A short time ago, the Grand Rapids Press reported on the “shocking and devastating” arrest of 21 men caught in our community during a single sex sting. As therapists who specialize in working with men on a variety of issues including sexual addiction, we’re afraid that what we’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg.

A July 2007 Time Magazine article estimated there to be 16 million Americans addicted to sex, the majority being men. Many will never get to the point of infidelity, use of prostitutes, or having sexually explicit conversations with actual persons, much less someone underage, via chat rooms.

By means of video technology and the internet, pornography has become a multi-billion dollar industry. According to Internet Filter Review, in 2006 the revenues of the sex and porn industry worldwide were 97 billion greater than the revenues of Microsoft the NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball combined.

At least, pornographic images contribute to the objectification of women leading many men to believe they can act out sexual fantasies outside a caring relationship by viewing porn on the internet, participating in sexually explicit chat rooms, seeing prostitutes, or having an affair.

At worst, pornography, especially hardcore porn, further removes sexuality from the realm of care and respect and reinforces the normalization of sexual violence toward women.

At the Men’s Resource Center, we often see men lost in the cyclone of sexual addiction. Have you ever met anyone who told you that they made a choice to become addicted? It is unlikely you have because addiction doesn’t work that way.

It is crucial for communities, ours included, to recognize and acknowledge the role of pornography and the internet in the development of sexual addictions. Clearly, sexual acting out behavior that threatens innocent and especially underage persons needs to be addressed. We must work with sexual addicts before they reach the point of no return.

Many men begin using pornography as a distraction from their loneliness, sense of isolation, or feelings of inadequacy. These motivations begin a pattern of use much like how someone begins using/abusing alcohol or drugs. Participating in the behavior provides relief from the stress or anxiety that plagues them. Although many are married or involved in a significant relationship, this doesn’t guarantee intimacy skills, nor protect from addiction. Through internet pornography, they can pursue euphoria and false intimacy, which can distract and give pleasure in the moment, but fails to give the satisfaction and experience of closeness that an actual relationship provides.

There are also men who may simply be curious about internet pornography and who are involved in what they would describe as a satisfying intimate partner relationship. These men can also develop a pattern of use that involves many hours per week and takes them away from their partners. This pattern of use, and the deception involved in hiding it, becomes a toxin to the user and his intimate relationships.

Whether a man begins using internet pornography as a distraction or type of medication, or whether he begins more out of curiosity, the process can escalate. Men can move from seeking some type of connection or mood altering experience on the internet into an addictive pattern. The process begins to take on a life of its own. Weekend use can move to daily use and start to create problems with self-worth, health, employment, legal and financial issues.

Sexual addiction, like an addiction to gambling, is considered a “process addiction,” in which a person, instead of ingesting a substance, is involved in an “acting out process” that provides a significant neuro-chemical high characterized by preoccupation and increased acting out in spite of risky consequences.

As with substance addictions, process addictions involve a hijacking of the brain where the neuro-chemical changes that take place result in a compromised ability to make rational decisions based on outcomes or consequences

While most sexual addicts who struggle with pornography may not escalate to committing sexual assault, or even to sexually explicit chat room conversations, they need to become aware of the potential danger AND invited to receive help. Unfortunately, admitting one has an addiction is often viewed as an excuse or a cop-out from responsibility. Additionally, a social stigma is often attached to people who admit to addiction problems.

We believe that education and treatment is key. The insidious presence of a sexual addiction in one’s life without treatment will eventually destroy everything in its path. Relationships fail, work suffers, and individuals begin drowning in shame and guilt. The journey into recovery requires commitment, strength, and honesty. We have experienced men from all walks of life crack their denial, understand their problem, and open their heart and mind to a more loving and intimate life. Although the hardest and the biggest step is the first step; one moves from isolation, shame, and chaos into a therapeutic community offering hope, joy and restoration.

We view sexual addiction as a reality to be accepted and treated. Men who struggle with this addiction and problems with pornography don’t get better by denying the problem. They get better by becoming accountable, admitting to the addiction, and doing something about it. It is our hope that men who are struggling will step forward and face their own sexual addiction problem – not just for their well-being but for their family’s and society’s as well.