Peter Kleponis, PhD
Comprehensive Counseling Services and The Institute for Marital Healing in Conshohocken, PA.
Dr. Kleponis has disclosed that he has no relevant financial or other interests in any commercial companies pertaining to this educational activity.
CATR: Hello, Dr. Kleponis. Tell me, what are some key differences between pornography addiction and other more commonly accepted addictions like substance use disorders?
Dr. Kleponis: Well, we have two basic categories of addiction: There are chemical addictions, and there are process addictions. What we are more familiar with are the chemical addictions, such as drugs and alcohol. What we are dealing with when we talk about pornography addiction is more of a process or behavioral addiction where the effect on the brain is the same, but you’re not putting a foreign chemical into your body. The most common process addiction we would look at would be gambling, but it can include other types of addictions and compulsive behaviors, such as food and so forth. So that’s the category that we would put pornography addiction into.
CATR: Interesting. Can you tell me about the difference between pornography addiction and sex addiction?
Dr. Kleponis: Well, sex addiction is really sort of an umbrella term that can encompass many different types of sexual behaviors. For some people, it could be exhibitionism, or it could be voyeurism. Pornography is just one behavior that we would put under that umbrella. And for some people who become sex addicts, it actually starts out with pornography—as a sort of gateway drug.
CATR: I see. What’s the natural history of pornography addiction? How does it progress?
Dr. Kleponis: Well, like any addiction, we see an escalation of behaviors and a loss of control. So what we find for a lot of people is they start with soft porn, maybe even just a lingerie catalogue or whatever. But after a while that doesn’t do it for them anymore, and eventually they progress to more hardcore pornography. This can include deviant forms of sex; it can include violent sex; it can include fetishes, all kinds of things that never would have interested them at the beginning. So we see the behaviors becoming more severe.
CATR: What is it that makes pornography so dangerous?
Dr. Kleponis: Well, first of all, it’s not about moral judgment. It’s a disease like any other addiction. For many patients, pornography becomes the “drug” of choice for reasons that I call the “five As”: It’s Affordable, Accessible, Anonymous, Accepted, and Aggressive. It’s affordable because while you’ve got to buy drugs and alcohol, porn can be had for free. It’s accessible because it’s only a click away. It’s anonymous because it’s easy to hide; it’s not like being drunk in public. Many people feel it’s acceptable to view pornography, especially younger people, although I disagree. And finally, it’s aggressive in its effects. For example, when you drink alcohol, you’ve got to wait for it to go through your system and get to your brain before you feel the buzz. But with pornography, it goes through the eyes and straight to the brain—the gratification is instant.
CATR: I know that you’ve developed a seven-point approach to helping patients with pornography addiction. Can you describe it?
Dr. Kleponis: Sure. I developed this approach after reviewing other programs for various types of addiction (see the table on page 5). Point number one involves honesty, self-knowledge, and commitment. Honesty means you admit you have the problem and you take full responsibility for it. Self-knowledge involves learning the triggers that lead you back into pornography. It means understanding the times, places, or situations where you are more likely to use porn. And with that information, we can develop a plan to avoid acting on the urge to use. I call it a battle plan. Commitment means you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to recover.
CATR: Tell me about the battle plan.
Dr. Kleponis: The idea is if you know what your triggers are and you can anticipate when and where they’re going to occur, you can develop a plan to make yourself less vulnerable to them. For example, I have a lot of patients who are in sales, and for them business trips are danger zones because they are alone in a hotel room. What are the triggers? They’re tired, fatigued, bored, stressed, and surrounded by opportunities to access porn. So we put together a plan that involves both strategies, which I call the “dos,” and boundaries, which I call the “don’ts.”
CATR: Can you give us an example of this?
Dr. Kleponis: Yes. So when patients get to their hotel rooms, the dos would include calling their spouses and accountability partners. They’d include learning where pornography support groups are in every city they visit, and go to a meeting. Instead of bringing work with them to do in the hotel room, they will bring something they enjoy, like crossword puzzles or Sudoku or whatever. And then there are the don’ts—these are the boundaries patients set for themselves. So for some patients, a boundary would be, “Okay, I locked my computer, my tablet, and my cell phone in my car overnight. If I need to make phone calls, I’ll use the phone in the hotel room.” Some patients will actually call the hotel ahead of time and ask the hotel staff to take the TV out of the room.
CATR: What about point two?
Dr. Kleponis: Point number two is about purifying your life. By that, I mean we get rid of all pornography. We get rid of all access to it, and we do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t get back into patients’ lives. This is where monitoring internet use, using technology, comes in. I actually don’t recommend filters, because they’re too easy to turn off. Instead, I prefer accountability software that you install on your phone, your tablet, or your computer. You provide it with the e-mail addresses of trusted friends or family members, and the program will e-mail your internet history to those people—and they will monitor your internet use.
CATR: Wow! That’s a serious commitment.
Dr. Kleponis: There are many different software programs out there that will do that. And that brings us to point number three, which is support and accountability. You cannot recover from pornography addiction alone. You need to surround yourself with other people who understand the struggle, who are going to support you, and who are going to keep you accountable. This is where 12-step and other support groups come in.
CATR: And the other points?
Dr. Kleponis: Point number four is counseling, because many addicts have suffered personal traumas and they’ve been using pornography to self-medicate. So we identify these and we work on the healing of them. Point number five is a spiritual plan. Even if you are coming from a secular perspective, my advice is to be open to the spiritual. If you decide you want to reject it, that’s fine, but in my experience it’s hard to be successful in recovery without some type of spiritual grounding. Point number six is education. This includes learning about the addiction, its root causes, the recovery process, and what healthy sexuality and intimacy look like. And point number seven is virtue. If you are going to fight any vice, you have to do it with virtue. What are the virtues? They are honesty, patience, perseverance, courage, faith, hope, and transparency. It’s important to practice these in recovery. The reason is that the end result of recovery is not simply sobriety; it’s transformation—becoming a new, healthy, mature person.
CATR: That sounds like a laudable goal.
Dr. Kleponis: These are the things that are needed for a healthy recovery. A lot of patients come to me and say they are doing two or three of them, and I say, “No, you need all seven. This is what is needed for a healthy recovery.”