As the old adage goes: Before you judge someone walk a mile in their shoes.

If you’ve ever watched a friend struggling with porn you know how hard it can be to empathize. In fact, at times you may feel like to throwing your hands in the air and shouting  —“Just get over it already!” 

One of our main objectives at Parents Aware is to promote understanding about the addictive nature of pornography. That’s because there are thousands of teens and young adults joining different recovery programs every year. Many were introduced to porn as kids. They stumbled across it online. One curiosity led to another and before long they were hooked. Now they are looking for support to break free.

In this post I’ll draw an analogy between sugar and porn. I’ll also explain why giving up sugar is a way for me to walk a mile in the shoes of another.

What the brain craves

When someone decides they want to remove porn from their life they quickly discover how difficult it can be to “just get over it.” Their brain has been conditioned to expect this visual stimulus. Porn can actually create an addiction cycle similar to that of hard drugs. Some experts go so far as to say it’s more difficult to get porn out of your system than crack cocaine.

To be honest, I have no idea what it’s like to crave something like cocaine. I pray I never will. But in an effort to help a friend struggling with porn I have decided to give up the only thing that I really do crave.

Day 1

“Would the kids like a lollipop? They can help themselves.”

I had been eyeing the huge bowl of treats on the counter while I paid for the boys’ haircuts. Instinctively, I reached out and grabbed one for myself.

In the moment, the only decision I was prepared to make was which of the beautiful shiny lollipops would I choose. I went with red. A decision made in a split second.

As I approached the door to exit, more rational thinking took over. I turned to to my son and offered, “Would you like this? I forgot I’m not eating sugar.” Delighted with the bonus candy he gladly obliged. “So what’s the deal mom? Are you on a diet?”

The sugar strike

I knew this would be the first response I’d get when I started to pass on the sweets. So how do you label giving up sugar when you’re not dieting? I’ve decided to call it a sugar strike, the purpose for which is to understand (in some small way) what makes giving up porn so difficult.

Before anyone takes issue with my analogy I’d like to clarify three things:

  • In no way do I trivialize the power of porn over the human mind
  • I am not comparing porn to sugar from an ethical standpoint
  • Unlike porn, sugar can typically be enjoyed in moderation

When I explained that I was giving up sugar for a friend struggling with porn my 13-year-old was fully supportive. We talked about the addictive properties of both sugar and porn. Then he mentioned a video clip he had recently seen in Health Class —That Sugar Film by Damon Gameau. It’s a documentary film studying the impact of sugar on the human body.

Watch the trailer, then consider this: Has porn not infiltrated our online experience as intensely as sugar has the aisles of the local grocery store?

The more I talk with young people about the harms of porn, the more I realize how much it’s in their face every day. So many want to rid themselves of the compulsion to use it. Others are desperate to know how to help a friend struggling with porn. But it’s EVERYWHERE!

Helping a friend struggling with porn

I’ve been asked by one of these young friends to become their accountability partner. This means:

  • I check in regularly on their progress
  • I don’t pass judgment when they stumble
  • I talk them through feelings of discouragement
  • I help them reset goals as often as needed
  • Together we identify triggers
  • Together we discuss ways to minimize the risk of using it again

For many struggling with porn, walking away from it is more difficult than they could ever have imagined. Looking at porn has become an instinctive response. Not unlike when I reached for a red lollipop on the first day of my sugar strike.

Porn, like sugar, conditions the reward pathway in the brain to expect something that’s called a superstimulus (unnatural and incredibly stimulating). The brain quickly learns to crave this superstimulus and shifts into overdrive until it’s satisfied. In order to rewire and reset the brain, a very deliberate effort is required.

More than willpower

We’ve all made resolutions and given up. Think of all your good intentions to exercise. Or the healthy eating plan that’s been derailed by rushed schedules and the availability of a quick slice. Where is the motivation? Where’s the urgency to stay committed? Where’s the willpower?

This was me on sugar —ready to give in at the slighted whiff of the sweet stuff. I knew sugar gave me headaches, swollen joints and contributes to fatigue. BUT OH THE TASTE!! Plus it can be combined in so many delicious ways! My brain was willing to compromise health for something decadent and chocolaty. In fact, chocolate chips became a daily staple! If none were in the house I’d start to feel a little panicky.

3-step plan to success

I knew my desire for sweets had become a compulsion. Cheat days (AKA binge days) weren’t going to cut it. (There’s always an excuse —birthday, girl’s night, date night, sport’s night, etc.) This time it had to be all or nothing. I needed to prove to myself I could give up sugar indefinitely. Here’s the plan:

1. Set measurable and manageable goals

Since ‘indefinitely’ is not a measurable length of time I settled on the goal of going one full year without sugary snacks. (Whoa, did I just say that out loud?!)

To achieve this larger goal, some smaller milestones were needed. My first task was to make it through one day —And I did!! Once I knew I could manage my cravings in a 24-hour period it was time to extend to a week.

My ultimate challenge was passing on the beautiful lemon cake my mother baked from scratch for the family. She brought it over Sunday. And oh, it was gorgeous! It sat on my counter taunting me. Still, I made it through my first week treat free!

2. Think beyond yourself

I’ve discovered it’s easier to keep resolutions when someone else depends of you.

If this were a personal diet I would have fallen to a temptation far less than the lemon cake. In fact their were many moments throughout the week when all I could imagine was the taste, texture and satisfaction that a few seconds of sugary sweetness would bring.

The reward centre of my brain was working in overdrive. “Crave sugar! Crave sugar!” it repeated incessantly in my mind.

Fortunately another part of my brain was talking back. The prefrontal cortex or reasoning part of the brain kept telling rest of my brain that this abstinence from sweets had a greater purpose. What it said was, “Remember this is for your friend struggling with porn; your strength is their strength!”

3. Create a new reward pathway

Some say it’s impossible overcome a bad habit without replacing it with a good one. One therapist explained it like this:

“If I told you to stop thinking about a red ball, the first thing that comes to your mind is likely a red ball. Now, what if I told you to focus on a green ball? Notice how quickly the red ball leaves your mind?”

As soon as I started my sugar strike I couldn’t stop thinking about sugar —I’d see it EVERYWHERE I went. My sweet tooth isn’t going away just because I want it to. And helping a friend struggling with porn may not be enough to get me through the tough times. To ensure success I need to find something other than sugar to feed my brain’s reward pathway.

I have to start thinking outside the cookie jar —and fast! Christmas baking will be one of my biggest hurdles and it’s lurking on the next calendar page! I need an arsenal of yummy and satisfying snack alternatives. Kicking a bad habit may not be easy. But it is possible! (Thank goodness for Pinterest!)

Accountability

Oops! I forgot, there’s a 4th step to this plan. I am announcing publicly my abstinence from sugar. This means I’m now accountable to you. It also means you are welcome to check regularly on my progress. But please don’t pass judgment if I do stumble. And help me identify triggers and reset goals as needed.

Most importantly, if you have a child or young friend struggling with porn, think about how you could walk a mile with them. You don’t have to give up sugar (I promise). All you really need to do is give them your time, understanding and unconditional love.

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Share this article so that more families can start to understand the addictive nature of porn. Giving up sugar is simply one part of a larger journey to understand the challenge it can be for young friend struggling with porn. At Parents Aware it’s our goal is always support one another as we all work towards the same objective. Please email us your stories!

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Marilyn

Marilyn

Marilyn Evans lives east of Toronto with her husband and five sons. Concerned with the ease of access to online pornography, she began searching for ways to address this subject with her own children. The lack of support and information available to parents at that time compelled her to begin speaking out publicly on the subject. It's her hope that parentsaware.info will provide families with a resource they can turn to for answers on how to speak openly and honestly with their children. You can follow @parentsaware on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Marilyn