A good majority of the questions I receive in the www.AskDrElia.com site seem to revolve around the topic of sexual addiction and more specifically Internet pornography. How I became an expert in this arena goes back to my early years as a therapist, back in the days when the term “sexual addiction” didn’t even exist and was not taught in graduate school.
As a young intern working at a counseling center, while receiving my Ph.D. in psychology, I would see anyone that came to our center. One day a man in his 30s came in and asked for help with an addiction. Now my field of interest was addictions already, having written my dissertation on The Effects of Psychotherapy on Long-Term and Short-Term Members of Alcoholic Anonymous. I was pretty familiar with AA’s 12-Step recovery process. When I asked him what he was addicted to, he calmly replied: sex.
Having never heard of such an outrageous claim, my first thought was that it must be a hoax. I had a group of Greek friends who played practical jokes and I figured that they must have paid him to come to my office and pretend to have a “sexual addiction.” Luckily, I only thought about this possible scenario and didn’t break out in laughter (which would have been highly unprofessional).
Over the course of the next few months, this gentleman actually taught me all about sexual addiction and somehow (I’m sure the Spirit had much to do with it) I was able to help him get better. As a result he started referring to me all his other addict friends, and thus it began. When I started my own practice with an almost exclusive LDS clientele, I never imagined how valuable those early years of my internship would be.
As Internet use became widespread, so did the pornography addiction. In a typical year I would get four or five people with Word of Wisdom issues: alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, abuse of prescription medication and so on. The referrals for Internet pornography would come in at the rate of one per week. This is not a misprint. Every week, 52 weeks out of the year!
In those days, the church had not established an addiction recovery program like it has now. Fortunately, I came across a stake president who was a pioneer in helping members of his stake. Together we established a program that has grown over the years both in stature, and most importantly, success. He predicted the “scourge of the last days” will not be some exotic virus that kills millions. He told me that Internet pornography will eventually cover the entire planet, because at some point everybody would have access to the Internet.
The success or failure of overcoming any addiction lies in the prerequisite admission from the person that he/she knows that they have an addiction. Following such an admission the path to complete and long-lasting recovery is as follows:
- Weekly or sometimes daily attendance (depending on the severity) to an addiction recovery group like the LDS Church’s. If someone chooses to go outside of the church, it is important that any 12-Step program they attend has a similar definition of sexual sobriety. For example, Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) defines sobriety as “no sex outside of marriage,” which would include no self-stimulation. Not every program espouses such a belief. Going to a program that conflicts with our belief system will create problems in the long term. Addicts will usually choose the easier path and therefore are likely to act out again.
- Frequent meetings with an ecclesiastical leader, like a bishop or stake president. Initially that might mean meeting weekly, but eventually it could be as needed. Having worked with many who’ve had a disciplinary action as a result of their addictive behavior, it is important for a recovering addict to stay close to their spiritual advisor.
- It is vitally important that the person the addict chooses to work with one-on-one is an expert in this field. In other words, if I was diagnosed with a tumor, I wouldn’t go see a podiatrist just because he has an “MD” after his name — I would seek an oncologist who deals with tumors on a daily basis. Likewise, just because someone has a Ph.D. in psychology doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to accurately treat a pornography/sexual addiction. The spirit of discouragement is much higher for someone who seriously sought help and ended up not getting the right help, only to fall again…
Having treated hundreds of individuals for a variety of addictions over the past 20 years, I can tell you that pornography addiction is the most difficult to overcome. If you recognize yourself or someone you love struggling with this addiction, seek help now! The longer the wait, the stronger the addiction will become and the harder it will be to overcome. The collateral damage to those around you can be devastating. Finding someone who has the expertise and works with the Spirit is the key. I promise you that the rate of success will be remarkable and the addict, the family and posterity will be blessed forever as a result.
Dr. Elia Gourgouris is a nationally known speaker, relationship coach, and the president of LDSCoaching.com. With over 20 years of experience, he has inspired thousands of individuals and couples to find greater happiness and fulfillment, both in their careers and their personal lives. He holds a degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Gourgouris speaks to groups around the country regarding women’s issues, self esteem, communications skills, and relationships. He is also a favorite presenter at both BYU and BYU-ID Education Weeks, and Time Out for Women conferences. He is the author of “DTR: What You Need to Know Before You Get Married” and he has an upcoming CD entitled “The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Just Surviving to Thriving!” He and his wife, Sona, live near Boulder, Colorado, with their children.