Self-Esteem and Sex Addiction: How Men Use Pornography and Womanizing to Feel Good about Themselves

I frequently write blog posts about the effects of our beliefs on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, exploring the links between mental illness and our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. For my fellow heterosexual men and me, few other aspects of our lives signify value as much as our ability to attract women, particularly those who are collectively viewed as being highly desirable. This attribution of desirability to self-value underlies the average man’s addiction to pursuing women, and  almost as importantly, his addiction to pornography.

One of the main questions a woman tends to have about herself in light of discovering her boyfriend’s porn addiction is, “Why am I not enough?” Personalizing the addiction as indicative of her own short-coming, the result is emotional devastation, sometimes equivalent to the level seen in those who’ve been cheated on. There appears to be a cultural divide, between men and women, on whether or not watching porn is acceptable, and whether or not it constitutes cheating. My focus here isn’t to answer those questions (because I can’t) but to shed light on why pornography and its real-life counterpart, womanizing, occurs, helping women depersonalize, in order to feel better about themselves, and men begin to challenge their beliefs about themselves and universal human value.

To those of you who struggle with trying to understand why you aren’t enough: you are; if it weren’t you, it would be someone else, as cheating and pornography are often symptoms of a deeper issue, one which has nothing to do with you and everything to do with your partner: low self-worth. In itself, addiction is comprised of biological, psychological, and environmental elements; attributing it exclusively to either of the three fails to correspond to current scientific evidence. When we consider porn, we think of our inherent biological drives being evidenced on screen, because, as humans, we naturally seek out and want sex, usually while remaining unaware of the way in which we use our partner’s desire as fuel for our self-esteem. (For some, being desired by the object of their affection is enough to feel good about themselves, while others need the act of consumption as proof.) This aspect of sex addiction is inherently psychological, as we see it in animals who feel dejected, and emotionally bruised, when they’re rejected by potential mates. If sex and self-esteem weren’t closely linked (not to mention the accompanying neuro-chemical pleasure that’s affected by an increased sense of self-worth), it’s unlikely that our species would’ve reproduced to the degree that it did. The release of physical tension and the high of feeling good about oneself combine to create the euphoria of sexual ecstasy: the biological drive for sexual release and the psychological need for self-esteem work together to create the widely experienced, and otherworldly, state of sexual pleasure.

Here’s where the addiction comes in. In our patriarchal culture, boys are, too often, raised in environments which excessively praise sexual desirability and vitality: a boy becomes a man when he can prove that he’s able to attract, and satisfy, a woman; and, the more women he can attract, the higher his social status. At young ages, boys learn that their worth is heavily associated with their sexuality; to be perceived as “real men,” they have to attract, and sleep with, countless beautiful women. You can see this when a father tells his son to “play the field” and when a boy’s high school friends faun over him with praise for successfully courting the highly desirable, usually cheerleaders. For large groups of boys, their psychological need for self-esteem through desirability becomes infused with a cultural expectation to lay as many women as possible and a strong desire to be viewed in high regard by their peers (a trait that may indicate a high level of narcissism but which is highly prevalent in adolescents and teens); so, their biological urge for sex goes into overdrive. Rather than feeling good about themselves due to being seen, and loved, by one desirable woman, they yearn for more, seeking to fulfill an urge for higher social status. Male culture teaches them that sexual desirability equates with human value, and the more women who want you, the higher your worth; so, they internalize it. (As an aside: I don’t doubt that individuals of all sex’s desire other people while in committed relationships, but it appears as though that desire is stronger in those with lower levels of self-esteem, the one’s who need excessive validation.)

And, this is where pornography enters. For men, who meet society’s standards of high desirability, they’re able to sleep with virtually as many women as they want to, who themselves attach their self-value to their ability to attract highly desirable men. These individuals are, often, very shallow and continuously seek to prove themselves over and over again, attaining comfort in knowing that they “still got it.” But, when that attractiveness is lost, their self-worth goes along with it. For most men, this avenue is closed or they choose to forgo it in order to sustain their relationship with their partner, who would leave them if they knew that they were being cheated on: these men, still possessing the urge to lay multiple women, turn to porn as a compromise, unconsciously living out their fantasy in their own imagination.

For each of them, porn, and especially celebrity porn, becomes a way to fantasize about the life they could have had had they been more attractive or refused to commit. They continue to hold onto the adolescent belief that their worth is inherently tied to their desirability. When the addiction is finally discovered, their girlfriends are left heartbroken, and the men left in shame. Whether or not monogamy is biologically ingrained in us, I truly don’t know; but, what is evident is the cultural impact our beliefs about manhood have on the ways in which we rear our boys. As argued elsewhere, self-esteem is bullshit; and, I believe that we ought to create a society of individuals who don’t need to base their sense of self-worth on competition with others. Womanizing, like watching porn, is virtually an empty endeavor, which precludes deep connection. Behind its obsession lies intense fear, that of being discovered as a fraud or a terrible human being. To alter this toxic way of living, it’s up to all of us to create, and propagate, a new set of values for our boys, especially if we want them to become honorable men.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s