The forbidden fruit effect: how to defang porn addiction

The forbidden fruit effect is a powerful driver of addiction. If you can’t have it but it’s good, you want it even more.

But what if you could turn that around? If you can have it but it isn’t good, it loses its appeal. In this article, I’ll show you how to do just that to defang porn addiction.

“I can resist everything but temptation.”

– Oscar Wilde

forbidden fruit effect Pinterest Pin

What is the forbidden fruit effect?

Taboos are alluring only if there is some secret, believed benefit to it. There is no taboo against eating sand, but there is a taboo against eating magic mushrooms. Just not everyone is affected by it because they either don’t want or don’t believe there is a benefit.

Temptation happens when you believe deep down there’s some benefit. And while willpower is your backup generator, temptation is a powerful storm that’ll wear it down with time.

In other words, no matter what you tell yourself or how much you demonize porn, none of it matters if deep down, you have the unconscious experience that it benefits you.

That benefit can be:

  • Stress relief, insomnia, or mood-leveling
  • Entitlement
  • Ending cravings, or ending the fear of future cravings by preventing them now
  • FOMO, curiosity, even B.F. Skinner’s intermittent rewards (like pulling a lever on a slot machine)

Only by eradicating these can you defang porn addiction.

First, let’s demolish the taboo.

silhouettes of sexily posing women with the word "LOVE" on a neon sign behind them... and a giant X over the whole picture. Porn is not love.

I shouldn’t, but…

In my article Don’t, Shouldn’t, Can’t, I showed how those words influence how well people stick to their goals.

  • The “I don’t do bad thing X” were most successful because Avatar or identity-based habits are easiest to maintain. (since it hurts to lie to ourselves; hence why we use justifications)
  • The “I shouldn’t do bad thing X” people gave in most often. They were seduced by the forbidden fruit effect. Their thought went more like “I shouldn’t, but… there’s a benefit if I do.”
  • The “I can’t do bad thing X” people were moderately successful, but less than the “don’t” group. They did, however, have a special advantage: changing for someone important to them.

But you can make your resolution more resolute by giving a reason.

  • I don’t look at porn because I value love and porn kills love. It also makes me compare myself and makes my life look unsatisfying. (This is my reason, and it works well.)

My Remember Your Why worksheet is also extremely valuable for this. Download it and fill it out.

See, when you fight temptation, your logical brain gets overwhelmed by your emotional brain. So using logical arguments won’t be as effective, if at all, as emotional arguments.

Emotional arguments

  • I enjoy the feeling of mental purity of not looking at porn.
  • I enjoy the freedom from guilt.
  • I enjoy the energy, drive, and desire to do things again.
  • I enjoy the social confidence and happiness I get.
  • I enjoy being free from the slavery of porn.
  • I enjoy having stronger willpower to handle light stressors and act on my values now.
  • I enjoy my natural sexuality, not twisted by impossible scenarios.
  • Porn kills love.

*NOTE: positive reasons (what you get) tend to be more effective than negative reasons (what you’ll no longer have). It also helps to remind yourself daily of it and deepen your knowledge of it by seeking out likeminded people, even if just on Reddit.

In short, you defang the forbidden fruit effect by using as many emotional arguments as possible to make the thing you’re trying to avoid less appealing. Again, download my Remember Your Why worksheet.

If this sounds hard, remember, just fill the void.

Defeat the forbidden fruit effect with substitution

You're not filling a void; you're creating one.

As I always say, never quit. Always substitute. Whether a habit or a belief, you must replace it with something positive. That way you won’t wrestle with a painful void– you’ll have a healthy, more enjoyable alternative.

For instance, find an alternative stress relief, FOMO killer, validation supplier, etc.

You must move toward something positive, not solely away from something negative. This gives you a “compass” to help you out of the “void.”

See, self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long one. Your aim is to build up the void with fulfilling habits, acceptance (not suppression) of emotions, and practiced resilience.

More than just gray matter, it’s Quests that’ll save you. (That is, my ebook “Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors.”)

Performing mini and elastic habits that align with your most deeply-held values every day gives you proven resilience against the forbidden fruit effect. I should know– I was addicted to porn since I was 12 (18 years) as a way of not feeling like a worthless dork. I invented this program and successfully pulled myself away.

I cited more science than some top-selling paper books, so it’s got the proof! 😎

Bonus #1 – kill shame

Because shame is a large factor in the allure, conquering the forbidden fruit effect means conquering shame around the use of porn. As it turns out, shame fuels hypersexual behavior while guilt fuels change.

The difference between shame and guilt is:

  • Shame = “I’m bad”
  • Guilt = “This behavior is bad”

If you can learn to separate these two, compulsions (to remove the shame by consuming) may go down. Worthlessness and self-pity often trigger a desire for release through porn or other bad habits. This was my issue, and it’s another thing you can reduce by building up good habits aligned with your core values. (That is, everything in Quests.)

businessman with a bag over his head illustration
Businessman with carton box instead of head.

Bonus #2 – Make it unattractive

Some advocate for “unconditional permission,” that is, to do it until it makes you so sick you never want to do it again. From my experience, THIS DOES NOT WORK. It reminds me of this clip from King of the Hill, where Hank tries to get his son Bobby to stop smoking by making him smoke a whole carton.

Instead, follow James Clear’s advice from his book Atomic Habits (chapter 3). To break a bad habit:

  1. Make it invisible.
  2. Make it unattractive.
  3. Make it difficult.
  4. Make it unsatisfying.

You can see the forbidden fruit effect in points 2 and 4.

To make it invisible, my best advice is to distract yourself from thoughts by using your hands on something, going outside, doing breathwork, even just staying away from your device for a bit. (you’ll have to stop thinking about it; I know that’s tough and simplistic, but at some point you always will)

To make it unattractive, remember how crappy it makes you feel afterward and how good you’ll feel without it once the cravings pass. (this is just one effective method of urge surfing)

To make it difficult, try something from my curated blockers list.

And to make it unsatisfying, well, my best technique is to remember the pain of the “brain buzz.” That’s something I hate experiencing, and all porn does that. (You probably know this feeling, too.)

drawing of brain with lightning bolts shocking it

Bonus #3 – make good habits attractive

You can also invert the 4 points above. To build a good habit, or healthy alternative:

  1. Make it obvious.
  2. Make it attractive.
  3. Make it easy.
  4. Make it satisfying.

What’s your dopamine replacement? Exercise, meaningful work, love, meditation? Apply these rules to avoid the void and defang the forbidden fruit effect.

Takeaways: the forbidden fruit effect

  • Eliminate the taboo. Temptation is caused by focusing on the perceived “good” effects, but when you’re craving, you toss all logical arguments out the window. Make emotional ones instead.
  • Build an identity: “I am not this type of person” or “I don’t do this.” Contrasting may be more effective, such as “I’m a lover, not a pornographer.”
  • Fill the void by moving toward something positive.
  • Make bad habits unattractive and good habits worth it.

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