How the Pleasure of Porn Kills Joy

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By: Daniel Caldwell, CMHC

We all seek to find joy in our lives. We find joy as we excel and achieve, in our relationships, in helping others, in the many activities that help us progress in life and even more joy when our loved ones do the same. We never think to ourselves that a guilty pleasure might steal the joy we value so much. Pornography and other sexual behaviors result in strong feelings of pleasure that often are used as a substitute for joy when coping with other negative emotions. Sometimes pleasure seeking becomes compulsive, replacing joy all together and preventing us from reaching our true emotional potential.

When I refer to joy, I refer to it as a primary emotion containing the many positive secondary emotions such as love, happiness, etc… I believe that joy in this context is our deepest core emotion. It is one of the very first emotions we are capable of experiencing in infancy, and it is the only emotion that does not need to be caused by an event. It can just exist for no reason at all. When we aren’t angry, or sad, or afraid, we are usually just left feeling some form of joy. But, if you’re like me, you don’t feel joy all the time. That’s because things happen in our lives that cause our joy to be buried by other core emotions.

As a therapist I am not responsible for dictating another’s morality or telling them if something is right or wrong about their sexual behavior. However, there are times that sexual behavior, like viewing pornography, becomes a roadblock to joy and reaching other important life goals. Many clients that I have worked with discover that they have lost their ability to feel, and sometimes even recognize, joy. The purpose of this article is not to demonize pornography or other sexual behaviors, but to explain how excessive or compulsive sexual behaviors can become problematic to emotional and intimate growth. My hope is that others will be able to evaluate for themselves if this has happened to them or a loved one and find help if needed. It is okay to ask for help.

There is considerable evidence that some individuals become addicted to pornography, but the root of the problem lies deeper than the sexual behavior itself; it is more about what we are lacking in our lives. Lack of connection, loneliness, and hurt are some examples of what is at the root. Anyone has the potential to develop an addiction if a behavior or substance is used to cope with life’s problems or to imitate the feeling of connection rather than to face the root problem and find authentic connection with other people.

Connection is one of the key ways that we find joy. Joy is what motivates us to enhance and deepen our connections with others. It is the ability to feel joy in our relationships that propels us into action and gives us the longing for our loved ones. This component is essential in a healthy marriage and is important for many of our other relationships. When joy is missing, relationships suffer, and the bonds of connection begin to loosen and eventually break.

Negative core emotions such as anger, sadness and fear often mask or block our joy. For example, let’s say that my dog is hit by a car and dies. Assuming that I like my dog, I would understandably be feeling sadness about the loss, maybe anger at the person who hit my dog, and maybe fear about the loneliness I think might be coming. These emotions come in and will block me from experiencing joy, as shown in the first diagram. My potential for joy remains, but my ability to feel it is blocked by these other core emotions.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling sad, or angry, or scared. Because of that, what we sometimes do is block ourselves from feeling these deeper emotions by allowing ourselves to feel something a little easier to manage. So instead of fear, I feel anxious; instead of angry I feel frustrated; or instead of sadness I feel “down.” These are what we call secondary emotions. They are a residue of the deeper emotion we are trying to avoid. There are hundreds of different negative secondary emotions, and all of them lead back to these three core emotions of anger, sadness, and fear. Though these secondary negative emotions are easier to manage, we still do not want to feel them. So instead of feeling any of this unpleasantness we often choose to cover up these emotions with behaviors that make us feel better. Some use compulsive sexual behavior to provide this release from unpleasant emotions.

We do this because we want to feel joy. However, joy is inaccessible at that time because, as shown in the second diagram, it is buried under all of these unresolved emotions. So, we start compulsively using these behaviors to feel pleasure, which just buries our joy further, as pleasure is just an imitation of joy. Pleasure isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t fix the problem. It is temporary and because it doesn’t last we keep going back for more in order to avoid the emotion. It becomes an obsessive drive to avoid feeling the pain and to feel joy, but the problem is that we never really feel joy, and we never actually deal with what’s keeping us from feeling joy. So, we find ourselves in an obsessive pattern of trying to feel better, which never really lasts. It becomes an unattainable pursuit for joy (at least it’s unattainable if we never face what’s under the behavior). If we never face the sadness, the anger, the loneliness, or the shame, we will never fully be in our joy again. Certain behaviors, such as the viewing of pornography, imitate true joy in our brain better than other behaviors, which is why it can more easily become a problematic behavior than say, for instance, gardening. It strongly mimics joy and connection, and at the same time often causes the exact opposite. We are often left with shame and disconnection in our lives. Sometimes our behavior ends up blocking our ability to meet the needs of those around us and results in the end of important relationships.

So what do we do? How can we regain our joy? Well, the important thing to remember is that pleasure is being used because we are not dealing with the core emotions that are blocking joy. Instead of avoiding these emotions, it is important for us to engage with them. A key component to overcoming pornography addiction is to learn to engage with and regulate our emotions. If we can’t do this, we will be starved for the true joy we desire, and we will settle for pleasure.

Many people have deeper problems that have led to addictive behavior, and the problem has gone beyond dealing with it themselves. Ultimately, addiction cannot resolve in isolation. We need support from friends, family, support groups, and recovery groups, and often a therapist is needed. Life is difficult, and emotions are hard. We all try our best to deal with what life throws our way, but sometimes the way we choose to deal with it causes more problems. That’s okay! We all make mistakes, and there is a way out! Don’t be afraid to ask for help to break the chains of addiction, depression, and/or other mental health challenges that steal your joy.

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I believe that being blocked from joy is at the very heart of pornography and/or other sexual addictions. It is our desire for joy and the feeling of being blocked from that joy that often results in our settling for the imitating sensation of pleasure. When we are blocked by an overriding negative emotion, we have a great desire to return to joy or as close as we can get to it. When this is repeated over time it leads to the establishment of biological drives that are the key components of addiction. Our brains can be wired for pleasure, and once a significant source of pleasure is established, we will crave it and even become addicted to it. There are several authors and bloggers who have written about this. For a detailed explanation about the biological factors related to pornography addiction, go to https://www.utahvalleypsychology.com/pornography-addiction-science-fact-or-science-fiction-2/

 

About the Author

Danny Caldwell is an Licensed Mental Health Counselor and addiction expert. He has been practicing in Utah since 2010. Danny has worked many years in various treatment centers helping individuals with their addictions and mental health challenges. Over the last 6 years Danny has focused his practice on helping individuals deal with various sexual problems including compulsive and problematic sexual behavior.

Danny is a native to Utah and true to his roots he is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys camping, hiking, snowboarding, rock climbing, kayaking and anything else that involves a bit of fun and risk in the outdoors. He currently works as a therapist and addiction expert at Utah Valley Psychology in Orem, Utah.

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  • Robert
    Reply

    This author brings up some good points. I have never looked at pornography addiction this way before. I think using these tools and seeing a therapist like this author could be helpful.

  • Michael
    Reply

    This is a great presentation on the subject for the addict, but perhaps more important probably for the family.

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