Am I addicted?

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.

1 Peter 2:11

“Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” – U.S. Department of Justice

We live in a sexualized culture, and our exposure to pornography is staggering. A simple click gets us free and instantly available porn—images, videos and erotic stories—on every device we own. Ten years ago the book Pornified described how our relationships and families were being transformed by pornography. Today our exposure to pornography is in uncharted territory. According to Juniper Research, by 2017, 250 million people are expected to access adult content from their phones or tablets, an increase of more than 30% from 2013.

Globally we watch, rent, download or purchase billions of pornographic images, videos and stories. Hollywood’s slate of films shot per year (perhaps 400) pales in comparison to the number of porn films made (10,000+). In the U.S. it is estimated that we spend more on pornography then we spend on the major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB).

Among 18-30-year-olds, according to the Barna Group (2014), 3 out of every 4 men and women view pornography at least once a month, and 63% of men and 21% of women say they view pornography at least several times a week.  For many, their average first exposure was at 12 years of age (Morgan, 2011). Men’s frequency of viewing pornography was correlated with a lower satisfaction with sex and relationships, and for both men and women, the frequency of viewing pornography was correlated with more casual sexual relationships, more intercourse partners, and younger age of first sexual intercourse.

Testimony at a U.S. Senate Hearing by researcher Jill Manning (2005) pointed out that pornography consumption is associated with:

  • Increased marital distress, risk of separation and divorce, and infidelity
  • Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction
  • Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing.
  • An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual behavior

So what is the difference between struggling with, and being addicted to, sexuality and pornography?

Here is help identifying whether you should simply be concerned, or whether you are in danger of developing a compulsive, behavioral sexual addiction.


Struggling Scale: Do you have compulsive or addictive behavior?

by Dr. Chris Grace

Level 1: No Concerns (Issues are Rare)

Not a Struggle—No Warning Lights Detected. Random or very few episodes (viewing an “R-rated” movie, or landing on an erotic site.) Content is mostly ignored or not paid attention to. Inappropriate behaviors, images and thoughts are appropriately and categorically dismissed. While total avoidance in nearly impossible, a person at this level has just limited exposure to pornography, and thus usually experiences little or no guilt or shame.

Level 2: Minimal Concerns (3 or 4 times a year)

Beginning Struggles—A Few Warning Lights Detected. There are unplanned or incidental moments of impurity, with occasional (3 or 4 times a year) and very brief episodes (viewing adult-themed “R-rated” movies, landing on an erotic sites, or reading an erotic story) perhaps briefly exploring the content with interest. It is something of a fluke, unlikely to re-occur anytime soon. Some shame and guilt may be involved, but not outside of what is common when dealing with sinful behavior in general.

Level 3: Some Concerns (Once a month)

Emerging Struggles—Some Yellow Warning Lights Detected. Somewhat irregular (once a month) and brief episodes (viewing adult-themed “R-rated” movies, occasional NC-17, landing on erotic sites, or reading erotic stories.) Such behavior was not necessarily sought, mostly avoided and for the most part still easily halted. Can begin to feel deliberate, a sign that something is off, guilt and shame common, and should serve as a warning of approaching danger. Need to install web blockers, find an accountability partner, and/or begin to be aware of the dangers involved with any increase in behaviors or exposure.

Level 4: Concerns and Growing Compulsions (Once a week)

Struggling—Flashing Yellow Lights Stay On. Unhealthy sexuality appears (regularly viewing “NC-17” movies, landing on erotic sites, reading erotic stories, adult images online or watching adult-oriented movies or clips, visiting a strip club, purchasing online adult access, or x-rated printed material.) Such behavior is being sought out and thought about, perhaps every other day or so, and harder to be avoided or easily halted (signs of compulsiveness). Episodes are occurring on a regular basis, feel deliberate, and are a sign that something is off, a warning of approaching danger. Must install web blockers, find an accountability partner, and know the dangers of increase in behaviors or exposure. Accountability groups, group counseling and/or professional therapy may need to be considered.

Level 5: Strong Concerns and Compulsions (Every other day)

Growing Addictive Potential—Red Warning Lights Detected. Unhealthy sexuality. The behaviors listed above occurring every other day, plus thinking more and more of sexual activity with someone other than your married partner. Begin leading an increasingly double life. A conversation in a chat room turns sexual or you engage in “virtual sex.” No effort is made to avoid future episodes. This is on the path to a compulsion and sexual addiction. Accountability groups, group counseling and/or professional therapy need to be considered.

Level 6: Significant Concerns and Compulsions (Everyday)

Addiction Potential High—Flashing Red Warning Lights On. This is the beginning of an addiction, with everyday behaviors of viewing of adult images online or adult-oriented movies or clips, reading erotic stories, virtual sex occurring every day, plus the making of plans to engage in any level of sexual activity with someone other than your married partner. The person leads an increasingly double life. Future episodes are eagerly anticipated and planned for, with compulsions growing stronger. Accountability groups, group counseling and/or professional therapy should be considered before an addiction forms or deepens.

The following levels listed below have been adapted from “The Purity Report."

Level 7: Immediate Concerns (More Frequently than Once a Day)

Unhealthy, Addictive Sexuality—Numerous Red Warning Lights Stay On. Involves more than once a day viewing of adult images/adult-oriented movies/clips, reading erotic stories, virtual sex, plus actually engaging in sexual activity with someone other than your married partner. Beginning episodes of binging, with a deliberate preoccupation, and a sign of sexual addiction. Person becomes engrossed with thoughts of the illicit behavior, looks for opportunity, even to the point of making plans, to engage in illicit behavior without detection. He or she has developed rationalizations to make the behavior morally defensible. Sexuality has become carefully compartmentalized. Counseling/professional therapy is required to stop the unhealthy, addictive behavior and find new perspectives on sexuality and healing.

Level 8: Major Addictive Concerns—High Levels of Ritualized Illicit Sexual Behavior

Significant Unhealthy Sexuality. By this stage, the individual has established a regular habit of illicit behavior. Ritualization describes this individual’s pattern of illicit sexual fulfillment. Planning has become a part of the ritual, even serving to enhance the experience. Rationalizations, such as entitlement or self-preservation, are so well-rehearsed that guilt is rarely an issue, although the individual struggles with a growing sense of shame. The desire for sexual stimulus intensifies with each experience because what once brought satisfaction has now become boring. Sexuality and spirituality are divided so that they coexist, but only in tension as the individual leads a double life. Immediate counseling/professional therapy is required.

Level 9: Addictive and Compulsive Ritualized Illicit Sexual Behavior

Ritualized sexual behavior controls the individual, whether he or she realizes it or not. A growing sense of powerlessness may lead to panic and futile attempts to break the pattern; but eventually, the addict must admit that sexual compulsion has taken control of his or her life. With the addiction in full-bloom, the individual will soon be consumed by feelings of despair, self-pity, self-hatred, and shame. He or she must devote significant time and emotional resources to keep a carefully concealed secret life from destroying a precarious public image. Nevertheless, the consequences become more difficult to conceal. Family suffers, work goes undone, physical needs are neglected, finances unravel—life becomes unmanageable. Rationalization becomes bizarre; compartmentalization, extreme. In-patient treatment program and out-patient counseling/therapy is required.

Level 10: Compulsive, Illegal Sexual Activity

The sexual activity violates criminal statutes, and therefore requires immediate intervention. If the activity violates the physical, mental, or emotional well-being of another individual, immediate incarceration is recommended. In other words, the addict has lost complete control over his or her compulsion and will certainly harm someone again. Treatment will have to take place in the context of the criminal justice system.


References

Pamela Paul (2006). Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families

Juniper Research, “250 Million to Access Adult Content on their Mobile or Tablet by 2017, Juniper Report Finds.” Sept. 2013. http://www.juniperresearch.com/viewpressrelease.php?id=628&pr=401 (accessed Dec. 29, 2014)

Elizabeth M. Morgan, “Association between young adults’ use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction,” Journal of Sex Research 48 (2011): 520–530.

The Purity Report, http://www.purityreport.com/news.php

Covenant Eyes http://www.covenanteyes.com/resources/download-your-copy-of-the-pornography-statistics-pack/

Barna Research Group, 2104 Survey on Sexuality and Pornography

Jill Manning, “Hearing on pornography’s impact on marriage & the family,” U.S. Senate Hearing: Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, Committee on Judiciary, Nov. 10, 2005. http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=e655f9e2809e5476862f735da10c87dc&wit_id=e655f9e2809e5476862f735da10c87dc-1-3 (accessed Dec. 27, 2012).


Chris Grace

Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.


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