Getting Beyond Porn Addiction, to Find New Confidence

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Reader’s Question

I’m a 38-year-old male and I’ve had counseling before. I’ve also spent over ten years in Twelve-Step programs for sexual compulsion (SLAA / SAA) due to compulsive isolating and use of pornography. I am not a ‘troller’, although when I was younger that’s what got me hooked on the internet. ‘Trollers’ spend hours and hours going from porn site to porn site.

I no longer go to meetings or therapy and have discovered a marked improvement in my compulsiveness around pornography. I believe those two things — less frequent and intense use of porn, with no therapy or meetings — are related. I am unsure that I was ever an addict, but am sure that I was compulsive due to inexperience and anxiety.

I bring up my background because I believe it is pertinent to my question: I have real difficulty attracting women. A better way to put it is that I feel unable to attract women, and often feel completely out of control regarding whether or not they are attracted to me. I also feel unable to evaluate whether or not a woman is attracted to me and, subsequently, how to respond.

It always seems like they react to me as if I’m there for them. So, in many cases, it’s as if I’m there to receive their dumping or comments and judgment of me and others. In some cases in the past, I’m there simply for their sexual or romantic gratification. The latter of these happened much more when I was younger and was a boxer. Either way, it always seemed to be about them and only them. With my time in Program, I learned that it was okay to say that I’m actually very angry about that. I even allow myself to get angry when it happens, albeit in an appropriate place. What I want to know is how to use that anger as assertiveness when I’m around women in a social situation; how to say, appropriately, “I don’t want to be treated this way.”

My follow up question is this: Can you suggest a place for me to go to learn these skills? Do you think it is possible to work with a therapist who isn’t steeped in politically correct bullsh*t, who views my desire to know how to ‘score’ and have sex as some type of social wrong that must be stopped and averted, for fear of continuing the tragic cycle whereby women are constantly victimized by male patriarchy, and so on and on? Someone who can see it as a skill that every person generally, and men particularly, need to have in order to feel fulfilled and confident? Now, I’m not saying we have to have sex to be fulfilled, that’s different, but knowledge, skill, and confidence that something as basic and as important as sex is acquirable, and here’s how that works.

Psychologist’s Reply

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First, please allow me to offer my congratulations on weaning yourself away from the compulsive behavior. That is quite an accomplishment and it sounds like you worked hard to achieve it. However, whenever pornography is involved, that is often only the first step. You have stopped watching it, but some of the messages ingrained in the medium may be harder to eliminate.

While there are certain types of pornography that are more feminist in nature, the vast majority of it is degrading towards women, especially given that the women involved are there almost exclusively for men’s pleasure. The women in porn tend not to be shown having their own thoughts, hobbies, or desires, yet in the real world, many women do not believe in those regressive ideas, and instead view men as their equals. Consequently, if your mindset is still focused solely on what your female partners can do for you (and not vice versa), this may be behavior that is difficult for many of them to accept.

There is nothing wrong with having sex. It is a natural drive that must be fulfilled, and I’m sure that most counselors would agree with that. However, ‘scoring’ turns sex into some sort of competition which means, by the very nature of the term, that someone wins while the other loses. This is not an ideal situation, no matter which partner (female or male) is the one who ‘wins.’ In fact, it seems like it is this very aspect of interpersonal interactions that is most upsetting to you when you are on the ‘losing’ side of the equation. Thus, perhaps you would get better results if you approached sexual interactions from a more balanced perspective. Although every sexual interaction doesn’t have to be within the context of a relationship, it is best for everyone if it is handled with respect for each partner and with the intention of a positive outcome for all.

If you approach potential partners with respect and they do not respond in kind, then I am all for being assertive and telling them that you don’t like being treated poorly. However, there is a big difference between assertiveness and anger, and the two should not be confused. Assertiveness is about setting reasonable boundaries around how you allow people to treat you. If boundaries are violated, you enact appropriate consequences (like leaving the conversation or not seeing them again). Anger, however, is about covering up the emotions that make you vulnerable, specifically fear and/or sadness. Those emotions need to be worked through, not masked. Moreover, anger is about trying to control the situation through intimidation and, as such, is not something I recommend.

One of the great things about therapy groups is that group members can give you some perspective on how others see you. If you truly want to change how you interact with women, this kind of feedback — regardless of whether it is ‘politically correct’ or not — may be essential to figuring out what needs to change. As long as you are willing to listen, two of the best places to get this are social skills groups and individual therapy.

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