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Dr. Debbie Akerman

By February 16, 2022No Comments

Episode 63

Dr. Debbie Akerman

Social Worker, Addiction Expert, & Activist

Dr. Debbie Akerman has been a social worker for over a decade; she specializes in addiction, recovery, trauma, and marriage and family work. As a social worker, she has helped many people find strength by providing an open and trusting environment for her patients to work through their troubling issues. During this conversation, Dr. Akerman talks with host Garrett Jonsson about addiction, shame, intimacy, and offers hope to anyone who may struggle with porn.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

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Garrett Jonsson:

My name is Garrett Jonsson, and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.

And in case you’re new here, Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

We want these conversations to be educational, uplifting, and hopeful. As we sit down with experts, influencers, activists, and people with personal accounts, we cover a wide variety of topics that may be triggering to some, you can refer to the episode notes for a specific trigger warning- listener discretion is advised.

Today’s episode is with Dr. Debbie Akerman. During the conversation we discuss what classifies porn addiction, what caregivers can do to be part of the solution, and the hope that is in the recovery process.

Well, Dr. Ackerman, we appreciate you being with us today. Uh, welcome to the podcast. First of all.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Thank you.

Garrett Jonsson: We always feel fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to speak with someone like yourself. The name gives it away. You’re an academic, and it just hit me, Dr. Ackerman, that you, you have a doctorate, like that’s a big deal.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Thank you. I think so. [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: How long did you go to school to earn that title?

A long time? So, uh, I started my master’s in 2008 and I graduated in 2010 and, uh, I was invited into the PhD program in my last semester. So I graduated the end of July in 2010, and then I jumped into the PhD and I started in August of 2010. And I graduated in 2019. So this was a nine year process, which included three more or years of school. It’s an additional 60, you know, doctoral credits. And then you start to write the dissertation. Um, my dissertation is also on addiction. I focused on addiction in the Orthodox Jewish community. I’m Orthodox Jewish, and I wanted to talk about addiction in the Orthodox Jewish community, which is building momentum. But, uh, when I was running my dissertation, it was still kind of at the, at its infancy. Um, yeah. And then you write and you write and you write, then you write and you hand it into your advisor and they slash it with red pen and say, try again. And wow, you go have some chocolate cake and you try again.

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So yeah, graduated in 2019 with my dissertation.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow. That’s impressive. That’s an endurance event.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It is an endurance… uh, it’s a marathon. You sign up for a marathon.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

So your children, all of your children, by the way, do you mind if we mention that you have 11 children on air?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Very, very proud, very proud of my family. Definitely very proud of the family that I have.

Garrett Jonsson: You didn’t have children during your studies to earn a doctorate if I’m doing the math correctly?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: No, no, I, I didn’t actually when, um, this is why this is so providential and I’m really so honored to, to really with you, Mr. Garrett, Dr. Garrett, I’m giving you a doctorate, Dr. Garrett.

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Um, my, my entire foray into the helping field and into social work, uh, was that I had been, um, living with somebody who had active addiction and I had no idea all those songs and poems and stories about the wife is the last to know, are actually quite correct. Um, and at the bottom we really hit a very bad bottom. Um, and so I just, I had to go to school. Uh, the, the effects of the addiction were really bad financially, legally, and there was kind of no choice. So when my baby was one, uh, I started graduate school and I finished when, uh, yeah. [laughter] many years later.

Garrett Jonsson: Goodness. Yeah. Well, we are grateful that you put in the work day in and day out for all of those years and continue to do so, because we are, you know, we’re reaping some of those, the fruit from your, your labor. So we appreciate that.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Well I remember when we met on the radio show and I was, I was very impressed that you were bringing sex addiction, uh, out into the forefront, uh, of communities because I think addiction in general is still so stigmatized and so misunderstood and sex addiction for sure is probably one of the most misunderstood of the addictions. Uh, and if addiction itself is moralized, sex addiction is just moral on steroids. People just cannot stop stigmatizing and moralizing it. So I think this is great and I’m really happy to be here and to work with you.

Garrett Jonsson: Great. Well, again, we’re, we’re grateful for the opportunity to speak with you. And as we jump into the conversation, one of the first things that I want to talk about is the fact that you are a therapist.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: And, uh, one of the, one of the qualifications and tell me if I’m wrong. But one of the very important things, when it comes to being a therapist is unconditional positive regard.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Correct.
Garrett Jonsson: You gotta hold that for your patients. And I just wanted to ask if that is something that comes easy to you, or is that something that you’ve had to learn?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So I very much, uh, because of my own personal experience, I very much believe in the concept of the wounded healer. Are you familiar with that?

Garrett Jonsson: The wounded healer?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah.

The wounded healer is, uh, a concept from Carl Young, Carl Young was supposed to be Freud’s, uh, successor.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And he and Freud kind of broke over a philosophy, but Carl Young kind of put down this, uh, concept of, of the wounded healer. It was one of his archetypes, one of his personality types.

Garrett Jonsson: Okay.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And what he posited is that a doctor really was talking about a doctor, but it’s, it’s used for therapeutic purposes. Also, when you go through that kind of same experience, or you have also had an experience of pain, then you become a much more effective clinician, whether it’s a medical clinician or a psychological clinician. So, you know, I have no problem sharing my ex, uh, that I’m no longer married to. I had a really bad sex addiction that I had never had any idea. And it took me through my own journey of healing and it took me through my own journey of addiction.

And, uh, when I started to find out what that was and put myself into program and put myself into recovery, I very much understood that this is what I needed to do and wanted to do for the rest of my life. Um, you do learn how to have positive regard, even though having gone through that experience and you listen to people, but the more you listen to people and the more you really understand what addiction is, and this is your really, why I’m, I’m very passionate about it and love doing things like this. The more you can be able to under explain to people the neurobiology of it and that it is not a moral failing.

And it is, is just a combination. It’s the perfect combination between nature and nurture. The more I think that we’re just able to, to work with it right. And to get to the end game, which we want to, which is for people to have understanding they should just have understanding.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So yeah, there was a little bit of a learning, but there was also, you know, my own hard bottom. And, uh, I remember the judgment that I faced when this whole thing came out and, uh, I don’t want people to face that it was, it was painful.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It was extraordinarily painful. I, myself come from a very instant or religious community and, uh, the fallout was bad. It was very bad socially. It was a disaster financially. There were legal implications. I mean, it was just, it was a bottom, it was definitely a rock bottom.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

I like that. The wounded healer I’ll have to look into that more and it makes sense. It kind of aligns with the humanistic perspective of genuineness, acceptance, and empathy, and you can’t really have empathy until you understand a person’s point of view. And so that makes sense. The wounded healer makes sense.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah. It’s a great concept. I, I really, I truly, I like it and I really get into it because when somebody sits with you and I have my clients now that sit with me and, and I see what they’re going through and their lives are in shambles and their lives are not in shambles because they’re bad people, their lives are in shambles because they have a disease and they have a disease that they can’t talk about. And that they’re trying to fix on their own. That just keeps spiraling out of control and they end up, they get into trouble. And when you’re able to therapeutically kind of say to them, like, “You know what, I’m here, and we can work this and let’s just work it out.” You know, the relief is so palpable. It really is akin to going to a specialist for some type of dreaded disease.

You know, and people you’re sitting there like nervous, like, “Oh my God, what is it? What is it?” And if the doctor can come in and said, “Look, you know what, we can do this. We can take care of this.” You’d just wanna cry. You literally just kind of wanna like, “Oh my God, there there’s help.”

Garrett Jonsson: Like tears of gratitude.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah. I face this every single day, whether I’m dealing with people with substance abuse or sex addiction or the under of behavioral addiction, they’re really desperate. And we, and we need to keep talking about it. That is the only thing that we can do as a, on a macro level is to just keep pounding away at educational component of it so that people understand what it is.

Garrett Jonsson: When you’re, this is more of a per personal question. In regards to your personal account with your former partner, when you found out about his problematic porn consumption, or I guess I’m assuming that it was porn consumption, you just said some type of sexual addiction.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: No, it wasn’t. [laughter] It was, it was, it was, it was both, it was, it was porn. It was people, it was, it was a mess.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Okay. So with that addiction looking back, was it challenging for you to have unconditional positive regard at that time towards him?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yes. Yes. The, the, the bottom was so severe. Um, the bottom was incredibly severe and like many people that have addiction, it also manifested itself in, in a fair amount, more than a fair amount of emotional abuse throughout the marriage.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So the combination of really being emotionally battered for the better part of two decades and an extraordinary, and I mean, Garrett, when I tell you about a tough bottom, I mean, loss of career, legal ramifications, loss of status in the community that I mentioned, the 11 children, um, not knowing how we were gonna pay food, mortgage. It, it, it was, you know, a one year old baby that I was nursing full time. It was bad.

Garrett Jonsson: Goodness. That’s heavy.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It was really in a marriage that was, was in complete shambles. I mean, there was not one psychosocial aspect of it that wasn’t hit. And I had no idea.

I mean, do, can I make you laugh? I have morbid humor.

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: First time. I remember hearing the word sex addiction, I thought, and I didn’t know anything. It wasn’t in school. It was, I thought “Sex addiction? Okay. So you have sex all day. Is, is that a bad thing?” Like… [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I kind of was thinking to myself, I’m like, “So why is that that bad?” I mean, I understood that alcoholism was bad and I understood that cocaine was bad and heroin was bad. I got that. But I remember thinking like “Sex addiction? like, okay, so people have sex all day. Like why, why is that a bad thing? Like, what are we talking about here?”

Garrett Jonsson: Okay. Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And I, I didn’t understand it. I was just like, “Why, why is this not good? Like, wow. If this is what he has and the why aren’t we have the best marriage in the world? Like what what’s going on?”

It was very confused. Huh. But was it hard to have hard regard? It was, um, it was, it was very difficult.

Garrett Jonsson: Well, I appreciate that honesty. And I think one of the benefits to that honesty to your experience is that again, you can have empathy and relate to people who are going through these types of situations and say, “Hey, look, I, I also had this challenge of maintaining unconditional positive regard.” So, …

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You know, we tried valiantly to put the marriage back together. We definitely worked at it for at least five, six years afterwards to, to really put it together. But, you know, again, we were talking about there’s without getting too personal, there were other things on top of it that not fixable at that moment. And it just, it just wasn’t gonna go, do I believe professionally and personally that people that have sex addiction can put their relationships back together? one million percent. And I have personally worked with couples and have seen where they have just taken that marriage and stripped it down to zero. And they end up really quite honestly, with some of the best relationships I’ve ever seen.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow, I love that.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Totally. I mean, yeah. Where there’s been, you know, people that I know in my community that founded that they had a disease because their spouses had acted out in a way and, and trans disease.

We’re talking about an insular, you know, community where people generally, uh, don’t have any premarital sex and all of a sudden there’s a sexually transmitted disease. It happens. I mean, the bottom can be really funky. And I have seen more than definitely, definitely more than 1, 2, 10, 12, 20 God knows how many couples that really dig in, do the work, and they save it.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Not only do they save it, they really end up better. So dam a huge believer in recovery. And, and I really think my PO my personal and my per professional philosophy is that addiction is the only disease in the world that you actually get a choice. And to me, that is only empowering you oh, wow. To go to any hospital across the country. And people would literally give anything to be told, you know what? You have a choice to get better.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And they don’t. And here it’s like, if you do the work and you work the steps and you go to program and you go to therapy, you can get better. You can manage it one day at a time. I look at that as hugely empowering. And that’s just, that is really part of my therapeutic orientation, a big part.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You can do this. That’s the first time I’ve heard it, heard it, put that way. And I love that. That’s inspiring.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Thank you. Thank you. Well, I really believe it. I mean, you just, you look at people with medical disease and they want so badly to get better and they’ll do anything at that point. And, and they can’t, and here it’s just, you know what, it’s gonna be hard and you may relapse and that’s okay, but you can get back on it and you can actually do what you need to do. Stay honest, have gratitude, do service have courage, and there’s this entire support community that’s there to help you. That’s there to cheer you on that’s there to work with you. I find that only empowering, only empowering.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. Well, as we, it, as we prepared for this conversation, I had no idea that you had a personal account. And so I really appreciate you talking to that. And as we move forward, uh it’s, it’s good to know that you do have that the healer, or excuse me, the wounded healer is part of your journey. So that’s really cool.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I mean, I’ll share with you. I don’t mind. And, and it’s, you know, I have a son that, uh, passed from brain cancer and that really also very much shaped a huge amount of my professional philosophy. And I remember thinking at it, then it’s like, you know what? He would do anything to get better. I would do anything to get him better. I would cut off my right arm. I would cut off both my arms and my limbs, if he would just get better.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And he didn’t, he passed away at 22. And I remember thinking about it, then it’s like, I deal with all these people that have this disease. They can get better. They just, we have to just allow for the process to take place and for them to do what they need to do and they can get better. Yeah. And that’s where it’s kind of like, it started to gel that idea in my brain that, you know what, my son’s not gonna get better, but you can, you really can get better.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And I just find that to be like the most strength based perspective that I can give anybody.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow. Goodness gracious. I’m all excited. Like I’m all pumped up because yeah, recovery’s possible. And I think this for a lot of our listeners and speaking from my personal account, like we’ve all been to that low where we don’t think it’s possible.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah, correct. Correct. This is why this is so important. We have to just keep talking, you know, secrets, keep you sick. And stigma keeps you sick. And the combination of secrets and stigma just keeps so many people mired and misery, and they don’t have to be, they just actually heard this really interesting Ted Talk that I was sharing with my class. Uh, I teach addiction at the, at worthwhile on faculty there. And it’s this young girl. And she was talking about, I was, uh, showing the class of Ted Talk on, uh, on the family members on collateral information and the impact of, of the families of addiction on families and this young girl. And she said, very speaks very softly. And you know, she kinda looks like Taylor swift, she’s real cute. She’s young. She says, “You know what the real problem with recovery is?, and I’m, I’m waiting, I’m listening.

She says, “It’s still anonymous. It’s still alcoholics anonymous. It’s still narcotics anonymous.” She says, “Why is it anonymous?” And I stopped the video at that point. And I said, “I’ve often wondered the same thing. I recognize the need for anonymity. I respect the need for anonymity, anonymity as a spirituality. And I will never, ever, ever obviously, professionally or personally reveal anything.”

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: But why is it anonymous?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: 86 years later, 86 years later. Right? What was founder’s day? June 10th, 1935.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Because we’re going on 87 years and we’re still an anonymous program and I get it. I get it. But wouldn’t it be better if we were just kind of like, you know, like, let’s say your neighbor is coming out the door and you’re like, “Oh bill, how’s your blood pressure. You’re doing good?”, “Oh yeah. I’m feeling good and feel good.” You could go to your other neighbor, go, “Sam, how you doing?” You know, “How’s addiction doing lately? Is it okay?”, “Yeah. It’s okay. I’m doing good. I’m feeling good.” We can’t do that yet.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow. You know…

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Does that make sense to you?

Garrett Jonsson: Yes, it does make sense. Do you know what you should do, Dr. Ackerman?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Tell me.

Garrett Jonsson: You should go by the domain that the following domain, you should buy alcoholicsidentified.com.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Okay.

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter] I just… I’m, I’m laughing because I’m kind of joking, but also part of me is kind of serious because it kind of aligns with what you’re saying. There are benefits to anonymity, but at the same time, maybe there should be more of the…

Dr. Debbie Akerman: There definitely benefits to anonymity. And I don’t think people need to go around and talk about, about their blood work and you know, my, my sugar’s this or my ketones are that,

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I mean, we, I definitely understand the need for privacy and privacy is privacy, but there’s just so much stigma and shame that’s mired around it.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And it just, not only does it keep the person with the addiction, but it keeps the family members and it keeps the kids and it keeps everybody just really in a way, just still running so scared.

Garrett Jonsson: It can be a barrier towards healthy conversation.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: A huge barrier. Yeah. A huge barrier. I mean, I, I tell my classes when I teach, you know, what Beck, what was it? The 16 hundreds, 15 hundreds, 16 hundreds. They used to take people with schizophrenia and burn them at the stake. They thought they were witches. Right. Cuz they were hearing voices. Yeah. So they actually took these poor people that today, some Zyprexa, right. Some Sequi right. Some drugs can actually help them lead a meaningful life and they killed them. Right? So obviously thank God mental health has taken a huge leap. But I think that with the numbers that we see with addiction, with the numbers that we see with the numbers that we know are out there, I think we need to kind of look at ourselves and say, yes, privacy, every single human being is entitled to privacy. That is absolutely inalienable right. But should we maybe just start to have more conversations so that the stigma continues to be lessened? Just something to think about.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. I like that a lot.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Thank you.

Garrett Jonsson: As a person who has had unwanted porn consumption and I addressed it, my spouse who I’ve been married to for 11 years, about five years ago or six years ago is when I kind of told her the truth…

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: … about my, you know, unwanted, problematic porn consumption. And for a period of time, I wouldn’t talk about it openly with other people. And she’s the one who kind of encouraged me to do so in appropriate ways, because she was saying basically similar stuff that you’re saying is like, if we want to change the conversation, then we should, and we want to remove the stigma. Then part of that might be having open discussions in appropriate ways.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah, I think so. I think that it’s really a very interesting thing in, in western culture and I guess in the United States and you know, I love America and I love living here and I’m very grateful for everything that I have. I think we’re an incredibly, we have this kind of like very weird dichotomy in this nation and that we’re a very sexualized nation. We really are. And we’re becoming more and more sexualized and kids are becoming more and more sexualized at younger ages. But to actually like actually sit down and talk about it still makes me many people really uncomfortable. And so this is kind of weird, right? So it’s really out there. It’s used to sell everything from orange juice to tires, to, you know, I don’t know, linen and plastic baggies, everything is sexualized. Yeah. But nobody has a conversation and we don’t wanna talk to kids about it because we think that that’s gonna make them go out and have sex, but the literature’s gonna show you it’s actually opposite.

If you actually talk to kids about it, that actually will not, the literature shows you that the younger children are that start sexual activity. The more depression they have, because it’s not for their worldview, but because it’s so shrouded again in secrecy, right? And the best way to get a kid to do anything is to not tell them about it, tell them they can’t do it or they can’t talk about it. Right?

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It’s like the, the whole old joke of the kid that goes to the ER and he has an eraser up his nose and doctor’s like, “Oh, so why do you have an erase up your nose?” “Because mommy said not to.”

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: [laughter] Perfect.

Garrett Jonsson: Yep.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah, of course. I’m gonna put an eraser up my nose. Mommy said not to. So of course I’m gonna literally take an eraser right now and stuff it up my nose.

So we have this really very weird relationship with sex. And when we tell people say, you know what? We are born as sexual creatures, we are sexual creatures in the womb. It’s a part of life. It is one of the drives to survive, like eating. And we have a very difficult time starting to talk about it and just like eating can go awry and parenthetically, Garrett, tell me if you agree with this, what is the number one also addiction that we judge so badly for food addiction.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Right? And food addiction and sex addiction. They really kind of go hand in hand in a way, because it’s not an external item that you’re putting into your system that you become addicted to. It’s a natural drive that goes awry. And we judge people who are overweight just as viciously. So I just think it’s a really, it’s something that, you know, we need to look at, but good for your wife. I think that’s great.

Garrett Jonsson: So now you have me wondering what your opinion is regarding Maslow’s hierarchy needs in that bottom level. Some people say that sex should be included in the bottom level. And some people say it shouldn’t be because it’s not… for example breathing. If we compare the need of breathing to sex, you will not live very long without breathing, but you will without sex. So do you want to talk to that a little bit or would you rather just say skip next question.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: No, I’m, I’m very fine with that. You know, know social workers, uh, the way we’re trained Maslow is definitely one of the models that we employ for a lot, for everything that, that we do, because we are based in a theory called person and environment. And we definitely do work with a hierarchy on needs. It’s how we study for our licensing exam. And it’s how we assess clients. And it’s how we base treatment plan. So I’m a huge Maslow fan.

Garrett Jonsson: Okay.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I think breathing comes obviously above anything, right? If God forbid somebody had their hands around your windpipe or around my windpipe, or we were in an ocean doing this interview and, and a huge wave was about to engulf us. We wouldn’t be thinking about anything except breathing.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Right? And that’s kind of what Maslow was saying. If you’re in an ocean and I’m on a, on the boat and uh, you’re like “Help, help! Please! Help, help!”

And I kind of look over the boat. I go, “Garrett, Garrett, do you wanna talk to me about your sexual history? Like what, what happened when you were four, Garrett? Did, did you see your mom, like without clothing? Garrett, how you doing?” You’re like “Throw me a life jacket! I’m about to go under.” “Oh, so Garrett, who was your first girlfriend? Was that Kathy, do you wanna talk about Kathy?” You’d look really like a know was crazy.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You need a life jacket, you need to be hauled out the water. You need to get on the boat.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Once a person is breathing and Maslow actually put into that, you should know temperature, which is very interesting because if you’re too cold or you’re too hot, right. That’s also a basic human need to be, to be temperature, to breathe and to be temperate. But I think it’s kind of a trick question and I’m glad you bring it.

Because that’s really unfair. We all need to breathe. We all need to breathe. But once we’re breathing, once we are, God forbid not intubated, right. Once, once we can actually breathe. Well, then we are allowed to start to talk about other things that we need. And that’s kind of saying like, well, you don’t really need a hamburger. No, you really do. Do you need sex? It’s a natural drive. Other people who choose not to, that’s a choice. Are there certain religious that choose not to? That’s still a choice.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: But that doesn’t mean that that is the choice that everybody is gonna make. And it still doesn’t mean that it is not a natural drive. There are also people that will choose to live on bread and water for their whole lives and, and to walk away from that pleasure or that stimulus in their lives. And the Bible talks about the Jewish tradition. There’s a concept of something called a Nazir and he was a very holy person. And one of the things that he had do was abstain from anything alcoholic, never had wine, never had anything that had to do with alcohol. That was his choice based on his classification of religious observance. But that’s not a global desire.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Not to mention that we need sex to procreate. We’re not all gonna be made in a Petri dish. Thank, God.

Garrett Jonsson: Did you say at one point during this conversation that we are sexual from the womb?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: Can you talk to that a little bit more?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You can look at ultrasounds. You can look at the literature. Babies will be found masturbating in the womb and you know, I’ve had 11 kids talk to anybody. You have kids, Garrett, right?

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Where adults here can have an open conversation. You take off their diapers, their hands will go straight for their genitals.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It feels good. See, but they don’t have shame about it.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Right? It’s like, “This feels good.”

Garrett Jonsson: It’s just a comfort thing for them.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Well, like it is for everybody. Right? The, the, the penis, the vagina, the is a lot of nerve endings there. It feels good. And I work with a lot of parents who, you know, their three year old does it, their two year old, the four year old, the first thing the parents’s like, “No, don’t do that!”

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So we have this really wonderful, you know, when you talk about basic Skinner and Pavlov, right?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: “So, okay. My hand goes here and mommy now is like, purple-faced.” Like, “NO!!!! Don’t do that!” That’s that’s gonna be a little jarring. Don’t you think? Like a little traumatic, right?

Garrett Jonsson: The conditioning starts.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Right there. When you’re two years old, mommy’s freaking out and daddy’s turning purple and all of a sudden you’re in your room, like with the door locked. Everybody’s like, what, what just happened here? Yeah. Again, wouldn’t it be better if we could just have a conversation and say, we know that that feels good and that’s okay. And this is what we call a something that’s private. Right. And so you can take yourself to a private place. No problem. When you’re done, probably wanna wash your hands. Right. Cuz it’s a place that has bacteria and can be dirty and then please come out and join us. Now we’ve normalized. It we’ve normalized it. Right. So I was just working with the parents the other day that their kid had this major trauma, again, Orthodox child in a high school. He’s caught in the stairwell with a girl.

Right. I said, “Well, did, did he rape her?” “No. They were just making out school.” The school made a big fat, hairy deal, because it’s an Orthodox school. I’m like, “What do you think two 15 year olds are gonna do?” Like where are we with this?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And so we put the shame, we put the shame, I’m preparing a talk for tomorrow and I’m talking to a group of parents. And I read that, uh, somewhere in what we call the Talmud, which is the oral law of, uh, Judaism. It says, there’s a statement that says people would rather have physical pain than have shame. And when you talk to people, when you talk to a lot of people, most with addiction, there was such a huge shame history, such a huge shame in trauma history.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And I think if we normalize the discussion, well then children would also be taught from a very early age, what to recognize as healthy and then problematic and would be able to report with much more ease and normal conversations.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: If that makes sense to you.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned that our society is, is hyper-sexual. And…

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I think so.

Garrett Jonsson: Over-sexualized is another, maybe another way to say that. And I think that some of the, that listeners today are going to be caregivers of some sort, whether it’s a parent or a different type of caregiver. And one of the things that, one of the challenges they face is having healthy discussions about, uh, whether it’s about the harmful effects of pornography or about sexuality, generally speaking.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah.

Garrett Jonsson: Can you talk to some of the tips you have for caregivers to talk about? Let’s say let’s stick to us as an organization because we educate on the harmful effects of pornography. How can caregivers have meaningful conversations with the kids that they care for in tact ways?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Right. So I think first of all, it’s almost like the therapeutic process, right? When, when you go to social work school, you go, I think you go to a psychology school or LMHC or LMFT, whatever school it is, they spend a lot of time talking about you about the practitioner. Right? so I remember being in social work school and thinking like, “Why are they talking about me and my feelings? I wanna talk about people’s problems. I don’t wanna talk about me.” Right.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: so now I see the wisdom of it because how we approach the problem very much is going to set the stage for how the client can respond to how we’re approaching it. So if parents have an inherent discomfort talking about sex, you’re either gonna avoid it. They’re going to make it shameful or they’re going to punish it when their kids bring it up or are interested.

Does that make sense to you?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So first the parents have to be very clear on where do you stand on this subject? What do you feel? Do you have religious rules that you wanna employ? Do you have, um, some morals and some values based on your own upbringing or your choices as an adult. And I think that it’s just really important to start the conversation there. Once the parents are pretty clear about where they are. Again, I think it starts at a young age. I think it is very important. For example, to give kids proper biologic names for their genitalia.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Many cultures, many things have these kind of like code names or nicknames. And I think that it immediately makes it kind of like shame based and secret, right? You can’t call, you can call an arm and arm. You can call a leg, a leg, you can call head ahead.

But everybody has these kind of like very weird code names for genitalia. No, this is a penis and this is a vagina. So we start with like a normal conversation, trust and relationships start from very young, right? When we have babies, it’s an endless loop of feed and bath and change and rock and walk. And that’s called bonding. And that lays the foundation for being able to have different conversations. Your two year old, your three year old, your four year old, “Okay, you want to play with your penis? You wanna touch your vagina? That’s okay. But that’s what we call privacy.” Very important to teach children the difference between privacy and secrecy. That’s a huge lesson that we have to start teaching kids because secrets will keep you sick and secrets are what will harm you. And when people want to take advantage of children, it’s going to be a secret.

So it’s very important. And I, I tell my parents who are working the kids all the time, teach your children the difference between privacy and secrecy. Everyone’s entitled to privacy. You wanna go to the bathroom? That’s a private thing. You want mom or your daddy to help you afterwards. No problem. But you’re entitled to privacy.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: The secret is something that can hurt you. So what I guess I’m trying to say, Garrett is when you lay the foundation like that, when the child gets to be 8, 9, 10, 12, and I’m not unrealistic. I think a lot of the kids are gonna find out about the birds and the bees and about sex from the street or from their friends. But I think it’s very important for parents to lay the groundwork where it’s like, “I can come and ask you a question.”

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: “You will answer me.”, “You will not yell at me.”, “You will not shame me.” You wanna have a question about sex? Do you wanna have a conversation? That’s fine. Then we can start to delve into the more sub themes. Sex is a language. It’s something that feels good. It is something that people do between themselves because they like it. Many times, it’s an expression of tremendous, like, or of love. And it’s something that we can connect with another human being, right? Because at the end of the day, sex is something that feels really good, but is in many cultures and in many places, an expression of desire. Does that make sense?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: If children wanna ask about porn, I think then we can start to tell them about terms like objectification and about how people maybe are using this to make money. Maybe they want to, maybe they not, maybe it doesn’t feel good for them, and try to have that open discussion. And you start to just let the kids talk to you and ask their questions.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I think you’re honest. Am I making sense to you?

Garrett Jonsson: Absolutely. One of the problems with mainstream internet pornography and its easy access, is that kids to turn to pornography as a sex education tool.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: Rather than turning to a reliable source like you, the caregiver.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: That’s a hundred percent. And I think that the other thing that I think is very important for people to understand. And one of the great dangers of internet pornography is the brain, the addicted brain, the dopamine, dopamine loves novelty. When you’re talking about internet porn and there’s always a new person and a new image and a new body and a new combination, the brain literally goes into overdrive. And because it’s so accessible today and because any teenage kid can get hold of a phone for a month for very little money, right. Use it and then toss it or hot spot it. Or you can really do what you need to do. It’s imperative to have the conversation and it’s imperative. I think really at that age to explain to children that yes, it is a tremendous physical pleasure that goes with sex.

You can use the words like huge dopamine hit. You can show them a picture of the brain. Like it goes here. You can explain to them what it means to be lovesick. Right. Kids get it, teenagers, get it, we all get it. We all remember that first time we had a boyfriend or a girlfriend and you just walk around, you’re dizzy. Right? Nobody told you what that was about, but you’re kind of, you’re a little lovesick.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And I think that it’s important to understand that you’re not gonna be able to have that conversation with your child at 14. If you didn’t have a conversation with them at four or at seven.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You can’t just go from zero to a hundred and sit your son down and say, look okay. I think it’s time we have that talk and your kid looks and you’re like, “Um, I get it. We’re done.” And you’re so relieved that you say, “Okay, good. I’m really glad, you know, let me know if there’s, I can do anything for you. I’m gonna go mow the lawn now.” and you jump up and you run out.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm. You’re introducing…

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It’s a relationship, and it’s…

Garrett Jonsson: Oh, go ahead.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah, no, it’s, it’s an intimacy and real intimacy takes real time. And it’s allowing kids to say things and to experiment and to tell you their thoughts, which could be a hundred percent wrong or a hundred percent off and literally giving them the space. “Okay. That’s what you think. I hear you. Why do you think that, what does that do for you? Let me tell you that this is what I think another approach and how we can treat people in another way and in a more respectful way.” And it comes with that. That’s one of the major problems with pornography period. It is just the height of objectification. And that is when it becomes like the drug, but the drug then is another human being. It’s not a vial and it’s not a bottle. It’s a human being that is literally being objectified to the nth degree for another person’s usage

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

You talked a little bit about dopamine and novelty being a driver for the dopamine.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: I’m wondering if you can talk to impulse control versus sensation seeking and a little bit more about brain development and why, again, it’s important to talk about this with kids because of their brain development and that sensation seeking.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Okay.

Garrett Jonsson: I don’t know if I’m verbalizing this question correctly.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah, yeah, no, I, I think I understand what you’re saying. So having kind of done hun hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of intakes on people with addiction, there’s certain kind of majority of truths that kind of ring true. Uh, and that is that the majority of people who start their addictive journey, whether it was alcohol or weed or, or porn or, or anything that like that, they generally start it when they’re pretty young, 10, 12, and that’s a developing and brain. And what happens is that, that, that first zing, whether it’s a drink or, or weed or porn, it kind of puts this imprint on the brain. Right? The brain is, is like we cement and a developing child.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And so it’s literally like, you know, when there was wet cement outside of, you know, your house, when the guy finished and you all looked for the truck to leave, and then it, he just went and put their hand prints on it, cuz we knew he’d be really mad the next day, but “Hey, what’s he gonna do? It’s done.” Right?

And that’s what it does to the child. The other thing that I also wanna say, which we haven’t really touched on, which I think is really important is the role that trauma plays in addiction. And there was really, as you know, practically a one-to-one relationship between childhood trauma and addictive processes. So if you already have a child that has trauma, if you have a child that is looking to self sooth, if you have a child that is feeling not part of things that is growing up in poverty is growing up in a, a dysfunctional homes growing up in a home of addiction where things are really very rough. This is going to be a very powerful, very powerful soothe for a young developing brain. And then the brain is gonna obviously want more and want more and want more. And so we have definitely now primed, we have primed this brain that is grow to crave, to crave this sensation, to crave what it is now, when that leads to active addiction, which again, we never know how long that’s gonna take.

It could take a year for somebody. It could take six months for someone else. It could take two years for someone else. It could take a decade for someone else five years. No one knows. Now you’re off to the races because now the obsession keeps going and keeps going. And the other thing that we really haven’t spoken about, which is really important is the macro influence on this entire process. It is so easy. It is so easy today to get access. We’re not talking about the seventies in Detroit, when I grew up where you actually had to go to the drug store, you know, go behind the wooden little thing and pick up a magazine and risk running into somebody that you know, all you need is a device and you’re gone. Did that answer your question?

Garrett Jonsson: Yes it did. Yeah. I liked that you talked to the brain development. That’s what I was kind of referring to, uh, the fact that they are developing even more so at the young age.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And you talk to people about it and they’ll tell you, they’ll tell you like they just, they hit that zing and, and, and it’s heady. And again, if, if you can’t talk to someone about it, if your parents will turn purple and start screaming, well, you’re not, you’re not gonna go to them. Right?

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And then of course there’s the sensationalizing of it and then belong into a group that does it. And this again, feeds very much into the insecurity of, of teenagers also, you know, I I’ll never forget. I was working in a public school one summer and this is absolutely beautiful girl I was working with and she was not doing well in school. And she had to go to summer school, very, very bright girl, really bright. She was 14 years old and she had already had a, a boyfriend.

She was sexually active. I remember her sitting in my office, she was crying. She just started sobbing. She’s like, “I wish I had never done it.” She’s like, “I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.” And we kind of talked about it. I said, “So it’s it’s okay. And, and what were you thinking?” She’s like, “Everybody was just talking about it, just do it, just do it, just do it. So I did it.”

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: she’s like, “I didn’t want that.” She’s like, “It was horrible. I didn’t like it. I don’t like him.” And we really processed really throughout that summer that, that’s okay. And that it is her body and it’s her choice always. And that, even though there was just kind of, because her notion was, “Well, I’ve done it once. I may as well go out and do it again because that’s what everybody’s telling me to do.” Not, not.

Garrett Jonsson: Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think that it kind of goes into that third level, which is the belonging. Is that kinda, what you’re saying is that she felt like to belong to fill, like she belonged, she had to do this and that.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Correct. She had to, to continue to do this act, which she really was very, she had a lot of insight, which is, “I really don’t want to be doing this.” and teenagers, as we know the Mo the thing they want most above anything else in the entire universe is to belong.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And to a belong to a group.

Garrett Jonsson: Acceptance.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Again, if you’re teen that is growing up with trauma, you are going to so glam on to that friend group mm-hmm . And if that current friend group is doing something, that’s gonna pop your brain with a head of dopamine all the better.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And so we have this actual perfect storm. We have a real perfect storm as to how to get it.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And it’s there. I mean, I don’t know about you Garrett, but you know, you wanted to get porn when, where our group, where you grew up, it’s, you know, kind of find your parents hiding place and hunt for it and see what, you know, and risk getting caught. Or, you know, you were gonna go to the store and, and pick this up at the local drug store.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You know, your parents would’ve known in two minutes.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Yeah. The Mayo Clinic, they list. If I’m remembering correctly, they list two list, risk factors for developing compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD). And the two risk factors are ease of access and privacy.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: There you go. Perfect.

Garrett Jonsson: That aligns and yeah. Today we’re dealing with the different thing when we’re comparing the mainstream internet pornography of today, versus what we grew up with. It’s different.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Correct. Cuz again, even if you got hold of magazine, you got hold of one magazine so everybody gathered around one magazine. Yes. It was titillating. It gave you that high, the whole thing. It was one magazine and dopamine likes novelty. So sure. You could keep looking at it, but it was one magazine. Now, any kid, any kid is off to the races.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You just need a device and you can get a device for very little money a at a time if need be.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You don’t even need internet access. Every kid on the planet knows how to hotspot it.

Garrett Jonsson: Yep.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You know, they’re very savvy.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: We need to live in, in, in the reality, we are the most addicted nation on the planet, alcohol, and drugs, and sex, and gambling, and food. This is our culture.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And so I cannot, you know, accept the things you cannot change and change what you can. I am not gonna change the macro level system. I can’t.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: But I can have conversation. That is something that I’m able to do.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

I love that. That aligns with our mission statement is to educate on the harmful effects of pornography so that people can make an educated decision.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Perfect.

Garrett Jonsson: I like that.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Well, thank you.

Garrett Jonsson: You’ve talked a lot about addiction throughout this conversation. You’ve used that word several times and that’s one of the most common questions when it comes to the topic of pornography is whether or not it can be addictive. And I get the impression that your opinion is that it definitely can be.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: One hundred percent.

Garrett Jonsson: And first things first, I want to go back to something that you mentioned as you were talking about, uh, how long it can take to walk down that road toward a, you said it varies because we’re all unique individuals with the unique biology and unique experiences. But do you think it’s safe to say that the majority of porn consumers are not addicted?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: You know, that’s a tough question. Um, because addiction is, and this is where people really don’t understand it. It’s, it’s really such a cagey cunning animal. There are so many people that are addicted, but they’re also very high functioning.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: so it really depends on how are you measuring that addiction? Are they still showing up to work and making money? Yeah. Do they have lousy relationships? Okay. But nobody’s talking about it. Do they have legal problems? No, they’re keeping it at bay. So it’s really like any other addiction, other people that can drink a cup of wine once a week and they’re fine. Yeah, no problem. Can they have a glass of wine every night and they’re fine. Yeah. It doesn’t mean that they’re addicted. They have a glass of wine, they enjoy it. They move on with their business. Other people who are functionally alcoholic or addicted that we don’t know about million percent. I don’t think that we really have an accurate counting of how many people really have an issue.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Does that make sense to you?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. That does make sense.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Um, does that, is anybody, is there everybody who views porn? Are they addicted? Probably not. Are they are vast numbers of people that are probably addicted to porn that we don’t know about? Probably. Yes. And I think because it is the highest of the shame based ones that let’s say the family members or the partners or the spouses, they’re not gonna talk about it because it’s, so it’s such an intimate thing.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So you’re gonna go to your girlfriend or your, your guy friend and be like, “You know, my partner isn’t really interested into me, like I’m kind of on porn.”, you know, because that really breeds to the codependency or the co addictive thinking of “What’s wrong with me?” I’ll never remember that. I forget there was a story of a, I didn’t work with this couple, but I went to a seminar and, and this woman spoke.

This woman was like, absolutely just Lumin. Beautiful. Just one of these women, you looked at you like, this is an incredibly beautiful, accomplished, wonderful woman. And this is the misnomer of, of kind of porn and sex addiction. Right? Like I thought back when guess you have sex all day. Well, you don’t and her spouse wouldn’t go near her. And she had no idea why drove her crazy. Right. And we’re talking about for months, he just literally would not go near her.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So she said, she went out one day, Garrett, ready for this. She went out one day and she bought a, like a pen wire set that cost $2,000. It’s a lot of money. Right.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: She went home, she got her hair done. She got her makeup done. The whole thing lit the candles through the rose pedals. Put on this pen, worth $2000.

That’s a lot of money for pen set.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: He came home, walks into the living room, candles, wife waiting there, roses. Hello, walks upstairs. She freaked out. She freaked out. She just could not even understand it.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So because right, because she wasn’t able to access the help. Now it turns out he had a, a really powerful point ex addiction. That’s why he wasn’t going anywhere near her.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: But she was so alone in this. And so trying to figure it out by herself. Yeah. So I think there are just like anything else. I think there are vast numbers of people out there that do have addiction, but they’re just suffering in silence.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Because they’re just too ashamed to even reach out and, and start this conversation.

Garrett Jonsson: That makes sense.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I’ll tell you another thing. Just interestingly, it’s it’s a little bit off the topic, but I think it is, uh, my dissertation, I sent, uh, surveys to administrators of mental health clinics. And the one finding that really came back that struck me is that 75% of the people that responded said that their clinicians had no idea how to diagnose or treat addiction.

Garrett Jonsson: Hmm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I said, you know what? That one is really interesting because not everybody wants to treat addiction. And I get that. I love working with people with addiction and their family members, but not everybody wants to do it. But if, again, if you can’t have the conversation, if you don’t know what questions to ask in a clinical way, whether you’re talking about a, a sex addiction or a be, or a camera addiction, it’s gonna slip through the cracks. And I see couple after couple that come to me and they’ve done job Gottman and they’ve done this and they’ve done that. And I believe in all of that, and it’s all wonderful and it’s all needed and it’s all fantastic, but it’s not gonna help an addiction. And if you don’t know what to look for and the questions to ask, you’re gonna miss sit and then you’re gonna wonder why it’s not helping. Does that make sense to you?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

And speaking of diagnosing, I, I think that a layperson, let’s say one of our listeners, they find out that their, someone in their life is consuming pornography. And let’s say that they person is in a child. And I think it’s common for the adult, the caregiver to jump, to diagnosing them and say, “My kid must be addicted to pornography consumption.” And I’m just wondering if you can talk to that a little bit and why it’s important to leave the diagnosis to those who are qualified to give a diagnosis.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah. So I think first of all, we have to also separate when we talk about like children or teenage, uh, clients, you know, diagnosing is often very difficult, right? So for example, like show me a teenager that’s not moody and, and overeating, so, and, you know, kind of like reactive, I mean, definitely not any of my 11.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: How about that? And I’m a good mom.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I think I’m a good mom. So it’s, it’s a little difficult when we talk about like kind of that population, even in terms of sex, show me a teenager. That’s not over sex and you know, we’ll, we’ll start to have a conversation, but for sure, it’s very important to leave the diagnosis for the professionals, because even a teenager that you think is oversexed and into porn. Well, they’re all gonna be, many of them are gonna be oversexed and into porn, but when you apply the rubric, when you apply that rubric of addiction, which we know, which is, is it interfering with other, uh, daily activities?

Is it very high risk? Is it in, is there a legal involvement? Is there a health involvement? Is it being hidden? Right? Is there a lot of lying? Is there a lot of manipulation? What else is going on in the life of that child or teenager or adult that’s when you can start to make more of an effective diagnosis, right?

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Because again, somebody who has a glass of wine every night is, does not necessarily mean an alcoholic. Somebody who has two DUIs and is not showing up to work because they’re drinking and they’re spending a lot of money and they’re doing it in a higher risk situation. Well, now we’re talking about a little bit of a different issue and somebody who’s versed in addiction, clinicians that are versed in addiction, they’ll lead the conversation so that the information, the pertinent information comes out.

And I think it is very important. Also very important. If you do find out, if you do find out that your teenage child, if your young adult is doing it the way that you’re gonna approach it, you know how they say you have like one chance to make a first impression, you have pretty much like five or 10 minutes to kind of get that person on the right treatment path. And I think we have a very long history in this country of yelling at addiction and trying to punish it. And I think that we can all fairly much agree that that’s failed. So addiction needs to be approached with understanding and needs to be approached with treatment. It needs to be approached with compassion. It needs to be approach with “Probably you’re not feeling very well. And there are things that we can do to make you feel better.”

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Generally, that’s an approach that I have found that works much better than, oh my God, what are you doing? And what’s wrong with you when you’re, you know, not gonna work so well.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. Can you talk to why porn can be difficult to quit? Um, and when I ask that question, I’m more referring to the brain and what happens in the brain and those processes that can make it difficult to quit pornography consumption.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So I kind of look at that as why addiction period is difficult to quit. Right? Right. So the long and the short of it, and Garrett, if I’m saying something that’s not correct, I, I, you know, I love being wrong. It’s always where you do the learning. So the brain has like billions and billions of, of synapsis these little spaces, uh, in between the channels. And that’s where the messages get carried through. And there’s two things that carry those messages. One is hormones. And the other one is something called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are basically the dopamine, the endorphins, the GABA, right? This is what the brain makes to carry those messages, which allows us to do everything, to have this conversation, to do our computer, to talk, to drive, to cook, to, to do anything that we’re gonna do. So you cannot give the brain anything in substance behavior that the brain does not already make.

When you give the brain a substance or behavior. And let’s say it’s a dopamine hit an enormous amount of dopamine, floods, those synapses, some of it gets absorbed. And then the rest will create the high. And the brain is a truly marvelous, clearly one of the most marvelous organs that we have, but it becomes very lazy very quickly. And so it’s gonna really stop producing less of that chemical because it knows Garrett’s gonna give it to me. Or I’m gonna give it to the brain. Right. Right. And so it starts this real incessant knocking at you, which I think we know now as, as the craving, and then you start that vicious cycle. You give the brain, the chemical, right. You start to build up a tolerance, you need more of it. The brain produces less and you start this kind of, you go down that rabbit hole. When it comes to porn, if you have several hundred or, or thousand, whatever it is, porn sites, new ones being created, your brain is going to be on this incredible dopamine, literal overdrive. There’s just not enough.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And like any, you just shut that off on the brain. Your brain doesn’t know what to do with that. Not to mention that you have been using this to self-medicate and soothe. And so anything from burnt toast to a late tax bill, to a fight with your spouse or your parents is gonna throw you over the edge. You have stopped developing emotionally from the minute that addiction started. So you, you can’t cope. You can’t cope. Your drug’s not even making you feel better. Uh, people don’t talk about the compulsive masturbation that goes along with porn or sex addiction, people are hurting themselves. That has to be an addiction. It’s falling under the same rubric as any addictive behavior. And so you’re left with this brain that is battered. It’s really battered. And you can’t think your way out of a paper bag. I have had clients who have pretty severe porn addictions, and they will tell me, “I am in a room, in a dark room by myself all day watching porn. I don’t want it. I don’t wanna do it. I can’t get out of it. It’s a drug.”

Garrett Jonsson: Wow.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It’s like going into the cocaine, right? The crack houses, people would walk in there also, and be like, you haven’t eaten. You haven’t shaved. You you’re shaking. You’re a mess. Yeah. Because your brain is addled with that chemical. And I think when people understand that is what is going on in the brain, it is an illness. So you asked me at the beginning of that sentence, like, do I think it’s an addiction a thousand percent, a thousand percent, it follows all the marker and all the trajectory of addiction.

Garrett Jonsson: What are the, what are some of the first signs that someone is addicted? Like, let’s say someone’s walking down that road, it’s a gradual road. Or let’s say it can be a gradual road toward addiction. And as someone walks that, what are some of the first signs they’re going to experience that are saying, “Yeah, this is it’s, it’s probable. This is going, it is an addiction. Or that it’s walking towards an addiction.

Um, having difficulty in your relationships, missing important events, not being able to concentrate at work, spending a good part of your day at work in the bathroom, on your phone, doing porn, doing porn at your desk and your computer, locking the door, not locking the door, making that situation high risk, that, that you, you know, have a threat of being caught. Right? Um, spending more and more money running up charges on your credit card. Bill for porn addiction, compulsively masturbating to the point where you’re hurting yourself. You’re I, I had a client, female client was going into the bathroom multiple times. She was hurting herself.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: She was hurting the first thing I was like, you need to gynecologist you’re in pain. She was injured. That’s not normal sexual behavior.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: That, that is an addiction.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: So you follow the same rubric that we follow for any other addiction.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. Okay. You’ve talked about how the brain is one of the most amazing things. And we’ve talked about how the brain can be hijacked in a sense.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yep.

Garrett Jonsson: And it can go towards an addiction and, and it can eventually arrive at an addicted state, but I want to talk about the hopeful side as well. What is happening as someone walks down the road toward recovery?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Well, as you walk down the road to recovery, first of all, I think people get an enormous sense of relief when you actually can talk to people and say, “You have a sex addiction.”, or “You have alcoholism.”, or “You have an opiate addiction.”

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Because now you, you know, knowledge is power in this case and okay, this is what it is. Yeah. When you walk down the road to recovery, you have to be able to take a very gentle and honest look at yourself. Uh, I’m a very big believer, obviously in the person and environment and what happened to the person in their, in, you know, they didn’t get to this place all of a sudden. So we definitely wanna piece together what happened in your past and how we can make a plan for your future. One of the best things of recovery, of course, in my opinion, is to join the rooms and start to talk with other people because the 12 step rooms provide the safest most non-judgmental place, or for people to grow up emotionally for them, to be honest for them to start to look at how they think and how that thinking makes them act.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Every class that I teach at the university, I give them extra credit. If they go to an open 12 step meeting to an open AA meeting, my students come back, they all do it for the extra credit, obviously. No problem.

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter]

Dr. Debbie Akerman: But they all come back and they call it transformative.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And they kind of say like, you know what, there’s just not a place like that in the world. Yeah. And really, quite frankly, I found two places in the world where there’s no judgment. One is hospital waiting rooms, and two is the 12 step rooms. Hmm. Because that’s where you just like, get all the honesty and all the love. Nothing else matters. We just need to be here for each other.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And so that’s what recovery looks like. And I think when we start to talk to people about triggers, we start to talk to people about what is normal sexual behavior, what is compulsive sexual behavior? When we can look at people with understanding, it just like, if they have a crack addiction and say, you probably don’t feel so well to look at somebody with a sex addiction and say, “You probably don’t feel so well.” they’ve never heard that before. Right? That, that just understanding of like, I really don’t, you know that yeah. There’s no way you can feel really well at this point.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: It’s a huge relief.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah, absolutely. Do you think it’s a safe comparison to compare neuroplasticity to a muscle and when you exercise and feed that muscle in healthy ways and get enough rest and exercise that mu muscle in, in healthy ways and then re rehab it, if there’s a small injury, is that kind of the same process that goes into rewiring your brain to healthy state?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah. I, I believe that addiction, it’s definitely an injury to the brain. And I think people are starting to understand that a chemical injury, right? Alcohol and, and, you know, crack and cocaine and meth and MDMA and opiates, but it’s the same thing with a behavioral addiction. It injures the brain. It, you know, it hardwires the circuitry, it hardwires measure center addiction at the end of the day is a thinking disease. We wanna know what people are doing. We wanna know if they need medical intervention, medical, detox, uh, any type of medical help for the consequences. But it’s a disease about thinking that leads to the behavior. And it takes time. Uh, the brain is the most marvelous in, but it also heals very slowly. Addiction is a very quick run and recovery is slow. And for sure people have to understand the first two to three years, years is gonna be a work in progress. They don’t really like hearing that, but when you get that message across in that way of your brain is just gonna need time to just rewire itself in the right way. I, I do think it’s a brain injury.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. You said earlier on that people would prefer physical pain over shame.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Yeah. Yeah.

Garrett Jonsson: And I’m wondering if shame could be classified as some type of pain within the brain, like a physical pain. Is that, is that a stretch to say that?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: No. I’ve, I’ve had grown men in my office just weep men that make far more money than I’m ever gonna make. And they just start crying about, you know, the time they wet their pants on the playground and everybody made fun of them or they had the wrong lunchbox and they were made fun of, or their pants were too small or, you know, yeah. Or girls that were bullied mercilessly because they had acne or shame is just, I think it is the most powerful, powerful of human emotion. And when we talk about children in, I always tell my clients that my students, it’s the one emotion you’re not born with. You can see that newborn baby. They can be happy. They’ll smile. They can be sad or bored. Right? Even newborns get bored.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: they can be angry. Right? Take their diaper off, take their bottle away, stop nursing them- they’ll they’ll howl, and they have pain, right? Every parent recognizes that shriek of pain that a newborn can or a baby can do. But they’re not born with shame. We teach shame, we teach it. And most notably, we start to teach it around that two or three year old area where they do do things like pull off their diaper and play with their poop or start masturbating. “Oh my God!” Like we have now just taught a kid. What shame is.

Garrett Jonsson: Wow.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Right? So it’s really such a powerful thing. We teach shame. It is a taught emotion.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: And I gotta be honest with you, Garrett. We’re really good at it.

Garrett Jonsson: Well, Dr. Akerman…

Dr. Debbie Akerman: This was great.

Garrett Jonsson: It’s been a pleasure. You’ve been really fun to talk to. You are very engaging, very smart. I love your perspective on things. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I’m inviting myself back. I’d love to talk to you again at any point on, you know, we can keep getting the message out.

Garrett Jonsson: We would love that.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: My pleasure. I so admire your mission statement and what you’re doing. And, uh, really this is an honor and I’m very grateful and I would love to be able to come back and speak to your audience again.

Garrett Jonsson: We would love that. And we’ll take you up on the offer.

Dr. Debbie Akerman: Thank you, Garrett.

Garrett Jonsson: Before we finish Dr. Akerman, I wanna leave you with the opportunity to have the last word during this conversation. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention or talk to?

Dr. Debbie Akerman: I think we really covered a lot, and I think that people just have to understand that, um, addiction is not in a vacuum and as much as it’s a micro level problem, it’s a huge macro level problem. And I think that it really takes, uh, takes a village to raise a child. And it’s gonna take a village in order for us to start to change attitudes and policies and perspectives on this really bad disease. And it’s a disease. And I really wanna commend you for the efforts that you’re doing the because it’s it’s through this, it’s through programming, it’s through talking it’s through reducing that shame of stigma that we’re gonna be able to change it. And we have to do this together. It has to be every level micro, maso, and macro to work together in order to affect change. So thank you so much for letting me be part of it. I appreciate it.

Garrett Jonsson: dYeah, absolutely. Thanks for joining us.

Fight the New Drug Ad: How can pornography impact you, your loved ones, and the world around you? Discover the answer for yourself in our free three-part documentary series, Brain Heart World. In three thirty minute episodes, this docuseries dives into how pornography impacts individuals, relationships, and society. With witty narration, and colorful animation, this age-appropriate series shines a hopeful light on this heavy topic. In each episode you’ll hear from experts who share research on porn’s harms, as well as true stories from people who have been impacted personally by pornography. Stream the full series for free, or purchase an affordable screening license at brainheartworld.org.

Garrett Jonsson: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Consider Before Consuming.

Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug.

Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest and the conversation we had, you can check out the links included with this episode.

Again, big thanks to you for listening to this conversation. As you go about your day, we invite you to increase your self-awareness, look both ways, check your blind spots, and consider before consuming.

Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.

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