The Struggle of Overcoming an All-Consuming Porn Addiction
WATCH: Repairing a Marriage After Porn Addiction
At a time when pornography is more readily available than ever before, even seeping into virtual reality to create a whole new level of connection, some people are struggling with an addiction.
For Garren Burket, his appetite for porn almost destroyed him and his marriage.
“As an addict you find many, many different ways to hide what is going on,” he said. “You’re up late at night, you’re doing different things to distract, or you wait for them to leave. There’s a whole long list of methods.”
Garren had kept his porn addiction a secret from his wife, Lyschel, who traveled for work.
“She traveled a lot,” he said. “That gave me plenty of time to do what I did, and when she was around...I would wait until she was outside or something to that effect.”
“I developed many methods to live that second life and nobody really knew about,” he added.
After two years hiding his addiction, Garren confessed to his wife and the shock took a toll on her.
“Suddenly I started doubting self-worth, I started not understanding – ‘am I beautiful? What is he looking for? Can I measure up to that? I can’t. She’s photoshopped,’” Lyschel said. “I mean this person has been living in your home, and lying in the bed next to you and he’s not the person that you think that he is.”
With her trust shattered, Lyschel became obsessed with her husband’s daily activities.
“I was checking histories on computers. Quizzing him on where he’s been,” she said. “I’m grilling him with a hundred thousand questions -- wondering you know...is he again lying to me.”
Courtesy The Burket Family
Garren Burket and his wife Lyschel are shown here in this undated family photo.
“My husband’s addiction became my addiction,” Lyschel added. “It started to consume me.”
Porn addiction is a hotly debated topic. Roughly 43 percent of online users view web pages with pornographic content, according to Internet Pornography Statistics, and it can also impact relationships. In a 2003 survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, more than half of the 350 divorce attorneys interviewed said the Internet played a “significant role” in divorces in the past year, and that online porn contributed to half of these cases.
And now, porn is about to reach a whole new level of accessibility with virtual reality. Brian Shuster of UtherVerse has developed interactive software that when paired with a virtual reality headset, transports the user into a 3-D world to participate in porn through an avatar. The company filmed professional porn stars in the act to create customized features, including sex skills, for the avatars.
Shuster said the idea is to allow people to live out their wildest fantasies from the comfort of their own home, maybe even prevent them from cheating. It also gives users the option to bring in their significant others for cyber-sex from near or afar.
“It’s possible for both partners in a couple or for multiple partners to be able to experience virtual reality together,” he said.
While he touts the benefits, Shuster acknowledged that porn can be harmful.
“People need to be able to understand that what they’re viewing is fantasy,” he said. “I think it could be used to really enhance a couple’s sex life...but it can also be used against you, and that’s what happens when someone makes pornography their main sexual outlet.”
The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which lists the criteria for mental health disorders, does not consider porn addiction a true addiction, citing lack of research.
Licensed sex therapist Dr. Chris Donaghue, who has treated porn addicts clinically and is one of the experts on the reality TV show, “Sex Box,” said porn can warp people’s view of sex.
“You know porn is our best sex educators, sadly,” Donaghue said. “And so what people see in porn they tend to expect from their partner...so it can really set someone up to some really poor expectations, about what they can get from their partner.”
Actor Russell Brand, known for his oversexed characters in movies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” recently denounced porn on his web series, “The Trews.” The self-professed former porn addict admitted on the video that pornography still has a hold on him, even after a stint in rehab.
"Pornography is not something that I like. It's something that I have not been able to make a long-term commitment to not look at and, it's affected my ability to relate to women, to relate to myself, my own sexuality, my own spirituality," he said.
But men aren’t the only ones struggling with porn addiction. Jessica Harris, 29, said she became addicted to porn when she was a teenager and it consumed her life to the point where she was watching porn as many as eight hours a day.
“I very much led a double life,” she said. “At school I was being the good perfect straight-A student...and then I would go and home lock myself in a room and watch just porn.”
Ashamed and feeling out of control, Harris said she couldn’t stop.
“There were days where I would get up and say, ‘I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do it, I’m going to be a normal person today,’” she said. “And it was almost like my feet led me into the computer room and you sit down in front of the computer and it’s like you wake up six hours later.”
But once she was in college, a Catholic school that monitored students’ Internet access, she was caught and finally sought help. While Harris’s goal is to abstain from porn altogether, she said she still watches it two ro three times a year. She now runs a website, called Beggar’s Daughter, where she gives advice to the countless people who email her looking for help.
To save their marriage, Garren and Lyschel went to therapy. Garren vowed to never look at porn again, but continues to fight his impulses.
“But the struggle of the triggers – the anxiety, the stress, those things are coming in everyday life,” he said. “They never go away, so it’s how you fill the void, it's how the recovery functions.”
While they struggle every day, they say this experience has brought them closer.
“I think that we’re probably stronger than we’ve ever been in our entire lives,” Lyschel said. “I know that’s a really bold statement, but...we have realized that our marriage is worth fighting for.”