At the start of the pandemic, many people were predicting that divorce and birth rates were going to increase, or even skyrocket, as a result of social distancing and people being at home. It’s impossible to know whether this will come true or not, only time will tell on that one. Something that has increased (at least through anecdotal evidence based on client reports), is PMO.
What is PMO? In the Addiction recovery community, it is used to refer to pornography-masturbation-orgasm. Essentially the triad of sex-related behaviours that people with Addiction are vulnerable to engaging with in an unhealthy way. PMO is more of a risk when there are higher levels of stress, opportunity, and boredom. Check, check, check for many people right now. Even pornography creators have pivoted during this pandemic and are creating material that is COVID-19 specific, with people wearing masks, gloves, and full medical attire. This can be appealing to a brain that is on the hunt for extreme stimulation.
What impact does this all have on our brains? A huge one. Sex is driven by the reward circuitry of the brain and can drive big shots of dopamine into the brain. This is what encourages humans to do ‘more’ of something. If your reward circuitry is malfunctioning and encourages you to do ‘more’ but does not tell you when to ‘slow down’ or ‘stop’ doing something, this is a problem. This is what Addiction is (let’s try to erase those outdated notions of Addiction as just about substance use or it being about choice, willpower, or morality). This is a brain issue.
If the brain is naturally driven to sex for procreation and this system is, essentially, misfiring, then this puts individuals and relationships in a risky spot when it comes to PMO. These behaviours can be used for escape, relief and intoxication as any other behaviour can be.
Right now with people contained in their homes, turning to PMO with self or others for escape and relief is a vulnerability. As in other blog posts where I talked about people’s vulnerabilities with food and gaming, the message is the same: All of our brains are vulnerable to misusing something that, in and of itself, is neutral. For those with Addiction or who are genetically at risk (which is many), it becomes even more likely that engaging thoughtlessly in these behaviours will put one at risk for relapse in the areas you have moved away from over time, or it can flip a switch on Addiction generally which can create many problems in life and relationships.
The bottom line is, that it is important to check-in on your motivation for engaging with something or someone. If the motivation is for escape, approval, relief, to ease boredom, for “fun” or stimulation, then this puts you at risk for using that behaviour in an unhealthy way that can create short and long-term problems. If the motivation is about connection, fulfillment, serenity, and wellbeing and you are engaging in a thoughtful and balanced way, then proceed, but still with caution.
Those who follow this blog may start to think of me as a killjoy, taking all the ‘fun’ out of things that we use for that purpose. That’s not the intent at all. In fact, I have lots of fun in my life and encourage others to do the same, but escaping and finding relief is not actually fun. Being within yourself and connected to your life is fun. More on that to come…
By Paige Abbott
Paige Abbott is a Registered Psychologist in Alberta, Canada. She comes from a family that has Addiction and found herself working, inadvertently, in Addiction Psychology for the past 8 years. It has taught her a great deal about herself, her family, and the human condition.