Trigger Alert! What’s Yours?


For those who want to end their use of pornography, the first step is admitting the problem. After this, you need to identify your triggers. A trigger is a person, place, thing, emotion, or experience that can easily lead one into viewing pornography.

Some triggers can be easy to identify, such as a day at the beach with young girls running around in bikinis. Others, however, can be more difficult to trace. This was the case with Jeff. He was in sales and worked from home, and would often find himself viewing Internet pornography throughout the day. To Jeff, life seemed good, and he couldn’t think of any reason why he kept viewing porn.

In order to identify various triggers, it’s important to understand the different types of triggers. While there are countless triggers out there, we can divide them into two categories: sexual and non-sexual.

Sexual Triggers

Sexual triggers are usually things that are blatantly sexual, such as the day at the beach as mentioned above. They can also include things such as pop-up ads on the Internet, television commercials during sports games, lingerie catalogs, sexual scenes in cable/satellite television shows or PG, PG-13 or R-rated movies, men’s lifestyle magazines, etc. Advertisers (and pornographers) know that men are visually stimulated and that “sex sells.” Thus, any type of media geared toward men will often have sexually suggestive (or explicit) content. Such content could easily become triggers for pornography use.

In addition, for some men, just the sight of a computer, television, cell phone, tablet, etc. could be a sexual trigger, especially if those devices are used to access sexual media. Even memories of past pornography viewed can be triggers. We call this euphoric recall.

Looking at his use of media and when he would fall into viewing pornography, Jeff realized that it often began when he was surfing sports websites. Often there would be advertising links that would lead him to view pornography. Lingerie ads on the Internet and in newspapers were also sexual triggers for Jeff.

Non-Sexual Triggers

Non-sexual triggers can be harder to identify; however, they are far more powerful than sexual triggers. They are usually rooted in painful emotions. Men can then turn to pornography to cope with these painful emotions. To help identify non-sexual triggers, I use the acronym: BLAST. The letters stand for the following:

B: Bored or Burnt Out
L: Lonely
A: Angry, Apathetic, Afraid, Ashamed, or Abandoned
S: Sad, Stressed or Selfish
T: Tired

For Jeff, the most common non-sexual triggers were boredom, loneliness, stress, and being tired. While he was successful at his job, he no longer found it mentally stimulating or fulfilling. Being alone all day at home left him feeling lonely. Making sales wasn’t difficult for Jeff, so he found himself with a lot of free time during the day and he would easily get bored. Not having a fulfilling career was also stressful for Jeff. He was tired of the monotony. He longed for more excitement in his life.

Experiencing these negative emotions would lead Jeff to surf the Internet. He would end up on sites that would be sexually triggering, and the combination of sexual and non-sexual triggers would lead him to view pornography. Jeff used the excitement of pornography to deal with the boredom and monotony of his career.

Delayed Reaction

One doesn’t always act out with pornography immediately after being triggered. It could take hours or days before falling. For example, a man who is triggered to use porn may wait several days until he is on a business trip to view pornography. Some act out with pornography and have no idea how or when they were triggered. In these situations, I recommend an exercise called “Clocking.”

Clocking Exercise: Thoroughly review the 48 hours prior to viewing pornography. Try to identify any sexual or non-sexual triggers during that time. Many people are surprised at how many triggers they can identify when doing the clocking exercise.

Developing New Strategies

Once sexual and non-sexual triggers are identified, strategies can be developed to properly deal with those triggers. This can help one avoid acting out. For example, Jeff began to look for new opportunities within his company to make his job more interesting and challenging. Instead of working from home, he began to go into the office more often to work so that he would be surrounded by other people. On days when he did work from home he would make plans to have lunch with friends or colleagues. He also limited his Internet use during the day and installed Covenant Eyes on his computer to monitor his Internet use. Altogether this helped him overcome his use of pornography.

Once you understand what your sexual and non-sexual triggers are, it’s not difficult to develop strategies to prevent you from falling into pornography use. Remember, the pornography use is the symptom. Understanding triggers can help you uncover and effectively deal with the root causes of it. This can contribute to lasting sobriety.

About the author, Peter Kleponis

Dr. Peter Kleponis is a Licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in Conshohocken, PA.  He holds an M.A. in Clinical-Counseling Psychology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, PA and a Ph.D. in General Psychology from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Kleponis specializes in marriage & family therapy, pastoral counseling, resolving anger, men’s issues, and pornography addiction recovery. He is the author of Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography.

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