Overcoming Gay Pornography in Reparative Therapy:
Identifying The Three Underlying Needs
Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
The easy availability of pornography and consequent addiction to it has reached epidemic proportions that the media continues to ignore. For the man with SSA, gay porn becomes a particular problem because of the natural but frustrated desires it presents.
As I work with SSA men, it becomes apparent to them that its attraction lies in its seeming fulfillment of three emotional drives: (1) Body Envy, (2) Assertive Attitude and (3) Need for Vulnerable Sharing. This insight need not necessitate the therapeutic use of explicit pornographic images as clinical experience has shown non-explicit images to be as effective. Let us review each of these emotional needs and how they are represented in gay porn.
Usually the first identified need is the desire for a body like the personified image. The porn actor possesses qualities of masculinity regarding which the client painfully feels inadequate. For each client, those masculine features may differ, but the common elements are muscularity, body hair, large build, and the archetypal image of masculinity, a large penis, which the client feels are shamefully lacking in himself.
In addition to body image, the client is drawn to a display of directness, non-inhibition and bold aggression. These are exactly what the client lacks in life, especially in his inhibited relationships with other men.
With further exploration, the client may identify his attraction to a quality of open sharing of emotions and other aspects of one's inner experience with another man. Sexual activity between two men offers a fantasy image of both vulnerable sharing and a deep level of mutual acceptance and validation which are strongly desired yet painfully absent in his male relationships.
From Fantasy to Reality
Diminished interest in gay porn occurs as the client begins to understand that he is seeking to meet normal, healthy and valid needs through this fantasy and wishful thinking. While apparently emotionally "safe," gay porn offers nothing but temporary relief from loneliness and alienation from other men. Instead, he is encouraged by his therapist to surrender this make-believe intimacy for authentic friendship. While it offers him safety from the anticipation of shame-invoking rejection by other men, porn satisfies only in the moment. Only through real-life experience can there be authentic transformation.
The three therapeutic techniques used in Reparative Therapy for uncovering the client's unconscious needs are: (1) Inquiry-Investigation, (2) Body Work, and (3) EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). The effectiveness of each technique depends upon the client. The therapist may combine them, but as a general rule, Body Work is more effective than Inquiry-Investigation, and EMDR is more effective than Body Work. (Body Work is a form of therapy in which the client learns to identify how he is feeling through attunement to emotions that manifest themselves in his body.)
The client's recognition of porn as merely "fantasy projection" of unmet needs inevitably leads the motivated client to ask: "Well,
then how do I get these needs met?" His question marks the second phase of Reparative Therapy and the process out of gay porn, and indeed, out of homosexuality itself. Preoccupation with male porn often represents the client's own sense of masculine inferiority made manifest in these three aspects—body envy, lack of assertion and need for vulnerable sharing–and investigation into the life of the SSA client also reveals a lack of authentic male friendships.
Memories of boyhood shaming by dominant males often surface during therapeutic exploration. Porn actors, after all, represent the kind of men who intimidate our client. The client comes to realize that through porn, he can dominate or be dominated by the men who once frightened them. Through porn, he can engage in imaginary play and feel a pseudo-acceptance from the kinds of men who have humiliated and rejected him.
As the client comes to identify how he projects onto the porn image his unmet needs and more importantly, as he fulfills those needs in real male friendships, the compelling power of the porn image diminishes. Clinical reports tell us that the client may eventually find such images not only uninteresting and non-arousing, but repulsive and disgusting in the same way that such images are experienced by heterosexual men.