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Well, How Did I Get Here?

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Well, How Did I Get Here?

Those of you reading this of a certain generation might recognise this line from 'Once In A Lifetime' by the Talking Heads. If you don't then I commend this track, and the band, to you. The line captures a thought that often occurs to those acting compulsively or addictively (these terms are inter-changeable as far as I'm concerned) which, when worded differently, also sounds like 'I have never been attracted to a, b or c but I find myself 'addicted'/'obsessive'/'compulsive' about it - I feel so ashamed, what has happened to me?

Am I bad/abnormal/weird or perhaps I am more like a,b or c than I thought'.

Let me give an example.

Men come to me and describe themselves as straight or 'red-blooded heterosexual guy'. Their history supports this. Their current marriage of 25 years vintage is consistent with this. They are not as a rule attracted to men. So if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck then I trust in their assertion about their sexuality.

However, they are seeking help because they have become fixated on porn that features predominantly men having sex with other men. They are also seeking help from me because they are confused, asking themselves constantly, 'Am I really gay? Underneath my regular self, at some level, do I prefer men sexually to women? Am I bi-sexual perhaps?'  Anxiety may be growing which feeds the need for the fixation and thrill of the 'gay porn'.  Confusion creates the unconcious need for 'exploring' the material to find an answer to the conundrum.

In answer to the 'how did I get here?' question, we have a converstaion about porn viewing history. It quickly becomes apparent in the majority of cases that the client has a longish history of porn viewing and that this appears to have escalated or mutated somehow from, let's call it hetero vanilla or mainstream porn, into something more niche - into something that generates an exhilarating or euphoric curiosity that becomes addictive.

The issue here is not sexuality or sexual preferences but one of meeting the already addicted brain's ever-intensifying demands for more novelty, surprise and sexually charged anticipation. Challenging their own and others' construct of them as straight is likely to be exciting in itself and exploring how they react to the material on the screen may also add to the sexual excitement generated. Articulated, this might sound like 'Ooh, I wonder what I will get if I look at this?'. There is a freshness, an element of wonderment that is perhaps not being experienced in real living or which might offer an escapist respite from life's stresses or misery.

Treatment-wise we consider that this is all a product of neuro-chemical processes, in particular, the role of the neuro-transmitter dopamine. All of us, all the time are probably feeding our need for dopamine way beyond the natural levels we are built for. Dopamine gives us a feel-good state which we can all identify through experiences such as cliff-hangers, finding the new outfit or new car, or hunting for our next holiday or house. Dopamine motivates us because we anticipate fulfilment of these desires and then gives us a reward at the climax of acquisition. Use of the word climax is very apt - dopamine is behind that glorious euphoria of orgasm!

What has got the addicts/compulsives to that point is that dopamine itself is highly addictive - we can constantly crave more of it - see this behind addiction or impulsiveness around sugary food, gambling or shopping. It makes us feel good - until it wears off like a painkiller and we need to get more. Not just more but more more bcause it has an in built escalation taking us further and higher up the craving scale. This is the end of the scale that carries risk. Risk to our health (too many calories), our finance (gambling or over-spending), our mental health (we might feel shamed or confused about our lack of control for example), or our relationships (our friends and partners experience collateral fall-out from the escalated behaviours (hypersexuality usually leads to some form of infedility or betrayal).

Modern living is fraught with dopamine traps and craving is endemic. We want better, bigger, shinier things. Last month's fashion or trend becomes dull and unexciting and we go on the search for the next thrill.  Sex and porn addiction is an extreme example of this craving which carries extreme risks. My clients have lost relationships, jobs and financial stability because the craving has taken them into dangerous territory which is difficult to escape and sometimes which leads into the realm of offending behaviours.

Most of us get enough dopamine, and a good balance of other feel-good brain chemicals so that we don't feel compelled to go to extremes. We know and manage our boundaries. Sex and porn addicts often have to 'hit the bottom' before seeking help. Treatment is needed to reinstate boundaries and manage underlying anxieties so that recovery can be achieved.  If you are reading this because you or a partner are struggling with sex and porn addiction perhaps the following verse from the song will inspire a move towards recovery.

You may ask yourself, "What is that beautiful house?"
You may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go to?"
And you may ask yourself, "Am I right, am I wrong?"
And you may say to yourself, "My God, what have I (you) done?"

 

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