I Go Months Porn-Free: I Can’t Be An Addict

I was asked recently if I thought a person could be a sex addict, or porn addict if they can go months at a time without engaging in the behavior.  The reasoning goes something like this: An addict is someone who engages in a behavior or uses a substance uncontrollably all the time. Every day or at least every week. The urge is ever present. The giving in is a regular occurance. Therefore, if I can go for months without the behavior or drug, then I must not be an addict. I just have a habit. Of course, for the person asking him or herself this, it’s not merely an academic question. The answer has serious implications: If I’m an addict I’m in deep and I need serious help. If it’s just a habit, well, I can deal with that in private, or with just a bit more effort. But, is the “months porn-free” assumption valid?

Assessing Sex Addiction

In my decades long career as an addict, I can’t count the number of months-long-porn-free stints that had to my credit. I even managed a year or two at one point!  So is going months porn-free (or masturbation free or sex free) an indicator that an addiction is not present? An earlier post on this site discussed the DSM’s criteria for addiction or “substance abuse disorder” (the following excerpts have replaced the DSM’s “substance” with “sex”). Of those 11 criteria there is not one asterisk indicating a months-at-a-time exception. Here are a few of them:

Criteria 1: Engaging in sexual behavior (or using porn, masturbating, etc.) in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to.

Looking back over my life and all those many months-free stretches, how did each of those end? Well, without fail, they ended with me “engaging in sexual behavior… for longer than I meant to”. In other words, those weeks or months or years always ended in a binge. A minute of the behavior was more than I “meant”. But they were hours long. Days long. Weeks long.

Criteria 2: Wanting to cut down or stop using having sex but not managing to.

I wanted to stop, not simply cut down:

stop (stäp) verb 1. (of an event, action, or process) come to an end; cease to happen

By my definition of stop, starting again meant that I hadn’t stopped. I was “wanting to stop… but was not managing to do so”. Have you heard the one about the life-long smoker? “Quitting is easy,” he said, “I quit all the time.”  That’s funny because he’s equivocating. His friend wanted to know why he won’t quit-for-good. The smoker knows this but responds that he quits-for-few-days all the time. The smoker and his friend both know that he has never quit.

Criteria 11: Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by engaging in more of the sexual behavior.

I could go on through all the criteria, but here’s the kicker: development of withdrawal symptoms requiring more of the thing, the drug, the porn, the masturbation to get relief. Did I not have withdrawal symptoms? I felt pretty darn good the day I started stopping, and the next and the next. There was maybe a bump in the road at day 30, but I kept strong. But invariably, at some point I felt like crap, or really needed to unwind, or celebrate and the only relief came from porn and masturbation.

How do I know this? Because I had tried everything else. The pressure was starting to build, so I read the bible some or prayed some. Or I got serious and fasted for a day or two or eight. Or I redirected my thoughts. Or I did something to help out a person in need. Or I went out with friends. Or all of these. Why did I end up watching porn videos and masturbating again? Because all these other behaviors didn’t bring comfort. They just delayed my accessing my true comfort for a bit: the only drug that could relieve the withdrawal symptoms.

Months Drug-Free & Alcoholics

That’s the DSM, what about the testimony and experience of addicts in Alcoholics Anonymous? All the drunks in the movies are drunk all the time, or every weekend without fail.  Certainly a person who goes on benders only every few months isn’t a drunk right? He just needs to party more responsibly. Right?

Certainly there are what AA calls “hard drinkers”. These people drink quite heavily and might even damage their health doing so. However, if “a sufficiently strong reason— ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor—becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate” (AA p. 21). Is this you? It certainly was not me. I wanted desperately to stop (see definition above). Failing mental health, falling in love and getting married, putting blocks on my computers, warnings from pastors, the almost certain prospect of disgrace, job loss, failed marriage, none of these “sufficiently strong reasons” was sufficiently strong enough.

In contrast to the “hard drinker” the alcoholic can’t stop his behavior, at least not for good, which he must do if he wants to survive.  The Big Book has a number of stories of alcoholics that stopped for a short time only to start up again. It even tells the story of an alcoholic who ceased drinking for 25 years and then upon retirement took up drinking again.  Going to pieces, he was dead in 4 years (AA p. 32, 33).

The founder of AA, Bill W’s story is instructive (AA starting p. 1). It is filled with cycles like these:

Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cocksureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. (AA p. 6)

Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three or four months the goose hung high… Surely this was the answer—self-knowledge. But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. (AA p. 7)

If you are like me, your sexual behavior is killing your soul, your relationships, your prospects for a happy future. You don’t want to Stop-All-The-Time like the smoker. You are desperate for a For-All-Time-Stop. Three or four months here or there is not cutting it. You wouldn’t be reading this article if that were sufficient. Would you?

Even after years of sobriety, I still weep reading these words of Bill W:

No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my master. (AA p. 8)

To hell with a few months of reprieve here and there. Give me total, life-long freedom. Give me the For-All-Time-Stop.

Months Porn-Free & Sexaholics Anonymous

The sexaholic adds his or her amen to the alcoholic’s experience. Our program book, the White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous, relates our own stories which can include months porn or sex free. In the chapter “Sexaholism – The Addiction” it says this about abstinence, one of three characteristics of addiction:

The term abstinence refers to the phenomenon where the typical addict tries to quit using the addictive agent or activity. Perhaps we should call it attempted abstinence. We swear off-again and again. Something inside tells us we should stop. How many times did we say we had to stop? How many times did we actually try stopping? Some of us “stopped” every time we acted out! (p. 30, 31)

So really, rather than being evidence that a person is not addicted to a thing or behavior, weeks or months or years of abstinence is a prominent feature in an addict’s life.

From Months to a Lifetime Porn-Free

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably just wrapped up another of your binges. That’s the last time. You are stopping for good this time. It’s killing you. But how do you stop? You’ve tried everything that you can do on your own. Going to a 12-step meeting of Sexaholics Anonymous is a huge step. And you already feel ashamed of your behavior. If others knew? I know how that line of reasoning goes. I’ve thought it myself. You want to stop, but you’re desperately wanting assurance that you don’t need THAT kind of help. And you’re holding out hope that your months-porn-free experiences are the ticket. You’re still not THAT far gone.

Sexaholics Anonymous can’t diagnose you as a sex addict. You have to decide that on your own. But perhaps you’ll let the experience of millions of addicts across the last century be a guide. If you’re miserable, frustrated with your inability to stop your sexual behavior, if it’s making your life unmanageable in some way, don’t let your month-long pseudo-successes keep you from a lifetime of freedom.

Probably even speaking of a “lifetime” seems daunting. I can’t even make it a year, I can’t begin to believe in a lifetime. Welcome to the club. Call us and join us at a meeting. We would love to share our experience, strength, and hope: How we are finding freedom from porn, permiscuious sex, lust, and masturbation, one day at a time, surrounded by friends who are cheering us to freedom.

-Annonymous

 

Tired of guilt, self-hatred, remorse, emptiness, and pain? Click to find a meeting!