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Prelude to "Porn is Not the Problem"

Prelude to Porn is Not the Problem

I have been having some challenging, and significant conversations recently which moved me to think more deeply about my previous blog titled, "Porn is Not the Problem." As a result of these conversations, I thought I might offer a bit more context around the content, concepts, and implications of that post, so here it goes:


It has been my experience that people often like to think in binary patterns. This binary way of thinking can express in many different ways, and can be both beneficial and detrimental to how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. One example of a positive way the binary thought process can serve us well is in the event that one finds themselves with a choice to either walk on a train track or walk on a sidewalk. The binary continuum here is marked by “safe” on one end and “not safe” on the other. There is no in-between, and it would more often than not serve someone well to stick to this binary form of thinking in this context so long as they privilege the binary view that the sidewalk is safe to walk on and the train track is not safe to walk on. Such a view preserves their life and potentially that of others. However, I’d like to apply this way of thinking to how we perceive porn addiction. The way I have often seen a binary framework applied to porn addiction by those who are struggling to overcome it is that porn addiction is either entirely as a result of one’s own “badness” or entirely a result of the existence of porn, and if porn were to disappear, so would one’s issues related to it.


I’d like to look at each of these views more closely to really understand where the problem lies, and what we can do about it. Let’s address the “porn addiction is a result of my ‘badness’” view. In this framework, one is slapping the label “bad” on all things related to their porn addiction. The issue here is that there is a particular need and/or desire being fulfilled through one’s use of porn. These needs and desires could be that of intimacy, vulnerability, connection with others, arousal, or release from anxiety and stress. These are all very normal, and very natural needs and desires we experience as humans. However, when we associate these needs and desires with being “bad”, shame becomes associated with these needs and desires, and one begins to feel shameful about desiring to fulfill their needs for intimacy, connection, and security. As a result, when one experiences their longing for intimacy they feel shame. Instead of allowing that felt need for intimacy move them toward secure relationships, they often end up concealing that need from others which leaves them with the persistent longing for intimacy. What is the best way to fulfill that need in secret even if it is a pseudo-intimacy? For a porn addict, the answer is porn.


On the other side of the spectrum is casting the title of “bad” on porn itself. The issue here is that it puts all the focus on porn which causes a couple of major issues. The first issue is that this view attempts to relinquish the consumer of porn from any responsibility - as if they don’t have any agency over their actions when it comes to viewing porn. While the impulse to avoid acknowledging one’s own faults in this matter is understandable, this avoidance also robs one of experiencing the empowerment and freedom which comes as a result of looking at the problem straight on and exercising the intrinsic capacities all humans have to exercise choice even in difficult circumstances. The other issue is that when the focus is entirely on the “badness” of porn, one’s needs for intimacy and connection are being entirely overlooked. If the one who takes on this “porn is the problem” view got their wish and porn was eradicated from existence, they would still be left with their need for intimacy and connection. To adopt the perspective that porn is the sole culprit for one’s distress is to forfeit awareness of one’s most genuine and deepest longings.


Let’s go back to this idea of binary thinking. In the case of porn addiction, the binary framework has “I am the problem” on the one end and “porn is the problem” on the other. I would argue that thinking in this binary framework is the problem. Instead of asking the question, “what and who is responsible for the problem?” we should be asking, “what needs am I trying to meet?” When we can bring awareness to our needs, and understand what it is that we really want, we can exercise the agency we have to pursue them in ways which are life-giving and sustain our wellbeing instead of threatening it. Stop trying to figure out where to place the blame and start asking yourself, “What is it that I need?”


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