The last of our six basic action steps involves understanding and address­ing the impact pornography use has had on your sexual attitudes and behaviors. As we discussed in chapter 2, exposure to porn often occurs early in a person’s life, so many porn users learned about sex from porn instead of appropriate sex education sources and real-life experiences. As a result, you may have developed sexual habits and patterns that work with porn but don’t work in real intimate relationships.

If you have been involved in porn for a long time or used it every­day, it’s likely that the way you think about sex and the sexual behaviors you desire have been significantly influenced by your contact with porn. Unfortunately, pornography is self-serving—it encourages a continuing involvement with it. The sexual messages in porn don’t help the user de­velop skills for breaking away from it and experiencing healthy, intimate sexual experiences with a real partner. Even when you rid your environ­ment of porn and take other steps to get it out of your life, you will have a difficult time making progress if porn’s messages still influence your sex life. Even if those messages are just in your head.

Sexual attitudes and behaviors don’t miraculously transform once you’ve stopped using porn. You’ll need to make an active effort to dis­cover new ways to define sex, change the images you associate with sex, and learn new approaches to self-pleasuring and sex with a partner. Ex­amining and shifting your attitudes and behaviors about sex is time well spent, because it’s much easier to remain porn-free when you have satis­fying sexual alternatives to take the place of porn.

There are numerous ways you can work on developing new attitudes and understandings of sex. You can read articles and books on healthy sexuality (see suggested readings in the Resources section), take a sex education class offered in your community, or consult with a sexual ad­dictions recovery counselor, certified sex therapist, or sexuality educator. You may also want to talk about healthy sexuality with a trusted friend whose sexual values and conduct you admire, or discuss sexuality con­cerns with leaders in your faith or spiritual group who have positive at­titudes about sex.

It can also help to become familiar with the conditions that need to be in place for healthy sexual experiences and positive emotional inti­macy. The article, “The Maltz Hierarchy of Sexual Interaction,” posted on our Web site, www. HealthySex. com, and referenced in the Resources section, can help you accomplish this. You’ll be able to recover from porn quicker and more thoroughly when you have a good sense of the differ­ences between porn-driven sexuality and healthy sexuality.

The following chart highlights key differences between the sexual attitudes and behaviors porn promotes and those that exist in healthy sexual intimacy. Pay attention to any concepts that surprise you or that you would like to better understand and address.

DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE?

Porn-related Sex

Healthy Sex

Sex is using someone

Sex is caring for someone

Sex is “doing to” someone

Sex is sharing with a partner

Sex is a performance for others

Sex is a private experience

Sex is compulsive

Sex is a natural drive

Sex is a public commodity

Sex is a personal treasure

Sex is watching others

Sex is about genuine connection

Sex is separate from love

Sex is an expression of love

Sex can be hurtful

Sex is nurturing

Sex is emotionally distant

Sex is emotionally close

Sex can happen anytime

Sex requires certain conditions

Sex is unsafe

Sex is safe

Sex can be degrading

Sex is always respectful

Sex can be irresponsible

Sex is approached responsibly

Sex is devoid of morality

Sex requires morals and values

Sex lacks healthy communication

Sex requires healthy communication

Sex involves deception

Sex requires honesty

Sex is based on visual imagery

Sex involves all the senses

Sex has no ethical limits

Sex has ethical boundaries

Sex requires a double life

Sex enhances who you really are

Sex compromises your values

Sex reflects your values

Sex feels shameful

Sex enhances self-esteem

Sex is impulse gratification

Sex is lasting satisfaction

Besides developing a healthier way to conceptualize sex, this last action step also involves stopping sexual behaviors that perpetuate porn use. Recovering porn addicts often ask: Should I quit masturbating? Should I stop having sex with a partner? They worry that engaging in cer­tain sexual activities will reinforce old porn-related ways of approaching sex that pull them right back into using porn again. And they want to know how and when they should begin expressing their natural sexual drives and impulses in positive ways. Rather than leave it up to chance, they wisely realize that their success in recovery may depend on knowing ahead of time how to respond to their sexual feelings and urges.

Decisions about sexual expression vary from person to person. What is appropriate for one person may not be for another. Given the power­ful lure of porn, and its strong link to compulsive sexual behavior, we recommend that you seek the advice of a trained counselor in figuring out what is best for you to do. A trained counselor can take into con­sideration the nature and extent of your porn problem as well as your personal lifestyle, religious/spiritual beliefs, and treatment history, and then help you decide on a safe and productive strategy for dealing with your sexual feelings.

If your sexuality has been deeply entangled with your porn use, you may want to consider taking a break from sex altogether, or from cer­tain types of sexual expression for a while. Some type of break from sex is often recommended, especially for people with sexually compulsive behavior and/or interests in risky, illegal, and dangerous sexual activity. Many twelve-step, faith-based, and sexual addiction treatment programs strongly advocate an initial period of sexual abstinence, which we refer to as a “vacation from sex.” This break from sex, lasting anywhere from several weeks to several months or more, can be extremely beneficial, if not necessary, for someone who is struggling to overcome a porn addic­tion. Knowing that sex in any form is off limits for a while can help a person to create a clear and firm boundary. “The three-month break I took from sex was a lifesaver,” Ed told us. “Because I knew I just wasn’t going to go there, I wasn’t plagued by thoughts about sex and porn.”

A vacation from sex can quickly put a halt to negative patterns of sexual expression that are centered around and contaminated by porn. It can give you a chance to realize you can survive just fine without porn – fueled sex, and that your sense of yourself as a sexual person extends well beyond your former relationship with porn. Following the break from sex, you can learn new ways of approaching touch and sex that are free from porn’s destructive influence.

Some former porn users are able to continue having sexual expe­riences while quitting porn without it harming their recovery. For the most part, these are people who have already established highly plea­surable patterns of sexual behavior that have nothing to do with porn. Their sexual interests are not compulsive and do not involve fantasies or thoughts of porn. For example, Derek, a thirty-five-year-old bus driver, is recovering from a sporadic porn problem that he had developed just in the last few years when his marriage was strained. “I prefer fantasizing about my wife when I masturbate and when we make love,” he said. “If I were to stop having sex now, just when we’re healing our relationship, it would seem silly and unnecessary.”

It takes time to undo old porn-related concepts and sexual behav­iors and replace them with healthier approaches to sex. This sexual­ity-focused action step helps get you started and moving in a positive direction. Taking this step helps you avoid sexual issues that, when left unaddressed, can undermine your recovery efforts. As we will discuss more in chapter 11, “A New Approach to Sex,” a deep and lasting recov­ery from porn involves developing new sexual habits that decrease your interest in porn and expand your ability to experience sexual pleasure in new ways. With patience and practice, you can develop a new approach to sexual arousal that enhances your self-esteem and ability to be sexu­ally intimate and loving with a partner.

T

he six basic action steps presented in this chapter help you build a strong bridge so you can move away from the world of porn. Once you start taking these steps, you’ll be able to avoid common recovery obstacles and cultivate new attitudes and behaviors that increase your chances of success in quitting porn. But it is important to recognize that these six steps are not the entire healing process. As we’ll see in up­coming chapters, porn recovery also includes knowing how to deal with setbacks, address underlying problems caused by porn, heal a wounded relationship, and develop new sex and intimacy skills.