Victoria Munoz, M.C., LPC, Counselor at The Meadows of Wickenburg
Is pornography causing problems in your relationship? Does your partner disapprove of your pornography use? Have you found that you prefer pornography to intimacy with your partner? Pornography, specifically Internet pornography, can have detrimental effects in a person's life. Although our culture has often said, "Boys will be boys," the Internet makes pornography available 24 hours a day. It is affordable, often anonymous, and endless in its supply. As a result, many people have found themselves using pornography compulsively. You may find that you are using it more than intended, needing more to get desired effects, using it to relieve stress, and using it despite negative life consequences. In addition to the problems Internet pornography may be causing your relationship, it may be causing work and legal problems as well. You are not alone, and there is help.
The compulsive use of Internet pornography is treatable. You may find yourself unable to discontinue your use of pornography alone, and perhaps it is time to consider treatment. Maybe you are seeking treatment at the urging of someone you love, maybe you have long known that you have a problem, or maybe you are fearful of where your behavior is taking you on the Internet.
In treatment you can explore the questions: "How did this happen to me?" "What role does Internet porn play in my life?" "Why is my continued use of Internet porn no longer serving me as it once seemed to?" In addition, you can look at patterns you have developed to numb or escape from daily life. In treatment you can become free of this compulsive behavior; by exploring family-of-origin and adult patterns, you can identify how and why pornography has been so alluring to you. You do not have to continue living with feelings of shame and despair. There is a solution.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Understanding Sexual Recovery
By Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT
Sexuality is yoked with one's being - the body, mind and spirit. It is connected with one's identity, or essence. But as a culture, we have conditioned ourselves to experience and express our sexuality with a laser focus on physical gratification, the seeking of pleasure and release.
This is only a small part of what our sexual selves encompass. The totality of sexual expression is experienced through one's passion, creativity and life force energy. When we hear a moving piece of music; create art; connect with nature; lust after our favorite food, engrossed in its consumption; grow passionate about learning a new language or dance step, this is the expression of our sexuality.
This energy taps into the core of who we are. That's what makes sex addiction so powerful
and what sets it apart from other addictions. Our sexuality comes from the depths of our being, as does recovery. Examining and integrating healthy sexuality from this perspective becomes much more than just "mind-blowing sex." It becomes a spectrum of possibilities, a transformation of the whole self.
For several years, Anna has been working on her recovery from alcohol and sex addiction. Like most addicts, Anna had given up her most treasured hobby; it had been sidelined by the tumultuous life of her addiction. Anna had given up riding horses. Once an avid polo player, she had dropped out of the game and sold her animals. After several years of recovery, she was able to reconnect with her passion. Anna recently bought a new horse and is training several others. She rides almost every day.
"Maureen," Anna says in a somber tone, "I was riding my horse the other day, and I think I had a spiritual moment."
"What happened?" I ask.
"I had been rushing around yesterday morning, and, by the time I got to the stable, I was in a bad mood. When I got on my horse, she fought me, wouldn't do anything. She threw her head up and tried to buck me off. A friend watching me suggested that I stand up in the saddle and get myself centered, take a few breaths and feel her rhythm. I did what he suggested, let go of my stress and got in tune with her. When I sat down, she became calm. I rode in that ring and felt so connected to her. It was amazing."
What Anna is creating is connection, first with herself and then with life at large. She has come a long way in her recovery, and she is now reaping its rewards. Of course, it has taken time and a concentrated effort. For sex addicts, recovery can be a long and arduous but rewarding process.
Treatment planning for sexual addiction needs to realistically address the healing of one's personhood. In early treatment, the goals are focused and concrete: breaking through denial, surrendering to the addiction, acknowledging losses, making disclosures to loved ones, working the 12 Steps, getting a sponsor, going to meetings, etc. In this phase of treatment, the client is typically in crisis, emotionally overwhelmed, disoriented and experiencing withdrawal. Inpatient treatment is an intense process that can leave the client feeling inundated and emotionally fragile upon discharge. Patients often feel splintered, their ego state disoriented, their affect-management tenuous and their communication skills poor. The stress of re-entering life is, at best, a challenge and, more realistically, a trigger for relapse.
Extended-care treatment involves giving patients time to identify and integrate ego states, stabilize their emotions, grieve losses, begin trauma resolution, and implement treatment tools for relational development with self and others.
The profound shame that patients feel, and the slow but constant erosion of their personhoods, are the results of sexual addiction. The trauma and subsequent addiction result from a lifetime of ritualized behaviors and deeply embedded coping mechanisms. Patients run from their shame, using anger to act out and destroy any semblance of an authentic self. The recovery of the authentic self and the ability to live in one's truth must be extracted from the wreckage of the addiction.
About the Author
Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT, Clinical Director of Dakota and Clinical Consultant for Sexual Disorder Services at The Meadows, has extensive experience working with sexual disorders. She is a past board member of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, as well as past president of the Arizona Council on Sexual Addiction.
This article is an excerpt from Maureen’s newly released book, Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding Sexual Addiction and the Road to Healthy Intimacy. For more details, visit themeadows.org.
Sex is one of the most powerful forces in the human condition. It can drive individuals to the pinnacle of emotional and physical ecstasy or, conversely, spiral other people into depths of despair and anguish. The power of sexual energy and expression exists because our sexuality is tied, or connected, to the core of who we are; it is our essence, our life force, our creativity, and our passion.
A sense of self means an inner knowing, a clarity of our true nature or authenticity. In healthy sexual expression, there is desire, connection, and a sense of well-being. The act of expressing one’s self sexually results in a positive, life-enhancing experience; it is an expression of love, an exchange of mutual pleasuring and respect that leads to an intimate connection.
The sexual compulsive person may think this is what he or she is experiencing. However, the opposite is true. Sex for the addict is about intensity, danger, power, and control. It is about emotional numbing, conquering, and getting high. Sex becomes a commodity to be manipulated, a means to a selfdefeating end. Sex and love become a game to play, an avoidance, a push/pull, or a hunger so powerful that the addict will risk everything to reach that sexual high.
No risk or consequence has stopped the addict: disease, financial ruin, lost relationships, legal injunctions, career setbacks, or self-respect. The addict is caught in an intoxicating dance that has induced a delusional reality.
This is the cycle of sex addiction, and it is deadly—not always in physical form, but most assuredly in emotional experience. This “soul” death is temporarily allayed when the addict is on the “hunt” for sex or, at the other extreme, is avoiding sex at all costs. At either end of the spectrum, the addict feels in control and powerful. This is the high, a chemical release that is as addicting as any drug. When these chemicals—or the high— are induced, euphoria washes over the addict, creating the illusion of complete immunity to the realities of his or her internal ache.
Sexual addiction is not a moral issue; it is a coping mechanism born out of the addict’s wounding. The types of wounding can be as diverse as the addicts themselves. Not all addicts are aware of their “wounding,” as abuse or trauma is often covert. When a person is wounded or traumatized, he or she must learn to cope, often without understanding or support. In order to cope or escape their painful realities, addicts may use drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, staying busy, controlling others, or work. Sex addicts escape through sex.
The second half of this book excerpt is available in the September issue of The Cutting Edge.