DEAR FIONA: Porn has ruined my ability to have a relationship

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Picture: Shutterstock

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Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: porn addiction, OCD and cheating.

QUESTION: I have been looking at internet porn every day since I was 14 or so and now, at 25, I wonder if I will ever be able to have a proper relationship.

Throughout my late teens and early 20s I was still interested in women, but found it hard to be around them. When I did get as far as the bedroom, it was always difficult and on the last occasion I couldn’t keep an erection at all.

It was so embarrassing that now I’ve given up trying and rely on porn instead. Besides, even if I did meet someone special, how long would they stay once they found out I looked at porn every day? What’s wrong with me?

FIONA SAYS: The internet has made it so easy to access porn – it’s available 24/7, it’s free and it can be viewed in complete privacy.

Experts who have studied people who view porn all the time have discovered it can, unfortunately, lead to sexual dysfunction, as you have found out for yourself.

Apparently, the problem lies in the brain, which is simply not wired to deal with a heightened state of sexual excitement all the time.

Internet porn can produce a never-ending series of new images or films, each of which induces a new sense of excitement. The brain is hit with dose after dose of feel-good dopamine and it is this which some claim leads to addiction, much like drugs or alcohol.

From what you telling me here, it would indicate you have a possible addiction to porn – you started young, you look at it regularly, you’re ashamed of it and it’s left you unable to perform.

Like other addictions, it’s also left you detached from real people, which is probably why you found it hard to be around real women and couldn’t relate to them.

It’s an addiction that can be controlled though, and there are specialist counsellors with training in this particular issue who can help. The Association for Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has trained counsellors who can help, listed on their website along with lots of other helpful information. There is a questionnaire too that you can use to check if you’re addicted and in need of help.

One of the counsellors, Owen Redahan, tells me that he believes you can be helped, but you should remember though that if this is an addiction, there is every chance it’s something you must be aware of for the rest of your life.

Just like with alcohol, drugs or gambling, once you have it under control you must avoid it if you don’t want to re-engage with it and have it become a problem again. Unfortunately, the younger you are when you start, the more likely this is to be true.

While there have always been cases of porn addiction, it’s really only since the growth of the internet and the ability to stream images that it’s become a widespread problem.

QUESTION: Why does my husband have to keep checking things? He’s always done it, but over the last year it’s got a lot worse.

When we go out he checks the front door three or four times, and does the same thing for the car when we get to our destination. At home, watching TV, he is up and down all evening checking sockets are switched off, windows are shut and that the car hasn’t been stolen.

However, it’s worse later when he checks all windows and doors at least five times before coming to bed and then gets up repeatedly later to do it all again and again. Last night he even did this until 2am.

I love him to bits but this is driving me nuts as I am struggling to get enough sleep.

FIONA SAYS: Most of us have routines and habits that others may find irritating but, for the most part, these are harmless. In your husband’s case though, something seems to have kicked his behaviour into overdrive.

His routines have become obsessions and I suspect he has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD for short. This typically stems from anxiety, so can you think of anything in the last year that might have increased his stress levels?

Talking through his anxieties with him may help, but if it doesn’t, please encourage him to speak to his GP who can suggest possible treatments.

You both may also find it useful to contact OCDAction which has lots of information about OCD, a helpline and a network of local support groups.

QUESTION: After a very boozy family party a few weeks back, I did something really stupid: I had sex with my sister’s fiancé.

We were both very drunk and he offered to walk me home at the end of the evening. When we got to my flat I invited him in, one thing led to another and now I feel terrible.

I have avoided my sister since the party and I am sure she must be wondering if something is wrong. Part of me thinks she should know what sort of man she is going to marry, so should I tell her what happened?

FIONA SAYS: What would it achieve? You’ll upset your sister and lose whatever love and trust exists between you. Moreover, she will probably call off the wedding and leave her fiancé.

You know you’ve been foolish and irresponsible, but I hope you can also see that nothing will be gained by telling her. You can’t keep avoiding her though, else she will begin to suspect something is indeed wrong.

Talk to her fiance and make sure he understands this will never be mentioned and never repeated. If you still feel the need to talk to someone about this, I suggest you see a Relate counsellor who will treat what you say in complete confidence.

I should add that if this had happened when you were sober, or if the behaviour had been repeated, my answer would be quite different.

QUESTION: Since my husband’s death five years ago I have been looking after my three children, the youngest of whom is now aged nine.

It’s been full-on and I have had little time for relationships but, two months ago, I met and fell in love with an amazing man. We’ve been together a lot ever since, especially at the weekends, and I feel guilty about neglecting my children, but my mum’s encouraging me and she’s been great, looking after them while I see him.

Last night he mentioned marriage and although he didn’t actually propose, I think he will. I’m worried it’s too soon as he hardly knows me and certainly has no idea what my children are like as he’s only met them twice, and then only briefly.

FIONA SAYS: It’s great that you have met and fallen for this man and, yes, it can happen this quickly. However, your doubts are also reasonable.

You need to know that he gets along with your children, that they react well to him, and the only way you can know this is if they spend more time together.

I suggest you arrange some family weekend activities and invite him along. It may feel awkward at first, especially if any of your children resent what they see as someone trying to take their father’s place, but stick with it over a few weekends.

If he does propose, and you’re still worried, explain why and suggest both he and the children need more time getting to know one another before you could make a commitment.

If he genuinely cares for you and if he’s really willing to accept your children, he should be prepared to wait.

Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or elise.brewerton@thenews.co.uk. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.