Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On Pornography Addiction and the Resources to Deal with It



The above image is from here, which, if you click on it, provides one way of understanding "pornography addiction" by having you fill out a quick quiz. I have serious social and political objections to this way of understanding "the problem", which is also reflected in the blurb that follows.

From here:

What is porn addiction?

Similar to someone with a chemical or substance addiction, porn addicts tend to replace important relationships and commitments with Internet sex or other forms of porn. Non-Internet porn addicts can be found in places like strip clubs and adult bookstores, but it is unlikely that they have a strip club addiction or an adult bookstore addiction, but rather that they have consistent and compulsive sexual problems that appear in a variety of settings.

Pornography addicts tend to isolate themselves when engaging in their sexual acting out. They can typically spend many hours or even days lost in online images and experiences. Some also lose time to Internet addictions such as online fantasy games and/or gambling sites.

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What follows now is not from either of the above sites; it is solely written by the blog host of A Radical Profeminist:

It goes without say that in many men's minds and practices, there is no such thing as "a problem" when it comes to using pornography or to using women as pornography. Pimps, procurers, sex traffickers, pornographers, nudist and non-nudist child molesters, all maintain a culture where the problem is seen more as "censorship" or "prudery" than the oppression of women by men, sexually and otherwise. Against all evidence, prudery and censorship are not what feminists want more of. So much for the lies spread across the web about anti-pornography feminists.

There is a population of people who does think there is a problem regarding men's compulsive or habitual use of pornography, especially and particularly while they are in relationship with a woman who is not pro-pornography.

I am aware of four significantly different approaches to dealing with this social matter called "pornography addiction". I'm sure there are more than four but below I'll distinguish between four, and will offer brief critiques and comments of each. (Note: The use of quotes around specific terms or words in blog posts seems to carry with it an implied condescension or snarky attitude. It appears to be dissing, putting down, being cynical or sarcastic about, or showing overt contempt for "that which is in quotes". I do not use quotes in this post, anyway, to indicate any such attitude.)

1. Twelve Step Approach. Financial cost: nominal contributions to each meeting, or no cost at all. This is based on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, with their structure (steps) and values (in a god or higher power to whom one relinquishes control and to whom one looks for powerful guidance and wisdom), including the value of anonymity and confidentiality. Here, either in interpersonally (in meetings in real space) or interactively (in meetings or gathering sites online) one finds "fellowship". I have a lot of respect for these groups for a few reasons. One is that they are very accessible and affordable. Another is the value of community support, of "not doing it alone". Yet another is the way that meetings set up contexts of care and compassion. I find all of this remarkable and good, overall. I am disturbed by the way Dominant Christian values are infused into "treatment" and find this, when done, to be most misogynistic, heterosexist, and usually overtly anti-lesbian/gay. For example, see here. See also the sites linked to a the beginning of this post.

2. Psychotherapy. Financial cost: often and usually significant, well beyond most people's means. This is usually a one-to-one paid talk relationship between a therapist and the "client" or "patient". (The therapist usually holds a degree in social work or psychology and counseling, such as an LCSW but among such therapists there are various models for treatment. A cognitive-behavioralist, for example, who may hold additional or different degrees. A psychiatrist, holding an MD, will likely prescribe pharmacological medicines and offer talk therapy as a support to the medications. This is usually expensive, although some people who have healthy insurance may find that the costs are covered, at least in part, through their insurance. I think for those who can afford it, there is value in psychotherapy, whether psycho-dynamic (with a focus on understanding behavior in light of one's history and with an effort to bring insight into the client's experiences) or cognitive-behavioral, which often takes an approach of working less to "understand", and more to effectively interrupt and stop the problem behavior.

3. A rare approach, articulated well in some reading materials and discussions, including the soon to be released book, Pornography and Love (due out soon, in 2009). Financial cost in this case: the price of the book, or free if the book is obtained through a library loan system or is borrowed from a friend. That book, and perhaps others, chronicle how a couple (usually heterosexual) copes and deals with a partner's or spouse's (most often a man's) "addiction" to pornography, and related behaviors, such as checking women out in obvious ways when together in public. I know of one case in which this has been effectively accomplished, and "success" is defined in quite different ways than in approaches 1 and 2. (Or in the next.) Here, success is determined by the degree to which the needs of each person in the relationship are being met. What may count as "successful" work for one couple, may be only "stage one" for another. At best, the process allows for mutual sharing and compassion, as well as clear articulation of boundaries and needs. Ideally, any sexist or other oppressive dynamics in the relationship are challenged along with the man's use of pornography, but I am VERY doubtful about this outcome being likely.

4. A feminist approach. Financial cost: none. Here "success" is measured in the degree to which a woman, if in a heterosexual relationship, is not exposed to pornography and/or her male partner's use of it. This effectively means he stops using pornography, or they split up. A primary and central value here is "how does pornography use, and pornography in general effect women". Pornography, here, is seen less like "a drug" to be kicked, or a "problem behavior" to be curbed, but more as a human rights violation, a form of undermining women's self-esteem and integrity as human beings. There is a focus on how pornographers and those who use pornography harm women, not on how the use impacts on the man who uses it, although this approach could include that as well. I stand by this model for approaching the "problem" of "pornography addiction" because of it centralising the oppression and exploitation of women by men, and because it places a premium on issues of men's access and accountability to women.

A fifth approach would be to purchase a series of books or CDs which teach you "how to stop using pornography, such as this one, which I don't recommend as I have no more information about it than do you. Financial cost: varies.

No approach needs to be employed exclusively in a way that prevents bringing in useful aspects of other approaches. But my experience is this: that all other models, perhaps most especially 1 and 2, do little to make conscious what, for me, is the central problem: how women are used and abused sexually and economically, in misogynist, racist, ageist, and ableist ways, in order to maintain male supremacy, among other systems and ideologies of domination and control.

In a future post, I will highlight how approach 4 can be brought into a relationship among men, where one or both men have a history of violating women, at least visually. I consider the exchange I will excerpt or replicate in full to be one that is responsible, which is to say, responsive to the feminist concerns I have been aware of for over a quarter of a century.
END OF POST.

2 comments:

Jason said...

Excellent. A well-informed summary of the key approaches to porn addiction, and some of their shortcomings.

From my perspective as an addiction counsellor, I'm probably a little more cynical about the 12-step approach to this problem. I accept the benefits that you mentioned though.

I'm intrigued by your mention of Pornography and Love - I hadn't heard about that publication so will watch out for it.

Julian Real said...

Good to hear from you, Jason. Particularly because you do addiction counseling!

I think we're in far more agreement about 12 Step approaches that we apart!!

"Pornography and Love" is a book due out shortly, I believe within the next two months, and should be a must read for anyone involved with someone with a "porn habit". I have a less "optimistic" view of her approach with her husband (I think he's a rare, rare kind of guy, in other words), but I hope this book gives many others the tools to work through this, if they wish to stay together. I usually advise women to assume his behavior won't change, or will morph into something else just as dehumanising and objectifying, but I've witnessed way too few "success stories". What percent of men you treat "successfully" give up pornography, and what percent of that group grasp, emotionally, viscerally, the harm to women done inside and outside of the pornography industry?