. And a few things you said that opened the blinds. For example, that I didn’t need boundaries when I was younger. I didn’t always have to do stuff like that.
Here Frank was referring to masturbation. During one appointment we had a conversation about the choices he made about masturbation when he was a younger man. There had been times Frank chose to masturbate and times that he decided not to. In other words, even as a teenager, Frank had been capable of making his own decisions about sexual expression. If you take a wild animal and put a cage around it, the first thing the animal will do is to try to break out of the cage. I don’t make people construct rules for their pornography use. This is something they have generally already tried before they come to see me and it has often not worked.
Observing the ‘Porn Addiction’
I often encourage people to step back and just watch the ‘Addiction’ come and go without intervening. In doing so, I am inviting the people who work with me to become co-researchers in the problems in their lives. Of course many people start off by assuming the therapist will be an expert or source of all the answers or even an authority figure. This is how therapists are popularly portrayed but it isn’t generally such a helpful idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, while there might be similarities of experience, everyone has a different story as to how they came to be using pornography and why they want to stop. And of course, if there was a manual or technique that worked for everyone, it would be sold at the newsagent!
When Frank started making his own observations about the ‘Addiction’ he began to notice times at which it was more likely to ‘take over’ and times at which it took a back seat. He was also in a position to reflect on how he wanted his life to be. He spoke to me about ‘missing out on a real life’, how the time looking at porn was time that he could be doing his sport training and what his family meant for him. He talked about wanting to get back to having respect for his body. This was something he had valued quite early in life but seemed to have slipped in recent years. At the same time, he started to get a new perspective on masturbation.
I don’t have to be scared that it is going to kill me.
Frank started talking about having used pornography as a kind of conditioning he had done to himself. He had got into a pattern around sex and was relying on that. And this gave us the idea that if he had been conditioned to using porn, perhaps it was just a case of re-conditioning himself, like a motor can be re-conditioned, or an athlete can condition himself. These were metaphors that came from the realms of mechanics and sport, both of which were interests for Frank.
As our webcam counselling appointments continued, Frank shared with me some of the discoveries he had made during his re-conditioning…
I’ve started talking to more people. The interaction with people, having a laugh and joking, it’s so much more…
I don’t see it as a major part of my life, or casting a shadow.
A Step by Step Journey Away from Using Porn
For adults, the experiences of life goes back a long way. But without assistance we don’t always easily recall those times in our lives where we had a sense of ourselves as capable or skilled or in control. Narrative Therapy conversations about pornography use or ‘sex addiction’ can help people recover the sense that they have some authority over their own lives again.
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