Is porn addiction our next major healthcare crisis? I'm a former addict, author and activist trying to let the public know of this looming plague with my AMA.

Joshua Shea
May 7, 2018

Do you like porn? Fantastic. Is it a problem? Perhaps. Statistics say that 33% of men 18-30 believe they have a problem with porn and 47% of all households have issues beyond casual use. I am a former addict who did six months in jail for engaging a teenager in a chat room. I had a prominent place in my community and my situation was well-covered in state media.

I wrote a book about my descent into the addiction called The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About and now try to help others avoid a similar fate through my website, RecoveringPornAddict.com

I can answer questions regarding my personal story with addiction, what we're facing as a society based on the alarmingly growing number of addicts and about my book, or the process of writing it (the first draft was completely while I did six months in jail).


Joshua Shea says:

This AMA will end May 17, 2018 12PM EDT

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I just wanted to thank everyone who participated in this AMA with me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but found the challenge a breath of fresh air. In the future, you can contact me through my website, RecoveringPornAddict.com and if you're looking for any kind of help with a porn addiction, either yours or a loved one, take a look at PornAddictCounseling.org  And, of course there is always my book. Thanks again everyone.

May 17, 10:41AM EDT0
What is the cultural expectation for men and porn?
May 17, 9:14AM EDT0

I think as technology rapidly evolves, our expectation is changing and it's not as clearly defined as it once was. It's no longer that "Dad has a Playboy in his dresser drawer" for you to discover as a 13-year-old boy. That was back in the "boys will be boys" era that probably lasted 25-35 years from the late 60s up to the introduction of the Internet.

Today, I believe in a lot of ways we've thrown our hands up as a culture because so many more of us -- men and women -- are using porn than ever before. There isn't the universal condemnation of porn you once got from "decent people" because now even the decent people have unfettered access and they're consuming the stuff. 

May 17, 9:57AM EDT0
How can people use porn in a healthy way? Where is the thin line?
May 16, 8:30PM EDT0

That question is tricky, because there are so many variables with each person. It's like saying why can Person A drink a little and be OK, but Person B always overdoes it....yet when it comes to gambling Person A can't control themselves and Person B is always under control.

I think the real litmus test is more to figure out if you're using it in an unhealthy way. 

Early Warning Signs of Porn Addiction....

  • Lying about, keeping secrets about and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if confronted about the nature or extent of porn use
  • Sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and an inability to reach orgasm

I had girlfriends who hated everything about porn and those who didn’t. It didn’t matter to me. I’d deny to both that I looked at the stuff. I had folders for my folders on my computer. As a young guy in my early 20s, when I was with a female sexually for the first time, I almost uniformly was never able to perform to completion, unless I did it myself. I was intimidated by the fact I didn’t have the full control of the situation as I did with pornography. It was scary to let myself go. I would have to think of porn and think of what we were doing in terms of porn to perform. By the second or third encounter, it was not like real-life porn anymore because with traditional porn, it’s one-and-done.

May 16, 8:47PM EDT0
How has your sense of personal shame around sexuality impacted your relationship with porn and sex? How has it evolved throughout your recovery?
May 16, 5:03PM EDT0

Well, that's a lot of sessions of therapy you want to provide in a small space. I always felt weird about sexuality, with a lot of it being about intimacy (although I didn't know that until I got into sex addiction rehab). My shame with sexuality probably drove me to porn more than a different addiction, and it was really learning about that shame -- how it was created, how I'd dealt with it -- that helped me a lot in getting the recovery started. When you hide an addiction, the shame just builds and builds and builds.

I have a different kind of shame surrounding my crime and while it was a sexual offense, I don't think it really impacted my sexual shame. It may have just been a spotlight on how much was there. I still have a lot of shame over what I did to my victims, my family and my community, but I don't think that's a bad thing. It's managable, and serves as a great tool in continuing recovery whenever I feel a trigger.

I probably feel less shameful around my sexuality now than I ever have going back to being a 3 or 4 year old kid and being told by my abuser that having a penis is a bad thing.

May 16, 5:27PM EDT0
How do you recommend a woman handle it if their SO confesses a porn addiction?
May 16, 2:50AM EDT0

First, they need to remember that they can only control their own actions and decision making in whatever comes next, so they need to look out for their own health and well being while they tackle this problem.

Next, they have to figure out what this means to them. Is this a betrayal of a man who cheated or is this is the action of an ill person reaching out for help? You need to figure out on a very personal level if this is something that you can get beyond. Odds are you'll be conflicted. I've yet to talk to the SO yet who isn't.

Third, no matter what you decide, try to keep things safe and civil. Judging him isn't going to help the situation in any way. Find out what he would like to do with this revelation. Is he seeking help? You may (both) want to the get the advice of a professional. If you think he's using this as an excuse for his behavior, learn a bit more about addiction before making that statement. If he is an addict and you tell him he's not, it can be a slap in the face. I've been there.

Finally, if you stay with conditions, make sure you enforce those conditions. If you decide to leave because you can't live with that, do it guilt free. Always, always take care of your needs first.

May 16, 8:18AM EDT0
What did you find most useful and most destructive when writing about your experiences?
May 15, 1:09AM EDT0

Most useful was the chance to reflect on what happened to me professionally, both the rise and fall. I had only been dealing with my addiction and recovery and didn't get a chance to really analyze how the business unfolded. A lot of that was cut from the book, but it was a purging that needed to happen.

Most destructive was trying to find an agent and a publisher. It's a very demeaning process full of rejection and not-always-constructive criticism. I can see why many just go the route of self publishing to avoid that process.

May 15, 8:18AM EDT0
What is the biggest thing people think they know about addiction and how are they wrong?
May 14, 2:19PM EDT0

Two things immediately spring to mind, so I'll share them both.

1) Addiction is a disease. I fought this and refused to agree for many years, but finally had two doctors sit down and explain scientifically why this is the case. Just because you start something willingly like looking at porn, drinking or gambling doesn't mean it can't cause permanent damage and qualify as a disease.

2) There is a certain type of person who is an addict. I think this stereotype prevented us from addressing the opiod crisis 20 years sooner than we did. In going through two rehabs, I probably saw 80-100 people with drug, alcohol, food and sex addictions. There was no "type". Anybody can be an addict.

May 14, 2:26PM EDT0
What books have you read that aided you in your recovery and in your own writing?
May 14, 9:41AM EDT0

The SAA and SLAA handbooks are good places to start just to show you that you're not alone in this world, even if you don't become a 12-stepper. 

Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes is kind of the go-to book because it was one of the first and is still good. I really liked Breaking the Cycle by George Collins. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is great. Everyone, addict or not, should read it.

What suprised me most was that I really got into behavioral economics, the kind of stuff that Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakanomics guys write about. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a must read....just don't try more than 5 pages at a time or your mind will explode. Understanding the math behind how we behave has helped shape a new world view for me.

I don't think I've read a book to aid in my writing specifically in a long time. I only read non-fiction, mostly biographies, so I'm sure I took in some things by osmosis when it came time to write my book. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about so I finally read Chernoff's biography of Hamilton recently. Great read.

May 14, 9:59AM EDT0
What quote do you believe best reflects your personal recovery and your writing journey?
May 14, 8:04AM EDT0

I actually find that there are two verses of the song "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay that aptly describe my fall, yet there's a subtext to them that while I may not outwardly be in a position of public power anymore, I have a deeper knowledge of the way things really are.

The verses are:

I used to rule the world...Seas would rise when I gave the word...Now in the morning, I sleep alone...Sweep the streets I used to own

One minute I held the key...Next the walls were closed on me....And I discovered that my castles stand...Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

Last edited @ May 14, 9:26AM EDT.
May 14, 9:25AM EDT0
You work as a ghostwriter. Do you find this experience as opposed to write using your name?
May 12, 6:32PM EDT0

I would prefer to use my own name as I did on everything prior to arrest in 2014, but I no longer do for one major reason: rejection. I don't want people Googling my name, reading a few headlines, and coming to incorrect conclusions without knowing my story. There are many people who dismiss anybody with a crime like mine outright with little to no critical thinking or deeper analysis. It's just easier not having to put my name on things. The pay is actually better a lot of the time.

May 12, 6:37PM EDT0
Through all this experience, is forgiveness a crucial part of recovery? Would you say you have forgiven yourself?
May 12, 5:05AM EDT0

As somebody who once held grudges, kept a list of everyone who slighted me and resented far too many people, letting go of that was so helpful to recovery. If you can figure out a way to dump resentment from your life, it's amazing how much of a weight that lifts. Whether I was right or wrong doesn't matter. I forgave everyone and let it go.

There's always going to be a piece of me that is ashamed of what I did and disappointed I allowed myself to go down the path I did, but for the most part, I have been able to stop beating myself up. Trying to do some good in the world by making people aware has gone a long way to making myself feel better and let a lot of self-loathing go. 

May 12, 12:57PM EDT0
Do you think the way society handles addictions -sometimes like taboo subjects- contributes to the biased and judgmental way recovering addicts are treated? How can that be improved?
May 11, 11:56PM EDT0

Absolutely, 100%. Look at the opiod crisis. Heroin has been around and in the mainstream for over 50 years. Drugs like Vicodin have been around 30 years. we should have seen it coming, but we turned a blind eye because the mainstream saw drug users in the 1980s and 1990s as low-class, homeless losers. Now, almost everyone has a family member or friend affected. We live in a reactive society, not proactive and that's because people like to separate themselves from problems they don't want to address and politicians play to that demographic.

The only way to address these things is to...address them! Almost everybody under 40 masturbates. Just slightly less than that number look at porn. Most aren't addicted, but do you think those that did thought they'd end up that way? Porn addiction needs to be addressed to young people the same way alcohol addiction is. Porn on its own isn't a bad thing, just like beer isn't, but it can lead to addiction and people need to know that from very early in their lives.

May 12, 12:54PM EDT0
Do you have any recommendations (online references or books) for people who want to understand better how porn affects lives, not only for the addicts but also for their relatives?
May 11, 7:08PM EDT0

While I hate to tell people to purchase a book and have it not be the exact thing they need, I do urge people to check out the Sexual Health Recovery section of Amazon. You'll find something that probably speaks to your specific situation.

Along with that, if you're looking to communicate with other people in your situation, especially if you're a partner of a porn addict, there are a lot of good online forums. There is a list of them on my website in the Resources section.

May 12, 12:48PM EDT0

Thanks for the insightful AMA!

May 8, 8:45AM EDT0

You're welcome. Always feel free to check out my website at www.RecoveringPornAddict.com or my book, The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About

May 8, 9:45AM EDT0

Have you tried to to change your associations to your addiction/s?

--

In "Unleash The Giant Within" there's a whole chapter how we can change our desires by changing associations. So with addiction, we can think of Chocolate and how great it tastes or instead we can think of what it does to our body. Same chocolate, different associations.

May 7, 4:36PM EDT0

In a way, I think that happened to me without me needing to change anything actively, almost like a PTSD kind of thing. Porn now is not about sexy people doing things in a life I wish I had. It's about the police coming to my door. It's about having to pay for my horrible decisions and dragging my family through a very public legal ordeal. It's about sitting in a small pod with too many people in jail. It's about being on the sex offender registry the rest of my life. I don't need to try to change association with porn because all of the new associations are negative. I brought on my situation. I caused it. But porn is the thing I turn my ire toward. I think it's one part of the reason why I'm trying to help others.

Last edited @ May 7, 5:32PM EDT.
May 7, 4:45PM EDT0

As in an addiction, how do you fight the urge not to fall back into porn?

May 7, 3:58PM EDT0

It's been different at different stages. Right now, at four years sober, doing things like this AMA or interviews supporting my book are huge. They are like mini-therapy sessions happening all the time. I actually listen to some of the interviews, too. Hearing my own voice telling me what I need reinforced has been a good tool...but I have to admit I don't have many cravings or triggers anymore.

The first two years were rough, but the most important things were developing a support group that really understood me. My family could play part of a role, but it was mostly filled by people I met at my two rehabs, and I also served that role for them.

I think the biggest turning point was first in writing The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About while I was in jail. It kept me focused at a time that I see a lot of people can easily deteriorate. Jail/prison doesn't usually rehab people, it makes them worse. The writing distracted me from what was around me. Editing it after I left jail was also very helpful. Being forced to cut so much of it was a good exercise in learning what was really important to the story I told myself.

I also find having a few go-to tricks to always be helpful. The best one is "Get up and go sit over there." If I feel like I'm going to drink, or want to look at porn, I change seats. It gives me just enough time to think about what I'm doing and make a better decision. 

May 7, 4:07PM EDT0

What are your thoughts on open realtionships? Also, is porn in moderation ok in your opinion?

May 7, 3:48PM EDT0

There are exceptions to every rule, and I've never been in one, but data suggests open relationships don't work in the long run. 

I view looking at porn in moderation the way I look at drinking in moderation...I can't do it, so I have trouble endorsing it. I, however, don't want to make it illegal. I enjoy going to a casino once in a while with my wife and playing slot machines. I don't want the fact some guy at the roulette table has a problem ruin it for those of us who don't. Should I have never started gambling? Perhaps. And perhaps nobody should look at porn. It's for them to decide.

May 7, 3:53PM EDT0

Have you talked to female porn addicts? How is it different for them vs male addicts?

May 7, 3:32PM EDT0

I've talked to quite a few. I get a deeper sense of shame across the board. As men, we're almost "expected" to look at porn, regardless of if we get addicted or not. I don't think society has that expectation of women. So those who develop an addiction seem to carry it with them in a deeper, more shameful way.

I have also seen statistics that say that 80% more women than men carry their porn addiction to the next step and start acting out sexually beyond the passive addiction. I have a few theories, but haven't read that they have figured out why this difference between the genders is so major.

Ironically, I read this blog entry today on a site I follow and I think - while a tiny bit graphic - does explain a woman's addiction well:

Click Here

Last edited @ May 7, 3:49PM EDT.
May 7, 3:38PM EDT0

How would you say porn is an addiction? Like, what do addicts feeland how is it taking over their lives from your experience?

May 7, 2:27PM EDT0

It's really not that different than other addictions when it comes to the core issues. We want a rush of dopamine because it's calming and soothing and takes away pain. Whether you're a drug addict, sex addict, food addict.....these things can all take their physical toll on you differently...but at the core, it's the craving of dopamine.

Explaining the feeling of addiction is difficult to someone who hasn't experienced it. It's like trying to explain what it's like being a parent to someone who has no kids. You just can't encapsulate the internal feelings you get. The closest thing I can say is that it's like your addiction is a giant magnet and you're a piece of metal. It doesn't matter what you promise yourself or others. It doesn't matter what's happening in your work or social life. It doesn't matter what the fallout is of anything because that magnet is going to pull you back.

Or here's another way. Hold your breath. Count to 30 in your head. Starting to feel a little like you need oxygen? Keep counting. Did you get to 40? You're really aching to take a breath, aren't you. Keep counting. Get to 50? It's starting to burn and mess with your head a little, isn't it. Go ahead...take the gulp of oxygen. Feels like relief doesn't it. Addictions feel like that oxygen. You can try to ignore it, and you can for a little while. You can ever get better at ignoring it. There are people who can hold their breath for 2-3 minutes with a little practice. But eventually, you cave and you suck in that big breath of sweet air. Just replace air with whatever the addict substance or behavior is and you've got the physical feeling of addiction in a nutshell.

May 7, 3:00PM EDT98
What were your porn habits like at that point?
May 7, 2:21PM EDT0

I guess it depends exactly what point you're talking about. It varied over the years.

May 7, 2:52PM EDT0
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