This past Monday, I was able to partake in my favorite activity when it comes to pornography addiction education. I gave a short virtual presentation to a psychology class at the University of Maryland. More importantly, I was able to answer their questions. I see the presentation part of things as a chance to just get them comfortable with me. If they are comfortable, hopefully they can ask the tough questions.
Following the Q&A, I asked the class if they wouldn’t mind if I shared their questions on my website. I think that looking at a group of young adults and the questions they ask is almost as important as the answers I provide. So, here are the questions — and abridged answers — from the students at the University of Maryland. Go Terrapins.
Is there a correlation between pornography addiction and other mental health disorders?
Yes. There is a correlation, but I don’t know enough about the subject to label it a causation. Just remember that not all addicts have mental illness and not all people with mental illness are addicts.
Additionally to your OnlyFans information, what makes you believe there is a growing group for pornography?
I would guess that I’ve spoken with 20-25 people who either started an OnlyFans page or started cam modeling online in 2020, or shortly before. The ones who already quit, or are already getting bored, were in it for the money only, but that was only around 5 or 6. The rest talked more about how much they loved — and craved — the attention from viewers. This kind of craving can lead to addiction. I think we have to be on the lookout that pornography addiction doesn’t become a two-pronged addiction, for both consumers AND producers.
What do you think is the best parenting approach to dealing with their kids beginning to discover pornography?
Warn them that it’s coming and how to deal with it. Pornography awareness is part of the drug/alcohol/cigarette awareness speech, not the birds and the bees speech. It needs to begin, age appropriately, when they are young and lead into their early teen years. I think just by not making the topic so taboo, you’ll help take away the stigma of not talking about it.
Is there a possibility of pornography addiction or sex addiction in the DSM-6?
About as likely as the University of Maryland making it to the NCAA basketball Final Four. The most we can hope is they recognize sexual compulsion disorder, as the World Health Organization has done. The DSM is about as useful as a map of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The moment it’s released, it’s out of date and they can’t keep up with things changing.
I was wondering since you have been hiding your pornography addiction from others, how have you deal with your relationship with your family and friends when your addiction was made public?
Mine was made very public, as I explained in the first part of the conversation and what I learned is that all relationships are two-way streets. There are people who walked away from me and to this day, nearly seven years later, won’t give me the time of day. I’ve tried to connect to some and they’ve shunned me. It’s OK. It’s their right. With those family members and friends who stuck around, I’ve thanked them for their love, support and loyalty and I think they’ve seen a difference in me as a person in recovery. I’ve also offered to answer any questions they have. Some take me up on it, some don’t.
What are strategies that you used when you decided to stop taking medication for your mental health difficulties?
I think that was the beginning of the end of the rapid trip to rock bottom in 2013. There really was not strategy involved. Had their been, I’d never have pulled myself off of them.
What about your experience in jail evoked the wakeup call that inspired change?
It was two-fold. I was already well on my way in recovery to being a much better person, but jail allowed me the opportunity to see people who were nothing like me on a socio-economic level and how they had the same issues as the people I met at the expensive rehab. Second, it allowed me to feel useless for a little while. I recognized with the very public life I led, I could never hide from this. So I decided to embrace it and try to help others.
Do you still have cravings related to your pornography addiction? If so, how do you manage or curb these cravings? Would you say it is similar to an alcoholic curbing their desire to drink?
A University of Maryland three-for-one question, I guess. If you looked at my average day of pornography back 10 years ago and compare it to now, I’m probably about 2% the same. The change is really that drastic. I think about it because I’m always writing or lecturing, but in my private time, it’s not really an issue with cravings anymore. Those moments that I briefly think, “You could look at porn” are followed with “You’ve gone nearly 7 years without it. You’d be 51 before you could get a streak this long again.” With my drinking, because I did that more publicly, with more people, in more places, there were more initial triggers to get over. I can still truthfully taste the difference between a light beer like a Corona and a heavy beer like an IPA in my mouth distinctly. By this point, I’ve had to face cravings is just about every situation, and probably multiple times, so I’ve conquered it.
Would you consider (frequent) imaginary scenes in your mind as a potential addiction to pornography?
Yes, I would. I think pornography is something that is used for stimulative sexual purposes. There is erotic literature that shows nothing and you have to picture the words in your head. Is that porn? I think so. When you take away the words, you’re left with the pictures. Is that porn? I think there is a strong argument it is.What other areas of life were impacted by pornography addiction? Impacts on relationship/family?
When/how did the addictive behavior start? How/when did you consider yourself “addicted”?
The addictive behavior probably started the moment I saw it and began an unhealthy craving around the age of 12. By 14 I was looking at it most every day, so that’s when I’d say the behavior of acting like an addict took hold. I knew that something was different with my use around 16 or 17, but never actually used the word addict regarding my porn until I was at inpatient rehab for my alcoholism in 2014.
Stigma for this addictive behavior, especially compared to things like substance use disorders?
Yeah, obviously. I wouldn’t be here talking to you today if we were just going to talk about my alcoholism. Frankly, I understand I’m a bit of a novelty act. The University of Maryland is having me speak because I’m one of the only people who talks about porn addiction so openly out there. It would be nice if one day, I stopped getting speaking gigs and interview requests because there were so many people out there talking about it.
Treatment programs, what was most effective? SA/PA? Sponsor?
For me, it was cognitive behavioral therapy and simply being at an inpatient facility so I could meet people dealing with the same issue and have time to get out of my negative routines. I tried 12 steps and did AA for about six months and Sex Addicts Anonymous for a little longer. I took what those programs could offer me and then moved on. While I had an AA sponsor briefly, I did not in SAA because I knew I wasn’t sticking with the program long-term. Every person has to develop their own path to sobriety. There is no right or wrong. There is that you either use or you don’t.
What does recovery look like for you? Abstinence?
These days, I live my life. It’s not difficult, but it stays top-of-mind because of the kind of work I do. If I didn’t do the outreach and education, I still don’t think I’d be looking at porn or drinking. And yes, the goal for those two things is abstinence. However, it’s important to note that abstinence from sexuality is not the goal. Healthy sexuality is the goal.
Pornography vs. Sex addiction, differences noticed among clients in treatment?
I’m not a fan of the term “sex addiction” because I think when people hear it, they think “intercourse addiction.” I think much like “Drug addiction” is a blanket term, as should be “Sex addiction.” Under that term, you have intercourse addiction, porn addiction, voyeurism, exhibitionism, etc. I have not been treated for the other conditions, but I’m sure there are slight variations in the treatment between specific maladies.
How to navigate potential triggers, ads/pop ups, easy access to pornography online?
Cognitive behavioral therapy. You have to train your brain to handle these things differently. One of my favorite stories from rehab was when we were in a giant group discussion, probably 40 of us with issues ranging from drugs to sex to eating disorders. One of the guys wasn’t getting with the program and a the facilitator called him out on his recent behavior. The 20-something guy, probably close in age to the University of Maryland students I was talking with, said, “All you’re doing here is trying to brainwash us!” The facilitator shot back, “Don’t you think you need some brainwashing??!!” You’ve got to change the way you think and for me, that was getting me away from my environment and learning how to deprogram my instincts. It’s not about any specific manner of pornography whether it’s online or in a movie or in real life…it’s about changing my overall thinking.
Starting recovery before actual incarceration…what was that like?
I couldn’t have imagined putting it off for two years. I think seeing all the hard work those two years between arrest and sentencing were proof to the judge I was serious about turning my life around. I’ve always been of tte belief — not always the action, but at least the belief — that if you have a problem, you solve it. I had an obvious problem, the biggest of my life. The time and resources were available so I began solving it. Now, I realize it’s a lifelong battle, but I’m glad I didn’t wait.
So that’s that…the oral answers were longer and I went off on tangents telling stories and practicing some of the verbiage from my upcoming TEDx Talk without letting on. I want to thank the students, staff and faculty of the University of Maryland for inviting me to participate. I am always available for similar appearances with other college groups and classes.