Attachment Wounds and Pornography/Erotica
One of my passions in the field of mental health is attachment and attachment wounding. Attachment is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as, "the emotional bond between a human infant or a young nonhuman animal and its parent figure or caregiver". Attachment wounding is when that primary caregiver relationship is not secure. This is known as insecure attachment, when a children is not seen, known, and attended to most of the time. No parent is perfect. Adam Young, LPC, says this best in his Podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves. He says that what is necessary are "good enough" caregivers, meaning caregivers who tend to needs most of the time and more importantly repair any hurt when, not if, it happens. There are different types of insecure attachment, as that exploration is not the aim of this post, I will direct you to Adam's fantastic resource to learn more about attachment styles, https://adamyoungcounseling.com/free-documents/.
Attachment wounds naturally lead us to other sources of connection as the intended source, our caregivers, were not reliable. Once such source is pornography and erotica. Jay Stringer makes some fantastic connections between pornography, our past, and how it informs our current arousal patterns/template in his book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way To Healing. I highly recommend this resource for more insight into your arousal and history.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, to be blunt, there is a tendency to think addictions and unwanted behaviors develop in a vacuum. They do not. Between temperament/genetics and environment we are predisposed to developing certain struggles. Pornography and erotica addition are no different. If you struggle with one or both of these addictions, I would encourage you to examine your past. How were you tended to as a child? Were your needs being met? What need does pornography and erotica meet for you now? This is critical to develop healthy relationships and patterns. When your arousal is linked to pornography and erotica that will become what you attach to. Sexual release is meant to bond you to your spouse and the same chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins), will release when your orgasm is instead to pornographic material. If we examine a healthy lifestyle it isn't hard to admit that being bonded to stimulus incapable of reciprocating love, warmth, and connection is a harmful process. Worse yet, as there is no true satisfaction in this stimulus as we were designed for reciprocal relationship, it is common to need more and more serious types of material to become aroused in the same powerful way. A sojourn into romance novels can quickly become a full blown slavery to erotic novels. A peak at a nude picture can turn into a spiral into dark pornography tunnels online. You are not alone in this, please know that.
I would love for women to note that this is not just a problem for men. I hope to liberate women with this idea. As a woman who struggles with attachment to romance novels that is unhealthy, I want to normalize that this is not just a male problem. Women are vulnerable to pornographic material as much as men.
So, what can you do?
Find a counselor to talk to. You're going to need to start exploring the whys of this addiction/unwanted behavior. Know that it will go deeper than you think, so you will need to go deep for healing.
Come clean to those who are close to you. Find at least one person in your close circle to talk to. Confess what's been going on. The more we keep these behaviors in the darkness the bigger they become. Walking toward the light is where freedom is found. Healing is found in relationship.
Examine your patterns of using. When are you using pornography and/or erotica? What are the circumstances that trigger you? Common ones are stress, fights with those closest to us, powerlessness, and the nighttime. We are more vulnerable in certain times and situations. Find out yours and look for ways to meet that need differently.
Find other ways to cope. Come up with a menu of coping strategies that meet the need you're looking for by turning to pornography and/or erotica. Stressed...what else could be helpful? Common stress relievers are exercise, soothing practices (like a shower or bath), and hobbies that are totally different than your usual occupation. Disconnected...who can you turn to? If you're married, you need to turn to your spouse. To be frank, often when you go to use instead of go to your spouse it is a bid to take care of yourself instead of leaning on them. It might be less of a bother or you may hate to ask for them to fulfill your needs. You HAVE to bridge that gap and reach out. Again, healing is found in relationship. If you are single, find a community or turn to your family for connection.
Surrender. Here's the thing, pornography and/or erotica give you the illusion that you are in control. You aren't. Thankfully, as a believer, and if you are one too, the God of the universe is. He can hold everything together...you don't have to grasp at shame inducing straws to do so. You must surrender to Him. If you are not a believer you must grip that you cannot control everything and trying to find control in using will go nowhere healthy. I know, this is a tall order, so start small and moment by moment.
My final parting thought for you is to have compassion on yourself. You did not get to your dependency overnight and you will not heal overnight either. Please find the freedom in noticing that you are not a horrible person for using...your brain was primed for connection. Bless that desire. However, since it was not met by caregivers, you are now meeting it on your own with the false intimacy of pornography and/or erotica. Noticing and working on this pattern is the first step to changing. You can do this...with help, mercy, and truth. You were made for relational intimacy, don't settle for anything less.