Category Archives: Sex Addiction

Does the rise of video games and online porn mean the demise of guys?

Does the rise of video games and the proliferation of online porn mean the demise of guys? Researchers are increasingly saying “yes.” (Note: if you are a parent of teen or pre-teen boys, you might want to keep some Xanax handy as you read this.)

Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University. Zimbardo teamed up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan to write “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. Following are some excerpts from a recent article on the CNN website featuring Zimbardo’s comments.

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until “the time is right.”

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. … The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. … Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual.”

Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz.

Video game and porn addictions are different. They are “arousal addictions,” where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

Note: I don’t agree with everything in the article. For example, I’m not a fan of using extreme examples (like the Korean man who died while playing StarCraft, and the Norwegian mass murderer who played a lot of video games before resorting to shooting people in real life) to make the argument for the destructiveness of a habit. Let the research speak for itself. People who ignore their body’s needs for food and water to the point of death, and/or people who become mass murderers have other issues besides playing computer games and watching porn. Nevertheless, this article is worth reading and thinking about.

If you’re interested, you can watch Zimabardo’s 2011 TED talk on “The Demise of Guys” here.

What do you think? Do you agree with Zimbardo?

Personal Update: Where we go from here with sexualsanity.com and our recovery work

Moving Crew: me with son Alex and nephew Tyler

This year has been time of a major transition for our family. In June of last year, I started pastoring Jacob’s Well Church, a small church in the Chicago area. Jacob’s Well allows me to serve as pastor on a less-than-full-time basis, thus allowing me to continue doing my coaching and recovery teaching.

For the past year, I’ve been leading two weekly coaching groups that “meet” over the phone, as well as a face to face coaching group just for pastors. I also travel to Minnesota and speak at the Sex Addiction Workshop with Mark Laaser of Faithful and True Ministries once a month (most months).

With these transitions, I slowed down the writing I did on this blog (sexualsanity.com) and transitioned the “Recovery Journey” (a recovery program I established in 2010) to be more of a stand alone program.

For much of this past year, our future has been uncertain. My work at Jacob’s Well was that of a transition pastor, working to help the church decide what to do for its future. As a transition (or interim) specialist, it was quite possible that I would have relocated again sometime in 2012 to work full-time in a different church.

To make a long story short, I have agreed to continue as the pastor of Jacob’s Well church on a long term basis. In doing so, I will continue to work not-quite full time at the church, leaving some space to continue my work with Recovery Remixed.

Another milestone for us is that this year Charlene finished her Master’s in Counseling and Psychotherapy, with an emphasis on Marriage and Family Therapy. She has been doing some teaching with me, as well as counseling women and couples … and we anticipate that her counseling load will be growing this year.

It’s not clear all the ways that Recovery Remixed will transition this year, but at this point, several things are clear:

1. I will be re-engaging with the writing I do on the sexualsanity.com blog. It’s amazing to me to see that even though I’ve only been posting sporadically, we are still maintaining 10,000 visitors a month, and every day new people sign up to receive our newsletter.

2. I will be re-engaging with social media, to continue to get the message out. If you don’t already, I invite you to follow me on Twitter (use button below). I use Twitter as a way to share recovery insights and information (articles, videos, etc.). I’m not chatty. I’m not going to tell you what I ate for dinner, or how I feel about the Minnesota Vikings or the Kardashians. Just recovery, with an emphasis on emotional and spiritual health.


I’m also launching a page on Facebook for Recovery Remixed. It’s going to be a work in progress for a few weeks here, but by all means “like” it, so we can get the party started!

http://facebook.com/recoveryremixed

I promise that with Twitter and Facebook, I’m going to be focusing more on recovery in general and not be super sex-specific — we don’t want to get into any NSFW territory, or things that might freak your mother-in-law out if she saw it.

3. I will be re-engaging my email news list, establishing an “Ezine” called “Recovery Remixed Report” that will go out every week. It will be worth your time: a feature article and an update about the ministry of Recovery Remixed. This year I haven’t been doing much with this list, and I want to reengage people with more information. Let me know about anything you’d like to hear more about … any ideas for articles?

Have you signed up for the newsletter yet? If you signed up to get the free book, you’re already on the list … but if not, use the form below:

4. The message I want to extend has clarifiedI want to focus more and more on Recovery in general, not just on sexual struggles, and especially on emotional and spiritual health as the foundation and ongoing work of long term recovery.

I am still convinced – in fact, increasingly so – that the key to ongoing recovery is nothing short of reinventing one’s life in ways that nurture emotional and spiritual health. Without that, our “recovery” efforts, are simply white knuckling it … and they won’t last.

Looking forward to the next season of our work!

Five things every recovering sex addict needs to know about fantasy

Many people live with heads full of fantasies. This is especially true of sex addicts. Some of these fantasies are sexual, some are not. Along with sexual fantasies, many of us have fantasies about what it would be like to have a certain amount of money, drive a certain car, or achieve a certain celebrity status. For many people, the daydreams of childhood continue on into adulthood — they just become more sophisticated.

Our fantasies exercise their power by creating scenarios which promise to meet our deepest needs. Instead of being fearful and uncertain, in his fantasy he is decisive and courageous. Instead of being isolated and lonely, in her fantasy she is surrounded by friends. Instead of being poor, in his fantasy he is rich. The same is true about sexual fantasies. At their core, sexual fantasies reveal our longings for connection, intimacy, and acceptance.

 

1. Fantasies create a vicious cycle

Fantasies are destructive. Obviously, sexual fantasies feed the lust that is at the center of sex addiction. Addicts nurture and meditate on these fantasies, which feeds their addiction and keeps them from engaging reality.

But non-sexual fantasies are also destructive because they also keep us from engaging reality. When I was in training for life coaching, I remember one of my teachers harping on the dangers of fantasy. She wasn’t warning us about sexual fantasy: her concern was with fantasies about getting rich, winning the lottery, being famous, and the like. She said the problem with fantasies is this (we’ll call it the “law of fantasy”):

The more you are fantasizing about something, the less you are actually doing about it.

Part of this is simple time economics. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy at our disposal. Every minute spent fantasizing about what life would be like if a certain goal is reached is a minute lost to the pursuit of that goal in actuality.

But it’s worse than that. Fantasy doesn’t just keep us too occupied to take action … it actually robs us of the energy and enthusiasm we need to pursue our goal.

Fantasy creates a vicious cycle: By not engaging reality, the addict’s life gets more unsatisfying as his or her problems grow. This creates even more motivation for the addict to escape reality through fantasy, which makes the real-life problems worse, and increases his or her desire for escape. Instead of doing the things they need to do to positively affect their future, addicts indulge in fantasies that keep them from moving forward in life.

 

2. Engaging in fantasy keeps us from pursuing our vision

Fantasies and vision are both pictures in our minds of something we wish were true for us. But in contrast to fantasy, vision is more closely tied to reality. In fact, this is the primary distinction between the two … vision is a desired future about which I can see steps to take to move me towards it. Fantasy is something that is disconnected from my reality. It’s out there in the distance.

Think of it this way: Imagine being on one side of a chasm — and being able to see the other side. You might be able see great things on the other side, and wish you were there, but there is no way to get across. So you just imagine “what-if” scenarios about what it must be like to be there. That’s fantasy.

Now imagine that there are some ropes that span the chasm. It might not work to simply walk across, but you see some things around that you could use to reinforce the rope, and build a bridge of sorts to get across. Seeing the good things on the other side motivates you to work on building the bridge so you can actually get there.

That’s vision. With vision there is always a bridge between our present reality and the future dream.

Fantasies keep us stuck in the situation we are in. They don’t motivate us to move forward. Quite the contrary: they are coping strategies that enable us live with the status quo. Vision gives us hope, motivation, and direction that allows us to get moving. Even if a vision is idealistic, it is still tied closely enough to reality that we can see a way to move forward to achieve it.

 

3. How to tell if what you have is a vision or fantasy

So is the picture in your head a vision or a fantasy? How can you tell? Ask a very simple question:

What can I do to achieve it?

Is there a path for me to move forward to make that future a reality in my life? If there is a path you can see, and you get excited about taking that path (even though it might seem daunting), then you have a vision. If not, then you have a fantasy.

This again is where the law of fantasy comes in: the more you fantasize about something, the less you are actually doing about it. The more you fantasize, the less time and energy you have to plan and work towards a positive future. To put it another way: the more fantasy, the less vision.

 

4. In early recovery, vision needs to be centered around sobriety and health

It is vitally important for an addict in early recovery to develop vision for the kind of person he or she wants to be in recovery. It’s not important to have a grand vision for your life that is about having certain things or achieving vocational goals. In fact, it may be important for our recovery that we let go of some of our ambitions and attachments to achieving and having.

Instead of focusing on our grandiose plans, in early recovery it can be helpful to let those go. Instead try to imagine what it would be like to be an emotionally healthy person, with a healthy sex life, and a life of gratitude and contentment.

One way for people in early recovery to do this is to think simply in terms of what life could be like a year from today if they live in recovery and establish solid sobriety. That’s the basic broad “vision” that is helpful for recovery. Only later does one need to worry about further details being added in, like where to live, what to do for a living, the kind of car to drive, how to help other people who are addicts themselves.

At the beginning, forget about all that. Just focus on the vision of recovery first.

Can you imagine a life of sexual sobriety? Can you imagine living with contentment and joy, a life that does not include the MAP behaviors (masturbation, adultery, pornography)?

 

5. Creating this vision of recovery is hard – especially for sex addicts

Creating this vision of life in recovery is not easy. Many addicts feel a sense of hopelessness or futility about their prospects of success in recovery. This is especially a problem for sex addicts – because many recovery programs are new and access to “old timers” in the program is rare.

Many sex addicts are involved in groups or have a circle of recovering friends who struggle to stay sober and are living with repeated relapse. This can be discouraging, even debilitating. If we are surrounded by people who can’t stay sober, we will struggle with sobriety as well.

Addicts need to know – and really believe – that sexual purity, sobriety, and health are possible for them. One way of doing this is to spend time with people who have long-term sobriety – the “old timers.” This is another reason to be involved in a support group, especially one where you meet a variety of people who have significant sobriety. If you don’t have that in your local community, get involved in phone support where you can be connected to people who can feed your vision.

 

As my mentor Mark Laaser says, “Pay attention to your fantasies. They are messages from your soul that reveal your deepest longings.” If the fantasies are sexual, do what you need to do to turn them over to God, to discipline your mind to let them go and not allow the fantasies to create sexual arousal and lead you to act out.

But pay attention to the other fantasies too. What do you want your life to be like? What do you think about when you lie awake in bed at night? What do you daydream about? Pay attention to these thoughts. Seek to transition from mind filled with fantasies to a mind captured by vision.

How can you forgive your spouse in the aftermath of sexual betrayal?

In the process of recovering from sexual struggles, restoring relationships is vital … and hard. When sexual strugglers are married, their addiction / compulsion has led to repeated sexual betrayal in one form or another. Unlike other addictions, sexual addiction strikes at the heart of the marriage commitment. How can someone forgive that?

In the past year, my wife has started counseling wives of sexual strugglers, and we are now counseling couples together Continue reading How can you forgive your spouse in the aftermath of sexual betrayal?

Hacking Recovery: How to Improve 12 Step Groups (part 2)

Why do 12-Step programs work? What makes them effective? If we can figure out why AA and the 12 Steps work (what the “active ingredients” are) we might be able to improve them. In part 1 of this two-part series, I explored several factors that behaviorists suggest contribute to the success of 12 Step programs for treatment of addiction. In this article, we will look at three suggestions for improving 12 Step Groups.

Our inspiration comes from an article by Brendan Koerner that was featured in Wired magazine. Koerner cites a number of studies over the years trying to determine how effective AA is, and concludes with some suggestions for how to improve 12 Step groups. Their suggestions are interesting and instructive. Not surprisingly (given that it’s the techno-centric Wired magazine), two of the three recovery hacks involve better technology. I’ll list them, along with my added thoughts:

Continue reading Hacking Recovery: How to Improve 12 Step Groups (part 2)

Hacking Recovery: what makes 12 Step Programs work, and how to make them work better (part 1)

Many sexual strugglers find help in 12 Step Programs – such as Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous – which adapt the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program to focus on sexual addiction. To be sure, 12 Step groups are not universally praised. Many people fault them for being “too religious” or “too Christian,” while at the same time many Christians reject them because they are “not Christian” enough. I have written other articles about the religion/Christianity issue, and today I want to focus instead on a different question:

Why do 12-Step programs work? What is it about the way these groups function that makes them effective? If we can figure out why AA and the 12 Steps work (what the “active ingredients” are) we might be able to improve them, reconfigure them in ways that work for other people. Continue reading Hacking Recovery: what makes 12 Step Programs work, and how to make them work better (part 1)

The all-important moment in recovery – when we decide

We all like having options. When we commit ourselves, we limit our choices. When we commit to recovery, we don’t simply embrace an idea, we take certain steps. For example, we find a group or recovery program and begin to attend meetings, we start seeing a counselor, we disclose our actions to people who’ve been affected, and we get rid of the things that might tempt us to act out again. We throw out pornographic materials, set up filters or accountability software on computers, delete secret email accounts, sever ties with affair partners, etc., etc. We put plans in place and commit ourselves to a course of action that we will continue to pursue even after our initial resolve fades.

Of course, none of this is easy. To be more precise, following through on any of these things is not easy. Desire is easy, following through is hard.

In the immediate aftermath of some bad experience, where we are confronted with the magnitude of our problem, it’s easy to feel a strong desire to change. We might feel deep remorse for what we’ve done, and resolve to live differently. If we’re in a relationship that has been hurt by our behavior, we likely feel a strong commitment to repair the damage that was the result of our sexual acting out.

Pastors, therapists, and addiction counselors are accustomed to hearing people earnestly express their desire to change. 12-Steppers call this “Step Zero” … it’s what happens to people before they even get to Step 1 in the 12 Steps. It’s the overwhelming sense that “things aren’t working,” often accompanied by strong feelings of remorse, guilt, and shame. But everyone needs a reality check at this point: Resolve and remorse are only Step Zero.

Continue reading The all-important moment in recovery – when we decide

Accept others if you want recovery from sex or porn addiction

Recovery teaches us to look at ourselves instead of trying to fix others. We can’t waste time trying to change other people, we can only change ourselves. But if we can’t fix the people around us, how can we live with them? By practicing acceptance.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that we cannot find serenity until we accept things and people as they are. This is hard for many of us, for many reasons.

As Christians, we often struggle to accept people who disagree with us, or who have different standards of behavior. We worry that if we accept someone just as they are, then we are endorsing their moral and spiritual choices. If we want to help them grow or change, we feel we need to withhold acceptance. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When we withhold acceptance – from others or from ourselves – we create conflict and lose the opportunity to stimulate positive change.

Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

We can accept someone without approving or agreeing with what they do. The reality is that we can’t change them – or control their behavior – anyway. All we can control is our own responses to them.

Our lack of acceptance creates stress and tension in relationships. It also cuts us off from many blessings.

I had a friend from one of the SA programs who was needing more support. I recommended a certain group to him. When he attended the group, he was dismayed because some of the members had a different approach to sobriety than he did. Rather than adopt a “live and let live” approach, and seek to learn from this other program and find the help he needed, he chose to go into a critical, judgmental mode, and refused to participate in the group any longer. He couldn’t get over his disagreement with how they approached recovery – and so lost the opportunity to get support and help he really needed.

Serenity comes when we concentrate on the attitudes we need to change instead of how the world around us needs to change. When we focus on another person’s negative qualities, those qualities grow larger. So why not focus instead on the good qualities?

Our serenity will grow as we develop reasonable, appropriate expectations of others. Remember that everyone is a work in progress. No one is perfect.  Can we accept them – and ourselves – even in the midst of that imperfection?

* This is a post that I wrote a couple years ago, but I changed the date recently to get it back on the front page. Hope you like — and comment!