Set aside an hour when you won’t be distracted by anything else to answer the following questions:

1. What problems has porn caused me in the past?

2. What problems am I experiencing today because of my porn use?

3. How has porn changed me in ways I don’t like?

4. How does my porn use hurt my intimate partner and others?

5. What problems could occur in the future if I continue to use porn?

We recommend writing down your answers on a piece of paper. Keep the answers nearby, perhaps in your wallet, on your desk, in a nightstand, or next to your computer so you can access them easily. Reread your answers frequently, especially during times you feel the urge to use porn and could easily forget your commitment to quit. Add to and elaborate on your answers as you become more aware of the negative consequences of porn in your life. You can also discuss your responses with a counselor or a trusted friend.

Many people who are successful in quitting porn tell us that they fre­quently think about the painful consequences their porn use has caused, both for them personally and for the people they care about. Ethan, for example, often reflects on a specific incident in his life that was particu­larly painful and humiliating. Several years ago habitual use of both mari­juana and porn had led him to act out his favorite porn scenarios. These sexual practices involved tying up and sometimes urinating on female sexual partners. He thought that the women he had sex with were accept­ing of his behavior, but after acting out one of his porn fantasies, a girl­friend became extremely upset and cautioned other women in their small town to avoid him. One day when he was in a busy store, a friend of the girlfriend’s loudly chastised him for his sexual behavior. “I was stunned to have my private life broadcast publicly,” he said. “I felt shocked and hu­miliated. But it made me realize how dangerous my sexuality had become and how emotionally disconnected I was from myself and my sexual part­ners. As uncomfortable as it is, I regularly conjure up this memory. It’s an important reminder to myself why I no longer want to use porn.”

Laura, a thirty-five-year-old former porn user, thinks back to the most frightening situations her porn habit led her into in the past. “I had developed a habit of watching pay-per-view porn in my hotel room when I was on business trips,” she said. “I’d get sexually excited and mastur­bate to it. After a while this stopped being enough to satisfy me. I began following up my porn watching with picking up men in the hotel lounge for a one-night stand. Porn gave me the ideas sexually, and I wasn’t con­tent with just having sex with myself. Things got pretty scary. One man gave me a sexually transmitted disease and another got physically violent with me. I constantly remind myself of how bad things got and remem­ber that sick feeling of fearing for my life.”

Porn users also develop their motivation to quit by thinking about all the negative consequences that could happen in the future if they continue using porn. Identifying and thinking about possible—even likely—prob – lems down the road can be a powerful way to strengthen your motivation to stick to your goal of quitting porn. Examples of possible future con­sequences include: getting caught using or hiding porn; developing un­healthy sexual interests; losing an important intimate relationship; losing a job; losing respect of friends, family, or coworkers; being publicly humili­ated; becoming involved in harmful, illegal, or abusive sexual behavior; ex­posing children to the harmful influence of porn; becoming addicted and not being able to live without porn; and getting in trouble with the law. You may be able to identify other possible problems from your porn use.

Bill, a thirty-five-year-old stockbroker, developed a strong interest in quitting porn because he was tired of living with the fear of being caught. “I would be masturbating to porn in my office in a public building, and even though my door was locked and the windows were closed, I knew someone walking around the building could get up close to the window, peek through the blinds and see me. At home I was always afraid that at any minute my wife would catch me, or a police officer would knock on my door and arrest me for the pictures of children I had downloaded on my computer. I knew I could face charges that would put me in jail. All the worrying about getting caught was making me ill.”

When Alex was nineteen and heavily into porn, he looked ahead to the future and could see that porn was eventually going to cause him problems in forming a serious relationship and getting married. He said, “The only purpose for pornography is to develop sexual feelings that you’re directing at someone other than your wife or girlfriend. I knew in a few years I’d want to get married. I just had a sense that I needed to stop using the stuff. I didn’t want to have a wife and a family, and then be hiding in my office somewhere with these fantasies.” As a young man Alex also worried that continuing to use porn was going to seriously harm his ability to be sexually healthy and able to act as a leader in his spiritual community. “I came to a point in my life where the complications that came with pornography far outweighed the pleasure I got out of it. Sure, it’s very pleasurable. But, I came to see that using it would only hurt my relationships and warp my sense of what sex is really all about. I attribute much of my recovery success to the fact that I remember this and con­stantly remind myself that porn is capable of ruining my life.”

Whether you focus on past, present, or future problems to get past denial and stay motivated to quit porn, you may find this exercise will cause some degree of emotional discomfort for you. Rather than avoid this dis­comfort, you should keep in mind that it can actually help to strengthen and sustain your resolve. A moderate amount of emotional distress is needed in order for anyone to successfully make a major change in their life: not enough emotional upset, it’s hard to stay motivated; too much, we can shut down and go back to old habits in order to sooth ourselves and cope.