When I first meet a man struggling with porn addiction, he often uses the following introduction: “Hi, I am Ted Smith, and I am a porn addict.”
First adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, addiction groups universally utilize the fill-in-the-blank addict label.
I hate it.
The “Porn Addict” Label and Shame
There are two reasons for my disgust with this name tag. The first concerns the stigma it places on an individual. Like a black mark, a stigma can crush self-esteem, causing shame and embarrassment. And shame often perpetuates addictive behaviors.
Counselor and researcher Jay Stringer says: “According to the data from my research, men were almost 300 times more likely to seek out pornography for every unit of shame they felt about such behavior. For women, the numbers were almost double, with those in my sample being 546 times as likely to do so. It must be said that shame, not pleasure, drives pornography use.”
The “addict” label also can hinder someone from seeking treatment.
The “Porn Addict” Label and Neuroscience
The second reason is the label Porn Addict is inaccurate. The central problem facing anyone with an addiction problem is they have an addictive brain. Dr. Daniel Amen is a world-renowned psychologist who specializes in brain health. He has this to say about the addictive brain.
“The brain’s reward system is an intricate network of brain circuits and neurotransmitters that work together to drive you to seek out rewarding things (such as food and sex) while regulating self-control, so you don’t overdo it,” says Dr. Amen, who is a 12-time NY Times best-selling author. “In people with addictions, however, the brain’s drive circuits dominate, and the self-control circuit doesn’t work hard enough. The result is a lack of self-restraint and, for some people, addictive behaviors.”
With all this said, should individuals who struggle with porn addiction ignore their condition to avoid the label? Of course not. They must be responsible for their poor choices and learn to develop impulse control to manage their addictive behaviors.
They also need to recognize their identity is not based on the disorder, but that is what the label porn addict does – reinforces a negative identity.
From Addiction to Identity
In his best-selling book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes if you want to achieve lasting behavioral changes, such as removing addictive behaviors, what is required is a true change in your identity.
After being sexually abused as a child, Richard felt trapped by pornography addiction. But he refused to let it define him. “What defined me was the day I held my first-born child. I realized I had the chance to get it right and to undo the damage I had received as a child,” he said. “That defines me.”
Therefore, instead of labeling yourself as a porn addict, your new identity could be one of the following:
- I have an addictive brain
- I don’t view porn
- I am a child of God
- I seek to be an individual with integrity
- I am like everyone else, a broken individual
- I strive to do the right thing
Sometimes minor changes such as stating your true identity can help you succeed in managing pornography addiction.
Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m a sex and porn addict.
One of the reasons traditionally in twelve step groups we identify this way is explained in this line from the AA big book:
“We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.”
An addict has a brain that works differently, or at least has been taught to work differently. My understanding is that after years of sobriety, an addict’s brain can still be identified as distinct from that of a non-addict.
However, many Christ-centered groups have introductions more along the lines of “Hi, I’m Sam. I’m a beloved child of God, and I struggle with sexual sin and addiction.” This may be more appropriate for some groups, and I think does a good job of clarifying our primary identity as adopted children of the living God.
But while it is true that shame is the primary motivator of addictive behavior, plenty of addicts start out in the program with pride in their heart, and I think it’s reasonable to claim that many of us began the program because we had to, not because we wanted to. While shame is our actual problem, there’s no way we can possible see that until we take the first step in admitting we have a problem. And I think taking the problem to heart and identifying with it is an important way to do that.
So I agree that my addiction doesn’t define me, but in some way I will always identify as an addict in this life. And it is because I am an addict that I need a savior, and it is because of my savior that my identity is in Christ.
Thanks for sharing your comment, I appreciate your thoughts.
When a person is familiar with the literature for groups like SA or SAA they discover that it teaches that shame and resentment fuel addictive behavior. Many will introduce themselves to their group by giving their name and stating, “I am a grateful, recovering sex addict.” Addiction is clearly described in program literature as “the Problem,” not as a shameful, defeating label. Many men find their way into Recovery groups because they know that telling the truth in small group ministry at their local church would very probably be disastrous. I found my way to SA through a CSAT at 56 years of age. These Recovery groups are relatively homogenous and thoroughly life-giving. I thought about responding to this article for a good while before writing. CE is a helpful tool in fighting porn, but so are groups like SA or SAA. The characterization of them in this article is, based on personal experience, unhelpful, and my concern is that anyone might be turned off to a resource that has helped millions to walk in the light and integrity. Additionally, my identity is that I am in Christ, but my experience is that without a connection to others that enables me to be thoroughly honest, my addiction will manifest unabated.
Hi Bob! Thanks for sharing your comment.