This blog was written by a man in his early 30s, describing the lure ofporn-masturbation-orgasm (PMO) and his ways to reduce its power.
There is what I think of as a PMO ‘mindset’: when you are in the midst of a binge, PMO is like the sun – it looms large in your life. When you escape that state, however, you recede from it and it becomes a distant star; it lacks the force it had but it remains part of your reality. Unhelpful thoughts will ferry you back to it. Most of us porn users have experienced this back and forth journey between sobriety and using, so we know it’s possible to achieve a state in which the hold of PMO is weakened or even temporarily non-existent.
What I’ve found to be very important in arresting the return to PMO is ‘intention’. That might seem so general a word as to be meaningless, but bear with me.
It may sound yet more obvious to say that your intention must be authentic. It isn’t. There is a difference between understanding the dictionary meaning of words and understanding what they mean as a matter of experience. Inauthentic intention is no more than the words used to make it. Authentic intention is an inner change that sets you on a safe course of action; it is more than words. We’ve all experienced this: our desire to change something or to achieve a goal is so great that we succeed. The key is to be able to generate this because it means that when we fail we have a sure fire way to get back on the path to success.
How do you generate authentic intention? Well you’ve already made the first step by being here. One great motivator is fear, another is love. Maybe that’s why you’re reading this. Buy a copy of Gary Wilson’s Your Brain on Porn. Don’t skim or rush through it. Read and re-read it carefully like you would a textbook and think about how it reflects on your own situation. Its details will probably make you think of the things you fear and love. There will be other ways to generate authentic intention particular to each person that would supplement the book. Think of these and, crucially, write them down. You could use a pen and paper or an app/program. I would suggest one of the recent and popular Zettelkasten note-taking programs like Obsidian.
These programs allow you to keep extensive notes that can be cross-referenced. When you have an insight about yourself note it down. As the weeks and months go by you’ll realise that, had you not made notes, you would have forgotten many of your insights and would have had to rediscover them. That process of rediscovering inhibits our growth; just as the vast majority of us don’t write fully formed essays as soon as we commit pen to paper, neither do we develop actionable and meaningful reflections about ourselves without committing disparate thoughts down over long stretches of time. We can eventually weave these into coherent and sometimes startling insights about ourselves.
Your aim should be to try and deal with urges and avoid PMO on a given day, not to begin a streak today that ends when you die. This is setting the bar too high and perversely makes people think they’re free to engage in PMO when they fail because they can’t possibly overcome such a high bar. It’s better to be more humble in your goal as the result will likely be greater success because you haven’t put excess pressure on yourself.
If you can generate authentic intention you have a kind of engine to kickstart your journey away from PMO. Even if you fail you can start it up again. This is not something you only have one shot at. Expect your copy of YBOP to become dog-eared just as a runner’s shoes become worn. Once you’ve found a way to generate authentic intention you can begin to get a knife between the extensive periods of PMO in your calendar and widen the gap.
If you fail in a streak you should record it as a runner would their time. If you can keep generating authentic intention you will find that where before you could put maybe three days between instances of PMO you can now put two weeks. That may eventually become three weeks and three may become four etc. These gaps will eventually give you large tracts of time in a year in which you are the better version of yourself instead of merely wishing you were, which themselves will spur you on to abstaining from PMO.
So much for intention, but what about obtrusive and unwanted thoughts that go hand in hand with urges? These often plague us. It’s worth having a protocol to deal with them. For example if you experience a wave of desire, bear in mind that it cannot be sustained, as a matter of physics. Instead of relenting to it, know that it has a limited lifespan and that, if you relent to it, it will still die and then all you’ll feel is remorse. We’ve all been in the situation where the desire has peaked and fallen yet we’ve relapsed and decided to continue with it.
When unwanted thoughts appear, however, we often tend to them and extend their lifespans beyond their natural period. You can’t control their appearance in your mind but you can choose to let them dissipate. If you persistently allow them to dissipate they won’t keep appearing and if you persistently tend to them they’ll keep reappearing.
Don’t think that because they appear they’re some permanent feature of your person and that you might as well give in and tend to them because they’re just going to come back. By doing this you are actually causing them to come back. As you get better at noticing them you will begin to detect incipient desires to engage in PMO. When they are this weak, pay attention to how you can control them: they can just as easily be weakened as strengthened. Get into the habit of crushing them.
One thing I like to do when an urge arises is to play it out in my mind: I imagine giving in, peaking, cooling, experiencing remorse and self-loathing and resolving to do better in the future. Of course I haven’t done anything and maybe by that time the urges have dissipated until next time. Try lying down and listening to music or taking deep breaths. Why not even start a stopwatch and record the duration of the wave? Once you have some data you’ll have an idea of how long you have to stay occupied. You could even list these occurrences so you can see how many you’ve beaten. If you have, say, three wins, it makes it harder to give in the fourth time.
Use the right tools
Each problem has to be tackled with its appropriate method. For example, some people think software that blocks porn websites is sufficient. But it is mental activity that leads to you engaging in PMO; it can’t simply be blocked at the fingertips (we’ve all found ways around software). That’s not to say the software doesn’t have a purpose. Its usefulness lies in hiding temptations from your virtual landscape that lead to thoughts about PMO.
Streak counters are also helpful but they should not become an end in themselves. There are threads online full of people who put so much stock in their days of abstinence that when they fail their failure becomes a licence to permanently relapse. If you abstain for 20 days and fail you still abstained for 20 days. One user suggested that for this reason it’s better to think of your ratio of streak days to instances of PMO. This approach preserves the value of a streak instead of cancelling it out, yet it deters gaming the mechanism because with every act of PMO the ratio is diminished. It encourages you to cut your losses.
Non-sexual content can be a gateway to sexual content. Of course this is not news to many of us who have used ostensibly neutral content to fulfill our urges or to slide down the slippery slope to full-fat porn with the accompanying excuse we tell ourselves that we weren’t directly searching for porn.
It’s worthwhile reading Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, in which he discusses wholesale digital fasting and includes practical instructions and advice.
PMO exists within an online ecosystem; breaking seemingly innocuous links in the chain that lead to PMO may help weaken your dependence on it. Obvious examples are social media sites with sexualised content or content adjacent to it. Newport makes the crucial recommendation in his book that you fill your time with other fulfilling activities – failure to do so will increase the chances of relapse. This is very difficult at first because PMO is still your sun, but this is where recording a streak can be very useful. To escape PMO’s ‘gravity’ you need to get maybe a week to ten days between yourself and the last day you used.
Even if you have strong urges and aren’t dealing with them well, knowing they’ll diminish can lead you to safer periods. You may find you only need to grit your teeth and push through urges with brute force for a few days as you get into a rhythm of weeks of of abstinence from PMO. If you want help from an app, Remojo is a good one to try.
The body is malleable and your sexual urges, which feel immutable, aren’t. They only feel that way because you’re tending them with PMO. For example, if you practise NoFap and only masturbate every 30 days you’ll find your urges can broadly conform to that pattern. Where before you felt urges every day and couldn’t imagine a day without PMO, you may find that weeks have passed without any strong urges. Also, the decision to relapse after 30 days is a much heavier one than to engage in PMO when you did so only the day before.
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