Pornography: Progression and Treatment
By Shawn D. Boggs, LMFT, M.MFT
Pornography damage among many men and couples has been on the increase over the last several years. And no wonder, with online pornography sales exceeding two billion dollars each year. It is often a presenting problem in counseling and co-exists with depression, anxiety, anger, acts of compulsion, sexual dysfunction, and marital and family distress.
The problem is often rooted early in life within the parent-child relationship. Parents and children often failed to connect in these areas: mentoring and teaching in areas of self-control and coping with one’s emotions, emotional warmth and connectivity, inadequate education regarding God’s plan for sex, and avoidance and/or shame as punishment for failures. These signs can be a noticeable problem in childhood as the child is consistently guarded and struggles with shame and lowered self-esteem. When the child reaches preadolescence or early adolescence, the discovery of pornography along with self-gratification becomes a key means to regulate and control difficult emotions. This problem lays in silence for a decade or more until a pornography problem is discovered by one’s spouse or perhaps through termination of employment. It is at this point that treatment begins, often with a shocked and hurt spouse.
Just presenting one’s self in counseling is an important first step. It’s usually an embarrassing experience, but also a great relief to find hope from the related shame. Since trusting one’s self and marital trust are initial liabilities, using a filter such as covenanteyes.com on home and work computers and televisions is initially helpful. The bulk of the therapeutic work is learning to regulate and manage difficult emotions and relate to others with greater success. This is most important in any close relationship, especially marriage. In treatment, men learn how to more openly discuss their feelings, especially inadequacies. In addition, men must learn not to use any type of pleasure as a replacement for coping with more difficult emotions.
By definition, the pornographer’s goal is to divorce sex from marital commitment and intimacy. Treatment empowers the patient to learn what was needed in childhood, to regulate his negative feelings, and connect with others. Soon the craving for pornography begins to dwindle. The patient is then able to repeat helpful choices that create freedom rather than bondage.