The Porn Problem + Sexual Addiction

by Joshua Hoe

Todd Weiler is making arguments for the regulation of pornography.

Lets get one thing out of the way first, even if regulations or laws are passed because of State Representative Todd Wieler’s crusade against pornography they will be struck down by the Courts.

Because First Amendment.

But, a good deal of what he is trying to say is important.

It is troubling that so much pornography is available to anyone at the click of a mouse, no matter how old they are or what problems they are struggling with.

And, often, you don’t even need a mouse. Even reputable newspapers and online journals have click bait displaying very racy pictures all over the online page.

There number of people becoming desensitized to intimacy through pornography is a HUGE number.

Millions of people are borderline or fully becoming addicted to online porn (as has been reported by experts for years).

I have a friend in the cable industry and he says, by far, the biggest amount of pay-per-view activity is around porn.

And it is not just on cable.

Most browser histories in the world would reveal the same thing after a simple search.

And, what about just normal everyday internet behavior, look at the click bait in the article I linked above (ironic?).

And, as Whitney Cummings did such a great job explaining in her recent HBO special, male expectations of women’s behaviors are often driven by porn (often starting at a young age).

There are certainly many people who have no problem dealing with porn, and for many it can be a healthy expression of sexuality. I am not pro-censorship at all.

But, for lots of people, it is a problem.

Trying to avoid triggers is a constant effort for all sex addicts. Very hard to manage when every publication and every poster depicts women as sexual objects (either explicitly or as a click bait tease).

The Best Answers We Have

So, people struggling with these issues do have answers, although I really doubt that laws will ever be changed to limit pornography to a greater degree.

So what can we do?

1) Socialize boys to appreciate that women are more than sex objects

I am approaching this from a hetero perspective because I am not educated to how porn functions with young gay men and women (or trans).

Porn is partially attractive because it allows us to imagine women that fulfill all of our sexual desires without demanding respect or requiring intimacy from us.

I believe if we socialized sexiness to encompass subjectivity, this would be less of a problem.

I think the answer is in removing the fallback where it occurs to us to think of people as anything other than people.

I believe very strongly that we should object verbally whenever a woman (or man) is depicted only as an object and not as a subject.

If we are raised to be turned off by women who are not at the same time both subjects and objects, fantasy images based in objectification will have no power.

When they are shown as sex parts or not given a voice, we should say something.

I try to do it every single time.

I even type it out on social media when I see offensive memes.

Even if and when people get mad.

Reducing people to manageable docile bodies is a huge part of the problem in our brains. The more we see people as active and with a voice in their own lives, the harder it is to create fantasies of people as docile and easy-to manipulate objects.

People to know, not bodies to use for sex.

2. Remember, The Goal Should Be Intimacy Not Sex

Intimacy and sex are very different things.

Sex, when the purpose is connecting with and celebrating a connection with a partner, can be very much about intimacy.

But, when the sex is more about release. When you are with someone mostly because their body excites you. When you could, aside from how they look, substitute any other body or any other face and not change the importance of the sex. Those are probably not intimate sexual encounters.

Unfortunately, we are raised to think that sex is about the physical act MUCH more than it is about finding intimacy between two particular people.

For me, it has been very helpful to be suspicious of my own motives when I am thinking about WHY I am trying to get to know someone or trying to look at pictures or a movie.

Sex for sex’s sake has become much less important to me over time and with age.

It also helps to try to think of the person in the picture more as a person and less as a sexual object.

I usually start by asking myself questions about other things the girl in the picture might be interested in or hobbies that she might have.

By doing this, I start making myself see each image as a person more than as a sex aid.

Finally, I remind myself that beautiful people are not beautiful for ME.

Part of my problems are based in narcissism, the more I remind myself that the world does not exist for me. That I am not the center of everyone else’s universe. The better I feel (strangely enough).

3. Practice Avoidance When Possible

Whenever you can avoid porn, avoid porn.

I don’t even watch movies that might trigger or agitate me.

When I am surprised in movies or on television, I literally close my eyes.

I try to find articles without click bait if possible and try to enter into a discussion with myself about my specific research goals whenever I do encounter click bait.

It requires discipline, and sometimes I have to call someone and talk. But, practice helps.

4. If you Are Struggling, Find Places You Can Discuss Your Struggles

Yes, many people can handle click bait and porn, but for those that it causes problems. There is a reason most major Western traditions focus on sharing.

Therapists want you to talk.

Priests want you to confess.

12 Step Programs want you to share.

The reason is that isolation is the enemy. We don’t do well in our own heads. We don’t do well when we are keeping our feelings inside.

Find a community of people you can share your struggle with. There are a large number of “S” programs available.

You can also find therapists who specialize, or have been trained in, sexual addiction.

In my experience, finding a specialist can make a massive difference when it comes to sexual issues.

Tolerance: How Recovery Gets Easier

by Joshua Hoe

Recovery: Does it Get Easier meme created by Joshua Hoe

Does recovery get easier? The short answer is yes, but the story is not that simple.

When I was in my early 20’s I developed some serious food allergies.

At first, I had no idea what was causing my pain.

It would manifest itself in incredible stomach pain and eventually in painful diarrhea that would come in waves.

Not pretty, not pleasant.

Often it would hit me in public places, and I had to run for the nearest public restroom.

Did I mention: Not pretty, not pleasant.

So, the first few times I experienced this reaction, I was sure it was going to kill me, the discomfort was as bad as anything I had experienced before (and I had experienced some serious pain before).

At first the pain was unbelievable, almost entirely unmanageable, and was even worse (in some ways) because I had no idea what as causing it.

Eventually I figured out it was caused by food and then through the process of elimination, I figured out what foods caused my problems and I learned what to avoid.

Eventually, I even went to a specialist and got the details (food allergies and irritable bowel).

Unfortunately, the foods and spices I am allergic to are so common, that even when I try to avoid them, I can accidentally be exposed in a restaurant. When this happens, I get sick all over again.

For instance, one of my allergies is to garlic powder.

Hard to know when something does or does not have garlic powder.

Anyway, enough feeling sorry for myself, my point is that when I have the reaction now, even though it is exactly the same, I experience it as less catastrophic.

Over time, I have gotten used to the pain levels and the discomfort, what felt like it was killing me before is now just damn uncomfortable.

I developed a tolerance for even that high level of pain through experience.

And, because I had experienced it before, I knew what to expect and it became intellectually manageable.

Tolerance and Recovery

Usually, when we talk about tolerance in recovery it is to describe how we build up a tolerance for a specific drug or acting out behavior. But, this time, I want to talk about tolerance in the context of emotional withdrawal.

I am often asked by other addicts if “recovery gets easier?”

If you are wondering why I told that long story about allergies it is because recovery, at the beginning, is a lot like when I first had that allergic reaction.

It often felt entirely impossible, painful, unmanageable.

I myself often wondered if I could keep going.

Recovery literature always promises that it will get easier over time.

And I will confirm that it does get easier, much like dealing with my allergies got easier.

I identify the triggers earlier and handle them in more mature ways, so I encounter addictive urges less often.

However, I do sometimes still feel them, and they are as strong as ever. But for the same reasons as with my allergies they don’t bother me as much or feel impossible to handle anymore.

It is not heaven, but it is manageable. I don’t mean that I can control and enjoy my addiction, I mean that through a strong period of recovery life becomes more manageable.

The Importance Of Maintaining Recovery

This is where the neat analogy/metaphor starts to break down.

With my food allergies I only had to avoid triggering foods and get to the place where I could emotionally get my head around the pain. Over time, as I got used to the pain level, it became less devastating.

Addiction recovery works in many of the same ways but requires more than just avoidance and tolerance.

I am certainly more capable of handling the urges now, but part of what makes the pain tolerable is having places to talk about what I am feeling. I know that absent my meetings, my talks with my sponsor, or my tools I would be right back where I started.

This is not a program I can graduate from, it is a way of life. Recovery is a pathway, to me it is a guide for better living.

What has been your recovery experience? How has it gotten easier for you? Would love to hear your experiences, leave a comment!

Recognizing Sexual Crisis As Tragedy Not Farce

by Joshua Hoe

meme saying "sex addiction" and "addiction is serious business" created by Joshua Hoe

Two days ago in my home state of Michigan, a man flipped his car while he was trying to simultaneously drive while masturbating and watching porn.

Thank God he did not take anyone else down with him.

But it saddened me a great deal to hear the tenor of most of the press commentary.

As usual, it was all a big joke.

It wasn’t and ins’t a joke to me.

Been there myself, I suspect I know the surreal helplessness he was likely feeling.

What I Felt – Empathy

I know how low you can get, how sadly and desperately compulsive addictive behaviors can become.

I have been there, wondering (always after the fact) how I could have done something so against my beliefs, so gross, and so not what I wanted to do at all.

I would be willing to bet the farm that, at the time, this person was close to 100% miserable.

To normal folks, his “accident” probably sounds like a joy ride, but very little joy was happening before or during that fateful car ride.

What I mostly feel is empathy:

* I remember everything seeming normal and healthy and gradually progressing farther and farther from whatever “normal” is.

* I remember acting out after 8 hour sessions with no idea how or why it all happened

* I remember knowing something was “wrong” but not really knowing what to do about it and feeling powerful compulsions to continue

The good news, there are answers, people can find recovery – faith – and a community of people that care.

But, I also know that but for the grace of God, I could have been this person.

What I Felt – Shame

Virtually every story I saw about this made a joke out of what happened.

I get that when, as a society, we have a hard time trying to process information we often use humor as a coping mechanism. But far too often, we make jokes just because we are cruel.

The same people that laugh when someone trips over their own feet, or the people who make fun of people in pain tend to dominate the humor when things like this happen.

I certainly remember the reaction in junior high school when someone had the audacity to drop something loudly in the cafeteria.

Our first reactions are too often not very compassionate.

We probably look at virtual all sexual dysfunction as evidence of socio-pathology (and therefore fair game), but this is rarely the case, only a very small percentage of people struggling with sex are sociopaths.

And, even when it turns out that someone is a sociopath, by definition – sociopaths are “built that way” – not doing it from a sense of cruelty per se.

And even in these cases, we should look at what happens as truly tragic for everyone involved, especially the victims. We should try to find our place in the problem, and do our best to try to auto-correct to try to prevent problems in the future.

But I sincerely doubt that, in this example, we were dealing with a sexual sociopath.

And in this case, the perpetrator was luckily (but sadly) the only victim.

This was a real human being struggling with a terrible problem who is now dead.

His epitaph will always be a punchline. Who knows what potential he offered the world but for his struggle? Who knows the good things he did in his life outside of his addiction.

Millions of people in this country struggle with sexual dysfunction. Most studies that I have seen suggest that the number is increasing rapidly as the internet helps fuel access to the worst forms of human sexual behavior.

Whitney Cummings was not wrong on her recent HBO special by calling out the excesses of contemporary male sexual desire.

However, we do ourselves few favors by responding to our own basest nature to respond to sexual problems.

One of the problems with how we, as a society, treat sexual “problems” is we almost make it a catch-22 for anyone struggling with compulsive or unhealthy sexuality to get help.

You are told your whole life that there is nothing worse than sexual problems.

When someone gets caught or found out, they are socially shamed so completely that they are often erased as social human beings.

When people with these problems are depicted in the media, they are either shown as monsters or as the biggest jokes in the world.

* If you are confused by what I am saying, odds are you have never been on the phone trying to figure out how to ask for a sexual addiction specialist through your insurance without letting your whole HR system become alerted to what you are struggling with.

* If you are confused by what I am saying, odds are you have never been watching a movie mocking a fictional character struggling with exactly what you are struggling with.

* If you are confused by what I am saying, odds are you have never been shocked, amazed, and confounded by the terrible advise non-specialist therapists give to people struggling with sexual problems.

What I feel, and felt, every time I saw another social performance of sexual dysfunction was shame.

* Shame that pushed my deeper and deeper into isolation

* Shame that made me less and less likely to ask for help for fear that people would find out – that people would know my secret shame.

When you watch a story like this one unfold and wonder how someone could have done something so absurd, so dangerous, or so immoral you might look to how long the person has been trying to deal with the issues on their own.

In almost every instance, I would make a bet that it was for a long time.

Social shame is often where sexual dysfunction starts and the continuation of shame (in all addicts) protects the addictive cycle from proper healing and care.

By pushing dysfunctions underground we make them worse.

The worst thing we can do is create no safe spaces for people to exist comfortably in. A close second is making even getting help so frought with risk that nobody wants to get help.

What I Felt – Concern

Now, all of that said, I also feel concern.

We sex addicts, and all addicts, need to remember that what we are fighting is a life and death struggle. Not just a life and death struggle for us, but also for others.

Drunk drivers who are alcoholics kill people, people whacked-out on drugs are often involved in violence, gamblers lose money families counted on, and this person could have killed anyone who was driving on that same road with him.

Recovery matters.

Getting help matters.

No matter what social stigma you face, if you are struggling, getting help is a moral imperative.

Survival often depends on it.

When I was in prison, I would estimate that 80% of the people I met (no matter what crime they were actually doing time for) struggled with addiction.

Old AA veterans say addicts are looking forward to the Asylum, Prison, or the Grave without recovery. They are most likely correct, that certainly applies to me.

I send my condolences to his family.

I hope we find a way to have a more mature discussion of sex as a society. I am not hopeful, but I hope.

Until then, I know some things do work, if you are struggling, get to a S-12 Step Meeting, take the risk and find a therapist who specializes, and read whatever you can from reputable sources on the subject of sex addiction!

I know that for me, just walking into that first meeting and sharing my story for the first time made all the difference in the world.

Thanks for reading my rant, if you have any constructive experiences to add to this discussion, please feel free to leave a comment!

Sex Addiction – 5 Tips 4 Recovery

Joshua B. Hoe

meme tips for recovery from sex addiction - the new you created by Joshua Hoe

This week I am focusing on Sex Addiction.

My tips to help you when you are starting out include:

* Finding a specialist
* Finding sexual sobriety
* Finding and attending 12-Step meetings
* Using positive substitution
* Using positive self-talk

For the first twenty or thirty years of my addiction, I had no idea there really was such a thing as sex addiction (100% truth).

I was very concerned that I had “too much testosterone” and I often was very concerned that my acting out seemed so compulsive, but most of the social messaging and reinforcement I had heard was that it was “normal.”

I felt that whatever I had, nobody else had it, and would never understand what I was feeling or experiencing.

So, I started to create a mask that I wore in public to make sure nobody ever saw the “real” me.

As my addiction progressed, I found that whenever a relationship started to force the removal of my socially constructed mask I would cut and run.

For me, sex was okay, but not intimacy.

As this pattern went on, I became more and more resigned to my fate and became more and more isolated and immersed in sexual fantasy (instead of in healthy relationships).

If you have read any of the rest of my blog, or my eBook, you know this ended up in total disaster.

Change For The Better

So what changed for me?

* Finding a good therapist

I finally went to a therapist who knew something about sex addiction.

I had been to so many therapists who seemed to have no clue what I was struggling with.

Of coursed, part of the problem is that I was afraid to look for therapists who specialized in sexual problems or in addiction because I did not want to admit that I had a problem.

Huge mistake, because once I found good therapy it made a massive difference in my quality of life.

I have been to a TON of therapists in my life, even if you cannot find a specialist, I can not stress enough the importance of continuing to try new therapists until you find the right connection.

* Finding Sexual Sobriety

After a brief period of introduction, he asked if “I had ever considered taking a break from masturbation.”

Not only had I never considered it, it had never really even occurred to me.

Most of the time, I would try to stop trying to engage in the elements of fantasy that were dark or looking at porn but never really considered stopping the masturbation itself.

I believed it was normal and healthy. Which it probably is for most people. But it clearly wasn’t for me.

That was almost 6 years ago.

* Finding 12 Step Support

My therapist also suggested I start attending 12 step meetings.

Again, I though sex addiction based 12 Step meetings were something that only existed in bad comedy movies (where sex addicts got together as an excuse to hook up).

I was so terrified when I first showed up, and so relieved after. 12 Step meetings have truly been a blessing in my life and a huge part of my program of recovery.

I still remember being taken aside at my very first meeting by some of the more experienced members of the group and feeling for the first time that people really understood me and my problems.

It was such a massive relief.

I have attended the same meetings ever since.

Going to meetings, making calls, and having a good sponsor are pillars of my recovery.

* Using Positive Substitution

I try to respond to triggers with positive substitution.

In other words, instead of acting out (negative) I try to find something positive to do with my frustration.

This can be really challenging, usually confronting triggers makes me withdraw and seek isolation.

I have to do it because I don’t want to.

I have learned to condition myself to realize that depression and isolation urges are red flags for me.

I have learned to respond better, acting-out those feelings in more positive ways.

I meditate, I make calls, I exercise, I do something social instead of acting out in a negative way.

* Using Positive Self-Talk

I used to let myself drift into bad thinking patterns.

When I saw a beautiful woman, I would fixate and fantasize.

And then I began to practice positive self-talk.

Basically, when I start having those thoughts I start asking myself questions about if it is appropriate for me to think that way or about, I start asking myself about what (if anything) I know about the person (not just the body) etc.

I have found this a really effective method of changing my patterns.

Once you see someone entirely as a person with a brain and a point of view, it becomes much harder to objectify them.

It also pulls me out of fantasy and back to real life.

At the end of the day, I had a million reasons why I believed I didn’t have a problem and simultaneously had a million reasons not to let anyone know about my problem (not much logic in addiction).

The answer for me was to get help from a good therapist, finding and participating in 12 step support, using positive substitution, and using positive self-talk.

I hope this helps you as well!

What has been your experience with getting help? What has worked for you? I would love to hear your opinion, leave a comment!

5 Struggles Men Face With Sexuality

by Joshua Hoe

Can we talk about Male Sexuality meme by Joshua Hoe

If you read the blog or have read my book (Writing Your Own Best Story: Addiction and Living Hope) you know my struggle is with sex addiction.

I try to write a great deal of content that applies to all addicts, because I think addiction is really about the trauma and triggers.

In other words, the acting out behaviors might change but at the core, addiction is about the trauma and triggers.

However, there are not many people out there writing about sex addiction. I have started to realize that even sex addicts are often double stigmatized and even live shame within the addiction community.

I also have started to realize, through hundreds of discussions, that many men (and many men who are addicts) have some common struggles that often manifest in a fear of intimacy and sometimes in sexual dis-function even when they don’t manifest in addictions and in acting-out behaviors.

These are all things that especially apply to me and my addiction.

So I am going to write today about some of the traditions of male socialization and upbringing that seem to cause real problems for us later in life.

My hope is that:

A) By starting this discussion, and speaking openly about these issues, more discussions will be sparked among men and with women about how we raise boys.

B) To remind everyone in the larger recovery community that almost all acting out happens for the same reasons. Stigma and shame is a trigger for almost all addicts. Looking down on any members struggling to recover from any acting out behaviors, regardless of what they struggle with creates stigma and shame.

Double Shame

Even More Shame Meme by Joshua Hoe

Our society refuses to talk about sex. Nothing is more shameful and uncomfortable for us to discuss.

Sadly, that makes it even harder, in many ways, for sex addicts to find recovery.

At many of the meetings I go to, when people accidentally enter our meeting rooms, the stock response that we give when asked what program we are in is to start that we are part of “another program.”

The fear of stigma is so real and the desire for anonymity is so precarious for S group members that it is uncomfortable to even speak the name of our program, even in a recovery environment.

I myself, over six years ago, was afraid to go to my first meeting because I was certain either:

A) I would be surrounded by scary sex-addicts (pretty hypocritical considering I had just been arrested for a inappropriate sexual behavior).

Or

B) I would be totally ostracized and rejected – that nobody would accept me (the literal opposite of my first concern).

Or

C) The meeting would be as it was portrayed in many popular comedy movies – as a bunch of horny people trying to attend a meeting to get laid.

Or

D) That I would be labeled and stigmatized for attending the meeting (odd fear since the arrest accomplished all of that on its own).

However, my fears were soon put to rest.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth. The people were universally caring and compassionate, the meetings were professional and very directly on message, and even the people who had done or experienced awful things (like me) were entirely concerned with being a better person.

Going to meetings is hard. Returning to meetings says something about who you want to be. Even people who struggle to maintain a program of recovery are painfully earnest about their desire to change their life and to live a life where their actions sync with their moral compass.

Okay, now that I have addressed the stigma what are the problems for men?

A Caveat, I am mostly dealing with heterosexual relationships here, because most of the problems I am talking about stem from heterosexual constructions.

I fully realize there is another list that could be written about being raised male in a heterosexist society.

1) Sex is shameful

And

2) Sex is an entitlement (for Men)

Messaging Confusion meme by Joshua Hoe

Men are raised to believe both that sex is wrong and shameful, but also that it is something that we should pursue and that ultimately is the guaranteed reward you get for being in a relationship.

Sex is men’s shameful entitlement.

In some ways it is even worse for women, they are basically raised to think sex is wrong and that anyone who has sex (before marriage) is a slut. So for women sex is wrong and wrong.

But, I suspect that a few of the reasons why sexual violence is such a large-scale cancer in this country starts with these two things:

Sex is shameful

Sex is an entitlement (for men)

The shame manifests itself throughout every step of a mans sexual maturation:

– We receive social messages that it is both healthy but shameful to masturbate.

For me, this created a strange moral confusion about sex in general.

Sex is fun, but it is wrong and something I should be ashamed of.

Before I encountered this in my life, bad felt bad and good felt good.

Worse, because I experienced feelings of both shame (a powerful emotion) and excitement (a powerful emotion) and sexual release (a powerful physical and emotion experience) at the same time the entire experience was like TNT exploding.

I was confused why something BAD could feel so much better than something GOOD.

Of course, in the Judeo-Christian ethic, we are taught temptation is part of the pull of evil, but hearing it and feeling it are two-totally different things.

And more important, feeling and experiencing this in a society that does not encourage you to discuss it with anyone else is dangerous to say the least.

I suspect it is very easy for people who have never been addicted to Heroin to be amazed at why Heroin addicts can’t kick the habit. The same is probably true of people who have never experienced sexuality like a drug.

In my case, I spent thirty years chasing more intense highs from sex. It started as innocent as could be and ended up in prison.

I was chasing not just release, but the intense feelings from the shame and guilt and release. And just like with a drug, the longer I went the stronger the dose I would have to have to reach the same level of impact.

I spent most of my “normal” non-sexual life discussing even the most difficult political and social issues of the day with people across the political spectrum virtually every single day. But the first really deep discussion I had with anyone about sexuality was at the meetings that I started attending after my arrest.

– Because of shame, we boys know virtually nothing about sex even after we first have sex.

We know what the act of sex is, but we honestly now nothing about healthy sexuality, how to be a good sex partner, or the relationship between healthy sex and intimacy.

Mostly we know we are supposed to be magically great at sex, that we will be ridiculed and shamed if we are not, and we know that we have to have a big penis and not cum to quickly or else (even if we barely know what this really means).

Sometimes it works out, and things go well, but these concerns are always present in every sexual encounter and with every new partner every time throughout our entire life.

The most bizarre and scary thing is that even among ourselves, we carry on a false bravado about sex. We never honestly discuss sex even among ourselves.

In most cases, even our role models are so ashamed to talk about sex openly that they don’t even want to share the basics much less explain the larger picture.

Schools are almost universally prevented from discussing anything about sex.

And when their is manifested sexual inappropriate behavior demonstrated, our focus is on punishment and removal, not education or information.

While I am talking about socialization of boys when they are young, I know from experience, that when boys grow up and get punished for having an unhealthy relationship to sex, most prisons focus on teaching sexual shame – even here, where it matters the most, people are not taught about healthy intimacy or about healthy sexuality.

We also remain committed to this idea that if we remove those few “bad actors” with sexual problems from society that everything will be fine (more on this below). The problems are MUCH bigger than a few “bad actors.”

Look at even the most conservative sexual violence statistics, virtually every woman in America has experienced some form of sexual violence. The vast majority of sexual violence goes unpunished and under-prosecuted.

Virtually all of the men I have met, when they are honest with me, have a story of a sexual encounter that was questionable (maybe not technically illegal but borderline).

These days with the proliferation of website escorts and massage parlors, secret sexuality is rampant across the entire country.

Ask ANY cable provider what pay-per-view services they make the most money from every month, if they are honest they will say it is pay-per-view pornography.

And, the statistics I have seen are staggering about the amount of online porn addiction, sexually violent on-line behaviors, and inappropriate online activity happening.

A massive amount of men in this country have a very active secret relationship with a sexuality beyond a healthy relationship with a significant other or committed partner.

I will fully admit that people can engage in all of the above mentioned behaviors in a healthy manner. Sometimes, fantasy can also take the power from taboo.

I feel safe in saying that most people engaging in these behaviors would NOT feel they were engaging with these behaviors in a healthy way.

I am not saying all men are sex addicts, or that all men are violent, but you can’t have this amount of actual sexual violence in a country without a large amount of people participating.

Can we at least admit that maybe we could do a better job of educating men about sex?

Can we imagine how much better the world might be if we just committed to changing this even a little?

I am not saying this to make myself feel better.

I am certainly not saying that because everyone is doing it, I should not have been in trouble. I am saying the opposite, we have a huge problem with sex and sexuality in this country.

I know what I did, I lost three years of my life in prison (another two on probation and parole), a career I was great at, and hundreds of friends to my addiction.

I know what I did was wrong and I have paid a massive price. While there are things about my experience that I disagree with, I accept and accepted that what I did was wrong.

I am also not saying that all unhealthy sexual experiences result in sexual violence or that all sex addicts are sexually violent.

My point is that we are not very good at teaching healthy sexuality to boys and that there are predictable outgrowths that come from that.

We have to find a better way.

3) Objectification Everywhere

Virtually every advertisement includes a woman as a body or a collection of body parts emoting sex directed at the male gaze.

Don’t believe me, open a magazine and count.

Watch an hour of television and count.

Rarely are any of these women given voices (if they do speak it is usually a breathy invitation to sex).

Rarely are any of these women given status beyond sexual rewards for men brave enough to purchase the accompanying product.

These women are rarely, if ever, represented as successful or intelligent, or as having a point of view (beyond providing sex).

Often they are not even given heads (print and online representations often focus only on boobs and butts).

We are showered daily from birth with images of women as objects.

My guess is some of that seeps into our worldviews.

Maybe we are immune but I doubt it.

In my experience, it is objectification – where we start seeing someone not as a person but as an object we are entitled to desire and control – that allows most sexual violence to happen.

Again, I am not saying that people cannot process objectified images. I am saying that the constant stream of objectified images of women make it easier for boys (and eventually men) to do the mental gymnastics necessary to commit violence against women.

I have a simple fix for this. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas believed that in the encounter with someone’s face (accepting them as person) we become servant to their humanity.

I believe that we should never present someone as only an object.

I believe if we are presenting someone sexually, they should always also be presented as a fully capable and actualized subject.

Women should be brains and bodies.

Women should be capable and sexual.

Women should have voices not just bodies.

Lately, a few action/adventure movies have done a much better job of deploying this strategy (Mad Max and Star Wars) and I hope it speaks to a larger trend.

But, Madison Avenue is the key.

There is nothing wrong (inherently) with portraying women (or anyone) as sexual. What is wrong is presenting them ONLY as sexual objects and not as subjects capable of making decisions, choosing what they want, and as having consent.

4) Emotions Matter

Boys are taught not to feel emotions outside of anger.

We are taught, often through sports culture, that winners never celebrate.

We are taught that it is weakness to cry.

We are taught that asking for help is showing weakness.

We are taught that men don’t talk about what they are feeling or talk about emotions.

Yes, there was a time when we had to mostly function as hunters. Yes, there was a time when life was mostly about getting food and protecting the family.

This time has largely passed.

Yes, there will always be dangers and reasons to be protective. But the dangers from swallowing our emotions are real, ask any therapist.

There is a reason why all of our major outlets for help stress the importance of sharing our feelings and talking about our fears.

For example, The Church favors confession, Psychologists call it “Talk-Therapy,” and 12 Step Programs call it “sharing.”

When we don’t find healthy outlets for allowing ourselves to feel the end result is the buildup of resentments. Bottled up emotions almost always come out at some time (and often in some much more awful way).

In addition, when you are only allowed to express ANGER bad things can happen (anger is not always a pretty emotion).

Perhaps the best demonstration of the importance of letting yourself feel is the recent Disney/Pixar movie ‘Inside Out.’ I cannot recommend this movie enough to anyone who has problems with “swallowing” their emotions.

I ruined virtually every good relationship I ever had because I found it virtually impossible to talk about any of the things that were really bothering me with my partners (more about that in a second).

My suggestion for this is for people to stop teaching boys to swallow emotions or to only feel “certain” macho emotions.

I know everyone is terribly worried about the “wussification” of America. Personally, I think we have much bigger problems (and not much problem being macho).

5) Confusing Sex with Intimacy

Boys are often raised to think that sex is the end goal of partnership.

As I grew older, because I was taught that sex is an intimate activity (which can be true) I never really had a good grip on what real intimacy is (or what it should be).

For most of my life, I had no problem with sex and very little desire to find intimacy.

I assumed that when my partners complained about me having intimacy issues it was just more of that Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus stuff.

Even when my parents were getting along well, I did not sense much open intimacy on a day-to-day basis.

And I also knew that “real men” were supposed to be rugged and silent.

What I have learned since:

* Sex is not necessarily intimate, in fact for me it often became a substitute for true intimacy.

* Intimacy was all the things that made me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable and made me “rush” to get to sex.

In other words, I was afraid of intimacy and replaced it with sex.

I was even more afraid of intimacy as an addict because I was afraid that my romantic partners would meet the “real me.”

The “real me” I had been hiding for so long because deep down I knew that if anyone ever really knew me they wouldn’t like me.

As an addict, I always had my secret self where I was acting out and my public self where I was playing at “normal.”

In every relationship I was entirely certain that people loved my public persona but would hate the private/secret me.

And partially, I think I was also afraid that if I ever exposed my “secret self” I would have to give it up.

So, instead of ever getting to real intimacy, I played out what seemed like a never ending string of intimacy games. And I ended up destroying every relationship that could have been meaningful of significant to me.

I pushed away everyone who really cared for fear they would either reject me OR they would force me to change.

I wanted to keep acting out and didn’t want my secret life exposed.

Boy am I glad I learned to get past that. I was essentially miserable for 30 years because I refused to expose my secret self.

At the end of the day, I think healthy models of intimacy and discussion about what healthy intimacy looks like could be very beneficial to boys growing up.

I am under no illusions, I know most of these suggestions will fall on mostly deaf ears in a society that maintains a Puritan relationship to sexuality.

Just like I found it very challenging to accept that the best way to recover from addiction was to give up control, I suspect most of America finds it challenging to accept that talking more about sex is the best way to overcome our sexual issues as a society.

This is unfortunate, because I am very convinced that our current socialization of sexual silence and emotional isolation for boys has been and continues to be problematic.

Thanks for listening.

What do you think is wrong with how we socialize sexuality in boys? Do you have any suggestions for healthier ways to engage with sexuality as a society? I would love to hear your opinions, leave a comment!

How Inches Become Miles

by Joshua Hoe

Addiction is Progressive Meme by Joshua Hoe

How do addicts go from minor bad behavior all the way to something much more serious?

How did I get from someone who would sneak around to look at dirty magazines to someone who went to prison for inappropriate online chatting?

It took decades for my addiction to progress from magazines to prison, and if you had asked me if what I was doing wrong at any point, I would have – at most – admitted that it was maybe immoral but not illegal.

How is that possible?

How do inches become miles.

For me it was spending so much time on justifying the inches between my progressively bad acting out behaviors that I started losing sight of the moral miles between where I started and where I ended up.

The Progressive Nature Of Justification

Part of the problem of addiction is that acting out triggers both emotional pain and excitement.

In some ways, the pain and excitement combine to create a much bigger emotional impact than either pain or excitement would have alone.

I remember seeing my first adult magazine.

The very first time it happened, I was very confused that something taboo (wrong) also felt good.

Bad was supposed to feel bad and good was supposed to feel good.

Yet here I was looking at something I knew was bad, yet it felt good.

Confusing.

And the rush was boosted by the combination of the two – bad and good.

Then, as I started to confront emotional pain in my life (triggers) I started to try to respond to that pain by trying to replicate this intense new feeling I got from acting out (dopamine rewards).

Our brains constantly work to reduce our pain and to find pathways from pain to pleasure.

Coincidentally, as the shame and sadness we feel after acting out are also triggers, our brains try to reduce post-acting out stress and pain as well.

Our brains constantly try to reduce the dissonance between how we see ourselves and the actual behaviors that we engage in – finding stories that can explain the difference between how we see ourselves and the actions that we are taking (that do not accord with our ethical guidelines).

In terms of smoothing our ethical stress our brains are always re-calculating the difference between where we were yesterday and where we are today in terms of justifying our behaviors.

I started at magazines, then moved to porn movies. But my brain is mostly concerned with the distance between magazines and porn movies, not the difference between my ethically pure self and my self that is watching porn movies.

Why?

Because at this point, I already had justifications built up (by this time) for looking at adult magazines.

My brain was only trying to justify the difference between step 10 and 11, not between steps 1 and 11.

Justification cycles happen inch by inch.

The Progressive Nature of Acting Out

At the same time my brain was playing its inch by inch justification game, I also faced another problem.

Over time, I needed to engage in progressively larger acting out behaviors to reach the same level of emotional payoff.

I became increasingly numb, I needed more and more thrill just to reach the same level of excitement I used to get from much simpler transgressions.

I was originally happy with magazines, but then needed movies, and a few years down the line moved to needing phone sex, then internet porn, and on and on and on.

So instead of seeing the big picture, instead of seeing that I was crossing boundaries I said I would never cross, instead I was seeing (and justifying) new inches.

I saw inches when I should have seen the miles.

Hope At The End Of The Rainbow

The best way to stop worrying about the wreckage of miles – is to stop creating new inches.

Since I found recovery and sobriety, I became increasingly less blind to the big picture, it was no longer just about the inches.

And once I could be truly honest with myself about the miles (how bad I had become) I started being able to change everything about myself.

One way to look at recovery is that you are learning a new process of responding to triggers.

In a sense, recovery is about learning to hack your addictive cycle.

Before recovery, you confront a trigger, your brain rushes you to acting out and then starts helping you soothe/justify your acting out in the face of your massive guilt feelings.

After recovery, you learn to engage with a new set of tools that you can deploy between confronting a trigger and rushing to act out.

You are learning to positively substitute good behaviors in the places where the bad behaviors used to happen.

And your brain, over time, will stop assuming that only one path exists between trigger and reward.

Your brain can be retrained, and recovery – in a sense – is the process of slowly retraining your brain.

What does the progressive nature of addiction mean to you? How has it played out in your life? I would love to hear your story, leave a comment!

Zombies + Addiction

by Joshua Hoe

How Can I Stop My Zombie Brain meme by Joshua Hoe

The most popular series on Television is The Walking Dead.

Every year it seems like at least ten new movies about zombies hit the theaters.

The main feature of zombies is that they are all drive, no intellect just desire. They work as if on auto-pilot.

I have always secretly suspected that one of the real reasons we are drawn to zombie movies is because so many of us are addicts.

I know I often felt more like a zombie than a person in my acting out cycles before I found recovery.

Did My Brain Make Me Into The Walking Dead?

As I understand it, there are three stories of addiction right now:

1) Addiction is a moral failing – addicts are really spoiled kids who never face consequences for their actions. If only they were made to face the consequences of their actions they would “straighten up and fly right.” Tough Love solves addiction.

2) Addiction is a disease – neurological patterns form between emotional triggers and the need for behavioral or substance-based dopamine release. These patterns become deeper and deeper and become natural to the addict.

3) Addiction is not really a disease but kind of acts like one – the pattern does develop, and does become habitual, but can be reversed because brain patterns are set and change all the time.

Science is having a debate between answers number 2 and number 3 – and for our purposes this is really an academic distinction that has little effect on our progress. It is nice to know that we can “change the pattern” over time, but we have to recover either way.

Our brains, as a general rule, try to remove obstacles in completing habitual behaviors because by smoothing those paths our brains free up space for us to concentrate on other things.

Over time these paths become deeper and more automatic.

When we are engaging in habitual behaviors it can feel like we don’t even know hat is happening, like we have been removed from the time in between cause (trigger) and effect (acting out).

In those areas, we become like zombies, mindlessly moving toward our desired behavior or substance.

I know when I was still acting out, I often wondered how I would be 100% convinced that I did not want to act out but mere minutes later I would have acted out.

I was an addict zombie.

Zombie Justifications

So the brain has another trick, when it confronts something that creates stress, it tries to find a path to soothing that stress.

So, when I was stressed about acting out (when I was certain I didn’t want to act out) my brain would start to try to make sense of it all so that I could calm down.

And my zombie justification cycle would start.

Over time, the smoothness between the trigger and acting out and between the acting out and justifications gets more and more natural.

Did I mention that I was an addict zombie.

This is not to suggest that I wasn’t responsible for my actions as much as to suggest why it gets progressively harder to slow down the process and increasingly easy to justify bad behaviors.

Tricking Your Zombie Brain

I Climb My Mountains Using Positive Substitution meme by Joshua Hoe

Probably the biggest weakness of zombies is that they are on auto-pilot. They are not very clever or strategic.

In addiction circles, we always attribute a great deal of cleverness to our “addict.” I am not entirely sure this is warranted, my “addict” is really persistent – and capable of deploying massive emotional power – but not really very clever IMHO.

When I am triggered, I will feel an urge to act out for sure.

My usual go-to response is to practice mindfulness meditation and just watch the urge until it dissipates.

But, Sometimes, even after all this time, an urge is so strong it leaves me shocked and surprised and meditation is not enough.

When I feel these powerful urges, I turn to what I call my “positive substitution behaviors.”

Positive substitution behaviors are alternative behaviors that I feel ethically comfortable with, that provide an emotional benefit, and that are not related (in any way) to acting out.

* I go work out (endorphin reward response)
* I call my sponsor (emotional reward response from social connection)
* I go to a meeting (same)
* I hang out with friends (same)

If you don’t have a list of substitution behaviors, start trying to put one together for yourself.

By substituting you start to create alternatives for your brain – different habit patterns that complicate the brains smoothing of the path between trigger and response.

You basically trick the brain by using a different reward in response to your trigger.

By breaking in and complicating this process, with practice your brain will start to normalize these new patterns between trigger and positive (instead of negative) substitution behaviors.

In other words, it gets easier.

I have no idea if this means I will eventually stop having the urges altogether, I doubt it. But I do know that I start to feel more able to use tools of recovery between the urge and the acting out.

Hopefully, over time, this will happen for you as well!

How do you slow down your brains smoothing out process between trigger and acting out? What tools work for you? I would love to hear your stories, leave a comment!

Logic Has Nothing To Do With It

by Joshua Hoe

I can’t take it anymore.

Everywhere you turn there are more self-appointed television addiction “experts” and they all have different versions of the same shaming technique when it comes to discussing addicts (they never really come on to talk about addicts – they come on to gain traction by piling on).

What is that shaming technique, some version of the following statement:

“How could anyone be that stupid.”

As if addictive behavior was governed by logic.

If addictive behaviors were governed by logic – simple rationality would get everyone sober.

Emotional And Compulsive Not Logical

As I have mentioned many times before, and have seen many experts admit, we don’t really know how people find recovery.

We do know that it is a process rarely governed by logic.

I know it wasn’t a logical process for me.

When I confronted triggering events a process was set into motion in my brain that is close to automatic.

So automatic that no matter how badly I wanted NOT to act out, I often found myself acting out.

Sometimes it was almost more devastating for me to come to grips with how I could act out even when I really deeply did not want to act out then it was to handle the actual relapse.

Addictive behavior is often called a disease by some for this exact same reason. It is often beyond the ability to apply “self-control.”

To expose more of this brand of addiction “treatment”

* Going to a rehab facility does not mean an addict is cured
* Relapse does not mean that the addict is doing it on purpose
* Relapse is not to spite the sober
* Relapse is not self-destructive behavior, at least not in the way most commentators assume.

Mostly, I just wish people on TV would stop judging addicts.

Judging their immoral or illegal actions, okay, the addiction, not okay.

What are your thoughts about shaming addicts using logic as a weapon? Have you experienced this first hand? Share your stories, I would love to hear your comments!

Mental Illness – Speaking At Stigma

by Joshua Hoe

End Stigma Now Meme created by Joshua Hoe

The other day I was on Twitter and someone mentioned the need for more men to speak up about their experiences with the stigma unique to men’s experience with mental illness.

So here are a few stories from my own experiences around mental illness and stigma or poor care:

1. Being Male with Panic Disorder

I have panic disorder and throughout my life have experienced debilitating panic attacks.

When I was younger, I had to teach myself to project the image that nothing at all was wrong while I was having a panic attack because:

* Guys are not supposed to show weakness or emotion – shaking like a leaf in a storm while sweating and looking like you might collapse at any moment is mostly a great way to be teased for the rest of your life.

* Nobody believed panic attacks were real. People still react to people having panic attacks as if they are something imaginary, a phantom a weak person uses because they cannot “handle” stress (unspoken like a “normal” person).

* Even medical personnel generally did not believe panic disorder was a real thing. My panic disorder was not even diagnosed until I was an adult and I had been suffering from them most of my life.

Luckily, I have been taught better coping mechanisms, and now, I deal with my attacks much more productively. But, the sheer effort of trying to project normality while surviving panic attacks used to exhaust me so much that I would pass out for days sometimes.

2. Seeing how the mentally ill are treated in America’s Jails and Prisons from the inside

If you have read my bio, or my book, or my posts, you know I went to prison.

When I was first arrested, I had never been to jail or prison before in my whole life. So, everything was a learning experience for me.

When I first arrived, they asked me a set of questions. One of those questions was:

“Are you feeling depressed.”

I thought about it and decided that it would be pretty unbelievable to say I was feeling great after just being arrested for the first time in my life, so, I responded:

“Yes, a little”

Big mistake!

Next thing I knew I was in a green protective suit and put on the suicide watch block (glass on all four sides of the cells so you were on 24 hour surveillance, lights on at all times, and 23 hour lock down).

But this is not about me.

I was there for about a day and a half. They kept the rooms very cold and all you had was your green outfit and a blanket (no books, no writing materials, and no television – just a white and glass room).

After a day I was interviewed by a psychologist and told I would be moved out to first the psych block and then to a normal block (everything in jail and prison takes a long time to process).

So, I was moved to the psych block.

The first day, I was kept in a tiny cell for 23 hours with a bunkmate who was so drugged up he never said one word in the entire 23 hours. The people who were truly disturbed and/or on serious anti-psychotics were kept in these cells.

The second say I was moved to the socialized psych floor, lockdown was only about 8 hours a day. As long as you did not cause problems, you were allowed to socialize and play cards.

Shockingly, I found out that the inmates allowed to socialize were not allowed to talk to or even get close to the inmates who were locked down for 23 hours a day.

I also learned that many of those inmates that were locked down 23 hours a day had been kept in those cells for well-over 12 months.

Many of them were managed by giving them dosages that caused them to essentially sleep away their time in a narcotic stupor.

The next day I was moved to a regular block.

After around a month after I was moved into the “normal” population I saw the psychologist I had met in the psych section.

I asked her, “how does keeping someone suffering from serious mental problems locked down 23 hours a day help their mental condition?”

Her response has stuck with me ever since, she said:

“It’s not optimal”

When I finally got processed to prison, I could see that the treatment of the mentally ill was about the same as in jail.

Most memorably, I remember seeing a man from the psych unit standing on the yard, unkempt and clearly unhinged, mumbling partial sentences through his drugs.

I remember noticing he had one shoe, and no socks, barely functioning on a prison yard in early winter.

I have never felt so ashamed to be a member of the human race.

Many of you know that mental institutions were found so corrupt in the 1970’s that most of them were shut down. Unfortunately, there was no plan of what to replace mental institutions with.

Instead, jails and prisons have become America’s default mental institutions.

Out of sight out of mind.

Except, I saw them.

And now, I cannot erase the memory. I am ashamed and we should all be ashamed.

Hard to take any of the nonsense about us being a great nation seriously when we take many of the people who need help more than anyone else and punish and traumatize and drug them to the gills.

Why? Because nobody wants to deal with the problem of treatment.

I try to write mostly positive things on this blog, sorry to end this in such a dark place.

One thing that learning about addiction has taught me is that sharing is really important.

I wanted to get these experiences out in the open.

Thanks for letting me share.

I hope you are having a happy and sober Wednesday!

Have you had similar experiences? Would you like to share your experiences? Please feel free to comment, I would love to hear from you!

Perfect vs. Good

by Joshua Hoe

meme saying "don't make 'perfect' the enemy of 'good enough'" by Joshua Hoe

I get so caught up in trying to make stuff perfect, that sometimes I forget that sometimes good is enough.

Worse still, by being obsessed by being perfect, I can start to work against my own best interests.

Making The Perfect An Enemy of Good Enough

Do you make “Perfect” an enemy of the good?

* When working the steps?

When I first stated working my formal first step for presentation to my recovery group, I was treating it like it was the great American novel. Instead of just getting it done and starting to get my story out, I hoarded and edited it to death.

Finally, thanks to astute and timely intervention by my sponsor, I realized that I would have the rest of my whole life to get the story perfect.

Now, I realize that working the steps is a lifelong process. I am currently on my third turn around them (and I work slow). Every year I learn and uncover new things about myself.

IMHO the most important thing is to start the process of getting everything you have been keeping inside yourself out.

* When thinking of calling people

So often, I will tell myself to wait to call people for a billion reasons.

Some of the reasons are related to perfectionism:

He doesn’t want to hear the same struggle again, I will wait until I make some progress or He is just going to think I am an idiot, I need to get better before I start calling.

In these cases, I have 100% made the perfect the enemy of the good.

In retrospect, every time I think about calling someone, the best thing to do is call. When in doubt, I should always make the call.

When people ask me when they can call me, I do set boundaries, but I also tell them that when it is a struggle, err on the side of calling me.

I have gotten calls at three in the morning and been happy, as soon as I woke up, to be able to be of service.

In my experience, everyone I know follows a similar policy. So, the idea that I shouldn’t bother people, or that I should just wait for a perfect time, is obviously more shenanigans designed to get me acting out.

Hope you have a wonderful and sober Tuesday!

Do you find yourself making the perfect the enemy of the good? Can you share any examples from your life? Thanks for reading and please, feel free to comment!