If you are a human being alive in the 21st century, chances are you have an opinion about porn.
Maybe you use it; maybe you don’t. Maybe you think it’s good; maybe you think it’s bad; maybe you think it’s none of my business. Fine. The bottom line is this:“Four billion dollars a year is spent on video pornography in the United States, more than on football, baseball, and basketball. One in four internet users look at a pornography website in any given month. Men look at pornography online more than they look at any other subject. And 66% of 18–34-year-old men visit a pornographic site every month.” (Pamela Paul, “Pornified,” Times Books, 2005)
Now, let’s be clear: Porn is not a monolithic phenomenon, and not all porn is created equal. There are porn videos that depict violent, non-consensual and abusive sexual acts… and there are videos that showcase loving, consensual sexual encounters. (And everything in-between).
Pornography represents a spectrum of human experience and curiosity, from ‘revenge porn’ to feminist porn; from rape porn to softcore ‘erotica;’ from humiliation, choking and besteality to sacred tantric instructional videos. The world of porn is as eclectic, terrifying, beautiful and diverse as humanity, itself.
And I want to be clear from the start: I’m not trying to convince you of anything. How (or if) you chose to interact with porn is entirely up to you. I also want to be clear that, although I know and love many people who identify as Christians, I am not a Christian and my perspectives are not rooted in any form of religious or anti-sex agenda.I’m writing this piece because I believe we need more of us sharing our stories and experiences in order to create space for open and honest dialogue around a topic that is so often either culturally normalized & dismissed or relegated to internal secrecy and shame.
Shaming ourselves (or anyone else) for watching porn is always counter-productive. It just fuels the cycle of addictive behavior that so often underpins pornography use.
So, rather than barraging you with a bunch of stats about the problematic impacts of pornography, I’ll let Russell Brand lay it out – as only he can:
My Reasons for Quitting:
After a decade of porn use, I quit watching 2 years ago. It was February 14th, 2013. V-Day. Haven’t been back since. My reasons for quitting were pretty simple:First, I was pissed off that my sense of personal ‘sexuality’ had been reduced to sitting alone in the dark in a disembodied daze drooling over pixelated fantasies of submissive females in a desperate attempt to feel a release from the tension in my body and the void in my heart. And – I was concerned about how my porn use had become compulsive. Second, I was outraged about all the sexual violence perpetrated by men on women and girls – and porn felt like the main way I was subconsciously contributing to that cycle of violence. (Yes, some men and boys are also victims of sexual abuse – often perpetrated by other men. But it is important to acknowledge that women and girls experience the vast majority of sexual violence). Finally, I’m an incredibly stubborn person who will do just about anything to follow through on what I commit to, even just to prove people wrong for doubting my resolve! And I made the commitment to a close buddy of mine: No porn for 1 year. Period.
Starting off, I had no idea what to expect. At that time, I didn’t know anyone else who had quit. I had never even talked to my friends about porn. And I didn’t know a thing about the science of pornography addiction. Despite feeling alone, I knew I was up for the challenge: I wanted to see how my life might be different after a year without porn.
Rebooting My Brain:
Because most of us (younger guys) started watching high-speed, hard-core internet porn during our brain’s formative years – when we were 12-17 years old, we’ve experienced a kind of subtle trauma. One that often requires a conscious, prolonged effort to heal and recover from.
People often talk about two phases of recovery from pornography addiction: Rebooting and Rewiring. This video, from Reboot Nation, provides a pretty clear (and humorous) explanation:
Rebooting will look different for each of us, but the basic principle is the same:Rebooting, for me, has been the process of stopping my addictive/compulsive viewing behavior altogether, over a period of time, in order to allow my brain to dismantle and unwire the endorphin-releasing ‘reward pathways’ that it learned to associate with porn consumption.
You can find a great list of highly creative strategies for rebooting here.
Revealing the Façade:
Rebooting was the vital first step toward my recovery because it opened up space for me to step outside of the box of my addiction and objectively assess my compulsive behavior. Like recovering from any other addiction, the decision to quit had to start with me. Nobody could convince me to quit porn; I had to choose to quit because I wanted to.Once I broke the cycle of my addiction, I could see that my porn use was a coping strategy that I used in a desperate attempt to meet some basic unmet human needs.
For me, porn use was an attempt to meet my needs for sexual expression, connection & intimacy, and stress release. The first two needs never had a chance of being truly met through porn. And, although I sometimes achieved a temporary sense of stress release, in the end – it was a powerful deception. The feeling was always fleeting and counterproductive; it always resulted in greater tension and an even greater need for release the next time. But the truth is, I simply couldn’t see the reality of this cycle when I was in it.Porn, ironically, inhibited me from actually getting my needs met in any kind of deep, connected, or sustained way. It kept me stuck in a never-ending cycle of ‘tension and release’ that made true intimacy impossible.
There’s a real sense of grief for me in acknowledging all this – I feel like I’ve been living a pornographied lie; like my experience of my own ‘sexuality’ has often amounted to little more than a superficial obstruction, blocking the true essence of embodied sexual power that lay dormant within me.It is clear that this pornographied facade of ‘sexuality’ must die in order for my true sexual power and deep capacity for intimacy to re-awaken.
Rewiring for Intimacy:
What I found was that it was not enough for me to just quit porn, cold-turkey. I had to be strategic about cultivating new behaviors to take it’s place in my life – to fill the void – and I needed to practice healthier ways of meeting the very real needs that I thought porn was satisfying. To do this has meant re-discovering basic skills of breath, presence, and intimacy.Rewiring, as I’ve come to understand it, is the process of re-creating neural pathways in the brain, associated with actual human connection, sensation, love, and intimacy.
For me, the biggest new learning has been moving out of my head and into my body. After so much time in the ‘neck-up’ world of pixelated pornographic fantasy, I’m now beginning to learn how to drop into my heart, my belly, my breath.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fantasy – fantasy can be an exciting part of authentic sexual expression. But when I realized that my fantasies were no longer connected to my body, I knew something was out of balance.
Cultivating Embodied Presence:
For me, cultivating a truly embodied presence begins with building intimacy in relation to my own physical body. Loving myself. Only then can I extend that quality of presence outward to a partner. This is an on-going life practice, that I’m only just beginning to discover.Over the past 2 years, I’ve experienced porn-induced erectile dysfunction, low sexual libido, and other sexual difficulties. I’ve also begun to experience re-awakened sensation and sensitivity, emotional self-connection, and a deeper capacity for intimacy and presence.
I still have a lot of healing to do to rewire my brain after a decade of porn use, but the progress I’m seeing gives me hope. And the impacts of my decision to quit porn continue to ripple outward in many areas of my life.
Clearly, this journey I’m on is not just about quitting porn and overcoming addiction; it’s about creating the life I want. It’s about cultivating the skills to give and receive the love and intimacy that I long for. Ultimately, it’s about living a life of deep passion, purpose, and connection as a conscious, activated man – capable of bringing my unique gifts fully out into the world.
For me, quitting porn is about being willing to look, see, and speak the truth – to pull back the façade and find the courage to take actions that bring my behaviour into deeper alignment with what I value. Through this process, I’ve been restoring a sense of integrity, confidence, and self-love that had been dormant for far too long.
In his recent book, “To Be A Man: A Guide to True Masculine Power” (Sounds True, 2015), Robert Agustus Masters makes a case for outgrowing pornography.He says: “Pornography is erotic imagination gone slumming – losing contact with true love, intimacy, and ecstacy – binding us to arousal rituals that obstruct our stepping into and embodying our full humanness.” He goes on to observe: “Men who are hooked on pornography have an enormous opportunity. The work they need to do to outgrow – not repress but outgrow – pornography is the very work that brings them into their full manhood and humanity, unhooking them not just from pornography, but also from much of their [sexual] conditioning.”
It’s never too early (or too late) to outgrow pornography and create the life you want. Men and women all across the globe are quitting porn and rewiring for true intimacy. I invite you to join us, when you feel the time is right for you.
I want to live in a world of compassion, safety, freedom, and respect for all people. I want to see an end to sexual violence and abuse, sex trafficking, and exploitation. Enough is enough.
I want to see a whole movement of men rise up to confront this issue by first taking action in our own lives: Reconnecting to our bodies, grounding in our authentic power and sexuality, and re-awakening our capacity to give and receive the love that we long for.I believe we each contribute to building a culture of love when we step outside of the cycle of addiction and into our authentic power as conscious men. Having the courage to quit is the first step.
Though quitting porn is often a profoundly private and personal experience – requiring us to come face-to-face with ourselves in a series of quiet moments – we are not alone. We can find friends, counselors, and/or groups to support us along the way.Today, we have the opportunity to join a global movement of people who are rebooting, rewiring, and outgrowing pornography.
What do you have to lose? At the very least, it will be one of the most interesting ‘life-hacks’ you’ve ever tried. The question is, will you even recognise yourself on the other side…?
With fierce loving compassion,
If you feel ready to explore living porn-free and you’re looking for others who share that intention, I invite you to join our free 30-Day Porn-Free Challenge.
- If you want to learn more about the impacts of porn, check out this website: Your Brain On Porn.
- If you want to take a deeper look at the research, explore this comprehensive recent study: “The Social Costs of Pornography – A Statement of Findings and Recommendations” by Mary Eberstadt and Mary Anne Layden.
- If you’re a teenager, or know one who may be struggling with this issue, be sure to tell them about Fight The New Drug. (This is actually a great resource for all ages).
- Check out this Indiegogo campaign to fund the first feature-length film documenting real people sharing about the impacts of porn: “Rewired: How Pornography Affects the Human Brain.”
- If you’re considering quitting porn, be sure to explore the excellent resources and forum discussions on the Reboot Nation website.
- Be sure to read my first post on pornography, first published over at Change From Within in 2014: One Man’s Journey: How I Stopped Watching Porn for 1 Year and Why I’m Not Going Back. Also posted at Yes! Magazine and published in their recent book, “Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2014).