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Child Pornography On The Internet

Question:

In a nutshell, about 4 years ago (I will sound vague since I’ve mostly forgotten the exact dates) I progressed from legal-aged pornography to under-aged pornography on the internet. I wish I could recall how I made the jump because I don’t believe that I went on the internet looking for it. Regardless, I was there and I must say that the mental "high" was very intoxicating. I’ve never in my life ever dreamed of having sex with a child but there was something about the allure of the internet that made it all the more exotic.

My early life was less than stellar as the Navy (early to late ’70s) kept moving our family around every 2 years. After a while, I started to withdraw as fewer available friends my own age were available and I started losing the capacity to fit in. Self-esteem didn’t seem to develop for me either. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago working as a sales manager in a luggage company that I finally broke that barrier. However, even with that accomplishment, I was still a very lonely person as I didn’t get out and associate much. Fortunately, fate stepped in one day and a close friend, now my girlfriend, saved me from drowning in a hot tub. As it happened, she also saved me from the despair of living alone. It was increasingly depressing to not have someone to share my life with. My eyes opened to a whole new world at that point. The internet became unimportant and my otherwise frivolous activities ceased and I started focusing my attentions on love and family and have never regretted the change.

Unfortunately, in forgetting the internet, I also forgot there were still pictures stashed on one computer. This fact came to me as a revelation on February 8th, 2005. Regrettably, I fell asleep on the sofa that night. At 6:00am the following morning, I was rudely awakened by 2 individuals from Homeland Security. After panicking me to near suicide, I learned to live with myself again and move forward with my life as nearly 2.5 years had passed with no word from them. On August 6th of this year, they showed up again and took me into custody. My family now considers me a monster even though they are supporting me. My girlfriend and other close friends believe in me 100% so I haven’t lapsed into total depression. I’m also now taking Duloxetene under prescription from my doctor.

My question after this lengthy dissertation is this: Is internet porn addiction real? My family thinks so but I’ve clearly not been dominated by it since I stopped the cycle of addiction and replaced loneliness with love and hope in place of despair. I won’t say that I haven’t looked at porn in the interim but not child porn. Regardless of that fact, all I keep hearing from my mother is how I’m addicted to child porn and need help. Even the psychologist that my lawyer hired seems to think so but she only seems to know how to quote statistics. She’s never taken the time to get a real handle on who I am and what my motivations are. I think I could cope better if I could either, A) come to terms with a possible addiction as it may arise again in the future or B) show some credible evidence that I’ve broken the cycle of addiction by replacing the negative aspects. To date, I’ve not spent a significant amount of time on the internet as I prefer to speak with my girlfriend or work on things not computer-related. I simply can’t stand the thought of spending several hours of my evening sitting in front of the damn computer any longer. I think I’m losing direction here so please consider my question and let me know what you think… Your help is greatly appreciated…

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Answer:

Porn is, by its nature, arousing material, and deviant porn is going to be that much more so in terms of being arousing. Most men seem to have a switch inside them that tells them when to be aroused in the sexual sense and when to be aroused in the disgusted sense. Sometimes they are aroused in both senses, but they pay attention to the fact that they are disgusted and they don’t go there anymore. You either did not pay attention to that disgust warning when it went off, or you didn’t experience it. Though you knew you were looking at child porn, you kept looking at it. More troublesomely, you stored it on your computer. It was something you wanted to keep and re-experience at the time. Many men might by accident or curiosity end up looking at an image or two in their day but most of them would not go back for more because they would have been socialized to feel the appropriate disgust and would not find the material to be sexy even if they found it to be arousing. It is the act of storage and going back for more that marks what went wrong for you, to my mind. That was the point where your arousal overrode your judgment Though I don’t like the idea of police taking people’s privacy from them, in your case and similar cases, the behavior you were into was such that it is more a good thing than a bad thing (on balance) that you were identified. Not so good for you personally, but good for society as a whole.

To be very clear; child porn is rape porn. Besides the obvious lack of secondary sexual characteristics, sex with children is disgusting to most people because it cannot ever be consensual sex. I knew a pedophile once who told me that a young boy had looked at him in a sexual way and he interpreted that look as an invitation. I even believe that the guy might have been describing the situation accurately but if that was the case, it had to be because: the boy had been initially raped (possibly by someone else) before and now was sexualized before his time, and 2) because the pedophile man I was dealing with was not mature enough to recognize the crime that had been committed and try to care for the boy rather than take advantage of him. In your case, though you were not raping a child, you were consuming material made by child rapists, and in so doing, supporting if only indirectly, that rape. Irreparable harm was necessarily caused to the children who were forced to participate in the creation of those images.

You note that you used to be a very socially isolated person, and were during your formative years. Perhaps your painful lack of socialization impeded your ability to learn about the difference between rape and consensual sex (even when rape is just a picture and not an act). When you spend a lot of time by yourself you can get into trouble because you fail to keep up with the standards by which you will be judged. This is a general problem and not at all limited to pornography consumption. At a recent psychotherapy ethics and risk management lecture I attended, the presenter, who was a representative of a professional liability insurance company for therapists, pointed out that the worst cases of malpractice tend to occur when practitioners are working alone and don’t have peers around to bounce cases off. I can feel sympathy for you a little bit if you somehow didn’t know (though this is hard to believe), but in no way does ignorance constitute an excuse.

Your question is whether there is such a thing as pornography addiction. The answer is yes, but it is addiction more in the sense that people become addicted to gambling, or shoplifting or exposing themselves or binge eating rather than addiction in the sense of being addicted to a drug. Addiction to a drug in the strictest sense has to do with chemical dependency, tolerance and withdrawal. Addiction to gambling or porn or these other behavioral addictions is more about craving the rush that accompanies participating in the extreme and/or deviant event.

In asking whether you have an addiction, I wonder if you are really asking whether you are responsible for your actions or not. It is so easy to delude yourself. The desire to have some extreme and powerful experience can be profoundly strong, and in the face of that, the mind plays tricks on itself. Just ask any recovering alcoholic whether they can trust their mind to not make excuses leading them to believe that it is okay to have a drink. There is a certain wisdom in the 12 steps so commonly recommended to alcoholics inasmuch as the very first requires you to take responsibility for your actions. That message of taking responsibility gets muddled and made religious, cultish and guilt inducing in some cases, so I’ve learned , but the basic idea of needing to take responsibility is still very sound. You did something that literally everyone (save for pedophiles) can agree is harmful to children. The responsible thing to do now is to own up to it; to be sorry for what you’ve done, embrace whatever "rehabilitation" may be available to you (even though you are likely to find that some of what passes for rehabilitation is just retribution), and accept the punishment that is doled out (which hopefully will be in proportion to your transgression). Do what is in your power to grow that healthy disgust which will protect you in the future, and to get help for yourself and your healthy relationships in general.

Treating this thing as an addiction which may recur is the wise course in my estimation. Psychotherapy for you is certainly a good idea. In additional to personal growth work and just plain old support (for this is all surely very trying), you might benefit from habit reduction and relapse prevention work. This could range from practical passive suggestions such as not having internet in your home or on your phone and arranging your work life so that you either don’t have to use the net, or can only access it in a public place, to more formal active analysis of triggers that have historically gotten you into trouble and the development and subsequent monitoring of a behavior plan to help you avoid future trouble. You’ve gotten into trouble because you went beyond the boundaries of what society will tolerate. It is now in your interest to create a situation for yourself in which you are restrained so as to force you to stay firmly within those acceptable boundaries, both so as to avoid punishment and to maximize your own happiness. You may not have been dominated by the urge to seek out child porn recently, but what happens if your protective relationships fall apart as a result of all this stress? It is safest to assume that the potential to revert remains and to take that potential seriously enough so as to put in place barriers to it re-entering your life. I know you may not easily accept your experience as an addiction (no addict does, really), but the costs of treating it as a perpetual addiction are not so high when you consider the costs associated with not doing so and then possibly relapsing if you turn out to be wrong.

This has already been quite a traumatic experience for you, it sounds like. Unfortunately, whether you are completely reformed now or not is probably irrelevant to the legal proceedings you’re enmeshed within. This is not the sort of case where "you’ve suffered enough" and so you will be let off from further punishment. While still doing what you can do to 1) take care of your own emotional health and to 2) do what you can to show that are deeply sorry and that you "get it" and have taken concrete and documented steps to reduce the present and future threat you might pose to society, I think it also prudent to expect that you may go to jail over this, and to 3) prepare yourself for what it might be like for you in a jail setting (e.g, by considering consulting with someone who has been there and who can advise you how best to prepare). Your lawyer will hopefully know what to recommend in this context.

My last comment has to do with the dangers of anger in your present predicament. People are calling you a monster, and words like that will, of course, tend to suck the self-respect out of you and you’ll likely feel like a monster after a while. When people feel hurt, they tend to turn some of that hurt into anger. It’s a rather natural way to try to grab onto a feeling of self-respect again (because it feels righteous to be angry), but it comes at a terrible cost, which is that you may start feeling that you have the right to act in monstrous ways; either attacking those people who persecute you (and thus confirming their prejudice), or (much worse) saying "F*k it" and going back into porn. If you get angry in this bind you’re in, I think, your judgment will get worse and the outcome will get worse. So work with your therapist on ways to keep yourself as centered and calm as you can be, and to maintain as best a perspective on the thing as you can. You may wish to explore meditation or mindfulness strategies as a part of your therapy program.

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