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April Membership Meeting Write-Up — Douglas Green, LMFT

The Clinical Application of Mindfulness-Based Recovery
for Pornography Addiction

Presented by Darrin Ford, LMFT, CSAT-S, MBAT-S

In this time of lockdown and our clients’ isolation, it is more important than ever before for therapists to be aware of the prevalence and issues of pornography use and abuse. How perfect that the April meeting of SFV-CAMFT featured an online presentation by Darrin Ford, LMFT, CSAT-S, MBAT-S, on The Clinical Application of Mindfulness-Based Recovery for Pornography Addiction.

Ford, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist and Supervisor, and Gottman-trained couples therapist, is the founder of Mindful Centers and The Academy for Addiction and Trauma Training, where he integrates mindfulness into the treatment of those struggling with addiction and trauma.

After a focusing meditation, centering on the mantra “May this time relieve suffering in others,” Ford discussed the recent history of pornography, how it was one of the first draws to the internet (back when it took three hours to download an image), and has exploded ever since, due to affordability (most is free), accessibility (instant), and perceived anonymity (Ford stressed that every search engine keeps records of every search, so one’s online history is actually public knowledge). He quoted a finding that 25% of all Google searches, for example, are pornography-related.

He then went into detailed arguments on what Pornography Addiction is and isn’t, comparing it to more traditionally-recognized addictions. Activities that some might look down on, such as fetishes or casual use of pornography, are not signs of addiction. Rather, addiction “is out of control behavior, creates destructive consequences in one’s life, and puts them at risk of arrest.”  He described clients of his whose addictions were so extreme that they would watch pornography while driving, or in public places (including a student who tried to watch some in a classroom, not realizing that their Bluetooth was turned off, suffering mortification when their classmates heard everything). In relationships, the addict often mistakes intensity for intimacy and feel reduced attachment, while both partners are likely to develop increased anxiety and/or depression. Interestingly, though, while men who use pornography a lot tend to suffer a reduction in feelings of intimacy, women who use some actually often experience an increase in it.

Of course, the biggest problem Pornography Addiction causes in relationships is Partner Betrayal. “Partners become I.T. experts!” he explained, as the trauma of discovering the degree of use causes them to dig through phone records, internet searches, etc., and leads to full-on cases of PTSD and ASDs.

Diagnostically, like other addictions, pornography addiction involves significant loss of time, preoccupation/obsession about the behavior, inability to fulfill obligations, or continuation of behavior despite consequences. And like the others, it also includes a rise over time in tolerance, and the experience of withdrawal when it’s not fed. We’ve all heard about the dopamine jolts one receives while clicking in social media sites; internet pornography just raises the degree of the “hits.”

Ford then compared Pornography Addiction to Sex Addiction, again emphasizing what Sex Addiction is not (affairs, going to strip clubs, hiring prostitutes), while pointing out that its power is because we are programmed to get our greatest highs from sex (and that often other addictions develop to mask the pain of this one). As Freud commented, “Sex is the one addiction that all other addictions try to mimic.” In terms of the differences between Pornography and Sex Addictions, he pointed out that the constant accessibility of pornography makes it far more consumable and thereby the more common one.

(But, Ford cautioned, even addictive behaviors might not be proof of a Sex or Pornography Addiction, as sometimes these can be elicited by the effects of brain tumors.)

Turning to neuropsychology, Ford quoted studies showing how Pornography Addiction can result in reduced libido, heightened sensitivity to otherwise non-sexual stimuli (comparing it to the way an alcoholic will notice a bottle where no one else will see it), lack of confidence, inability to concentrate, anxiety, and even agoraphobia. Tests show that the D2 receptors in the brain, which normally tell us when we’ve had enough of some pleasurable experience, show in far greater numbers in the brains of addicts, so it takes more dopamine to satiate them. And he emphasized that the only way to change the neurology of the brain is to reduce the behavior, and replace it with other, healthier behaviors. Nothing will get rid of the addiction completely, any more than with alcoholism or drugs, but one can reduce the intensity of it, to the degree that they can move on into a healthier life.

As a painful addition to the subject, Ford pointed out other issues regarding LGBTQ people, who might live in communities where pornography (or cruising) is the only outlet for their sexual feelings, and ostracized gay youth who may have no other option but pornography as a career, both for money and validation.

So what to do about all this? Ford has found Mindfulness Training to be of enormous benefit to the treatment of addictions, and in particular Pornography Addiction. He pointed out how a strong practice reduces the mind’s worries, and enables one to live more in the moment (though complete in-the-moment is never possible), enabling the addict to make healthier and more educated choices. It can even help the traumatized partners accept the new reality of their lives, and their rights to their feelings.

While, again, nothing eliminates the neural pathways that lead us to addictive behaviors, Mindfulness can reduce the intensity of cravings, improving dendritic connections, thereby reducing the time for recovery from distress. “It’s not a silver bullet,” Ford pointed out. “It’s like a medication, you have to keep going with it.” Interestingly, he pointed out that different types of meditation are better or worse for Pornography Addicts. The transcendental types can actually lead to a dissociative experience, where Vapanasa (where one keeps their eyes open) and other more conscious meditations work better.

Ford ended his presentation with two humorous stories. One about Buddhist monks who were tested by EEG in a study to measure compassion. They were confused — why would one measure the brain, when compassion comes from the heart? The scientists found this funny, until the test results showed that compassion actually does show more affect in the heart and vagal nerve than it does in the brain.

And his own experience. As a cerebral “nerd,” suffering multiple psychic wounds, Ford tried meditation with great hesitance. In his first class of it, he got so nervous and full of self-doubt he announced he was leaving, till the monk teaching him calmly touched his trembling knee, and explained, “I’m quite sure that nobody has ever died through meditating.”

While the comments about the presentation from the group were uniformly positive, it is certain that Ford didn’t get the feelings he would have from speaking to a live audience, nor the group from him. In other words, it was analogous to pornography!

They say the best art exists where form meets content. Well if any presentation during this lockdown was actually served by its online format, ironically, this might be it.


Douglas Green, MA, MFT, has a private practice in Woodland Hills and West Los Angeles, where he specializes in helping children and teens live lives they can be proud of. To find out more, you can contact Doug at 818.624.3637, or DouglasGreenMFT@gmail.com. He's also often at our chapter meetings, serving as the volunteer coordinator. His website is www.DouglasGreenMFT.com.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists