I Was the Daughter and Partner of a Porn Addict

Anonymous

“If your partner or child tells you that your use of porn is causing them harm, it might be harmful for you too.”

intimate partner violence

People with substance use disorder are increasingly recovering out loud, but when it comes to porn addiction those parts of our stories are still very much cloaked in secrecy. Why? Dr. Kristine De Jesus explains. “Discussions about watching porn don’t often happen, especially in public spaces, because of the stigma associated with it. Even in relationships, discussions about viewing pornography can be uncomfortable and seen as taboo.” Shame, patriarchy, and our society’s uncomfortable relationship with sex often minimizes porn consumption, even when it quantifies an addiction. But at what cost do we avoid this topic? “As the child and partner of a loved one addicted to porn, I feel compelled to share my story so that others don’t have to feel the isolation and shame that I have experienced. We are stronger when we share all of our stories, especially the ones cloaked in shame and stigma.”- SHE RECOVERS community member.

In this blog we explore what porn addiction looks like, how it manifests in our lives, and share the powerful story of a SHE RECOVERS community member who has transformed the pain caused by others’ porn addiction into purpose.

What Do We Mean When We’re Talking About Porn Addiction?

Believe it or not people consume vast amounts of porn, according to an article in the American Psychological Association (APA). Research from Dr. Gert Martin Hald et al., found men consume porn at a rate of 50 to 99 percent, and between 30 and 86 percent of women watch porn. 

Dr. Alvin Cooper, PhD, explained to the APA that one of the reasons for the high consumption of pornography is its accessibility, which he called the “Triple-A engine” effect: The accessibility, affordability and anonymity provided by the web have put adult content right at our fingertips.”

However, some people can consume pornography problematically, meaning, like addiction, it can be difficult to stop despite the negative effects in one’s life, particularly in our relationships. 

Amber, a woman in long-term recovery from codependency and love addiction shared with us how pornography shares parallels with addiction in that its effects are subtle but can still impact our relationships. “I believe a person’s porn consumption can be considered an addiction when their use of it is causing negative consequences, a loss of control, or a compulsion and cravings to use even if they don’t see it as an issue themselves.”

In terms of its effects, she explained “If your partner or child tells you that your use of porn is harming them, it might be causing you harm too.”

The research shows that porn can negatively impact relationships in a number of ways, including: lowering their partner’s self-esteem, lower levels of sexual intimacy, and causing poor quality sex for both partners. 

Conversely, however, in one study porn consumption among women was associated with improved sexual quality, and increased intimacy

Of course studies are only one narrow point of view and don’t reflect the overall impact on relationships. Ana Bridges, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas said that when one partner consumes porn at a high frequency they tend to emotionally withdraw from the relationship. Those men “report increased secrecy, less intimacy, and also more depression,” she told the APA.

Anonymous’ Story: When Pornography is a Problem

I remember the first time I encountered pornography. I was 4 years old. There was a magazine open in my father’s truck, sitting on the backseat. Somehow, even at that age, I already knew what it was, and I could sense my father’s shame surrounding it too. He acted as though it wasn’t there and didn’t stop me from looking at it. I flipped a few pages, hoping to see something else other than lewd sexual positions, and then stuffed it under the seat. I experienced this physical activation in my body that I would later label “shame butterflies,” a sensation I sometimes still experience today. Since that day, I developed an instinct for sensing energy in others – especially shame and secrecy. This heightened attunement is something many children who have had adverse childhood experiences develop as a way to survive dysfunction and trauma. After being in recovery for over five years I came to learn that repeated exposure of pornography to your children is a form of sexual abuse.

I have had to do a lot of somatic and therapeutic work to heal this within myself and still have a long way to go. That shame also prevented me from being completely honest with those I trusted and caused me to be pretty unkind to myself over the years. 

A Lost Childhood

I was robbed of the opportunity to just be a kid without adult responsibilities. I had to grow up very fast to be able to comprehend, process and reconcile the use of porn and its impact on my family. I missed out on having a caregiver to confide in when I was being abused. I denied myself the opportunity for deep connection and intimacy as an adult. 

The Impact of Porn Addiction on My Relationship With Myself & Others

I continued to be exposed to my father’s use of pornography as I grew older and his use became more frequent, obvious, and extreme in content. I became hypervigilant and started intentionally walking loudly before entering a room to avoid seeing him watching it and stayed away from the computer and cabinet drawers for fear I would encounter more. I observed my mom slipping deeper into codependency and co-addiction, often writing off her own needs for intimacy and connection. I also developed some harmful self-beliefs because of my father’s use of pornography and my mother’s unwillingness to address it:

  1. To be desired, you have to look like a porn star 
  2. Sex is supposed to be savage and sometimes non-consensual  
  3. If I am being abused, I can’t talk about it. 
  4. My needs in a relationship are not important. 
  5. I am not worthy of being loved the way I desire to be. 
  6. And my least favorite: to be truly loved, you have to have a perfect, hairless vagina.

The shame I felt around my father’s use of pornography, and watching my mom minimize and cover up the absence of love in her relationship, taught me that speaking about uncomfortable topics such as the physical and sexual abuse I was also experiencing as a child was not safe to discuss. I developed body dysmorphia and refused to wear anything but sweatpants for fear of someone getting a glimpse that I may be, in fact, a young woman with an imperfect vagina. 

In my adult years, after a period of sexual anorexia and being single for nearly a decade, I sought out a pretty outstanding lineup of emotionally unavailable men (though I preferred to call them “mysterious and complex”) with infidelity issues, abusive impulses, and the uncanny ability to minimize, case build and gaslight their way out of all my feelings of hurt and disappointment. 

I had a partner who spent our grocery money on escorts.

I prioritized men’s pleasure and ignored my own.

I obsessed over how to tighten certain parts of my body.

I accepted the belief that porn was more satisfying than being intimate with me.

I minimized the sexual abuse I experienced.

I dated men who lied about their use of porn and infidelity.

I settled for much less than I deserved.

Even if pornography isn’t harming you or your relationships, it can harm women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks disproportionately. Websites like PornHub still host blatant abuse content that could constitute sex trafficking and revenge porn sites have caused victims to experience PTSD and suicidal ideation.

Denial & Desperation

When I confronted one of my partners about his use of porn and the negative impact it was having on me, at first he agreed he had a problem. He was extremely apologetic. He made grandiose promises he couldn’t keep. He cried. He said he wanted to change. He asked for help. Not even a few weeks later he came back to me with “testimonials” from his friends and family members to prove to me that what he was doing was normal, and that I, in fact, was an uptight prude who was stunting his sexual expression (and the cycle would continue). 

I became obsessed with trying to PROVE to my partner that he had a problem. I invaded his privacy. I spent money on counseling appointments that never happened. I missed work. I became chronically ill, depressed, and anxious. I neglected my own needs in a desperate pursuit of trying to prove to myself that what he was doing was harmful. I made it my job to try and fix him and I lost myself.

A part of me actually felt vindicated in this process. I liked the feeling of “being right” every time I found proof he was pursuing escorts and using porn in secret. It wasn’t until I got into recovery that I realized this cycle was also the result of trying to recreate a narrative from my childhood relationships that I was unworthy of love. Once I started healing I began to understand that the only proof I needed to leave a relationship was a sense that something wasn’t quite right.

Society’s Addiction : Minimization

I can’t even count how many times I have been told that this behavior and its associated negative consequences were all normal. Like I said, I think sometimes it *can* be for some people, but it was harming me (and the porn industry as a whole inflicts harm on women, with content often being produced that is non-consensual or underage). I have also been told “at least it’s just porn and not the real thing” and “all guys watch porn it’s not a big deal” when I know, as a woman in recovery, that like any other addictive process, it can often be progressive and become worse if left untreated. Pornography is also “the real thing” to the impaired brain. It CAN be a big deal, especially if you are missing work, losing sleep, ending relationships, pushing your partner’s boundaries, treating sexual partners like objects or property, seeking more extreme representations of sexual activity, or potentially exposing young children to your use. I’ve also heard “men just have more primal urges to satisfy” which doesn’t consider that acting on those primal urges in a compulsive way may be causing you and others pain. This argument also reinforces the toxic narrative that centers male desire as inherently violent and disallows many men from healing the trauma and sexual oppression they have experienced.

The Side Effects of Minimization

As a daughter of a porn addict, I turned inward. I normalized secret keeping and brushing things under the rug. I became an overachieving perfectionist. I isolated myself and started to feel responsible for conflicts between my parents. I stopped being able to trust my own experiences, had a lot of self-doubt and only a tiny shred of self-esteem. I kept quiet when I experienced sexual and physical abuse and resented my mother for not voicing her pain. As an adult I began to forget what I wanted, needed, and desired in my relationships. I lost interest in hobbies I used to love and instead became preoccupied with my partner’s behavior and lost focus on everything else. Ultimately, I became disengaged with my life. I feel that it is not what happened to me in my life that was traumatic, but the lack of “an empathic witness” as Dr. Peter Levine calls it. The minimization of my loved one’s use of porn caused me significant trauma as I wasn’t seen, heard or validated in my experience.

How the Stigma of Porn Addiction Keeps Us From Healing

“There are so many reasons porn addiction is stigmatized, from the puritanical underpinnings of US culture, to the idea that people who watch pornography are social deviants, the idea that folxs should not require stimulation beyond their personal relationships and themes of exploitation, domination, and violence commonly portrayed in pornographic media.” – Dr. Kristine De Jesus

I don’t fully share my own story of recovery, even with people who have earned the right to hear it, because I am very protective of what they might believe about my father. Despite his porn addiction he still cares about me and loves me in his own way, and I love him. But I have to be very careful because society’s view and relationship to porn is so insidious. It’s a world of extremes built on collective shame. You have the purity culture collective who view sex as dirty and deplorable, and you have the commodity collective where sex is something to be bought, sold and consumed. I think these beliefs act as petri-dishes for (often unconscious) shame cultivated by an inability to talk openly about what healthy intimacy and love might look like – in school, at home, and in relationships. This stigma prevents me from having many spaces to safely share my experience and continue healing.

Shattering Shame & Stigma Through Shared Stories

I think the more we normalize recovering from porn addiction the more we smash the stigma associated with it so more people can find hope and healing in their lives. I believe through sharing my experience with others they may gain clarity on what their boundaries, needs and desires are in a relationship and perhaps feel more empowered to put themselves first. Opening up about the impact my father’s porn addiction had on my life gave me the opportunity to explore what negative self-beliefs I was still holding on to and what intergenerational trauma I had to heal. 

I believe recovering-out-loud can also help those who are struggling with their consumption of pornography to be supported in healing old wounds and childhood experiences that may have driven them to compulsively self-soothe with it. Hurt people hurt people and while it wasn’t ok for me to be hurt as a child, it is my time to heal this cycle in my family. It stops with me. 

My Post Traumatic Growth

If it wasn’t for my father’s and, later, my partner’s porn addiction, I likely wouldn’t have gotten into recovery and wouldn’t be where I am in my own healing journey and relationship with myself today. This process of recovery has driven me to find communities of support, connected me to beloved spiritual mentors and a 12-step sponsor, pushed me to seek out the support of healing professionals and led me to discover a passion for helping others. This journey of healing also guided me towards a deeply meaningful long-term and intimate relationship built on a foundation of trust and respect with someone who truly loves me the way I long to be loved. By sharing my story, I hope to reach even just one person who needs to be seen, heard and validated in their experience as the loved one of a porn addict.

How to Recover From Porn Addiction & Heal From its Effects

“First and foremost talk to trusted helpers and ask for help. With that said, when seeking professional help be sure to seek a clinician who is familiar with porn addiction, as counselors are people too and fall prey to the same stigmatizing beliefs as the general population. This is especially true because most clinicians (masters and doctoral level) are not adequately trained (or trained at all) in addiction, and may be practicing outside of their scope of training.  It is okay to ask a potential therapist about their training in addiction being specific about both substance and process related addictions.” – Dr. Kristine De Jesus

You are not alone.

If you are like me and have ever tried to reach out for help or find similar stories about a loved one’s porn addiction or misuse, you have likely been called a prude or even told that you’re overreacting. You’ve probably read that the use of pornography is normal and a healthy part of any relationship. You may even feel like you’re the problem, that you’re too uptight, too controlling, and (my favorite) too “vanilla” (let’s reclaim that term to mean something delicious instead of a way to shame ourselves for being who we are, please).

First off, I want to assure you that you are NONE of these things and you DESERVE to be heard, seen and validated in your experience. 

  • Porn addiction is real.
  • Like any mood-altering activity there are some people who have a healthy relationship with pornography. 
  • You get to decide what your boundaries and needs are in your relationships.
  • Only 3-6% of people are known to be addicted to pornography in the US. I believe this is a massive underrepresentation due to the stigma and shame associated considering 35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography and 68 million search queries related to pornography are submitted each day.
  • It is progressive if left untreated.
  • It is not only defined by the frequency, duration and type of pornography one is using, but also by the negative consequences being experienced by the individual or their loved ones.
  • It is traumatic to children and this trauma can be intergenerational – causing them to experience and pass on issues with intimacy and the inability to trust themselves, increasing their likelihood of becoming a partner of a porn addict or an abusive partner, OR developing an unhealthy relationship to porn themselves.

Resources for Healing From A Loved One’s Porn Addiction

Being able to share your experience within a space that feels safe for you is integral to healing from the impact of a loved one’s porn addiction. Listed below are the steps that I took to heal.

  • Find a Therapist who specializes in sex and porn addiction support for loved ones. The SHE RECOVERS Partner BetterHelp* is an excellent option to be matched with a therapist who can help guide you, and they are currently offering 35% off the first month of therapy
  • Consider exploring trauma healing through somatic therapy
  • Engage in embodied movement practices such as trauma-informed SHE RECOVERS Dance and Yoga to reclaim and repair your relationship with yourself and your body
  • Join a professionally facilitated and peer supported gathering online like SHE RECOVERS Together or a SHE RECOVERS Sharing Circle in-person
  • Participate in a peer led support group focused on supporting loved ones of sex and love addiction such as S-ANON or COSA
  • Attend a recovery program for those impacted by a loved one’s addiction such as Hazelden Betty Ford’s Family Program 
  • Connect with a recovery coach, mentor or fellow traveler with shared lived and living experience
  • Transform your pain into purpose by contributing to, or volunteering for, organizations committed to bringing justice to survivors of sex trafficking and sexual abuse who have been harmed by the porn industry like the Justice Defense Fund

The stigma and chronic minimizing that surrounds porn addiction prevents me from recovering out-loud so I must remain anonymous. It is my hope that these words may reach even just one person who can feel a sense of understanding and belonging and know they are not alone, because nothing in my life has made me feel more alone and isolated than being the child and, later, a partner of a loved one addicted to porn.

*SHE RECOVERS® Foundation is grateful to BetterHelp for providing a $50,000 donation in support of our mission in 2022.

Contributor: Dr. Kristine De Jesus
kristinedejesus.com

Dr. Kristine De Jesus is an activist, educator, writer and higher education professional with over 20 years experience in addressing systemic oppression using the lens of intersectionality. She is the Founder of The Wellness Cooperative, a coaching and consulting firm dedicated to education related to issues of justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization. 

Taking steps to heal trauma is difficult.

Connecting one-on-one with a therapist may be a great place to start. SHE RECOVERS Partner BetterHelp provides a network of licensed, accredited, and experienced therapists who can help you with a range of issues including substance use, depression, anxiety, relationships, trauma, grief, loss, and more. BetterHelp is providing the SHE RECOVERS Community with a 35% discount on the first month of therapy. 

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