Prostitution Addiction: Uproot the Cause, Correct False Beliefs
By all accounts, Pierce is a creative, funny, intelligent 30-something who owns a freelance business doing what he loves. He’s genuine and generous with his friends; he likes to surprise people with small finds and fun get-togethers. Pierce is known for his great stories and absolute loyalty. People describe him as, “a teddy bear,” and “a big-hearted guy.”
About a year ago, Pierce’s girlfriend of six years made a career decision to move five hours away from their city. Pierce decided that he didn’t want to uproot from his customer base or his large network of friends, but out of his sense of optimism, he believed that he and his girlfriend could make a long-distance relationship work. She didn’t feel the same, and broke off their relationship. Pierce was devastated; his friends couldn’t remember ever seeing him so crushed.
Pierce fell into situational depression and began to hide out in his apartment. He felt unable to take on work and began to experience high levels of anxiety. One of the ways Pierce began to cope with his anxiety and to tune out thoughts about finances, work, and friend responsibilities was to view pornography. He had never been a large porn consumer and disliked what he calls the “unnatural bodies” sometimes used in high production porn. He continued to veer away from those sites and kept to amateur distributors and free porn websites, but began to feel mournful of the time that had elapsed since he had last been touched. [Touch generates oxytocin—the bonding hormone—and dopamine, which makes us feel really good. When these chemicals suddenly drop off, we can go through withdrawal, and depression can set in. Sexual addiction is associated with attachment to oxytocin and dopamine.]
After about three months, Pierce researched how to go about visiting a “massage parlor.” Reputable massage therapists frequently fight the stigma cast by prostitution enterprises that have worked under the guise of the more legitimate healing professions for as long as either of the professions has existed. Pierce quickly found what he wanted to know and worked up the bravery to visit his first prostitute. In the beginning, he visited women for services which did not include sex or oral sex, but as is nearly always the case, his compulsion urged him to act out in more extreme ways. Soon, despite the legal and physical risks, Pierce was visiting women in their homes for sex. He says of all the experiences he had, he never felt a sense of true desire or satisfaction. His body seemed to be functioning without him present.
Pierce knew he had a problem. He committed to stopping, and even began to date a doctor he fell head-over-heels for, but continued to find himself defeated by his problem. He was “disgusted” with himself and he felt alarmingly “ashamed,” and for these reasons he was especially astonished that he could not stop.
Seeking the Experience of Shame
Shame is a basic emotion underlying hypersexual compulsion and sexual addictions. What Pierce came to realize was that shame itself was the experience he was unconsciously seeking even more than sex. In the context of sexual addictions, sex is frequently the least important factor, even though it may seem like the biggest. In order to heal from any addiction, we must discover why—the reason for our addictive behavior. Whatever form it takes, whatever substance or process we cling to, is merely superficial to the deeper reason that we have been self-sabotaging through addictive patterns in the first place. Until we locate that reason and bring it into the light, we are unlikely to cease addictive patterns of any variety, no matter how aware we may be of our tendencies.
Reenacting a Mistaken Belief
It’s been said that for most people, the root cause of addiction is usually a mistaken belief we adopt about ourselves in childhood, and which resurfaces later through difficult or traumatic experiences. Life will always have difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences, which sadly, children experience too. It is not uncommon that, due to lack of understanding and the stress and difficulties in the lives of parents, misunderstanding gets passed down, even unintentionally. We experience a culture rife with negative messages. In Pierce’s case, his mother was highly anxious and tended toward stress. She was also self-focused. Even though she loved her children, she tended to make herself the center of attention. Like many parents do, she used shame as a parenting strategy, which sent the perhaps unintentional message: “You’re not worthy of love,” and “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Later, when the love of Pierce’s life chose her career over their relationship—a decision she was within her right to make, but one with painful consequences for Pierce—those messages were again reinforced. Pierces acknowledges that unconsciously, he may feel unworthy of love, of importance. He believes he “should be” ashamed while recognizing that shame is not a useful emotion. Until he can bring these emotions into the light of consciousness and heal them, he may continue to reinforce them by amplifying these mistaken beliefs in the loudest way he can find. Addiction to prostitution, if it causes him to feel shameful and self-hating, may have been the best tool Pierce’s subconscious could deliver to send a message to him about the mistaken beliefs he needs to heal. These mistaken beliefs created problems in his relationship and for his freelance work, and go much deeper than his current addiction, so to further grow and develop, he must address them.
Growing Ourselves Whole
Our bodies and minds want to be healthy—to function optimally—it’s how they are designed. And our hearts want to love and accept love. All we must do is eliminate any obstacles in the way of health and love. Our unconscious minds are always helping us to do just that by showing us what the obstacles are. In Pierce’s case, the obstacles to a healthy body, mind, and heart are the beliefs that he is unworthy of love and that he should feel shame. Neither are true, of course, but to make those mistaken beliefs loud and clear, he may be enacting behaviors that he knows absolutely do not resonate with who he is and what he wants in his life. This sounds simple, and maybe it is, but changing long-held beliefs can be hard work. But beginning from the opposite end, trying to avoid everything sexual or sexually triggering, is much, much harder.
Working from root causes is likely critical to ultimate wellness for all people who struggle with compulsive and addictive behaviors. Uproot the cause, remove the obstacles, correct the mistaken beliefs. This is a path not only to healing addictive patterns, but to deep personal growth.