Addicted to Porn: Compulsion, Shame, and Anxiety (The Fix)

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There is no education on sex or porn in school so the porno films are serving as the educator. Then, guess what? Kids get into relationships and try to do what they see in porn, and it doesn’t work that way. Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly is a new documentary by writer-director Justin Hunt and is narrated by Metallica’s James Hetfield.

The movie is not about Hetfield, nor whether he has or hasn’t been addicted to porn. His connection to the film is solely based on his connection with Hunt after the two worked on Hunt’s previous film Absent, about disengaged and absent fathers. Hetfield, who grew up without a father, spoke candidly in that movie—and in years past, he came clean about his alcoholism and road to recovery.

Hunt named the film as a nod to a scientific study where painted cardboard butterflies were used to see if male butterflies would be more attracted to the larger, more ornate butterflies. Guess what? They were. The analogy? Humans who choose a two-dimensional sexual exchange versus the real thing.

Don Hilton, the neurologist in the film, explained that viewing porn can create the same chemical reaction as cocaine use—activating endorphins and the delta FosB.

“The reason I wanted to include the portion about the brain in the film,” Hunt told The Fix in an exclusive interview, “was because many try to discredit the idea of an addiction to porn.” He described naysayers who said porn is impossible to define.

“An image I think is pornographic may not be to somebody else,” said Hunt, “so I had to come up with a common denominator. For the purpose of this film, the word 'pornography' refers to sexual images that cause the chemical reaction in the viewer’s brain.”

It’s easy to draw parallels to alcohol and drug addiction. Another parallel is what Hunt called the shame cycle. Porn addicts use sexually explicit images to manage their mood. After indulging in the compulsive behavior, they then feel ashamed. That shame creates anxiety, so they watch more porn to calm their nerves. It is the same circular shame spiral that exists in substance abuse.

Hunt said, “I’ve interviewed people who said, ‘The only way I knew how to stop feeling bad was to look at porn, but the reason I felt so bad was that I’d looked at too much porn.’ My first film, American Meth, was about drug addiction.

“By the way, Absent wasn’t about James Hetfield—it was about the impact of absent fathers. You can have that father wound and turn it into something positive, like James did with his music. While we were making that movie, we built a friendship based on paternity—or should I say, the fraternity of fatherhood. [Laughs] We talked about our kids, parenting, being husbands, so when I discussed this project with him we both felt it was important to try to make a difference in the world. That’s why he decided to be a part of this and help me out. I commend him because he did this right as the band’s new album was coming out and touring. It’s not like he was sitting around with nothing to do.”

There have been many movies about porn, but they’ve been about the industry, about adult film stars. Those weren’t about the brain or what Hunt calls the "porn progression." Another remarkable aspect is that he created the whole movie without any provocative imagery. I asked him if that was intentional to avoid including any possible triggers for pornography addicts.

“Yes, a big problem with documentaries about porn is that people struggling with that issue can’t watch those films because they become triggered. You can’t make a movie to help people with an addiction, and then fill it full of triggers. That’s like me saying, ‘Dorri, I think you have a drinking problem, let’s go have a beer and talk about it.’”

The movie is not anti-porn. Hunt calls it “porn informative.” He believes the topic should be more openly talked about. Hunt said, “We’re just letting you know that porn addiction is a real thing and we need to start having conversations about it.”

Another important issue the film raises is how technology is allowing people to be exposed at an earlier age and at a much higher rate. “We know how it affects the brain and we know that young kids’ brains are not ready for that. They get into public schools and public education, but there is no education on sex or porn so the porno films are serving as the educator. Then, guess what? They get into relationships and try to do what they see in porn, and it doesn’t work that way.”

The movie shows one couple whose relationship is being destroyed by the husband’s addiction to porn. Hunt said this could have easily been a seven-hour movie. “There are so many different avenues that we could have gone down,” said Hunt. To fit everything into a movie-length film, Hunt said his goal was to expose people to the idea that kids are learning about intimacy and sexuality from porn. A doctor in the film points out, “Kids are learning about sex from ejaculations to the face. That’s what they’re learning about sex and romance and intimacy.”

Hunt has three children, 16 and 13, and a three-year-old daughter. I asked if he had broached the topics of drugs, alcohol, and pornography with the two teenagers.

“Yeah,” said Hunt. “They’ve been with me through the entire process of working on these films, and they’ve been on stage with me and they’ve watched me speak. They’ve watched the newspaper and the magazine articles come out. They’ve gone to radio spots with me, so they’ve seen this. They’ve seen the impact that drug addiction has, and they’ve seen the four-year process of making this film and what porn can do. That’s one of the beautiful side effects of what I do for a living—my kids get to see and learn.”

It seems his kids are open with him. “My daughter is in eighth grade and she told me that she knows of sixth graders who are texting nude photos of each other back and forth on Snapchat.”

He pointed out that because of technology, “we’re choosing synthetic relationships over authentic relationships. We’re not seeing the beauty in the people before us because we’re buying into the myth of what we’re seeing on computers and smart phones and movies. That’s just sad because we’re missing out. We’re destroying the essence of women and we’re buying into this imitation beauty.”

He said 88% of the scenes in porn have aggressive behavior of some kind, physically or verbally. The other thing to consider is how many of these films make people seem like objects. They’re objects for release. That’s all they are. And that’s what kids are learning when they’re watching porn in those formative years.

Hunt said, “When young people are naturally going to want to learn about sex and relationships and sexuality and intimacy, instead of learning courtship and humanity, they learn a selfishness, a way to just get theirs. One of the guys that I interviewed who didn’t make it into the film, was a juvenile therapist. He said there’s a massive increase in anal sex and oral sex amongst teenagers because of porn. They are mimicking what they see.”

Another part that had to be cut for length reasons was about a porn-addicted pastor. “We had an entire segment on how prevalent porn has become in the church,” said Hunt. “He was busted because his wife had gone away for the weekend at a time when he was really deep in his addiction. While she was gone he’d spent the entire weekend on the computer looking at porn. She got back when he was in bed reading. She tried to get on the computer but it crashed. When she rebooted it, all these sexual images came up. She said, 'Hey, can you come here for a second?' He got out of bed in his underwear and went over to her. She said, 'What’s this?' And that’s how he was busted; exposed. He’s standing there in his underwear exposed, at the moment his addiction was exposed.”

At that point Hunt looked at his watch and said, “We’ve been talking for 36 minutes, right? That’s 120 million searches for porn that have happened since you and I began talking.”

As our conversation was coming to a close, I asked him who his target audience for the film was. He laughed and said, “I’m going to go with a quote from the movie Argo: 'People with eyes.' The average age that people start actively looking for porn is about 10 years old. One in three porn addicts are women, 58% of divorces cite porn as one of the reasons, and 67% of men look at porn once a week at least. It affects the whole human demographic.

“When you look at someone you can often tell if they’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, but you can’t look at anyone to see if they’re a porn addict. Also, getting back to the topic of the brain, your brain can purge coke when you stop using it. It can purge alcohol. But you can’t purge these pornographic images completely out of your mind.”

I asked Hunt if he was in recovery from an addiction. “No,” he said, “never done a drug in my life and have never been addicted to anything else either.” So, why did he become interested in addiction? “I saw people facing problems. When we made American Meth, people weren’t talking about the topic all that much. Far Too Far came from what was left over in my brain from making American Meth. I turned it into a narrative that was based on a true story where a woman on meth pulls her ear drum out with pliers because she thinks the FBI is listening to her thoughts. When we made Absent, people weren’t talking about absent fathers like they are now. I hope that my new film will open up a conversation about porn addiction.”

By Dorri Olds 02/05/17

Original article