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Apr. 9 2010 - 7:37 pm | 663 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

A clinical portrait of excessive online porn use (Part 4)

Here is the fourth installment in a planned 10-part Clinical Portrait. As is now standard practice, each installment starts with links to all the other parts  (kind of a TOC to the series) along with a reminder about clinical confidentiality:

Part 1: Getting started: Anything too good to be true, is

Part 2: “50 Way to Leave Your … Therapist”

Part 3: A Rock and a Hard Place

Clinical confidentiality has been strictly protected. The story told in this series is a constructed clinical portrait of actual events, a common practice in both the professional literature and in popular books. To protect patients (past, current, and future), families, and friends all identifying information has been thoroughly disguised and the tale told crosses several specific histories.

—————————————–

Part 4 of “Paul and His Girls”
The Medium is the … Sex Act

Our second year working together got started. There were several more stories about potentially “right girls” he made sure turned out to be all wrong, as well as lots of talk about managing complex relationships at work; shadowing everything was feeling responsible for curing his mother’s disappointment with life and the violent punishments generously dished-out  by his father. When Paul finally introduced his relationship with online pornography he did so guilelessly with a seemingly off-hand remark.

“I never told you, but I’ve been collecting online porn,” he tossed-in at the beginning of a session after saying how he didn’t really have anything to talk about. “Kind of a do-nothing weekend. Pretty tired. I ended up spending tons of time working on my collection … so I figured, uhm, I guess, uhm, I figured I should mention it.”

Responding to the possible embarrassment I said, “I’m glad you did … is this a new collection or something you’ve had for awhile?”

“Well, a few years now I guess” he continued, “it was after college and I was starting to work all those hours. The cash was coming in but like we’ve been talking about, you know, it sort of felt … so what? I was supposed to be enjoying myself. Everybody thought I was, especially my folks—they loved hearing from me especially when I was on the road and closing deals. But nothing was that great. Not really. Not for me. Everything just sort of was like one to-do after another. Do this. Next. Do that. Well, I found out I liked hunting around for porn and saving the things I liked. Sometimes it was kinda hot, but mostly it was relaxing, just fun”

My ears perked up, “Kinda hot and just fun … both?” I didn’t want to push too hard but I was really interested in the contrast he might be drawing.

He looked directly at me and with his by now familiar, but no less likable for its familiarity, self-effacing grin said, “Well, sometimes I look at my girls just to get off, but…” pausing to make sure I kept things in perspective, “only when I don’t have other things going on.” Becoming more earnest, he continued with the theme we would then spend several months exploring, “Most of the time I just like poking around. I like finding all the stuff that’s out there, especially free. It’s way better than channel surfing.”

This relationship to online porn—both “kinda hot” and “just fun”— became a regular topic. Sessions continued to include things like feeling upset after talking with his parents, being successful if not satisfied at work, hanging out with friends, and going on date after date after date. All pretty much the same except now he also routinely talked about how he was using porn. Sometimes he visited his collection to masturbate but never more than a few times per week at most and pretty much not at all during the initial enthusiasm of a new relationship. What was so intriguing was that he also spent lots of time with his porn collection without masturbating; at times it seemed like a hobby.

“Its just totally fun to see all the things that are out there. You get into a flow like a video game finding things you like. Sometimes I find open directories. It’s great,” he said.

“You mean,” I asked making sure my curiosity didn’t edge too far towards incredulity, “you don’t feel anything sexual?”

“Well, its kinda weird,” he responded. “I get into a different head space. When I’m collecting I don’t really spend that much time with any girl. Its more like a ‘like this one’, ‘don’t like her,’ ‘next’ kind of thing. I’ve got a couple of drives I use just for my girls. I mean, like, I know I’m saving pics of a hot chick getting herself off, I know its sexy. I feel it, but I’m not trying to get off. I sorta know that’ll be for later, whenever I want.”

I was fascinated. Paul was the first patient I had who talked so clearly about taking pleasure from both online sexual imagery and from the online activities that let him find imagery he enjoyed. He said many times, “you get into a flow.” Gone was the old, traditional embarrassment of giving money to the seedy guy behind the bleached counter at the local porn shop. In fact, Paul took pleasure from getting his porn and spent a fair amount of time doing so. It seemed “collecting” porn online was like Pac-Man, just challenging enough to keep him in that sweet spot between boredom and frustration. But unlike a video game, he scored sexy images instead of points. For him, collecting porn seemed to be a private, sexualized space in which he could simply play without expectation or fear of consequence.

Because of the “online-ness” of online porn he found fun and excitement not present in previous porn delivery systems. Nobody I grew up with, knew, or worked with ever talked about getting a kick just from acquiring porn. Before now—with all the always on, always available online access—acquiring porn risked the embarrassment of a magazine-shop clerk’s disdainful glance—real or imagined—or the simple matter-of-factness of a commercial transaction, be it face-to-face, mail-order, or via an online bulletin board or website. But fun? This was new, at least to me.

It even seemed that for Paul hunting for porn online held pleasures that were commensurate with and sometimes even greater than those provided by the porn itself. Borrowing Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase that “the medium is the message,” it seems that for Paul the medium had grown into something much more than the message: it had become the…well, feel free to fill in whatever sex act you want to complete this sentence about what the medium has become. Immersion in the medium itself had become a playful sex act all its own, a kind of techno-foreplay.

[End of Part 4 ... go to Part 5]


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    I'm a psychologist and psychoanalyst with a full-time therapy practice. Over the last 20 years I've noticed how the NEXT BIG THING, or the one after that, sometimes leaves people feeling more miserable than before; life in the "future" doesn't always feel very good by the time it gets here. But sometimes it does. We just don't know how the future will feel.

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