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How Can I Recognize If I Have a Porn Addiction? A Surprising Answer
Episode 21117th September 2023 • Thrive Beyond Pornography (Formerly The Self Mastery Podcast) • Zach Spafford
00:00:00 00:22:11

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Learning to Thrive Beyond Pornography use was the greatest challenge of our life and marriage. It had rocked my self confidence, tainted all of the most important experiences of my life and become the most impossible challenge I had.

With this podcast or at you'll learn about the struggle, how to overcome pornography use, and where to find additional resources to begin to thrive beyond pornography with your spouse.

At some point I took a step away from all the 12 step meetings and councilors and started to figure out my own brain, to look at my issue as something that I had the answer to and I was going to figure it out. Here I share those lessons and give you the power to start your own journey free. Whether you struggle with unwanted pornography use or are the spouse or partner, whether you feel stuck or just don't know where to start, here I will teach you principles, tools and skills that you can use today to change how you think and, in the end, what you do.

You'll hear interviews with my spouse, with experts on human sexuality and with former and current pornography users on how you can overcome your own struggle with addictive behavior.

The Thrive Beyond Pornography podcast will bring new perspective to your struggle and keep you coming back to improve all aspects of your life. (formerly, The Self Mastery Podcast: Overcome Pornography Forever)

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Intro -LDS


episode 211


Zach Spafford: Hey everybody and welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. I'm your host, Zach Spafford. Today, I want to talk about something that you are probably, you've probably been thinking about. You might have been thinking about this, you might be on this podcast just because of this very issue. The question is, how do I know?

How can I recognize? If I have a porn addiction, and we're going to dive into this, we're going to talk about this in depth, but I want to start by saying among those who are studying this at its highest levels, among those who work on this in the day in and day out, most of them would not say that you have a porn addiction.

And the word addiction itself has a lot of negative connotation. And I've talked about this on the podcast before, how in especially high demand religions or in religions where you have a proclivity to pathologize Sexuality at some level. So, you know, don't masturbate, don't look at porn, those are all going to be sins, big, major sins.

Most of those arenas, they tend to over emphasize this idea of addiction. And I've talked about this again, I've talked about this before on the podcast. The reason I think that we say, oh, I have an addiction, and this really came out in a conversation that we were having with... A new client this week, the wife, she was saying to Darcy, she's just saying, just tell me that he has a porn addiction.

Tell me he has this compulsion. Tell me he has this sexual addiction. So that... She can, in the end, really, the reason she wants to know this, or wants to call it an addiction is so that she can turn it into something that is a disease that can be cured, into something that is a problem that is outside of him, meaning it's not his fault that he is this way, making it so that At some level, he is less culpable for the behavior that he's engaging in because she doesn't like the way he's behaving, and the way he's behaving does not fit into their agreed upon way of engaging with each other and engaging with their sexuality, and yet he's still doing it, so for her, there's some comfort in saying he's an addict, and for him, there's some not just comfort, but lower responsibility by saying, I'm an addict because in that space they have this ability to offload the responsibility for behavior onto somebody else, onto something else, onto this idea that he has a disease and that disease is not his fault and that disease is his fault.

Something that can be cured because we think about diseases as something that can be cured, even though not all of them can. But that's kind of how we think about this when we pathologize. When I say pathologize, we make it into a disease. When we pathologize this behavior by calling it an addiction, it becomes a new way of offloading responsibility or becomes an acceptable way of offloading responsibility in order to provide us with some sense that we're not as bad as we are behaving.

Or... It gives us this distance from our behavior so that we can utilize that distance to maintain a sense of self that we are a good person and that we're the kind of person that we expect ourselves to be usually except for this one problem. So I want you to understand that. I want you to be aware that when it comes to the idea that.

Pornography viewing is an addiction is not generally how the most well educated and it's just not how the science looks it just isn't that said pornography can be A behavior that we use compulsively. It can be a behavior that we engage in compulsively, just like people eat compulsively when they're nervous or they might laugh compulsively when they're scared, which is a really weird one.

Look that up on the internet. It's fun. Or they might do other things compulsively, meaning it's an automatic reaction to a set of stimulus in order to manage themselves through discomfort. That's really what I think we're talking about here. When people say, I'm a porn addict, I think what they're really talking about here is, I have this behavior that I don't like, that I use to engage myself in a way that allows me to move beyond that discomfort that I'm feeling, mostly because I don't have other automatic responses to dealing with the discomfort that I'm dealing with, and I don't have other coping mechanisms.

That's really what I think... Is going on with pornography, with the way that we think about pornography. And, the truth is, if you want to call yourself an addict, I totally understand that. I don't have a problem with that. But the question that I often ask people is, whether you're an addict or not, does that change what you want the outcome to be?

If you're an addict and you subscribe to that addiction language, the way that we think about addictions, the way that we think about being powerless against our addiction, all of the things that we talk about when we talk about addiction language, which we get a lot of that from the 12 step programs, which, again, I've noted this on the program, that Dr.

Lance Stotas has done a really thorough meta research meta analysis of the research done on 12 step programs. And it's really quite clear that you have the same chance of responding to the 12 step program in a positive way, meaning you're able to remove yourself from pornography. You have the same statistical chance of doing it through a 12 step program as you do just doing it on your own.

Whereas through the techniques and the research that is available. We can use acceptance and commitment training, which, or acceptance and commitment therapy, which is proven to have about an 80 percent reduction in pornography use over a six month period. So in the first six months of utilizing these techniques, starting to turn them into real habits, you will have an 80 percent reduction at the very least, or 80, essentially 80 percent of you who are viewing pornography will, Essentially get to a place where you're comfortable with or have eliminated your pornography.

That addiction language, I think, often keeps us trapped. I think it often keeps us in a position of being a victim to something that is external, something that's outside of us, something that has control over us. For instance what's the one, what do they tell you? Once an addict, always an addict.

I'm powerless against my addiction. They use, we use identifying language in the addiction programs. Hi, my name is Zach, and I'm an addict. Now, I don't know if you've ever been to one of those meetings. If you have, you've probably noticed that there are a lot of people in there who don't like to, a 12 step group that was put on by my church.

It was almost exclusively about pornography, but sometimes there'd be somebody who had a different kind of addiction in there. And almost invariably, The people that had been there for a little while, they would say, I'm a recovering addict or I'm trying to be a, not an addict or whatever it is. So they would try to re identify themselves outside of that addiction language because it doesn't, honestly, I don't, I never felt like it was a genuine way of thinking about my behavior.

It never felt right to say, Hi, my name is Zach, and I'm an addict. What did feel right was, Hi, my name is Zach, and I'm trying to figure this out. And I think that understanding that the way that we talk about ourselves, the way that we act, the way that we treat ourselves in this space of this is a behavior that I'm engaged in and I don't like it.

It can be determinative of the outcome, meaning if I say, how can I recognize if I have a porn addiction, I'm already asking a question that predetermines a set of outcomes. Either I have an addiction or I don't. But the truth is, that question, the question might be better asked, what's going on with me?

That makes it so I'm choosing pornography, even though it goes against my values. Why am I choosing to view pornography when it goes against my values? There's not a predetermined outcome there. It's not an either or question. And it doesn't have anything to do with this language around being trapped by something you have no control over.

That's a big difference. Now, of course, I'm not a clinician, and I'm not saying that... There's nobody out there in the whole wide world who may be addicted to pornography. What I do know is from my own experience, the addiction language never really answered the questions. It never really solved for why I was choosing what I was choosing.

All it was doing was it was focusing on this behavior that everybody wanted me to stop doing, I wanted to stop doing, and it didn't really go to the heart of the matter. It didn't really go and say, Why am I doing this? Why do I keep choosing this when I don't feel good? Why do I keep choosing this when it goes against my values?

The person that I want to be. The person that I tell people that I am. And this is a big difference from the addiction language to the program that I operate with. The way that I teach people how to actually quit porn for the last time. For good. Forever. When you want to start to thrive beyond pornography, you have to understand what's keeping you from thriving, and when you start to understand that, in our, in the individual coaching program that I do, I am digging into What's going on for you, and why you believe these things that you believe that are taking you towards pornography.

A lot of it has to do with deconstructing the way that we think about sexuality. Especially in relationships, it has a lot to do with that. It's going away from these old stereotypes that have kept you feeling like you're not getting what it is that you deserve, and moving into a place where you and your spouse can explore and be free.

together and enjoy each other and really have a great new relationship. And if you are struggling, if you're sitting there and you're going, Okay, well, I've tried everything, I've done all the things before, I don't know if this program will work. Listen, I guarantee you it's going to work. I know that sounds a little bit strange, but I can guarantee you, if you will do the work, you will get what you need out of this.

You will change in the way that you need to change because when you do the work, you're no longer stuck. When you do the work, you start to see new and amazingly. clear ways of finding out how you can solve your problems. And then it becomes habitual. One of the big differences between what I do and what everybody else does out there is they're saying, here, let me show you how to get willpower around this.

That's not going to work. Why? Because willpower fades. It always fades. If you have had any struggle with pornography at all throughout your life, you know that there are those high moments where you're like, yes, I'm. Definitely going to put this behind me is the last time I'm over this for whatever reason, it might be your spouse got caught you for the first time.

It might be that you're trying to move into a new phase of your life, whatever it is, you have this high moment. You're doing exactly what it is that you think you ought to be doing. You've got this enormous amount of motivation. Your willpower is high. And then what happens six months later, you start to slide a little bit.

You start to go, Oh, well, it's okay. If I just, Do this. It's okay if I just scroll a little bit more. It's okay if I and we start to justify instead of use that willpower because the willpower's all gone, the motivation's all gone, and we don't have a habitual way of dealing with our brains. I was talking to another client just the other day and he was saying, it's interesting because you told me at the beginning, he told his wife that he was struggling with pornography and she was deeply distressed by this.

She was upset. She is working on it on her end. She's doing a good job on her end. They're in my couple's coaching program, but he was highly motivated. He was like, I don't have any desire to look at porn right now. I don't want porn. It's not something that I'm even thinking about ever. I was like, great.

That's great. Right now, if that's how you're feeling, he's going from this guy on a pedestal in his family's life to somebody who is... Not really showing up the way that he wants to in the world because he's telling them who he really is and that's okay That's actually really great. That's intimacy.

He was highly motivated for I think we've been working together for about three months I said at the beginning when he said I don't feel any desire to view pornography. I said that's Good. Now's the time to practice dealing with your feelings because at some point, that motivation and that willpower will fade yesterday or the day before.

He's like, Holy crap, you were right. I'm sorry that I didn't believe you, but you were right. I. Didn't realize that it was gonna come back. I thought, I told my wife, I've told my family, I've told all these people, and they were rooting for me, and I felt super motivated, and then all of a sudden, I'm sitting there, and I'm feeling this negative feeling, just like I felt so many times before, and all of a sudden my brain's Oh, well, let's just do the thing that we always do.

Let's go back to the way that we always do this. The way that we deal with this. And you start to see this arc, which is good. It's good to see it. It's good to be able to see it. Is he addicted? He had months where he was highly motivated not to do it. And now he's back to it. But the common denominator here is not that he is out of control.

Because if his wife walked in on him looking at porn, he would stop looking. So he's not out of control. I've told this story before on the podcast. When I was a young missionary in Naples, Italy. There was a woman who got on the train with me, and she looked at me, I looked at her, we made eye contact, she knew I was there, and she started, in that moment, she was sittin in the stairwell, and I was sittin in the seat, she was like, I'm gonna shoot, she started shootin heroin.

So she's doing this right in front of me, she does not care what I think, she just wants her fix. Whereas, if any of you are sitting there, viewing pornography, and your wife, or your boss, or your kids walk in, you're probably gonna hide it. You're probably not gonna hold up that one finger and say, Oh, one moment, please.

This is my favorite part. I mean, if that's who you are, then my program's not for you. But if you're the guy who's like, Oh, crap. This isn't really who I wanna be, and I'm ashamed of the behavior that I'm engaging in right now. Then you're gonna stop. And that's what this guy would do. He's not someone who is engaging with pornography at the cost of everything else. He's someone who's engaging with pornography in order to manage his discomfort, his emotions. Because he hasn't learned how to do that. And so this was a great learning moment for him. Because he's like, yeah, it came back and I didn't think it would come back.

And I said, perfect. That's what you need to practice every day. You need to practice dealing with those emotions, and then we go through some steps. I give him some key skills that he can utilize to put into practice every day so that instead of his brain automatically saying, Hey, let's go scroll Instagram or hey, let's go look at whatever.

Now he has an automatic process when his brain says, Hey, I don't feel good for whatever reason, boredom, loneliness, stress. Whatever it is that you're dealing with, you create an automatic process that your brain goes through to deal with that emotion and that discomfort directly, which changes the way your brain operates, which changes the way that your brain says, here's what we need to do to deal with this problem, because that is going to be there for you, whether you're motivated or not, that's going to be there for you, whether you have Willpower or not, that's going to be there for you in the dark moments, it's going to be there for you in the light moments, it's going to be there for you when your wife rejects you, it's going to be there for you in all of those places.

So that's a big difference. If you want a program that can help you. Put together a plan and a process and a program that will be automatic and not something that's going to Require you to dredge up willpower out of nothing. This is the program. But when people ask me How do I know if I'm addicted to porn?

I think they're asking the wrong question And if you are asking that question, it might be worth It's your time to sit down and go, what's happening for me in the 10 to 15 minutes before I choose pornography? And if what's happening to you in the 10 to 15 minutes before you choose pornography is discomfort, In one form or another, I know so many people, it's like, all right, I got to get a bump to get started on this work or I'm just lonely.

I'm sitting here and I'm, I don't feel good about myself. I'm bored. I'm stressed. Whatever it is, if that's what's happening for you in the 10 to 15 minutes before you choose pornography, then this program is going to help you. This program is going to put into play, for you, the tools that you need to deal with your emotions. And by the way, part of that means that your spouse gets included in this conversation, partly because the more that you're able to grow together. The more likely it is that you're going to succeed because what you're going to do is you're going to change the meaning frames entirely. You're going to change the conversation entirely.

And when you do that, all of a sudden, you're both able to handle the discomfort, the loneliness, the frustration, but you're also able to handle each other's. Reality without getting lost in it, without getting anxious about it, your wife, the wives who are listening to this, if you want a program where not only can you help your husband quit porn, but you can start to create the intimate relationship that you want, not just sex, but Real, meaningful intimacy, that part of the, how many wives are out there and they're like, I really just want my husband to talk to me.

I really just want my husband to be able to hear what is going on for me and be there for me. That's a lot of what happens for the wives in this process because we change the way that wives interact with their husbands. We change the way that husbands interact with their wives. And all of a sudden, they start to like each other.

They start to create freedom in their relationship and they start to see that they can succeed and start thriving beyond this problem. And it becomes an extraordinary difference. So I know the question that we started this with was, How do I know if I have a porn addiction? The answer is you probably don't.

That's the short version. There are a lot of things out there that would say, Well, it's about increased tolerance, or loss of control, or persistent desire, time consumption. Whatever it is. But the problem is, is it's probably not a pornography addiction. The problem is, is that more than likely, The most likely reality here is that you just don't know how to deal with yourself and you have a meaning frame pathologizes your behavior.

And when we can work through that, when we can change those meaning frames, both in the person who's struggling and in their spouse, when we can create a new way of interacting, then all of a sudden, things start to shift and you no longer are stuck. And that's the big difference. Alright my friends, I love you guys and I will talk to you next week.