treatment + healing

In over 25 years I have treated approximately 350 males afflicted with sexual addictions (or sometimes referred to as sexual compulsions). In about 94% of the cases I have found that pornography was a contributor, facilitator or direct causal agent in the acquiring of these sexual illnesses. I note that Patrick Carnes, the leading U.S. researcher in this area, reports similar findings. In his research on nearly 1000 sex addicts, as reported in his Don't Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addictions: "Among all addicts surveyed 90% of the men and 77% of the women reported pornography as significant to their addiction."

I found that nearly all of my adult sexual addicts' problems started with porn exposure in childhood or adolescence (8 years and older). The typical pattern was exposure to mild porn early with increasing frequency of exposure and eventual later addiction. This was nearly always accompanied by masturbation.


This was followed by an increasing desensitization of the materials' pathology, escalation to increasingly aberrant and varied kinds of materials and eventually to acting out the sexual fantasies they were exposed to. While this did on occasion include incest, child molestation and rape, most of the damage was through compulsive infidelity (often infecting the wife with herpes or other venereal diseases) and a destruction of trust in the marital bond which in many cases led to divorce and a breaking up of the family.

Many wives found their husband preferring fantasy sex (they would catch them masturbating to pornography) to making love with their partner. This had devastating effects on the marriage. One wife, in great pain, confronted her husband, "What do you see in those two-dimensional faceless women that I can't give you as a loving wife who is flesh and blood, a real person and committed to you?"

The men never had an answer.

the ugly reality of fantasy

To some extent they enjoyed sexual relations with their wives but most preferred the fantasy with masturbation because "these women" could do anything and were perfect in form and appearance! I found that once addicted, whether to just the pornography or the later pattern of sexual acting out, they really lost their "free agency."

It was like a drug addiction. And in this case their drug was sex. They could not stop the pattern of their behavior, no matter how high-risk for them it was. My 25 years' clinical work, as well as frequent reviews of the literature, convince me that at least one avenue leading to the creation of these kinds of addictions is through a process of masturbatory conditioning.

The work of R.J. McGuire, et. al suggests that exposure to special sexual experiences (which could include pornography) and then masturbating to the fantasy of this exposure, can sometimes later lead to participation in deviant sexual acts.

As McGuire explains it, as a man repeatedly masturbates to a vivid sexual fantasy as his exclusive outlet, the pleasurable experiences endow the deviant fantasy (rape, molesting children, injuring one's partner while having sex, etc.) with increasing erotic value. The orgasm experienced then provides the critical reinforcing event for the conditioning of the fantasy preceding or accompanying the act.

McGuire indicates that any type of sexual deviation can be acquired in this way, that it may include several unrelated deviations in one individual and that it cannot be eliminated even by massive feelings of guilt. Other related studies by D.R. Evans and B.T. Jackson support this thesis. They found that deviant masturbatory fantasy very significantly affected the habit strength of the subject's sexual deviation.


In my treatment of hundreds of primarily male patients with sexual pathology (paraphilias) I have consistently found that most men are vulnerable to the effects of masturbatory conditioning to pornography with a consequence of sexual ill health, because we are all subject to the laws of learning with few or no exceptions.

In my experience as a sexual therapist, any individual is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself into having a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend when this occurs. A frequent side effect is that their capacity to love is also dramatically reduced (e.g. it results in a marked dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships).

This sexual side becomes, in a sense, dehumanized.

Many of them develop also an "alien ego state" (or "dark" side), whose core is antisocial lust devoid of most values. Raw id, in a sense. In time, the "high" obtained from masturbating to pornography becomes more important than real life relationships.

training the mind

It has been commonly thought by health educators that masturbation has negligible consequences, other than reducing sexual tensions. Moral objections aside, one exception would appear to be in the area of repeatedly masturbating to deviant pornographic imagery, either in memories in the mind or as explicit pornographic stimuli which risks (via conditioning) the acquiring of sexual addictions and/or other sexual pathology.

It makes no difference if one is an eminent physician, attorney, minister, athlete, corporate executive, college president, unskilled laborer, or an average 15 year old boy. All can be conditioned into deviancy. The process of masturbatory conditioning is inexorable and does not spontaneously remiss.

The course of this illness may be slow and is nearly always hidden from view.

It is usually a secret part of the man's life and like a cancer, it keeps growing and spreading. It rarely ever reverses itself and it is also very difficult to treat and heal. Denial on the part of the male addict and refusal to confront the problem are typical and predictable and this almost always leads to marital or couple disharmony, sometimes divorce and sometimes the breaking up of other intimate relationships.

One researcher, Stanley Rachman demonstrated in the laboratory how sexual deviations could be created in adult male subjects. He was actually able to condition, in two separate experiments, 100% of his male subjects into sexual deviancy (fetishism).

There are many approaches to treatment, which usually involve individual work with a psychotherapist who has skills in treating this kind of illness, plus being put into a 12-step group such as Sexaholics Anonymous. There are no costs to be in such a group, which is patterned after the original AA model.

initiative in healing

I have personally found the following approach to yield the most successful outcomes for at least the type of patient population which I work with: males 15-70 from mainly middle social class backgrounds, often religious and motivated to change (because of the threat of divorce, loss of job, prison, etc.).

If the patient is married I attempt to have the wife participate in treatment. She has been traumatized repeatedly by the husband's problem and broken promises and usually has a huge trust issue with him and may be debating divorce. I see them together so that the wife knows everything that goes on in treatment and we address her fears, depression, the kinds of acting-out, as well as their stressed marriage.

In the first interview I have the husband outline the problem and ask him what he wants me to do. He needs to take the initiative in his healing. I then turn to the wife and ask if she has anything to add or correct or if she wants to say what her goals for therapy are. If on the verge of divorce, I determine if she wants out or wants to stay and help.

I talk about the importance of the wife being a part of the healing team. It goes faster if both are involved. Both are wounded. Both need help. However, there is one unchangeable rule: NO SECRETS. I tell them that secrets "kill you. They take away your power." They create shame and guilt. And even though there might be some relapses (usually minor) during treatment, these need to be talked about openly in therapy; they are wasting their money if these are not disclosed and worked with.

I tell them that most people I know who are kicking the cigarette habit quit 12 times before they really quit. Anything hidden, the spouse always sooner or later finds out about it. So right to begin with: no secrets!


I next take a history of the man's exposure to pornography and masturbation to it (or masturbation with no pornography) and sexual acting out. I do this in the wife's presence, which helps her understand more clearly that in some ways her husband was a victim usually starting at an early age. I next inquire about possible sexual abuse or early seduction of the husband as a child or as an adolescent, which have eroticized him prematurely.

In taking this history, I start with his first memory of exposure to pornography - what its form was (magazine, video, phone sex, etc.) and if he masturbated to it - and continue with the history up to the day of interview.

Then I establish a sobriety date (the date of last exposure) for all the different forms of porn or sexual acting out that he was involved with, as well as the last time he masturbated. At each succeeding visit I recheck these sobriety dates. If there has been relapse then I do relapse prevention work with him, identify triggers that set him off and seek ways to circumvent these.

I next explain to the wife that her husband has lost his free agency. And that's why promises don't work. Good intentions mean nothing. Her husband may mean well and really want to quit because of the terrible painful consequences, but he literally cannot do this by himself yet. He has to have highly specialized help.

the wave theory

Most therapists do not know how to treat sexual addictions. Self control and self discipline or a rational approach generally don't change anything. I tell both husband and wife about the "wave" which periodically hits the patient and overwhelms him with temptation. This is something most men cannot resist.

One of the goals of therapy is to prepare the man to face and defeat the wave. These waves vary in frequency from several times a day to once a year or even less. Between the waves the man feels at peace and has the mistaken notion that he has his power and can resist anything. But this is an illusion and is only temporary until the next wave hits him. I explain to the couple that as a therapist I'm like a guide to Mount Everest.

I can show them how to get there but they have to walk every step of the way. They have to do all the work. I assure them they can heal. But like alcoholics when sober, sexual addicts must be careful not to expose themselves in the future to high-risk situations. I also explain that they are not mentally ill in the classical sense but that they have an addiction which powerfully controls their lives, somewhat like being on crack cocaine.

And the journey to freedom will not be easy.

It will require an enormous commitment on their part to become whole again. I assign both husband and wife to read Patrick Carnes' book, Out of the Shadows and Steven Kramer's book, Worth of a Soul. I have the husband begin attending Sexaholics Anonymous. There are chapters in nearly every city in America. They are free. To find where and when one meets, call Alcoholics Anonymous (in all the phone books). They will know.

the process

The client-addict may start with a newcomers group first and then graduate to the step-study group after a few months. Wives that have been badly traumatized by their husband's behavior may wish to attend S-Anon (for spouses of offenders - once again, find the details from Sexaholics Anonymous) or even later join with their husbands at their SA meetings if allowed.

The client-addict needs to attend 90% of his weekly meetings for this to work and be truly healing. If the individual is relapsing at high rates, they may need to attend up to three or four nights a week in order to achieve sobriety and break the stranglehold of their addiction. At these SA meetings, they need in time to locate a "sponsor," who is someone who has been sober (no relapses) for a lengthy period of time who they can call (phone) in an emergency, which is an occasion when the wave hits and they are strongly tempted to act out.

Their sponsor can help them stay sober; he's like a life guard.

Because the compulsion to act out is so overpowering, I give them a mental set to just stay sober one day at a time. They must think only of making it today. If they focus on a longer time period they may be setting themselves up for failure. Through close interviewing, the addicts must identify triggers which activate the wave (e.g. looking at porn, seeing girls in skimpy clothes, after a fight with their spouse or the spouse being out of town, driving by an adult bookstore, walking into any video store, viewing hard-R or X films, looking at ladies bra and panty ads) and then plan strategies to avoid these or deal with them.

Example: if going on a business trip and staying in a hotel with access to porn movies, request the front desk, when checking in, to block out those channels. Call your wife at 9:00 P.M. each evening when away.


When the addict is stimulated or aroused by sexual fantasy which can lead to masturbation and the acting out cycle, I tell them that they have only three seconds to block or stop the thought or imagery. At the top of their voice they should yell STOP (or scream silently if others are nearby) and visualize a policeman with handcuffs approaching, holding a big sign with the words STOP on it.

This will kick the offending imagery off the mind screen briefly.

But then they have to bring to mind an event in their life that has very powerful emotional significance (either positive or negative) which they can ruminate about. In other words, they fight fire with fire, a strong sexual fantasy with another totally different kind of memory, such as the time they helped their team win the game, a surprise birthday party, or even the death of a very close friend. But it must be something powerful emotionally.

fire drills

I present to them imaginary situations which they might have to face in real life which would expose them to temptation. How would they handle it? I process their responses in great detail so if something like this should happen in real life they would be mentally prepared to deal with it.

Example: a friend at work wants to show them his porn. How would they handle it? The wife, of course, is listening to all of this and participating as she chooses. No more masturbation. Stop masturbating. This risks further conditioning into deviancy. The goal of no masturbation may be difficult and not even possible immediately. I have them keep a calendar record of those days when they masturbate and urge them to strive for reducing its frequency but especially, if they do slip, to refrain from fantasizing about deviant sexual imagery.

In contrast, I have them imagine loving their spouse. I check their calendar record at each session to determine whether the frequency of masturbation has been reduced, with the ultimate goal of being free of this habit. Marriage counseling. I tell them to do things that will help improve their marital relationship. I give them assignments to have fun together and improve intimacy, take marriage seminars, participate in sports together, be friends, etc.

stress reduction

If they have financial problems, I help them work out solutions or refer them to agencies that can help. If they have out-of-control children, I give them support in dealing with this. Or if the wife suffers greatly, I recommend a program to provide her with a support group and place where she can be nurtured.

When relapses occur, I don't "beat them up." I point out that relapses are just part of a growth experience and explain what can be learned from the relapse that will protect them in the future. I try to give them hope. I point out the progress already made and the good things done. I have them keep a daily journal in which they record fantasies and behaviors.

I then review and process these during therapy. I give them further books to read, such as Patrick Carnes' later books, Contrary to Love and Don't Call It Love. I also recommend the Sexaholics Anonymous Big Books, include case histories and biographies of recovering addicts.

Other techniques I use include apology sessions; eliminating sex fantasies; autobiography; covert sensitization; family of origin work; developing a sobriety contract; healthy sexuality education and social skills work. And lastly, if an inappropriate image or tempting thought appears on the client's mind, I have him close his eyes and say:

"Thank you, Higher Power. I appreciate being reminded of my weakness. I will get well!"

Therapy must be tailored to the special needs of the couple. I choose only those techniques that best fit my client's special needs.

Copyright 2002 Dr. Victor B. Cline.

hooked on darkness

You have an addiction. It isn't a public addiction, like alcoholism. With alcoholism, the last person to know he is an alcoholic is the alcoholic. Support groups exist for alcoholics. If you go to Alcoholics Anonymous, people support you because they know you are seeking help. But you are addicted to pornography, and pornography addiction is a secret thing.

You may be the only one who knows you are addicted. If you went to a support group for pornography addicts, and your friends found out, or if your spouse found out, they might be very disappointed in you. You might hurt feelings, break hearts. Friends and family probably don't know you're addicted to pornography. They probably think you're a fine, upstanding, loving man.

And you know what? They're probably right.

You see, pornography addicts come from all walks of life. They're blue collar laborers and white collar executives; they're handsome and they're homely; they're Christian, Jewish, and atheist; they're all races and creeds. They're single, they're married and they're fathers. They can be lazy couch potatoes, and they can be diligent community volunteers. Some want to control their addiction and some do not.

you want to control your addiction

I say "control" your addiction, because you need to realize you will never "eliminate" your addiction -- you will always be addicted. When I refer to breaking your addiction, I mean it in the same sense you might break a horse. Breaking a horse means you gain control over it - it submits to your will. You don't take it out and shoot it. You're like a diabetic. Diabetes won't go away (at least no one has found a cure yet), but it can be controlled.

"But that's not fair," you say. "Why do I have this addiction?"

It isn't fair. Diabetes isn't fair either. It's just one of the inconveniences of being human. Some people get it, some people don't. But just because you get it, doesn't mean you should give in to it. And you've got pornography addiction. You always will - it won't go away. But you can control it. And by control, I don't mean you can reduce the amount of pornography you look at. I mean you can stop looking at, listening to, or seeking out pornography all together.

But it is going to take effort. It is going to take commitment. It is going to take resolution that you won't give up, no matter how discouraging it gets. It is going to take time. Most addicts have been controlled by pornography most of their lives. That's a lot of programming to overcome. In fact, you may want to seek professional counseling for your addiction.

the challenge

The only challenge with counseling is that some therapists don't have the experience to help you, and many do not even think you need help. Many professionals don't consider pornography addiction a problem. Certainly not to the degree that you understand it to be. Oh, and one more thing: professionals can cost $125 an hour. So I'm writing this little brochure because I think it can help you. It's short. It's to the point. It contains what has worked for me, and I hope and pray it works for you.

You see, I'm addicted to pornography too.

But I was lucky; after years of searching, I found a counselor who understood my desire to control my addiction. Like me, he believed that at the very least, pornography made it difficult to to live the type of happy life I was seeking. It's taken several years, hundreds of dollars in therapy fees and lots of hope, but today I am in more control than I have ever been.

Using what I have learned from my therapist and incorporating my own experience, I have developed a very simple plan that helps me get through each day, one day at a time.

I hope it can help you.

dealing with guilt

Chances are, you are probably extremely hard on yourself. Your addiction can be discouraging, and can seriously damage your self-esteem. You may go for a few weeks or months without a problem, and then - whammo! - you fall in the hole again. And when you're in a hole, it's easy to feel very worthless. All I can say is, don't beat yourself up!

You're not perfect.

This is brave of you - you are trying to accomplish great things, here. You are trying to overcome an addiction, an addiction that didn't develop overnight. Don't expect to gain control over your addiction overnight.

I didn't develop my plan in one day; I developed my plan after years of trying, failing and learning. Give yourself a break. Think of it this way: you are taking steps to change your life for the better. You are going to feel closer to your heart during this process of change than you have in a long time. Keep your progress in perspective.

Are you seeking out pornography every day?

Then going two days without seeking it out is a major accomplishment! When you focus on a goal, and reward your own successes, you are going to experience an increased sense of self worth. Determine at the outset that when you occasionally stumble (because you will - at first), you will pick yourself up and not give up. Your own plan might need some adjustments, but DON'T GIVE UP!

If you've been addicted ten years, it's going to take a long time to change patterns.

Start again, one day at a time. Each day that you succeed will increase your self worth, and give you added strength to succeed tomorrow. So don't worry about succeeding tomorrow. Just worry about succeeding today, and rewarding yourself tonight.

controlling your thoughts

Pornography addiction begins in your mind. Some people think about it and some people don't. For many people, pornography doesn't interest them, just like auto mechanics or gardening might not interest you. But for the pornography addict, pornography is extremely interesting.

You might not be someone who spends a lot of time thinking lustful thoughts. Lustful thoughts can certainly increase your desire to find pornography. But that might not be your particular spark. Maybe you associate feelings of insecurity or loneliness with sex. Some people, when they're feeling lonely, turn to masturbation or pornography. Such simulated sex makes them feel un-lonely, at least for a little while.

If that's your situation, you need to realize that loneliness is part of life. Even the most happily married man in the world feels lonely once in a while. Create an action plan for the times you are alone. Learn to enjoy being alone. Do housework, or study, or exercise. Get out of the house and get your heart pumping. Don't worry about whether you'll be tempted again when you get back. You're not exercising to keep from seeking out pornography - you're exercising because you enjoy it, you are alone and now is the perfect opportunity.

Find things you love to do, that you can do when you're alone.

Controlling your thoughts is like driving down the freeway. Have you ever driven at a high speed and suddenly heard your tires thumping over the reflectors on the lane's dividing line? You hadn't noticed yourself swerving out of your lane, but now you hear the warning of the bumps under your tires. So what do you do? Probably, without even thinking, you correct your steering and pull away from the line. That's what you are trying to do with your thoughts.

Whenever you get in a situation that might tempt you to indulge in pornography, you need to make adjustments in your thinking and actions to get you away from danger. At first that will take a great deal of effort, but as your instincts improve, you'll find yourself steering clear of hazards with hardly any thought at all.

Let's say you are staying in a hotel that offers adult programming on television. Well, most hotels also allow you to disconnect adult programming. You probably need to call the front desk the moment you arrive in your room and ask them to disconnect the service. Even though you aren't tempted when you arrive, late at night you might be, and you want to make sure it is unavailable. You may have to do the same thing 20 years from now, even though it's been two decades since you've sought out pornography - remember, you're an addict; you will always be addicted. You will always have to take precautions. You are an addict.

Are you rationalizing? Pay attention to the things you rationalize - they're probably the very things where you are weakest. Fill your mind with something uplifting when you catch an unpleasant thought creeping onto the stage of your mind. Just remember, you need to actively resist pornography. So, here is my plan.

one day at a time

Start today.

My plan works best if you start today and don't put it off. Make sure you have gotten rid of any pornography in your home. Throw it out. If it's around, you will fail. Remember, right now you are weak. You have to resist each day. When you've finished reading this paper and understand the plan, take time to pray. You need to appeal to a higher power if you hope to succeed. Prayer will give you extra strength.

If you aren't a praying man, become one. Let your Higher Power know that you have a new plan, and you want his help in accomplishing it. I believe that a personal prayer, rather than a recited one, is more powerful. In your own words, explain that you're addicted to pornography and that you will do everything you can to control your addiction, but that you need his help to make up the difference. Pray in whatever way you are most comfortable. Ask for what you need. Ask for help in controlling your addiction

Now, determine how much you can afford to pay yourself each day. Fifty cents? A dollar? Two dollars? It depends on your personal budget, but what you are doing is saving for a big reward. Pay yourself each day that you avoid pornography. Your goal is to give yourself something great after your first 100 days. And it needs to be something totally extravagant that you would never spend money on otherwise. Maybe it's a diving course or a day of skiing.


Your goal will increase.

Your first goal is to go 100 days. After you've made it, your next goal will be to reward yourself after 250 days. And then reward yourself once a year. So each year you will have money to spend on something purely fun. Every night, I take a dollar bill and put it in my bank. It's a great feeling. Every once in a while I take the money out of the bank and count it. That's how many days I've gone without seeking pornography. And I keep a tally of when I spend it so I know when I've gone more than a year in a row successfully.

But what happens when you fail?

Well, you have to give the money away. Pick a charity. Maybe it's a centre for homeless children, maybe it's a medical research group, maybe it's a local arts group or a service organization, or even better - an anti-pornography group! But pick a charity. When you fail, you're going to send them all the money in your bank. AND THEN YOU ARE GOING TO START AGAIN!

That's all there is to it. That's my plan. So remember:

1. Eliminate all the pornography in your home;

2. Ask your Higher Power for help;

3. Determine how much you can afford to save each day;

4. Pick a reward for yourself after the first 100 days;

5. Make or buy a bank to save your money in;

6. Pay yourself each day that you successfully avoid pornography;

7. If you stumble, give all the money in your bank to your favorite charity;

8. After 100 days of success, reward yourself;

9. After the next 250 days, reward yourself;

10. Reward yourself each subsequent year for the rest of your life;

11. Don't beat yourself up when you stumble; and, most importantly,

12. Remember that what you are trying to accomplish is a major undertaking.

you can do it

And as you progress, you will be blessed with incredible joy. You will become more self disciplined, and you will be happier than you have ever been.

Copyright 2002



You must believe in yourself at all times.

You must never lose faith that you are capable of doing anything in life you choose to do, and you must always choose the highest.

It is not enough for you to choose that you must achieve excellence.

For you must believe in yourself enough to accomplish that which others cannot accomplish.

To believe in yourself, you must have courage that exceeds the need for the consideration of courage.

It must be a natural part of your life that avoids any need for decision making based on whether you have courage to do that which you must.

This must be a belief beyond personal questioning, beyond personal doubt, to a point when it can no longer be considered courage but rather a way of life.

This shall be so, for you will believe in yourself.

You must have character that is beyond criticism and is a permanent part of yourself.

It is not imagined or pretended.

Every moment of your life must be naturally conducted with pride and dignity that cannot be confused with arrogance but recognized with respect.

Your character must always contain compassion and concern for others.

This concern will be genuine, for you will never lose sight of your background in trying to understand those you have difficulty in identifying with, for they are the majority of the world and the character never bends, never compromises and is consistent.

You must believe in intellect that no task is beyond your ability to succeed.

Your intellect is a gift that you shall not waste and you shall use to its greatest capacity.

You must have the patience and tolerance to realize that others will not always agree with or understand you.

But rather than find fault, you shall try harder to reach them, for it shall become your responsibility to serve them.

This is your calling.

You cannot question it. you must accept it.

The impact of pornography on children
Sex addiction
Learned helplessness
Debt: a new perspective
The biochemistry of hope
A healthy life
The laughter page
Find your own North Star

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Responsibility, Guilt, Shame + Perfectionism
Suffering + Self Abuse
The Release of Rage + Grief
Learning To Love
Roles In Dysfunctional Families
The Psychology of Deceit
Compulsive Behaviours, Including Sexual + Pornography Addiction
In Remembering Fire