"The sadistic stuff you’re watching isn’t completely victimless. Women – or, even, perhaps, men – are being exploited to gratify your desires. When pain is inflicted, it hurts. Just because it’s on film doesn’t mean it’s not real."

Dear Virginia

I’m 51, with a loving wife and four lovely children, and I’m addicted to pornography. I have everything I need: money, love, health, sex and happiness. But now and again, I log on to various websites and spend a couple of hours locked in my guilty secret. It is rough stuff, though I’ve never viewed anything involving children. Afterwards, I feel total shame and self-loathing. My family have no idea about this as I’m very careful. I am terrified of being found out, when all hell would break loose. Please help me.

Yours sincerely,  Andrew

Virginia says

Writing a letter to me has been the first step in trying to deal with this problem. But you need to tell someone else – a very close friend who you are sure you can trust, or your doctor… anyone. Just the act of telling will begin to get this addiction out of the darkness and into the light. And addictions don’t like light. Obviously, if you could tell your wife, so much the better, but I imagine that this would be a step too far.

Next, remember that just because children aren’t involved doesn’t mean that the sadistic stuff you’re watching isn’t completely victimless. Women – or, even, perhaps, men – are being exploited to gratify your desires. When pain is inflicted, it hurts. Just because it’s on film doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Now, what to do when you get the urge? Imagine your children coming in on you and watching you watching it. I would imagine that the kick you get from the pornography being tittilatingly wicked would soon diminish if you could summon up thoughts of the children every time you logged on to these sites.

Then, ring someone, if you’re tempted, instead of logging on. If you join Porn Addicts Anonymous, which is a 12-step group based on the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous, you can find people who will understand when you reach out to them, who won’t judge, and who will try to persuade you to turn your mind to other things. Then, too, if one of your family does discover your addiction before, hopefully, you’ve managed to give it up, you at least have the evidence that you know it’s a problem and that you’re trying to do something about it.

Next, put a filter on your computer. Now, I know that if you put a filter on, then you can undo the filter, but it means there will be just one more barrier to logging on.

And try fantasy. Millions and millions of people indulge in sadistic or masochistic sexual fantasies, and never actually feel compelled to watch anything. They can do it all in their heads. See if you can’t practise this. It won’t be the same, but it will at least be harmless.

I have one last thought: your life sounds so irritatingly perfect that I wonder if there isn’t an element of aggression towards your wife that you’re leaking out in this behaviour? It could be a way of channelling suppressed anger towards her and, indeed, towards your idyllic life, which sounds, I hate to say, a little unreal. Would seeing a counsellor on your own help unpick some of these feelings?

Whatever, you’ve taken a first step, so do make real efforts to stop. Otherwise, I’m afraid, it will only get worse and what started out as a once-a-week habit may start to take over your life.

Readers say...

Stop feeling guilty

Why on earth get in a self-punishing stew about watching pornography? The internet has opened a wonderful cornucopia of sexual fantasy, spanning such a range that one has all the opportunity in the world to select what pleases rather than disgusts one.  The prejudice against it is because it is taken for reality, which it is not – it is fantasy, and fantasy is a form of imagination and has its own claims and its own interest, which are not those of external reality. If you were in less of a stew, you might be able to tell your wife about it. I did mine, and while totally uninterested herself, she takes it in her stride that I am.

David

London

You need help now

Being addicted to pornography is no different from having an unhealthy relationship to anything – drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling. You cannot fight this destructive behaviour on your own. You need to get treatment and, while it won’t happen overnight, there is a way to move on and live a fulfilling, happy life that doesn’t involve needing to watch sex online. The website addictionhelper.com is a good place to start.

Maia M

by email

Don’t keep things from her

Like a lot of women, pornography makes me uncomfortable. I worry that we now live in a society in which it’s so accessible and that, for many young people, this distorted fantasy world is part of their “education” about real-life sex.

But as a woman of about your age, married to a lovely man, what would really hurt me if I found out that my husband had been using porn in the way you do is the secrecy. You imply that you have a good sex life together, and yet there is clearly a large part of your sexuality that she doesn’t know about and plays no part in. It sounds as though this secrecy is causing some of your self-disgust as well.

I think you need to find a way to tell your wife – perhaps little by little, letting her understand the things you like about the porn you watch, which perhaps she might see are not things she is willing to share with you. You don’t have to tell her everything – the purpose is simply to work towards more openness in the future. Otherwise, you must find a way to stop, even if it means getting professional help.

Delia

by email

Next week's dilemma

A month ago, my boyfriend and I got very drunk and he started taking pictures of me while we were having sex. It was all very funny until I woke up the next day and asked him to delete them, and he refused. He kept teasing me and said that now he could do anything he wanted to me because he always had this hold over me, and threatened to put them on Facebook. I know he was only joking, and I don’t think he’d ever do it, but I now feel paranoid about these pictures. When I ask him to delete them, he just laughs and turns it into a joke. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,

Carys

What would you advise Carys to do?To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk

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