Systematic Desensitization (Salience Reduction)
Salience.Salience is a measure of how noticeable something is. Something that is salient (has salience) is attention-grabbing. A flashing light, a sudden loud noise, red sauce spilled on a white shirt, and a fresh memory of a traumatic experience are all examples of salient stimuli. Salience is often a matter of perception. An image that is salient to one person may be hardly noticeable to another. The difference is that the first person has been sensitized to some aspect of the image while the second has not. A mental image of a particular sex act may enter one man's mind and quickly leave without a trace as his thoughts move on to something else. An image of the same act may leave another man distracted from his work and craving pornography. One man may see a woman of a certain shape in tight pants and not be able to get the image out of his mind, while another man sees the same woman and hardly notices. Particular types of nudity, clothing, situations, activities, and objects (fetishes) may be salient to some men but relatively uninteresting to others.
The salience of the image increases its power to influence your emotions and behavior. Salience gives a stimulus power to arouse, excite, cause anticipation, narrow your mental focus so that you forget about consequences, provoke cravings, etc. Salient stimuli also tend to be remembered more vividly. Triggers are salient stimuli. The objective of salience reduction (systematic desensitization) is to decrease the salience of a stimulus so that it is no longer arousing or memorable.
Emotional Memory and Sensitization.Whenever you see something that you have never seen before (a "novel stimulus"), a primitive part of your brain (the amygdala) assigns it an emotional meaning such as "danger", "pleasure", "sexual" or "unimportant" ("Emotional enhancement of memory via amygdala-driven facilitation of rhinal interactions." Nature Neuroscience 9:1321- ). Most new things you see get labeled as "unimportant" and fade into the background. You are then desensitized to them, meaning that they are not particularly noticeable and do not affect your emotions. When the amygdala labels a stimulus as "danger" or "sexual" or "pleasure", you become sensitized to it, which means that it is very noticeable (salient) and able to affect your emotions. It becomes an emotional cue that, whenever you see it, produces the emotions and physiological responses (such as rapid heart rate, increased mental focus, etc.) consistent with its label. A stimulus that is labeled "danger" may become the basis of a phobia. Examples of phobias are fear of spiders, heights, or public speaking. A stimulus that is labeled "pleasure" may become a fetish. Phobias and fetishes are extreme examples of stimuli that are incorrectly (irrationally) labeled by the amygdala.
When labeling a new stimulus, the amygdala chooses the label based on the context of the situation and on the emotions that you are feeling. If you observe a novel stimulus in a dangerous situation, the label will likely be "danger". If the new stimulus is seen in a sexually stimulating context, the label will likely be "sexual" or "pleasure". A stimulus in a dangerous and sexually stimulating context might be double labeled as "danger" and "sexual" and become extra salient.
This process of labeling by the amygdala is the basis of classical conditioning. The stimuli that become labeled with "danger" or "sexual" or "pleasure" are conditioned stimuli or cues (triggers).
Suppose that the first black cowboy hat you saw was on an armed robber threatening to shoot someone. Black cowboy hats might thereafter be very noticeable (salient) to you and trigger a fear response.
Suppose that someone slapped you and yelled at you the first few times you saw an image of a raccoon. These experiences might cause you to become sensitized to images of raccoons: your heart would race every time you saw a picture of a raccoon, or even thought about seeing one.
People usually become sensitized only to new kinds of experiences. For example, if you already had seen a few pictures of raccoons before the yelling and slapping treatment began, you probably would not become sensitized to images of raccoons. This phenomenon is called "latent inhibition."
As perhaps a more realistic example, suppose that the first time you saw thigh high boots on a woman, you were sneaking a peak at a porn magazine, knowing that you could be punished if your parents found out. Thigh high boots might thereafter be labeled as "sexual" and "dangerous" and having both labels, become extremely salient and perhaps become a fetish. Suppose that the first thigh high boots your friend ever saw, in contrast, were on his physically unattractive but loving aunt. Such boots in his mind would be labeled "unimportant". When he finally did see thigh high boots in association with pornography, they would not be so noticeable (salient) because he had already seen them many times before. They would have already been labeled as "unimportant" in his mind and would likely never become a fetish for him.
As it relates to images, the basic principle of sensitization is this. You may become sensitized to a type of image (such as images of oversized breasts, cleavage, short skirts, female nudity, certain bathing suits, specific positions, frilly lingerie, or sex involving animals, etc.) if you experience strong feelings (fear, intense pleasure, shock, alarm, etc.) the first time or the first few times you are exposed to that type of image, even if those strong feelings are not directly related to the image itself. This type of image then becomes a conditioned stimulus or cue that triggers cravings and other powerful feelings associated with the anticipation of seeing pornography.
Desensitization.Since labeling generally occurs only to new (novel) stimuli, and a stimulus is only new once, most labeling mistakes are never corrected. This is one reason that phobias and fetishes tend to persist. Phobias also tend to persist because the stimulus is avoided out of fear, preventing any opportunity for relabeling. Fetishes and other conditioned sexual cues tend to be reinforced through avoidance, through the emotions you feel whenever you see them, and through the shame that you might feel afterwards.
Correcting a label is possible, however, if you have the right tool. Systematic desensitization is a tool commonly used to removes phobias by changing the "danger" label to "unimportant". As a result of this change, the stimulus becomes less salient and is no longer a cue for a fear response. The same tool, with slight variations, can also be used to remove fetishes and other conditioned sexual cues (triggers), facilitating recovery from pornography addiction. Conditioned cues that can be made less salient with this tool include cleavage, short skirts, nudity, particular sex positions, fetishes, shock aspects of hard pornography, etc. The tool does not readily remove natural sexual cues (discussed for the education tool), which is good, since you probably want to retain a natural sexuality.
Systematic desensitization typically involves visualizing or exposing yourself to a conditioned stimulus while preventing yourself from having strong emotions, using non-emotive visualization or non-emotive exposure. For example, to cure yourself of the raccoon phobia discussed above, you would need to experience situations in which you could gradually visualize and/or expose yourself to images of raccoons without feeling strong emotions. Perhaps you could start by having a trusted friend show you small, cartoonish images of raccoons, gradually replacing them with larger and more realistic images. Your friend could provide comfort and a sense of safety so that you could remain calm during the experience. As you spent more calm "non-emotive" time with images of raccoons, your sensitivity to such images would gradually decrease until it reached a normal, natural level. This process is called "extinction."
Another way to reduce your degree of sensitization to a stimulus is through cognitive restructuring, which consists of learning to think differently about a stimulus in order to feel differently about it. For example, you might reduce your sensitization to images of raccoons by studying about raccoons and learning that they are not generally fearsome creatures.
You will learn both techniques with this tool.
Why Good Boys Become Porn Addicts.Your porn addiction may be due to a strong sensitization to particular aspects of erotic images. Because sensitization occurs mainly to new stimuli, you probably became sensitized to most of these aspects during the first few times you saw erotic images as a child or youth. You may have been taught that it was sinful to look at pictures of unclothed women. You may have expected to be punished if a parent or other authority figure caught you looking at such pictures. If so, you felt the thrill and extreme mental focus that one feels as a result of sympathetic activation (the fight or flight response) in a forbidden or dangerous situation. The fascination of seeing something new and mysterious probably added to your excitement. On top of all this, you were also aroused sexually by the erotic aspects of the images. Your extreme state of physiological arousal increased your mental focus and intensified your perception and memory of the images. You probably still remember these first images, and where you were when you saw them. The strong emotions involved sensitized you to particular aspects of the images you were looking at. Aspects that were new were labeled "danger" and "sexual" or "pleasure" and become salient and triggering.
Once you were sensitized to these aspects, even thinking about images that contained them could produce powerful emotions that triggered pornography cravings. In fact, according to the incentive-sensitization theory of addiction ("The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive-sensitization view." Addiction 95: S91-117 ), it is the thoughts (anticipation) of seeing images that power the addiction, and to which you become sensitized. This means that anticipation of seeing certain images comes easily, quickly, and powerfully when you have certain thoughts. This anticipation motivates you to action (acting out). Accordingly, desensitizing yourself to these thoughts and mental images can greatly reduce the anticipation and thereby take the power out of your addiction.
Both negative and positive emotions reinforce pornography addiction, and both must be reduced. Research has shown that emotional arousal produced by fearful situations can make images of attractive women appear even more attractive to men than they would otherwise ("Arousal and attraction: evidence for automatic and controlled processes." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74:86-101 ). Research has also shown that when men are viewing pornography, negative emotions (such as guilt, shame, and anxiety) as well as positive emotions are often associated with increased sexual arousal. It is indifference (the lack of emotion) that is most strongly associated with lower sexual arousal ("Ambivalent affect and sexual response: The impact of co-occurring positive and negative emotions on subjective and physiological responses to erotic stimuli." Archives of Sexual Behavior ). The aim of systematic desensitization is to decrease both positive and negative emotional responses to pornographic thoughts in order to minimize the power and attractiveness of those thoughts.
Like every other part of this web site, this section might not apply to you. We are all different. If it doesn't seem to make sense to you, forget about it and move on to the next concept. Another perspective is explained in an article by Randy Hyde called "Obsessions and Compulsions"[http://www.netnanny.com/learn_center/article/176].
Warnings.Systematic desensitization will make you less sensitive to thoughts and mental images, not necessarily to actual images. This is because actual images usually contain natural sexual cues, to which you cannot readily become desensitized. You can remove these natural sexual cues from memories using deglamorization, but not from images you are actually looking at.
Successful systematic desensitization will simply mean that you won't be so obsessed with particular thoughts and mental images, and particular aspects of pornography. They will be less noticeable (salient). This is opposite the love-hate relationship with pornography that addicts tend to have. Pornography will simply be less interesting to think about. It will no longer be an obsession. Making yourself less sensitive to particular kinds of pornography is good because they will be less of a temptation. However, if you are using these kinds of pornography to medicate psychological pain or help relieve sexual tension, they will also be less effective for that purpose. This may cause you to want to seek new kinds of pornography or more shocking material in order to get the same effect (a tendency called "escalation"). For this reason, it is important that you use the appropriate tools to decrease your psychological need for pornography before you use this tool. It is also important that, once you start using the systematic desensitization tool, you apply it to any new kind of pornography that tempts you.
Before you try using systematic desensitization, first master deglamorization and counteranticipation. You will need those tools to make this one work.
Never "test" your sensitivity or abilities on actual pornographic images. Desensitization is only a small part in your recovery. It will not make you immune to temptation. Also, don't use this exercise as an excuse to look at women's unclothed bodies or to leer at women. If you need to look at a woman, focus on her face or head. This is not only the polite way to look at someone, it also allows you to deglamorize features of her body if they are triggering.
But Wait! Isn't Desensitization a Bad Thing?According to Victor Cline, a therapist who has treated hundreds of men for sexual addictions, initial addiction to pornography is typically "followed by an increasing desensitization to the materials' pathology, escalation to increasingly varied, aberrant, and 'rougher' kinds of erotic materials, and eventually to acting out the sexual fantasies they were exposed to." (Treatment and Healing of Pornographic and Sexual Addictions, 1999). Given this tendency, you might be concerned that systematic desensitization would cause escalation to "rougher" pornography.
First, desensitization is a natural and normally a beneficial process. It is what allows a boy to work in a donut shop without becoming morbidly obese. After he eats a couple of dozen donuts during the first few days of work, they no longer seem quite so desirable. Desensitization to height enables construction workers, after taking appropriate precautions, to build skyscrapers without constant fear of falling. Desensitization to jet engine noise allows people living near airports to sleep without being awakened every time a plane takes off. Desensitization is what allowed people to continue looking at each other despite the garish clothing fashions of the 1970s. Salience reduction (desensitization) is like flipping the little tab on your car's rear view mirror for night driving: you can still see the headlights of the cars behind you in the mirror, but they are no longer blindingly bright. In fact, without the glare, you can see the headlights even better. It is the same with pornography: with reduced salience, you can better see your erotic fantasies for what they really are. The reduction in emotional impact allows you to analyze them in a more rational manner.
Second, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior (acting out) are caused by the eroticization of the depicted behaviors, not by desensitization to them. Eroticization means that the behavior (such as sex with animals) is made to appear sexually exciting. Desensitization, on the other hand, makes a behavior seem less interesting. It reverses the effects of eroticization. Desensitization doesn't compel action. It more likely leads to inaction. Not only this, once desensitization has occurred to a scenario, eroticization (which involves classical conditioning) becomes less likely. This is because conditioning occurs most readily to novel stimuli. The real problem is eroticization. Desensitization can be part of the solution.
It is, however, possible that desensitization could contribute to a tendency to escalate to harder types of pornography. I have mentioned this possibility in the "Warning" section above. Use of this systematic desensitization tool can lead to escalation if 1) you fail to address your psychological need for the excitement that pornography provides you, and 2) you fail to use the systematic desensitization tool to reduce your sensitivity to new kinds of pornography that you might find attractive. The potential for this to happen is something that you should be aware of, but keep in mind that if you are able to use the systematic desensitization tool to reduce your sensitivity to the pornography that you currently find tempting, you are also able to use it to avoid "escalating" to new kinds of pornography or obsessively fantasizing about "acting out" pornographic scenarios. The proper use of this tool, therefore, will help you to prevent escalation and acting out.
With the successful use of this tool, you should be able to eliminate your obsessive fantasizing about any pornographic scenario, thus reducing the likelihood of escalation or acting out sexually.
Desensitization through Cognitive Restructuring
"The images aren't necessarily as good, or as bad, as you might think."The objective of desensitization is to reduce the emotional power of mental images, since this power sustains your addiction. A mental image can induce strong emotions because it feels very good and/or because it feels very bad. When you believe that something would feel very good yet be very bad, it becomes a forbidden pleasure that is even more enticing and a greater thrill when you do see it. This makes highly religious people especially vulnerable to addiction. In order to desensitize yourself to thoughts of such images, you have to come to perceive them as a little less good and a little less bad. Moderation in perception produces moderation in emotion. Moderation in emotion reduces the addictive power. Overcoming your addiction means that you are then able to stop the "bad" behavior, which is the critical step in repentance. It may sound ironic, but keep reading and it will become clearer.
This part of the tool uses reasoning and education to help you restructure your cognitive appraisals of (i.e. adjust your thinking about) various elements of pornographic images so that you perceive them in a way that does not produce an addictive, thrill-inducing "adrenaline rush." This part of the tool consists of simply reading through this section and trying to understand and internalize the concepts. Come back to it as often as you need to for review.
Seeing or Imagining Someone Naked is Not Always Wrong.Images of naked people are not always pornographic or even inherently erotic. Medical images, for example, are typically neither sexualized nor glamorized. If they are arousing to you it is because you are mentally "pornifying" them by imbuing them with sexual meaning in your own mind. It isn't necessarily bad, evil, or harmful to think about naked women or even to see some skin. What is potentially harmful is using such thoughts or images to turn yourself on. Thinking that looking at a naked person is sin just adds more emotional intensity when you do see an erotic image. What you need is less emotional intensity.
Imagining or looking at unclothed people is not necessarily a wrong, perverted, or bad thing to do. If it were, surgeons and other medical workers would have a problem, as well as morticians and people needing to bathe incapacitated family members. Nor is it considered bad, evil, or forbidden by the fundamental tenets of most religions. It is illustrative that Jesus said, "...I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (NIV Matthew 5:28). It is only lustful looking that is denounced here because of its adulterous association. Nothing is said about the amount of exposed skin. Exposed skin is not required for lustful looking, nor does it always prompt lustful looking. In fact, people who frequent nude beaches generally report that looking at women in bathing suits at traditional beaches is more sexually arousing than looking at the naked on nude beaches.
A view of the naked human body, contrary to popular belief, is not naturally a sexual cue. It is how that nakedness is presented -- the posture, movement, environment, implication, and/or adornment -- that can make it sexual. Breasts and buttocks in non-sexual situations are not naturally sexually arousing (although they have become so for many people because of the ways they are commonly presented in popular media). The seductive power is in the presentation. It is when they are flaunted or partially hidden as if to tease that they naturally become alluring. It isn't so much what is shown, but how it is presented and what is implied that naturally make it seductive. With body parts, it isn't so much what is shown, as what isn't, that often becomes the erotic focus. This is why minimal swimwear can be more seductive than nudity (as mentioned above). It focuses the eyes and mind on aspects of the female body that our culture has sexualized. It hides the facts while exciting the imagination.
Pope John Paul II, while still a cardinal, wrote, "Sexual modesty cannot then in any simple way be identified with the use of clothing, nor shamelessness with the absence of clothing and total or partial nakedness. There are circumstances in which nakedness is not immodest.... Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence [sexual desire], as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object of enjoyment. The human body is not in itself shameful.... There is a certain relativism in the definition of what is shameless. This relativism may be due to differences in the makeup of particular persons—a greater or lesser sensual excitability, a higher or lower level of moral culture—or to different world views. It may equally be due to differences in external conditions—in climate, for instance…and also in prevailing customs, social habits, etc. Dress is always a social question, a function of…social customs. In this matter there is no exact similarity in the behavior of particular people, even if they live in the same age and the same society. The principle of what is truly immodest is simple and obvious, but its application in specific cases depends upon the individual, the milieu, the society. There are circumstances in which nakedness is not immodest. If someone takes advantage of such an occasion to treat the person as an object of enjoyment (even if his action is purely internal) it is only he who is guilty of shamelessness...not the other." One need not be a Catholic to see the wisdom in the cardinal's analysis. One's reaction to the view of unclothed portions of another's body is largely a matter of cultural upbringing and personal sensibilities. There is a big difference between seeing skin and taking sexual pleasure in seeing it.
There is no inherent sin in a man changing the diaper of his infant daughter, bathing his invalid mother, or accidently opening the door on his undressed sister. The great religions teach that we are to view all women as our sisters. The key to overcoming lustful looking is being able to do just that.
It isn't the truth that hurts you, but the lies. Looking at pornography isn't bad because you are seeing reality, it is bad because you are exposing yourself to a lie or deception. If it were realistic and didn't deceptively stir your emotions with sexual cues, there would be little harm in looking. When you see a pornographic image or a seductively dressed woman, think to yourself, "There would be no problem in looking at this if it were honest and realistic, but it is deceptive, fake, a lie. I will not insult myself by being pulled along by such fakeness or deception." The more you say this to yourself, the more you will believe it, and the less you will be tempted to look at such images.
Believing that it is inherently evil or sinful to see "private areas" of a person's body can intensify the emotional power of such images, making them even more alluring than they would be otherwise. It can also produce feelings of shame and guilt that in turn compel an addict to search out pornography for distraction and relief from those unpleasant feelings. There is some indication that people who are accustomed to seeing nakedness in nonsexual situations are less susceptible to pornography addiction, while those whose cultural norms strongly discourage public exposure of most of the body and emphasize the "sinful" nature of viewing nudity have more of a problem with pornography addiction.
Some of the tools on this site require you to visualize unclothed portions of a woman's body, and to do so honestly and without feeling lust. This may seem strange at first, and run counter to the "just don't let yourself think about it" advice you have received elsewhere. These tools can be extremely effective, and should not conflict with anyone's genuine religious values. I encourage you make full use of them. Their purpose is to decrease your inclination to lust over women's bodies. If you ever feel lust as a result of using one of these tools, it is probably because you or using it incorrectly.
Thinking about Sex is Not Always Wrong.It isn't necessarily bad to think about sex, or even to be turned on by sexual thoughts. We are sexual creatures. That's how we are made. What is potentially harmful is to use such thoughts to turn yourself on outside of your marriage relationship.
Sexual Attraction and Temptation are Natural and Okay.First, it is natural to be turned on by images of pretty females. Even happily married men are naturally fascinated by images of pretty females. When you are no longer addicted to pornography, you will still be tempted by images of pretty females. There is nothing wrong or evil about being tempted. When you are hungry, you are tempted to eat. Eating a certain thing at such a time may be wise or desirable or it may not be, depending on the circumstance, but the mere temptation is neither good nor evil. It's just natural. Men are made to be a little bit "hungry" for pretty women all the time.
Second, it is natural for a man to be turned on by sexual images, even images of perverted sexuality. If it's sexual, it's a natural turn-on for a man. Being turned on by a sexual image does not mean that you are perverted or abnormal or evil. It's just the way men were made. But again, being turned on or tempted by something does not mean that you have to respond to it in any particular way.
Third, being turned on by unnaturally conditioned sexual cues (such as fetishes) is also natural in a way. It was a natural process that caused you to become conditioned to find such cues attractive. That you are turned on by such things is unfortunate and something to be fixed, but it does not make you evil or worthless. It's a problem to be fixed, not a fate to be accepted.
Fourth, being tempted is not the same as sinning. Jesus himself was "tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15 NIV). Don't be unfair with yourself. Even if you do sin, the most important part of repentance is giving up the bad habit, and that is what these tools are for.
Think Undesirable, Not Evil.A sin is simply something that is against your long-term self-interest. A sin is ultimately undesirable. Pornography is undesirable (or sinful) because it restricts your ability to be the person you really want to be and that God wants you to be. Nevertheless, thinking of pornography as undesirable can be, for an addict, better than thinking of it as evil or sinful. This is because thinking of pornography as a pleasurable evil or forbidden fruit will only intensify your emotional response to temptations. Addictions are built on intense emotions. Thinking that you are about to sin is likely to produce a thrill that will only reinforce the addiction and make changing your behavior (i.e. repentance) more difficult. In contrast, thinking of pornography as merely undesirable will tend to decrease the intensity of your emotions, facilitating the rational thought that you need to consistently resist temptations.
Get clear in your mind the real, rational reasons that pornography is undesirable (or sinful, if you prefer). Focus on how it limits you personally. It is not undesirable because of the exposed skin per se or even necessarily because it is sexual. Also, if you stumble upon pornography and are tempted by it, it does not mean you are a bad person. Here are some real, personal reasons that pornography is undesirable.
- It tends to deceptively portray women. It portrays them with unrealistic, glamorized bodies, and with unrealistic personalities and sex drives. This is deceptive. You are the one who is being deceived. Why would you want that? The glamorization makes your own woman less attractive because of the contrast effect. The images encourage unrealistic expectations that no real woman will live up to. This is not good for your own marital happiness. You are being cheated.
- It manipulates you. The visual cues in pornography imply that the woman desires you and wants to give you her body. This is a lie that your subconscious believes even though you might not believe it at a conscious level. This lie tempts you to lust, which makes you spend money on worthless images or do other stupid things. In reality, there is no woman there. It's just an image. The woman behind the image was probably doing it for money, not for any feelings for you. These lies cause problems in your real human relationships. Why would you want to be lied to?
- The situations are made up and manipulative. The images are just a mixture of sexual cues with some novelty or shock elements designed to get a reaction out of you – anything to get you to feel some strong emotion. The combination makes things that wouldn't be desirable suddenly seem exciting. Pornography implies that bizarre forms of sex without love or commitment are the most pleasurable. In reality, the most comprehensive study of sexuality in America found that married people have the most sex and the most rewarding sex, that the most enjoyed sex is neither bizarre nor stripped of love and commitment, and that conservative protestant women lead the way in consistently achieving orgasm (The Social Organization of Sexuality, 1994, University of Chicago). Even shopping for shoes could be made to seem exciting if it were portrayed in pornography with some strong sexual cues! Why would you want your tastes and preferences to be manipulated by someone trying to make money off you?
- Pornography ruins your real sex life. In a 1988 study (Pornography's impact on sexual satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18:438-453), participants who were repeatedly exposed to common, nonviolent pornography became less satisfied with their intimate partners, and specifically with their intimate partners' appearance, affection, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance. How much fun is that?
Particlular Sizes and Shapes Aren't Such a Big Deal.Seeing a woman's particular physical features really isn't anything to get overly excited about. In cultures and families where clothing is optional, men easily adjust to seeing women's bodies without becoming aroused. They no longer consider it a big deal. In fact, it is the woman's face that is the most sexually interesting part of her body. It is the woman's face that has the complexity of form, the fineness of feature, and the ability of expression. A woman can communicate her desires and intentions by the expression on her face. With it she seduces and charms. This is why cultures that go to great lengths to control women's dress standard in order to reduce male temptation also often require women to veil or cover their faces. When a man sees an erotic picture, he first glances at the woman's face ("Sex differences in viewing sexual stimuli: An eye-tracking study in men and women." Hormones and Behavior 51: 524-533 ), perhaps to discern the woman's intentions or degree of arousal. Compared to the face, other individual body parts are relatively simple in form and tend to quickly become uninteresting in any given image, prompting porn users to go from erotic image to erotic image, never satisfied for long with any one view. In contrast to the female face, genitals are relatively uninteresting to people who have plenty of opportunity to view them ("Sex-specific content preferences for visual sexual stimuli." Archives of Sexual Behavior 38:417-426 ). Breasts, buttocks, and bellies have been overhyped. It is only because they have been glamorized so much in the popular culture and in pornography that you are so obsessed with checking them out on the women you see. Compared with faces, of which you see many every day, other parts of a woman's body are inherently less interesting. There's no need to get so worked up over them.
Desensitization through Non-Emotive Visualization
You can fantasize about anything you want, as long as you don't enjoy it.
Desensitization to Female Nudity.Through a process of psychological conditioning, your exposure to pornography and other erotic images has eroticized your perception of unclothed or under clothed female bodies. Exposed female body parts now arouse you more than they naturally would have if you hadn't seen them in association with pornography. They have become fetishes. With desensitization you can undo the psychological conditioning so that you are no longer unnaturally aroused to such a degree by these things.
To reduce your sensitization to nakedness, you will spend some time visualizing naked bodies while preventing yourself from becoming aroused. You will use deglamorization to prevent arousal. After spending a while with these visualizations, nakedness will also seem less novel, so you won't feel quite so much curiosity and anticipation. A gradual approach may be necessary to maintain control of your emotions.
Again, the greatest effect of desensitization will be to decrease your emotional reaction to mental images involving nudity. You will still be sensitive to erotic pictures and movies, etc. because of the many natural sexual cues in those images. Becoming less sensitive to mental images and fantasies, however, is very useful because it will help you avoid the powerful cravings that mental images can induce.
Use visualization to decrease your sensitization to female nudity as follows:
- Visualize a very unattractive woman completely naked. Perhaps she is obese, with an ugly face and bumpy skin. It may help to imagine an unattractive woman that you know personally. (It may also help to start off by imagining naked men and then shifting to women after you have had a little practice with the technique.)
- Use any method of deglamorization that you prefer to keep yourself from becoming aroused as you visualize her body.
- Visualize every aspect of her body, including every curve and crevice. Keep your mental image free from any sexual cues (seductive facial expressions, provocative postures, sexual activity, etc.).
- Spend several minutes intently visualizing this image until you are thoroughly bored with it.
- Replace this image with one that is slightly more attractive.
- Repeat steps 2 through 5 until you run out of time or until it becomes too difficult to avoid arousal.
- Repeat this entire process on several different days until you are able to visualize any female body (continually deglamorizing the image) while remaining uninterested.
When you see an erotic image, make a mental connection between the woman in the image and the female bodies you have been able to visualize without emotion.
Desensitization to Conditioned Sexual Cues/Fetishes.There are some sexual cues that are probably hardwired into your brain. They are natural. You cannot easily become desensitized to them, nor would you want to. Some of these are listed in the "Natural Sexual Cues" section of the education tool. There are other things that have become sexual cues through psychological conditioning. You can read more about these in the "Conditioned Sexual Cues/Fetishes" section of the education tool. You can reduce your sensitization to these cues using a process similar to that described above for desensitization to female nudity. The difference is that with each body, you will also visualize the object or particular feature that is the fetish or conditioned sexual cue. Begin by imagining these features in association with very unattractive bodies. Progress slowly enough so that you do not get any pleasure out of your visualizations.
Desensitization to Shock Aspects of Pornography.I will illustrate this process with a single example which you can generalize to any shock element of pornography (i.e. any violent, shocking, bizarre, or "forbidden" element of pornography). Suppose that you crave a hypothetical type of pornography in which the "shocking" element is a man roughly biting a woman's elbow during sex. To reduce your sensitivity to elbow-biting and thus reduce your cravings for this type of pornography, do the following.
Imagine a virtual world on your computer screen inhabited by two-dimensional creatures called "boringshapes." Male boringshapes are square and female boringshapes are triangular. The young are similar but smaller. All have stick-figure arms and legs, simply drawn faces (like on a "smiley face"), and simply drawn features roughly corresponding to other human anatomical features. These creatures are called boringshapes because they can feel only two emotions. Females can feel boredom or mild disgust. Males can feel boredom or mild disappointment. The male boringshapes try just about every activity they can think of in attempts to escape their boredom.
To desensitize yourself to elbow-biting, imagine a male boringshape biting the elbow of a female boringshape while doing whatever else typifies your elbow-biting fantasies. Imagine that the male is either disappointed or still bored. Visualize the female being either bored or disgusted, or each in turn. Spend a few minutes visualizing this scenario until you are thoroughly bored with it, then for a minute or two more. Now make the boringshapes a little more humanlike in appearance and spend another minute or two boring yourself with the revised mental image. Repeat this process several times, each time making the boringshapes a little more humanlike. Do not progress so fast or so far that the process becomes even the slightest bit exciting or enjoyable. Repeat this entire process on several different days until you are no longer obsessed with this type of pornography.
Maintenance of Desensitization.Remember that pornography is a sensitizing agent. Looking at pornography or similar erotic images will resensitize you to aspects of those images and create or recreate sexual cues. These techniques you have just learned are desensitizing agents. They have the opposite effect as looking at erotic images. The more you look at erotic images, whether purposefully or inadvertently, the more you will need to use these techniques to counter the effects of your exposure to those images.
Here is a simple way to periodically desensitize yourself to whatever you may have become sensitized to. As often as you desire, take a few minutes to let your mind wander where it will. Let yourself think about any pornographic image or fantasy or obsession that comes to mind. As soon as each image comes into your mind, however, you must immediately deglamourize it using one or more of the techniques you have learned. Keep your mind focused on each deglamourized image until you are thoroughly bored with it, then let your mind wonder to the next one. Don't be afraid to think about any fantasy that comes to mind. As long as you deglamourize it, it will become less tempting for you, not more.
Be advised once again that this tool will not make actual pornography seem unexciting while you are looking at it. The more realistic goal of desensitization is to make thoughts of pornography less exciting so that you feel less compelled to search for it or to act out pornographic scenarios in real life.