For some people who are working to overcome chronic, long-term porn problems, it’s not enough to simply become aware of and avoid obvi­ous relapse triggers. They require a more potent strategy for preventing themselves from sliding back into using porn again. As we discussed in chapter 2, for a large number of porn users, their involvement began in childhood or adolescence when they were in emotionally stressful situa­tions. As adults their attachment to porn may still be fueled by the confu­sion and stress they felt when they were youngsters.

When this is the case, chronic porn users can help themselves prevent future relapses by addressing the connections between their unresolved childhood issues and their recurring desires to use porn. Nick struggled with chronic relapsing during the first few years of his recovery from porn. “At first, all I could see was the outward manifestation of my prob­lem, which was the sexual attraction. That’s all I thought I had to deal with. But then I realized that my continuing interest in porn must be due to something else that was more significant.”

With the help of his pastor and men’s recovery group, Nick figured out that the driving force behind his recurrent porn use had to do with a profound need to feel adequate and accepted by others. “In the third grade, kids began to tease me mercilessly. I felt worthless, terribly inferior, and ashamed of myself. I found relief in reading lurid paperbacks and looking through porn magazines. Porn was my attempt to fill something in me that was missing. Whenever I felt inadequate and different from others, I’d fall back on porn, and it just became a deep-seated pattern throughout my life. Now, since making this connection to my unhappy childhood, I’m a lot less interested in porn.”

Like Nick, Laura has also been able to reduce her vulnerability to porn by understanding her deeper psychological issues. “I’m now ex­ploring the origin of my attraction to porn in therapy,” she said. “I’ve mostly been drawn to written porn about risky sex in which a woman is weak and physically threatened. It’s pretty clear that my attraction to this scenario has something to do with how powerless I felt when my broth­ers molested me when I was a young girl.”

Analyzing the types of porn fantasies you are most attracted to is a useful way to learn more about the deeper issues that may be fueling your porn relationship. You may find it helpful, especially with the assistance of a trained mental health professional, to answer the following questions:

• What type of story line and plot are you primarily attracted to in porn?

• What are the characters like, and how and why do they relate to each other in the way they do?

• Is there anything about your ideal porn fantasy that relates to unmet needs or painful events that you experienced in your past?

Ethan told us, “My desire for porn greatly diminished after I took a close look at the porn fantasies I’d treasured since I was eight years old.

They were all about a woman being degraded, humiliated, and treated roughly by a man. No matter what he does to her, the woman thinks the guy is great and doesn’t want to leave him. When I really looked at the fantasies, I discovered they weren’t about sex, at all. They were about how angry, powerless, and insecure I felt as a child with my mom gone a lot.”

As Ethan explored the relationship dynamics in his old porn fanta­sies, he saw that they defied common sense and were in contradiction to what he really wanted in an intimate partner. “The kind of woman I wanted as a kid doesn’t exist,” he said. “Any woman who would stick around for that kind of treatment isn’t a person I really want to be with. Trying to live out this kind of fantasy is no longer a direction I want to go in real life—I’ve lost interest in it. These days, I’m more interested in reality and pursuing a healthy intimate relationship.”

W

hen a relapse happens, it can generate feelings of disappointment, frustration, confusion, failure, and shame. But, when you use a relapse experience to learn more about yourself and what underlies and triggers your relationship with porn, it can actually help you move for­ward in your pursuit of a porn-free life. Corey wisely told us, “A relapse is only a failure if you let it be. I’ve learned that a relapse can be seen as merely a temporary step back. Regardless of how disappointed you may feel about it at the time, it always has something important to teach you.”