The purpose of this blog series is to deconstruct porn addiction. My aim is to transform it from a mystifying malady whose very existence is disputed into a clearly understood mechanical process, much like one of those exploded diagrams showing the inner workings of the two-stroke engine that I used to pore over at high school when I was supposed to be learning something useless.

Porn addiction is one of a family of shame-based behaviours that manifest as a cyclical self-destructive act that the addict is unable to control. The same cycle of behaviour is evident in smoking, drug use, alcoholism, comfort eating and self-harm. Onlookers may believe that controlling these behaviours is simply a matter of will. Anyone who has experienced them will be familiar with the relentless treadmill of escalating pressure that keeps you locked in the cycle.

Various methods have been proposed for tackling porn addiction, including 12 step-based programs, having to admit porn use to another person, and porn-monitoring or blocking software. The problem with these methods is that they involve symptom management rather than cause resolution. The real cause lies somewhere deep in your unconscious. The solution, therefore, is to make your unconscious conscious. The more accurately you understand the psychological processes underlying your addiction, the more easily you will be able to release them.

The real cause lies somewhere deep in your unconscious. The solution, therefore, is to make your unconscious conscious.

The process of unravelling our unconscious begins with our beliefs.

Two levels of beliefs

Each of us has thousands, perhaps even millions of beliefs that encapsulate what we hold to be true about the world and our place in it. How we feel about ourselves, god, love, politics, social class, football, Pink Floyd, sex… the list is endless. Each of these beliefs is like a little computer program running in our psyches. They shape every moment of our lives, impelling actions and reactions in any given situation. Together these myriad beliefs create our individual ‘belief system’.

What are your beliefs around sex? I had always believed that my attitude to sex was both positive and liberal. I felt that sex was something to be enjoyed and, providing it was consensual, a matter of personal choice rather than societal regulation. One partner or several, oral and anal sex, sex toys and parties… such choices were all matters for consenting adults. But, despite my openness to some of these practices, in reality my experience of them was few and far between.

Have you noticed a similar discrepancy? You may have never even thought about it. I ask you to consider it now. Does your actual sex life measure up to your desires? If the answer is no, something is blocking it. This gap between what we express and what we desire to express reveals that our sexual beliefs exist on two levels. One is conscious and the other unconscious. Porn addiction is an unconscious attempt to bridge this gap.

Married, monogamous, missionary

The first of these two levels are mental beliefs that match our conscious attitude to sex. The second is our unconscious, DNA-level beliefs that match our actual, often very limited, sex life. Our conscious beliefs have little or no effect on our lives. Our DNA-level beliefs, however, are the shaping force of our sexual experiences.

According to this DNA-level programming, the only morally acceptable form of sex is between a married, monogamous couple, in their bedroom, at night, with the door closed, curtains drawn, lights out and in the missionary position. This may seem comically exaggerated, but those are the conditions under which a great deal of sex occurs—because anything else is unconsciously sensed as shameful and repressed.

I am not going to get into the merits or otherwise of monogamy. Only you can decide whether it is right for you. This is about the underlying psychological processes, which often operate with scant regard for our conscious beliefs.

An invisible prison

Although on the surface we have complete freedom of choice (assuming consenting partners), our unconscious beliefs constrict us to expressions that fit a very limited pattern of traditionally accepted behaviour. We are trapped in an invisible prison where sex is a bestial and troublesome urge, not the source of mutual joy it can potentially be. If you’re struggling with porn use, this will likely resonate with you—for reasons that I’ll get into.

The existence of these two contradictory belief systems raises some questions:

  • Where do these unconscious, deeply conservative beliefs come from?
  • Why do they have primacy over our conscious beliefs, a primacy we are seemingly unable to alter?
  • What is the impact of the conflict between them?

Part II begins to examine these questions.