Category Archives: Sex Addiction

TED Talk Highlights Brain Changes that Stem from Porn

THE BAD NEWS: Porn alters the brain in ways that inhibit arousal and detract from “in person” sex, creating an epidemic of erectile dysfunction

THE GOOD NEWS: When you stop porn use, your brain can (over time) heal itself

Check out this fascinating TEDx lecture by Gary Wilson. It’s well put together, and really needs no introduction.

Be forewarned: some people who read this site are easily triggered to sexual temptation, and very sensitive to the materials I put on here. So know that there is a brief picture of women in bikinis at one point in the lecture.

But I hope that won’t keep you from watching. It’s very thought-provoking, and I hope that every person who has access to the internet watches this video.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments. 🙂

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When does “looking” become “lusting”?

When does a look become lust? Where is line that separates normal, healthy, God-given sexual response from sinful, destructive lust?

Christians generally focus on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28 as the standard for moral purity: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So if this is our goal, we need to be clear about what it actually means to “look at a person lustfully.”

Let’s say you go to a restaurant. You look over to your left, and notice someone at the next table who is very attractive. Maybe they are dressed provocatively. You look at them, and their attractiveness registers in your mind. You might even notice something about their body that is attractive or alluring.

Is that lust? When does awareness and/or sexual attraction cross the line into lust?

Christians have been wrestling with this question for generations. Many wise people have written and taught about this. Let me suggest three words that are helpful in drawing the line between looking and lusting:

1. Looking becomes lusting when we stare

Intuitively we all know that there is some difference between looking at someone and staring at them. It’s one thing look at, or notice someone, it’s another to intensely watch them, to “visually feast on them.”

This is where the much maligned and often misunderstood “two-second rule” applies. The two-second rule suggests that looking at someone for a short amount of time is normal and socially acceptable. But looking at someone for more than two seconds constitutes staring and generally signifies crossing the line into lust.

While trying to legalistically apply this “rule” doesn’t work very well, understanding the principle behind it can be helpful.

Neuroscientists tell us that if we look at something intently for an extended period of time, that image gets burned into our brain, and we can recall the image later. We encounter millions of images and sensory impressions as we go through each day. Most of these we either ignore or pay such scant attention to that we can’t recall them later. They move in and out of our consciousness and aren’t retained.

But some of these images and sensory impressions make a deeper impression. They are retained if we pay focused attention to them … if we “take a mental picture.” That’s what happens if we stare at someone.

Let’s go back to the restaurant example. So you see someone who is attractive and/or dressed in such a way that catches your attention and possibly even creates a minor sexual response. But then, instead of fixating on that, you turn your attention elsewhere. You get involved in a conversation with your companion(s), and other thoughts, sights, and sounds take up our attention. It doesn’t take long for that earlier stimulus to fade, as your consciousness is filled with other thoughts and other stimuli.

But if you were staring, you were burning that image into your memory. Later that day, if you sat down and closed your eyes, you could probably call to mind that person, or that image.

2. Looking becomes lusting when we fantasize

Sometimes we do this while we stare: we build a fantasy in our minds about the person we are starting at. We imagine talking to this person, starting a relationship with this person, or doing something sexual with this person. In the later instance, way we are literally “committing adultery in our minds” as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:28.

When we start to obsess about the person, when we spin stories or scenarios in our minds about them, then we have crossed the line into lust.

3. Looking becomes lusting when we objectify

To objectify someone is to cease to view them as a person, and instead view them as an object. We do this when we focus on a person’s body – or body parts – instead of focusing on them as a person. Then we move from relating to them as a human being to thinking about them, looking at them, maybe even evaluating them in the same detached, objectifying way we might look at a pornographic picture.

Habitual pornography users can struggle to build healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex because of this tendency. Viewing pornography trains you to objectify people, focusing on their body and sexuality. Sexual thoughts can intrude in your consciousness as you are trying to relate on a social level with someone.

You can probably see that these three words — staring, fantasizing, and objectifying — are related, and they often go together in practice. If you’re staring at someone, you might also be fantasizing about them. If you are fantasizing about someone, you might also be undressing them in your mind … objectifying them.

Obviously things like pornography, sexual chat, and erotic stories all fit into this category of lusting. They don’t satisfy our sexual desire, they feed it and create desire for more. They don’t build intimacy. They don’t bring people together. They alienate people, because they train people to objectify and fantasize, rather than to love, serve, and relate.

Our goal is to treat other people with love and with dignity as persons. When we view people primarily as objects for our viewing and critique, or view them primarily from the standpoint of potential sexual partners, we are severely limiting the ways in which we can connect on a human, non-sexual level.

Six articles about recovery and relationships worth reading

There are lots of good things being written every day about healthy sexuality, marriage, and recovery … but there’s also a lot of junk!  Here’s some of the good stuff I’ve read lately:

Establishing Boundaries in Toxic Relationships – Great article from Recovery Systems Institute on establishing boundaries in relationships with addicts that we love. Many of us drive ourselves crazy trying to help someone who’s not fully committed to helping themselves in recovery. Here’s a sample quote — something to remind yourself every day:

“I can’t make him change — I can only support him if he decides to make the effort. But if he’s not making that effort, then we’re probably both better off acknowledging it.”

Trauma and the Twelve Steps – looks like an interesting book that’s going to be coming out soon. Much addiction has its roots in early life trauma, and most relapsing is the result of unprocessed trauma. This site has some book excerpts that are worth reading.

Can we believe that we have the capacity to change? Great article on Huffington Post with a different take on Step 2 — can we believe that it’s possible to change?

What I wish I’d known about divorce – people who were unfaithful and now divorced write about how life is now, and what they’ve learned. By Rick Reynolds, affair recovery expert.

Another article from Huffington Post — this one on using social media to get support in recovery. Very good stuff, but my question is: what about anonymity? This is an especially big problem with sexual struggles.

The 12 Steps Restated – Here’s one you might want to spend some time with, especially if you’re working the 12 Steps. It’s a re-working of the #12steps, including a re-statement of each in “non-12-steppy” terms, and some commentary.

How much do we tell people about our struggles?

In recovery, we are learning new behaviors. Whenever we learn a new behavior, we make mistakes. Making mistakes is not simply an unfortunate consequence of learning, it’s often how we learn.

Watch children learn how to walk. They teeter back and forth, letting their legs catch up with them. The way they learn balance is by falling, which shows them when they’re leaning too far one way or the other. It’s the same when learning how to ride a bike – a necessary part of the learning comes by making mistakes, and experiencing what it’s like to be out of balance.

This is how we learn new behaviors in recovery.

Suppose we have been withholding our true feelings and stuffing our anger, for example. As we try to relate more honestly, it’s almost guaranteed that we will explode and say something hurtful. If we’ve been too gregarious and flirty with people of the opposite sex, we will shift to the other side and be remote and aloof. It will take time and experience to find the right balance.

When it comes to revealing ourselves, and being honest with the people in our lives, we may well experience a similar struggle to find the right balance.

Most of us have created lives of isolation and secrecy, with no one knowing the whole truth about us. Often, after our secrets come to light, and we start telling the truth, it feels so freeing that we want to tell everybody.

It’s wise to be careful here.

Make no mistake: our spouse, our sponsor, and key recovery friends need to know the whole truth. We need to practice ruthless honesty with ourselves and the people in our program. But when it comes to people outside of our program – extended family, neighbors, work associates, people at church, other friends – it’s good to think about the boundaries (limits) of our self-disclosure.

In the past, many of us had problems with limits. We’ve done some things to excess and neglected other important things.

Sometimes we haven’t had good judgment about what we ought to tell someone or who we ought to tell. We likely have kept secrets that made us lonely and sick. At other times – especially in early recovery – we exposed too much in inappropriate situations and hurt someone else or ourselves.

Developing a healthy sense of internal limits is a change that comes with time in recovery. Gradually, we gain a stronger feeling of self-respect and become more intuitive about when to express something and when not to. We start to develop more accurate perceptions about whether or not someone will be safe to open up to.

Emotional maturity involves having healthy boundaries. One way to think about boundaries in relationships is to think of the balance of self-disclosure and privacy. Self-disclosure allows us to be known. Privacy, on the other hand, is the freedom to choose what and when to confide in a friend. We need both.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your responses – and any stories about this – in the comments.






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Six articles worth reading about sex addiction, marriage, and parenting

Here are six articles I read this week that I thought were worth sharing. By the way, if you come across something – or have written something – that you’d like to share, Let me know.

  1. Great article about the roots of sex addiction stemming from childhood trauma. It doesn’t touch on abandonment trauma (good things that should have happened, but didn’t), only the trauma of abuse (bad things that shouldn’t have happened, but did). But it’s still very good.
  2. Worth a quick read for parents: “Six skills children need to develop to keep them out of addiction.”
  3. Is Sex Addiction Real – the tired arguments come up again in this article from the Vancouver Sun … what’s interesting is a discussion about the possible inclusion of the “hypersexual disorder” diagnosis as part of the new DSM (psychiatric diagnostic manual for therapists).
  4. How the New DSM Gets Addiction Right – great article from opinion section of New York Times online. It gives an overview of changing understanding of addiction.
  5. Great article from Sheila Gregoire written to wives about things they can do to build relational intimacy. She calls it the “21 Day Challenge,” and there are great insights for men here too.
  6. Article on female sex addiction – Whether due to abuse or abandonment, “being known” (aka intimacy) is at the core of female sex addiction

 

Recovery from sex addiction is more than just an obsession with not lusting

There’s a line in How it Works that says, “If you have decided you want what we have…” I must say that as I’ve sat in many meetings over the years, I’ve wondered if I really want what some of the long-time sober people have.

I encounter people at meetings with distressing frequency who have significant sobriety, but exhibit this pattern: week after week they are checking in with almost obsessive detail about things like seeing a woman in a grocery store and taking a second look, or seeing a magazine ad and not “bouncing their eyes away” within the allotted 1.5 seconds. I appreciate their zeal, but it makes me uncomfortable to think that this is the future we are inviting people into:

obsession with not lusting

It seems to me that real recovery is something more than that, something bigger than that. I get it that people want to be scrupulous about their boundaries, and that a meeting is a place to get things off our chest, and share even minor dalliances with middle circle behaviors. But there’s got to be more. There’s got to be more talk, more focus on the inner aspects of recovery, Continue reading Recovery from sex addiction is more than just an obsession with not lusting