Sexual and porn obsessions can be debilitating and shame inducing for people who know they have these fixations but still lack awareness of how they come about and don’t know how to resolve them. Some people want to express their sexuality differently but are stuck in fetishes and obsessions they want to let go of but can’t.
Adding to the difficulties here is that there seems to be a lack of clear techincal information on exactly how sexual obsessions form in relation to porn use and how exactly to resolve them. We want to fill this gap online and help people understand where sexual obsessions comes from.
In this article we want to go through a step by step run down of imprinting, sexual imprinting, obsessions, how these concepts connect together and how to resolve them. The psychological process of Imprinting is a crucial aspect in the formation of sexual obsessions and understanding how this process works will help you see more clearly how repeated porn use can lead to this problem.
A Brief Summary of Imprinting and Sexual Imprinting
Imprinting is a term from psychology and refers to a type of phase sensitive learning that animals and humans undergo in the early stage of their life. It is most commonly associated with the scientist Konrad Lorenz, who explored and tested the concept extensively with animals in particular.
In one sentence, imprinting in general can be summed up as follows:
Whatever you are exposed to first as an infant, you will tend to become attached to and mimic it’s characteristics
Two popular examples of this are with infant ducks and geese, which will imprint on whatever animal or human being it is exposed to in it’s early life. Even if it isn’t it’s actual parent, the baby can still imprint on it, even if it’s a human or another animal, and follow it around everywhere it goes. It can be almost comical to watch. See this video of a couple of ducklings imprinting on a dog.
In the absence of their real mother, these ducklings are imprinting on this unfortunate dog and treating that as their parent instead.
The same thing happens with humans. An infant will often imprint on it’s mother if that’s what it’s exposed to the most and follow the mother around the house once it can walk. It will mimic and take on the characteristics of the mother, since it is the most significant object in the infant’s life at that time, the thing that seems to be reliable and there most often.
Imprinting can also happen sexually as well, where an infant learns the characteristics of the ideal mate. Many species in the animal kingdom for example prefer mates which resemble that of their own opposite sex parent, and the same thing happens in humans as well.
Sexual imprinting in the context of porn obsessions can be summed up as:
Whatever you see and are aroused by first sexually (in terms of porn or otherwise) you will tend to be drawn to and keep going back to. It will set up your arousal template of what you find stimulating sexually and the more you go back to it, the deeper this preference will be imprinted into you psychologically.
From this definition we can see how imprinting is actually a key aspect of the process of how sexual obsessions and fetishes form. Whatever you start out with in terms of what kind of porn you watch will tend to imprint on you and you will be drawn back to it. Or you are drawn to certain things already because there is a pre-existing template in your mind of what kind of sexual partner or preference you like. You can see it either way.
Regardless, once you start to repeatedly watch a certain kind of porn or be drawn to certain types of sexuality, you start to carve ruts in the brain and the mind and these scenes or types of sexual activity become your fetishes or obsessions.
The imprinting deepens and becomes more powerful in the mind, even though there may have been a pre-existing preference there based on the sexual characteristics of your initial caregiver (opposite sex parent). Porn use amplifies whatever may already be there and creates powerful obsessions which can be difficult to break.
These fetishes or preferences can take a number of different forms, including:
- Being attracted to certain body sizes, shapes and body parts (breasts etc).
- Being attracted to certain ethnicities
- Fetishes involving objects or clothing (shoes, leather etc)
- Certain sex acts
- Certain interpersonal dynamics – domination, submission, humiliation etc.
- Anything else which forms part of a person’s sexual preferences and is deepened and reinforced by repeated porn use.
“We need to be careful how we awaken our sexuality”
Deeply formed sexual obsessions or fetishes can play out either way. Some people learn to accept themselves and their fetishes for the way they are, and find like minded people who they can express them with. Others realize intellectually they have an obsession and are not happy about it and want to get rid of it.
The issue revolves around whether the person is happy with their fetishes and is not ashamed of them or whether the person wants to get rid of the obsession but can’t. Porn use can often lead obsessions to become toxic and destructive, getting a person fixated on expressions of sexuality which they are ashamed of and do not want to share with others.
Some obsessions take a person away from “real” sex and keep them trapped in a world of self contained sexual expression in the form of porn use, which makes it harder to form real connections and lead a real sex life with actual people. This is where obsessions can become destructive in a person.
They get tangled up in complex fetishes and lose all interest in conventional sex to the point where the only sexual activity they become interested in is in the satisfaction of whatever obsessions they have developed. This is where people can get into trouble, at least if part of them wants to develop normal sexual relationships, and we will turn to a potential way to deal with these imprinted obsessions below.
Using Bilateral Stimulation to Dissolve Sexual Imprinting
There is some talk of sexual imprinting in the psychological literature and online, but barely any freely available resources on how to actually resolve sexual imprinting if it has escalated to the point where it has led to sexual obsessions a person would rather not have anymore.
The therapist in the video above acknowledges that sexual imprinting can be quite hard to deal with, especially if deeply ingrained through prolonged porn use, but we would like to share an experimental method which actually borrows from the general principle of bilateral stimulation used in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.
This is where eye movements and/or some other form of left-right alternating stimulation is used to disrupt the fight-flight or physiological response which arises out of some form of inner arousal or psychosomatic state. It can be used for more obvious things like anxiety but also any other form of physiological arousal, including sexual arousal, which can sometimes have a fight-flight aspect to it, especially when it is tied to obsessions.
Here is the general sequence of steps to try to dissolve imprinted obsessions with bilateral stimulation:
- Go back to a particular pornographic scene or fetish which you are powerfully drawn to.
- Pay mindful attention to the sights, sounds and other phenomena surrounding it. What in particular are you drawn to about it? What in particular sets off your arousal template? It could be any one of a number of things. Here are some suggestions:
- Body size, shape, ethnicity, certain body parts.
- Certain sex acts
- Certain audio cues – “dirty talk”, moaning etc.
- Certain facial expressions – smiling, sneering etc.
- Certain personality types – contemptous, dominating, submissive, sadistic, receptive, encouraging (“asking for it”), hostile etc.
- Any other characteristic of a porn scene which you can see arouses or excites you.
- Once that arousal template is triggered, notice what is happening in your body physiologically. Look for any signs of psychosomatic arousal, like increased heart rate, sweating, adrenaline rush, fight-flight anxiety, or anything else. Bilateral stimulation can work with this.
- Once you have this internal state of physiological arousal, switch away from the porn and move instead to self adminsted bilateral stimulation as would happen in EMDR therapy. Follow some kind of object on screen, and also combine with audio bilateral stimulation through a set of headphones if possible for a more powerful effect. See below for some good video resources to help you do this.
- Keep up the bilateral stimulation for several minutes or longer. See what happens. Does the physiological state of arousal/anxiety/fight-flight lessen somewhat? Also see what other thoughts come up as you move through the process – sometimes repressed thoughts and memories may pop up from nowhere. Process these as well using the BLS.
- You may need to revisit the scene several times to work out all aspects of it. For example there may be audio and visual aspects that need working on separately. You goal is to weaken the connection between whatever you have become obsessed by and the sexual arousal you have got used to feeling in association with it.
- Keep an eye on your internal state over the next few days. Do you find the sexual obsession gradually lessening? Are you slighty less fixated on if as compared to before? If so, the bilateral stimulation worked. Try it on other obsessions you may have.
Here are some great video resources which can be used to self administer bilateral stimulation, where you simply follow a dot or circle around on screen whilst also simultaneously focusing on whatever internal state of arousal you are also experiencing – the dual focus of attention that is crucial to EMDR. Combining with some other form of audio bilateral stimulation can also enhance the effect – see the BLS Nature Sounds recording on this page for example.
Here are some more self adminstered EMDR videos on Youtube, which all follow the same kind of principle of providing something for you to follow on screen whilst focusing on an internal state. Click on each one to pop up the video.
Of course this kind of thing is best done with a qualified professional, but we understand that such help is not always freely available or affordable. This added to the fact that there can be a lot of shame around the entire subject of porn obsessions and sexuality which can make people reluctant to even seek help is why we wanted to put this experimental self administered method out there for people to try.
Caveats and Qualifiers
This method definitely works for some people in reducing the power of certain obsessions and reducing the need to go back to certain scenes to relive certain fetishes. Some of the anxiety and imprinting surrounding them has been dissolved, lessening their power over the person. This is in general what the EMDR method does with all kinds of troublesome or distressing internal psychosomatic phenomenon.
However, this is not to say this method will always work for everyone and it is best to seek out the help of a qualified professional when dealing with issues of sexuality or other aspects of human psychology which may be bothering you. We also understand that a suitable therapy is not always available or affordable, but here are some caveats to add to what we have already mentioned:
- It is not guaranteed to work for everyone, but is worth trying and will do no harm.
- You may need to make several passes on certain scenes and fetishes to fully deal with them, since they can be very deeply ingrained if reinforced by years of porn use. There may also be several different aspects to certain scenes and fetishes which need to be worked through separately.
- You must make sure there is some kind of internal state of physiological arousal in order for the bilateral stimulation to work correctly. Just focusing on an external stimulus with no internal stimulus will not do anything – see our article on a dual focus of attention. This is what is essential in the EMDR method being effective in dissolving internal states.
- Having a good base of mindfulness will also be very helpful in this process in allowing you to stay present and notice and define more clearly what is going on inside you in terms of how obsessions work and how your body reacts to the triggering of certain stimuli. See our page on mindfulness for more on this.
- It is also important to pay attention to whatever else comes up for you during this process – since this method of bilateral stimulation and EMDR can work in much the same was as free association, in that the mind starts to connect up and brings into awareness repressed thoughts and memories which it has somehow connected with the things you are dealing with now. There can be a definite snowball effect that it is important to pay mindful attention to.
- It is definitely work looking into the EMDR process in general to see how it uses bilateral stimulation, and the theory behind it. See this video from EMDR practitioner Dr James Alexander for an excellent introduction to the process which will make this entire process make much more sense.