You & Your Family

Driven by our desire

May 2016    

YouTube was all abuzz when an American actor declared that he had a “dirty little secret”: for some time, he had battled with an addiction to pornography. This started a flurry of postings and debate online.

There were those who praised him for “coming out”and, through his brave admission, showing the way to recovery for others who are also secretly enslaved by this compulsion. Then there were others who disagreed with the use of the word “addiction” to describe his behaviour. This disagreement came mainly from professionals who have long worked with the concept of addiction that involves dependence on mood-altering substances.

This controversy reminded me of an earlier and still-unresolved debate over another addiction: sex. The Straits Times on 28 April 2013 reported a rise in cases of those battling with various types of addiction, including sex addiction. Dissenters to this classification pointed out that no mood- and mind-altering substances were being consumed, and that withdrawal symptoms – a key characteristic of addiction – were absent when such behaviour stops.

I was initially opposed to using the term “addiction” for those having problems with their sexual behaviour, but for a different set of reasons. My main objection was that it seemed to offer some of my clients an “excuse” for their behaviour. Some argued that since it was a disease, they could not help falling prey to it, and should receive sympathy from others rather than scorn. Though men in general want to avoid being labelled with illnesses, this was one that some took to with little hesitation.

However, as I began seeing more men and a few women struggle with sex and pornography, I have since had to rethink my position. I do see some grapple with the obsession and compulsion of acting in this way. Their daily waking moments are filled with lewd thoughts and images, or planning how to fulfil their desires.

This preoccupation meant that they may appear absent-minded, distracted at work, and mentally and emotionally disconnected from loved ones. The compulsive nature of such addictions can see addicts persisting in their actions even at the risk of being found out. They are often aware of the strong negative social consequences from the discovery of their actions, yet seem powerless to avoid it.

Another defining characteristic of the addictive process is the development of tolerance. This means that the addict requires more and more repetitions of the behaviour to achieve the same effect that he wants. He may also be more willing to try new avenues of perversion that may involve more risk.

This form of addiction has been around for a long time, but these days through the availability of pornographic materials through the Internet and even over mobile phones, it has grown to epic proportions. The Psychotherapy Networker reported in their Jan/Feb 2016 issue that in 1991, there were no more than 90 adult magazines available in the USA; today there are approximately 2.5 million adult websites.

Has humankind become more depraved? I think this is another sad example of what happens when we focus on meeting our own needs rather than caring for our fellow men; when our drive is not to temper but to fulfil every desire; when we stop having real connections with real people (with all the complications and obligations involved) and instead want interactions and exchanges with paid professionals who cater to our every fancy and fantasy. Life cannot be just about us. Where is the meaning and purpose in that?

For those trapped in the web of these addictions, help is available. It begins, as in the process of salvation, with the admission of our sorry state, the declaration that we have lost control of this aspect of our lives, and the desire to turn ourselves over to God. It is only when this is done that we begin to truly regain control of our desires.

Picture by Ocus+Focus/

Benny Bong –has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.


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