Why I looked at pornography and why it’s hard to stop
It is easy to see why pornography is interesting.
It makes all the right feelings jump up out of their hiding places and dance in ways that are rarely available otherwise.
From simple arousal to the most exciting fantasies, pornography makes a case that is hard to deny.
It feels good.
It also blocks out all that feels bad.
From a biological standpoint, when we feel aroused we don’t have the capacity to feel something else.
We just feel aroused.
Also, the human form is quite beautiful.
Whether looking at pornography or our very real, loving and committed partner, the inherent beauty of the human form is hardwired into our minds.
Sometimes it was a way to “get back” at my wife for something she did or said or didn’t do or whatever. It was a very passive aggressive way for me to hurt her without her knowing, because I wasn’t going to tell her that I did it and get in trouble.
Each of these emotions that we are evoking through pornography use are powerful enough to push aside other emotions that we are seeking to avoid.
This is what I call buffering. Buffering is placing a lower friction emotion between us and the time it takes to feel.
Every time we buffer, we are seeking completeness. We are seeking satisfaction.
Unfortunately, most of us feel worse afterward.
Just like the drug user who has told themselves and others that they will stop and the binge eater who can’t help himself we end up beating ourselves up for something that feels out of our immediate control, but that we have vowed to stop doing.
So, let’s talk about buffering. What is it, why do we do it, how does this work in the brain, and how can we stop?
What is buffering?
Buffering is what we do when we are avoiding our feelings and our life. Buffering is an act of indulgence that is designed to entertain or occupy our time as an escape from our current circumstances, feelings and/or thoughts. A really simple example of this is playing Clash of Clans instead of having a conversation with our family at the dinner table.
We’ve all seen them, an entire family staring at their phones in the booth at Texas Roadhouse.
They are engaging in a low grade, low value, low cost entertainment rather than sit momentarily in silence until someone comes up with something to talk about.
Why do we buffer?
People don’t like to be uncomfortable. That is why public speaking is one of the greatest fears of almost anyone. Feeling uncomfortable is, well, uncomfortable.
We buffer to create a zone of comfort as we slide through the time it takes to get to the end of the situation.
Unfortunately, that also means that we give up something as well. Adam Sandler made a movie called “Click” in 2006 that has him in possession of a “universal remote” that “controls the universe”. His at least.
As the movie progresses, Sandler’s character fast forwards through parts of his life that he finds boring. Eventually, he comes to the end of his life and in a very poignant moment wonders what he missed by all the fast forwarding.
In a way, that is what we do when we buffer. We go through our life not appreciating the moments around us.
That family, the one in the restaurant, my guess is that the mom and dad had very different visions for what their family dinners would look like. Maybe they think, “when the kids are older and have more interesting lives, then we will talk at the table.”
When we buffer, in a sense we are trying to fast forward through the boring, hard, uncomfortable parts of our life.
Sometimes this includes things that, in the long run, can be harmful to our body, family, relationships, and mental health.
We buffer to ease discomfort. That isn’t always a bad thing, but it can be.
How does this work in the brain?
When we buffer, we are seeking some of the brain’s “happy” chemicals. Dopamine, serotonin and others.
It basically works like this:
Standing in line alone> feeling lonely> scroll facebook> get a little chemical hit.
In isolation that would probably be fine, and no one would have any negative impact from it.
Most of what we do, though, is not done in isolation. In the case of pornography, there is cognitive dissonance to worry about. That is the situation where you believe one thing but do something else.
Here is an example of what happens in when I used pornography in the past:
Wife is gone for the evening and kids are in bed> feeling lonely> scroll news sites> get a chemical hit> keep scrolling, find something a little racy> get a little bigger hit> start down the rabbit hole> bigger hits> end session> (this is where cognitive dissonance comes in) think, “I shouldn’t have done that> feel disappointment> think, “I have to tell my wife, she’ll be upset”> feel fear> think, “I have to stop this, this isn’t who I want to be”> feel frustration> think, “What if she leaves me this time?”> feel fear.
There I was believing that viewing pornography is not ok, yet I was still doing it.
But my brain, wanting to help me not feel lonely took me down the path that I had built to get those dopamine and other chemicals going.
In doing that, in avoiding loneliness, I was forced into a number of other feelings that could arguably be deemed worse.
Our brain wants to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and save energy at all cost. Sometimes that is a good thing. But we need to recognize that avoiding pain can create additional pain that needs to be dealt with.
Had I just felt lonely, without seeking to avoid it, I would have been better off by far.
I would have avoided additional personal pain and avoided creating a situation where my spouse might feel pain, my family might feel disappointment and so on.
Pornography use is just another buffer, like food, phone use, video games, even alcohol. For those who want to stop it is a matter of understanding the path that they are traveling, interrupting that path and creating a new one.
I stopped using pornography by doing just that. I would love to help you do the same. Sign up for a free mini session and lets talk about your path forward.