by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
The easy availability of pornography and consequent addiction to it, has reached epidemic proportions that the media continues to ignore. For the man with SSA, gay porn becomes a particular problem because of the natural but frustrated desires it represents.
As I work with SSA men, it becomes apparent to many of them that its appeal lies in porn’s seeming fulfillment of three emotional drives: (1) Body Envy, (2) Assertive Attitude and (3) Need for Vulnerable Sharing.
If, upon reflection, the client agrees that his attraction to porn is rooted in the above motivations, then we proceed to work on them. If not, then we approach the issue from another direction.
Let us review each of these emotional needs described above, and see how they can be represented in gay porn.
Usually the first identified need is the desire for a body like the personified image. The porn actor possesses qualities of masculinity regarding which the client usually feels inadequate. For each client, those masculine features may differ, but the common elements are muscularity, body hair, large build, and the archetypal image of masculinity, a large penis, which the client often feels are shamefully lacking within himself.
In addition to body image, the client is drawn to a display of directness, non-inhibition and bold aggression. These are exactly what most clients lack in their own life, especially, due to their inhibited and sexualized relationships with other men.
With further exploration, the client may identify his attraction to porn, to the idea that it offers open sharing with another man. Sexual activity between two men offers a fantasy image of vulnerable sharing and the illusion of a deep level of mutual acceptance and validation which are painfully absent in his male relationships.
Fantasy for Reality
Diminished interest in gay porn occurs as the client begins to understand that he is pursuing normal, healthy and valid needs through this fantasy and wishful thinking. Yetwhile apparently emotionally “safe,” gay porn offers nothing but temporary relief from loneliness and alienation from other men. The client is encouraged by his therapist to surrender this false intimacy for authentic friendship. While it offers him momentary “safety” from the anticipation of shame-invoking rejection by other men, porn satisfies only in the moment.
The three therapeutic techniques for uncovering the client’s unconscious needs are: (1) Inquiry-Investigation, (2) Body Work, and (3) EMDR. The effectiveness of each technique depends upon the client. The therapist may combine them, but as a general rule, Body Work is more effective than Inquiry-Investigation, and EMDR is more effective than Body Work. (Body Work involves the development of self-attunement and does not involve touching.)
The client’s recognition of porn as merely fantasy projection of unmet needs inevitably leads the motivated client to ask: “Well, then how do I get these needs met?” His question marks the second phase of Reparative Therapy and the process out of gay porn, and more importantly, out of homosexuality itself. Preoccupation with male porn always represents the client’s own sense of masculine inferiority made manifest in these three aspects, and investigation into the life of the SSA client always reveals a lack of authentic male friendships.
Memories of boyhood shaming by dominant males often surface during therapeutic exploration. Porn actors, after all, represent the kind of men who intimidate our client. The client comes to realize that through porn, he can dominate or be dominated by the men who once frightened him. Through porn, he can engage in imaginary play and feel a pseudo-acceptance from the kinds of men who have humiliated and rejected him.
As the client comes to identify how he projects onto the porn image his unmet needs and as he fulfills those needs in real male friendships, the compelling power of the porn image diminishes. Clinical reports tell us that the client may eventually find such images not only uninteresting and non-arousing, but repellant in the same way that such images are experienced by heterosexual men.