Parts I and II of this series examined our conscious and unconscious beliefs around sexuality, and how the divergence between them creates the sexual-spiritual split. Let’s now turn to the mechanics of the addiction cycle.

Porn addiction results from the collision of two pieces of unconscious programming within the psyche

Porn addiction results from the collision of two pieces of unconscious programming within the psyche. The first—stemming from our conscious sexual beliefs—is a profound urge to cast off the shackles of traditional, rigidly codified sexual behaviour and allow our sexuality to express in joyfully appropriate ways. This urge has no get-out clause. It keeps impelling us with greater and greater strength. That’s why porn addicts often experience an escalation from softer to harder material.

The second piece of programming—stemming from our unconscious sexual beliefs—is a deep fear of and respect for entrenched sexual prohibitions, such as viewing pornography. When violated by any activity outside their narrow bounds they cause deep feelings of shame, guilt and self-loathing. This process also has no get-out clause. The more unacceptable behaviour it witnesses, the more ashamed the porn viewer feels.

Catch-22

The first process urges us towards sexual freedom, using the most intelligent language at its disposal—pornography. The second process then kicks in and makes the addict feel ashamed of viewing those images. The first process retaliates by increasing its urge, driving us back to the ‘net and escalating from soft porn to hard. The second process responds by heaping upon us more shame and self-disgust. Together, these two processes create a deadly embrace—a Catch-22—that locks us into addiction.

However, not everyone who watches porn is an addict. Why can some people control their porn use, while others—who may not even want to look at porn at all—are painfully impelled to excessive porn use? The determining factor is sensitivity.

Sensitivity

Human sensitivity is not a widely recognized factor but has a huge impact on our lives. By ‘sensitivity’ I mean an awareness of what is happening emotionally both for oneself and for others. For example, a married couple may be having difficulties in private, but in public they paste on smiles and present a façade of everything being hunky-dory. Many people will not see past the façade, but some immediately pick up on the underlying tension between the couple.

Emotional sensitivity accounts for that uncanny ability some people have to “say the right thing” at crucial moments while others “put their foot in it.” Human sensitivity is distributed in a bell curve where most people are in the middle (i.e. they have a moderate level of emotional awareness). Some have an unusually low level of awareness (of their own feelings and those of others) while some have a relatively heightened awareness.

Elaine N. Aron, PhD, has extensively studied human sensitivity. Her research, documented in The Highly Sensitive Person, indicates that around 20% of people are “extremely or quite sensitive.” They tend to have a rich inner life but often find busy public spaces, such as pubs, cinemas and supermarkets, overwhelming. They have a heightened awareness of society’s unspoken rules—particularly regarding sex—and of how their own feelings violate those rules. As a consequence they are more aware of the sexual-spiritual split within their psyches and its nagging urge for wholeness.

Resolution

Yet, for all the importance assigned to it by Michael Picucci, the sexual-spiritual split is not the source of porn addiction. It is merely another symptom, albeit a very deep-lying one. Almost no one has heard of the sexual-spiritual split by that or any other name. The final post in this series pulls all the pieces together and moves beyond understanding porn addiction towards resolution.

Image: East Village Pin-Up (Bettie Page) by Tony Fischer on Flickr. Cropped to 16:9.