I relapsed, and I’m happy it happened.

In early September 2014, after 8 months with zero porn or masturbation, after finally conquering my porn-induced erectile dysfunction and rediscovering my passion, ambition, and capacity for love and joy in the process, I used porn. This was very significant for me, as I had made a commitment 8 months earlier to never use porn again. And I had meant it. So what happened?

Back in September, it had been several months since I had had sex, and I was not currently involved with anyone. Without any sexual outlet (or real hope of such outlet anytime soon), the memory of porn began to nag at me again. I started to give into temptations to follow borderline links on the computer—pictures of models and such—which led to edging. One night, I accidentally climaxed while edging, and I decided the day afterward to try masturbating just to fantasy in order to give myself an outlet so that I would be less inclined to use artificial stimuli. It was nice. But it did not banish those nagging thoughts of porn, and it occurred to me that I was relegating too much power to porn by making it absolutely forbidden in my life. That sounds like an excuse, and it was, but I think now that I really did need to know what it was like to “relapse”.

On January 01, 2014, I had flipped a switch in my brain that made porn a non-option. This absolute commitment carried me through 8 months and a lot of turmoil and pain, but that night in September I flipped that switch again, once more allowing porn to be an option. Immediately after touching that switch, I was erect and horny as hell, those old porn pathways in my brain lit up and burning for satisfaction. I paced for about a half hour (erect the whole time), considering if using porn that one night was really the choice I was going to make. The power of that dopamine rush was incredible: it truly felt as though I was jonesing for a drug.

I chose to use, and I used three times, going right back to some of the most extreme porn I had enjoyed, employing all of the multiple-tab tube-site habits that I had developed over years. I took away all of the mystique of everything I had “missed”, and the next morning I felt that my original course was correct. Having gotten that nagging urge to see porn again out of my system, I could again move forward in my porn-free journey.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple: that switch once flipped is not so easy to turn back. In the following weeks, I found myself edging several times and PMOing twice, once after coming home buzzed on alcohol and once when very tired. I knew that this was not how I wanted to live my life, but the power of the urge in the moment combined with rationalizations that a few pictures wouldn’t hurt overcame my better judgment. The thought of going back to my old ways was horrifying, but still I let myself be aroused by the computer. Then came the flatline.

This flatline was much worse than any I had experienced before. I had zero sexual desire at all—libido totally gone, penis felt like it wasn’t even there, and I am so grateful for it. It was a wake-up call that really forced me to realize that I was risking everything I had gained for no more than a few moments of guilty frustration here and there. And, of course, life being the cruel jokester that it is, this is when I started to have real-life sexual opportunities again. I had to explain—again—why I couldn’t have sex, and it felt like I had to rewire all over again. Fortunately, I had not come anywhere close to losing all of my progress, and this second rewire was on an accelerated timeline. Within a few weeks back on no-porn no-masturbation, I was having the best sex of my life.

As I write now, it has been about a month since I have been with a woman, but this time I feel different than in my last dry spell. Last time, there was a small part of me that thought sexual self-pleasure might still be something I wanted. That small part of me refused to be shut down until I revisited the possibility. And you know what? I don’t regret exploring that possibility, because now I feel I have closure on that part of my life.

Curious about how to frame this experience, I took a look at what “relapse” really means.

re·lapse

  1. To fall or slide back into a former state.
  2. To regress after partial recovery from illness.
  3. To slip back into bad ways; backslide.

To be sure I slipped back into some bad ways, but from where I’m standing now I did not “fall or slide back into a former state”. Instead, from revisiting porn and masturbation I actually learned A LOT about my goals, my weaknesses, and my own sexuality, and I used that knowledge to boost myself forward into a new stage of my journey. It’s taken some time, but I feel at peace with my sexuality right now. I know how powerful it is as long as I don’t abuse it, and I have no more worries about PIED. Even better, now that I know where relapse leads I’m finding it easier than ever to simply not engage any type of solo-sexual temptation, e.g. fantasy, masturbation, or erotic content, and I’ve been clean for a couple of months now. Instead of wasting sexual energy even considering masturbation, I can channel that power better than ever into productive pursuits, and I don’t see myself using porn or masturbation at all in the foreseeable future. Ultimately, I honestly don’t believe that I would be in as good of a place right now if I had just “white-knuckled” through it all without using porn again.

That said, do not use this article as an excuse to go back to your old ways. For my personal journey, I feel that my relapse needed to happen, but that does not mean that the same is true of everyone. Live your own journey, and if you take anything from this piece, know that every single thing that happens can be turned to the advantage of your self-development.