Evidence of Porn Addiction and a Path to Freedom

The drug-like pull of pornography can leave many men ashamed, isolated, and feeling powerless
By Conan Milner, Epoch Times
November 13, 2019 Updated: November 16, 2019

Sex can be a powerful drive. And it’s always been a fascinating subject. In the past, this fascination was limited to imagination and experience. Today, you can go online and see a vast pornography library. No imagination or experience necessary.

But we may be paying a high price for making this once sacred veil so easy to lift. A growing number of researchers, legislators, and even former porn stars all warn that widespread exposure to internet pornography is bad for society, and harms the people who use it.

One prominent worry is addiction. While pornography can’t be snorted, smoked, or injected, more than 40 neurological research studies examining porn’s impact on the brain show a consistent pattern that closely parallels substance abuse. As with drug and alcohol addictions, regular porn consumption has been shown to significantly influence the pleasure and reward centers of our brain, creating an insatiable hunger that many feel powerless to deny.

Pornography addiction is a relatively recent concept; not an official diagnosis. But studies suggest this common habit is taking a substantive toll. A 2016 review by seven U.S. Navy doctors points to mounting evidence that “internet pornography may be a factor in the rapid surge in rates of sexual dysfunction,” such as erectile problems, delayed ejaculation, decreased sexual satisfaction, and diminished libido among men under 40 years of age.

Over the last three years, such evidence has led at least 16 states to declare resolutions identifying pornography as a public health crisis. These resolutions don’t try to ban sexual images. Rather the aim is to raise public awareness about the impact this media has on our world.

The latest state to seek such a resolution is Ohio. On Sept. 23, Rep. Jena Powell (R-Ohio) presented sponsor testimony on her state’s porn bill: House Resolution 180. In addition to evidence of addictive behavior, Powell showed that porn also perpetuates human trafficking, and the abuse of women and minors.

“Pornography is integral to prostitution and coerced sexual acts, and over half of sex trafficking victims report that they were required to learn and perform according to pornographic material,” Powell stated.

You can find lots of anecdotal evidence for porn addiction at Nofap.com (fap is slang for masturbation). The online forum features many testimonials from people who report a difficult to control habit that hurts the quality of their lives and relationships.

Several celebrities are speaking out as well. In his 2018 Netflix special, “Tamborine,” comedian Chris Rock talked about how his porn addiction contributed to his crumbling marriage, and desensitized him to the point where he needed a “perfect porn cocktail” to feel any arousal. Metallica frontman James Hetfield narrated the 2017 documentary “Addicted To Porn: Chasing The Cardboard Butterfly.” And actor Terry Crews shares his years-long struggle with porn, and the effect it had on his life and marriage in a YouTube video titled “Dirty Little Secret.”

“Pornography really messed up my life in a lot of ways,” Crews said. “This is a major problem. I literally had to go to rehab for it.”

Heavy porn users report wasting several hours a day viewing explicit imagery. Some talk about how they become disgusted by the images they’re watching and hating themselves for watching it, yet still remain unable to stop.

Author and speaker Matt Fradd knows from personal experience that the struggle is real. For years, his porn habit gave him little cause for concern. His friends did it. Some of the adults he knew even encouraged it. But when Fradd turned 17, he took an interest in Christianity. Aiming for a higher moral standard, he tried to cut porn out of his life. That’s when he realized how much of a hold his habit had. Despite many attempts to stop, he kept going back. It even followed him into his marriage.

With years of practice, resistance, and perseverance, Fradd’s efforts eventually paid off. He hasn’t viewed pornography in several years, and now gives talks worldwide encouraging others to do the same.

“It began because I found a significant degree of healing from my own life,” Fradd said. “It was a level of healing I didn’t know was possible. Once I began experiencing it and having known many other men and women who were dealing with this, I thought, ‘We obviously have to talk about this.'”

Faith may have been his inspiration, but much of Fradd’s arguments against porn come from hard science. In his 2017 book, “The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography,” Fradd deliberately takes a nonreligious approach, citing many peer-reviewed sources. He tackles several common notions, such as the idea that porn makes us happy, that it liberates women, or that it’s just a fantasy with no negative impact on your real life.

The influence of science has been a significant turning point in how we evaluate the influence of pornography. In the past, porn critics (primarily religious) argued from a purely moral, anti-lust angle. But in a largely secular society, this sin-based argument was routinely written off as an oppressive puritanical dinosaur that did nothing but threaten free speech and smother a good time.

But times have changed. Armed with decades of research revealing verifiable harm means that some attacks on porn are now waged by strictly secular soldiers.

“Gary Wilson runs the website, Your Brain on Porn. Wilson says he is an atheist with politics to the left of Bernie Sanders,” Fradd said. “So the idea that this is a religious issue is another smokescreen the opposition throws up to attack the arguments against it.”

Porn Revolution

Of course, not every science-minded individual buys the idea that porn could either be addictive or harmful.

But even if you doubt that pornography has addictive potential, you can’t deny how much this media has infiltrated our society. Within just a few generations we’ve gone from age-restricted magazines and after-hours cable programs, to a seemingly endless supply of hardcore, high-resolution imagery that otherwise innocent internet users can stumble upon from either a pop-up ad, social media scrolling, or web search.

How did things change so rapidly? According to Fradd, the key to this societal acceptance has been twofold: a shift in the culture, and the rise of the internet.

Sexual temptation is nothing new, but it’s never been so prevalent, and the internet is clearly the vehicle that made porn use skyrocket. It brought about what Fradd calls the three As—accessibility, affordability, and anonymity. These features obliterated the biggest barriers that once restricted its use.

The cultural consent for porn consumption began decades earlier. The late Hugh Hefner helped undo much of the guilt traditionally associated with collecting explicit imagery by presenting it in a sophisticated package. What made Playboy revolutionary is that the naked pictures were interspersed with high brow article topics such as how to throw a great cocktail party, the evolution of jazz, and the value of Picasso.

“Hefner gave it this air of respectability which kind of lulled us into thinking that this is what upper-class folks do,” Fradd said.

Today, nobody goes to Pornhub for the articles. But the same message of savvy and sophistication is still used to sell porn’s existence. Some talk about porn use as healthy, natural, even therapeutic. It’s promoted as a form of safe sex, and celebrated for helping normalize unorthodox desires.

Porn also appeals to the modern mindset of convenience. It caters to a desire in the comfort of your own home without having to face any of the hassles of a real partner to satisfy it. Porn never has a headache. It is always ready to please.

And with the wide variety of porn available today, you can narrow your search to an experience that best portrays your wildest fantasies. Over time, however, the fantasy grows stale. Many heavy porn users report an evolution in their habit in which the type of content that turned them on in the past just doesn’t do the trick anymore. As a result, they often turn to strange or violent content just to achieve the same thrill they used to get from the softer stuff. Ever wonder why there are all these weird sub-genres like Japanese newscaster porn or clown porn? They cater to a desensitized consumer hungry for novelty.

Fradd sees this downward spiral as a delusion fueled by denial. Like strip joints that label themselves “gentlemen’s clubs,” it promises virtues that clearly aren’t there. He says people chase this obsession in pursuit of happiness, when what they are really starving for is joy, intimacy, and freedom.

Partners of porn users suffer, too. Fradd has heard from many women who say they feel much more used than loved. They blame it on their partner’s consumption of an inherently objectifying medium.

“Pornography destroys love. It destroys our sense of dignity and leads us into places that we never thought imaginable,” Fradd said.

STRIVE to Quit

Fradd’s latest project is an online platform designed to help men who find themselves with a habit they can’t put down (A similar program designed specifically for women will be available next year). It’s called STRIVE: A 21-Day Detox from Porn.

The program consists of short, daily videos, covering topics such as how porn impacts your brain, ugly facts about the industry (one video features a former porn star), and tools to uncover the stresses and personal triggers that make a man turn to pornography for comfort.

“After having talked about this for more than 10 years, I wanted one place for people to go to walk them by the hand and tell them, ‘Here’s how you do it,'” Fradd said.

Chris Cope, founder of Cardinal Studios, which produces STRIVE, says the program is not a silver bullet, but it can give men a solid starting point on their path to success.

“There is no quick fix from breaking free from pornography,” Cope said. “We know freedom is really just a daily decision. It’s not a destination. So we point them towards some partners we suggest for group therapy or counseling, clinical psychologists we trust and work with.”

Cope says the importance of this online format is that it provides a much needed first step, because the men who struggle with this problem are often too ashamed to come forward in real life.

“Our hope is that if we provide this anonymous, online, initial solution which brings men into a community with thousands of other men around the world on the same mission, all of sudden it brings them out of isolation, and they realize they’re not alone,” Cope said. “They realize their story is similar to many other stories in how they were first exposed to pornography and how they dealt with it, and the impact it’s had on their relationships.”

This understanding of psychological principles and emotional triggers are ideas Fradd borrows from sexual addiction specialist, Dr. Kevin Skinner. These tools help STRIVE users develop their own unique sobriety plan.

“Those things that lead you down the path of acting out, you learn how to squeeze those triggers out of your calendar, and add in healthy behaviors that lead you away from pornography,” Cope said.

Another aspect of STRIVE is that it sits men down in a serious moment and asks the big questions.

“What kind of husband or father do you want to be?” Fradd asked. “Do you want to be the kind that creeps away from his wife late at night to troll 20-second videos on your Twitter? Is that how you want to be remembered? Is this how you want your children to speak of you? Unless they’re drunk or being an idiot, they’ll say no.”

STRIVE is available for free until at least the spring of 2020. And it’s open to any man with an open mind and a desire to change.

“STRIVE is very un-judgmental. It’s not about making you feel bad. It’s me coming alongside and saying, ‘Hey, I’m exactly like you: beset with weakness and tempted,’” Fradd said. “I’m a Christian, but I think any person of goodwill can go through this, and not feel like they’re being preached at.”

Follow Conan on Twitter: @ConanMilner
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