Noah B. E. Church is a wildland firefighter, EMT, tutor, entrepreneur, speaker, and author. At 24 years old, he’s also a recovering porn addict. Having first encountered internet pornography at the age of nine, it wasn’t until very recently that he realised how badly his porn habit had affected his sexual and emotional well-being. Following his recovery, Church wrote down his own story as a form of catharsis, but this soon grew in a short non-fiction title, Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn, which he released earlier this year. The book is an attempt to look at current research into porn addiction, and to help others realise the negative effect it could be having on their lives, and escape the addiction.
One of things you mention in your introduction is that fact that the scientific community has yet to catch up to the problem of porn addiction. Do you think there’s a lack of acknowledgement of the severity of the problem, or is this lag just a function of the peer-reviewing system, which takes its time?
Science always takes time (and rightly so), but studying the effects of consistent porn use is even more difficult. Ideally, to do so we would gather a large group of young people who have never been exposed to porn, divide them into two groups, give one group unlimited access to Internet porn while keeping the other group away from it entirely, then measure the results over years.
But aside from being logistically very difficult, we’d run into quite a few ethical roadblocks trying to set up that experiment! Additionally, people very seldom speak about their sex lives and / or porn use, and porn users most often hide their habit even (or especially) from those closest to them. What we end up with are a bunch of people who don’t use porn and don’t know that it’s a problem and a bunch of people who do use porn but are enjoying themselves too much to face the possibility that it’s a problem and / or are too ashamed to talk about it and ask for help.
Despite the difficulties, we are seeing mounting evidence that Internet porn is a super-stimulus that can cause long term changes in the brain leading to emotional and sexual dysfunctions. Because the Internet offers an unlimited supply of free, varied, and easily accessed material, Internet porn is like the refined, concentrated version of the smut we once had to buy in specialty shops (as cocaine is a refined form of coca leaves). Check out this study out of Cambridge showing the differences in brain reactivity to porn between compulsive users and controls: Voon et al. (2014)
Porn use seems to be pretty close to ubiquitous now, across young men at least. Wack focuses on those that are addicted. Using the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for substance abuse that you adapt to refer to porn addiction, do you think there are many porn viewers who could be classified as non-addicts?
I’m reluctant to guess how many users would fall into the “addict” category vs. the “non-addict” category. Addiction is a slippery and loaded term, and it doesn’t necessarily mean what most people think it means. I never would have thought of myself as a porn addict, but I scored a 9 out of 11 on my own addiction test (6 or more indicates a severe addiction). Regardless of what labels we use, however, what’s really important is just to recognize whether porn use is causing problems in our lives, and the best way to find that out is to stop using it for at least a few months and to be mindful of how our lives change without it.
If there are a significant amount of people who can enjoy porn without it becoming an addiction, do you think it still has a deep psychological and societal impact?
For some people, a beer is an enjoyable but entirely dispensable beverage, while others would have a hard time going a week without one, having become dependent on alcohol to the point at which some fermented plants have become more important to them than family, health, and personal improvement. We all know alcoholics who have gotten lost in the bottle, but not all addictive temptations are substances, and unfortunately the hook rate for Internet porn is actually much higher than for alcohol. Because we are fundamentally wired to seek sex, many more people who view Internet porn become porn addicts than people who drink beer become alcoholics.
Speaking from my own experience, compulsive porn use warped my sexuality, my emotionality, my priorities, and my ability to form healthy relationships. In researching my book I found that these effects and more are far from rare among Internet porn users, and many, many people use porn. On the other hand, since quitting I have rediscovered my motivation, my sexuality, my self-respect, and the ability to love and be loved. Trust me, the kind of person I am without porn is a much better asset to society.
On your notes to recovery, you don’t draw the line for abstinence at just overtly pornographic material but include much lower-level stimulating material, like provocative movies, unhealthy Facebook browsing, etc. In light of this, would it be fair to say that we live in an increasingly pornographic world that, at the lower levels, begins to condition people to the stimulus-response that leads to porn?
Most people tend to see a far greater quantity of sexually stimulating content through media like television, advertising, and the Internet than they do in real life, and this can definitely start to condition us to think of sex as something that we witness rather than something that we do, especially for young people who see all of this before experiencing romance and sex for themselves. I don’t suggest that everyone hide their eyes when a lingerie commercial comes on, but for porn addicts such a sight can start us down a slippery slope that leads to relapse, especially in the beginning stages of recovery.
Having started using porn around age 9, I had so thoroughly conditioned my sexuality for porn that I couldn’t achieve or maintain an erection for real sex when the opportunity came along. In order to overwrite long years of wiring my libido to a computer screen, I had to teach myself to only expect sexual pleasure when I was with a partner. This meant avoiding getting aroused by any false stimuli, even those that wouldn’t qualify as “porn” per se. I recommend the same to other recovering addicts who want to recover as quickly as possible without relapsing.
The number of testimonials you share in the book gives the sense of a really strong mutually supportive community. How important do you think this is in helping people not only to heal, but to reassure them that they’re not alone or horribly abnormal?
I thought it was important enough to dedicate a significant portion of my book to testimonials! Reading the stories of others who had struggled and recovered was vital to my success—as you said, it let me know that I was far from alone, what to expect, and how to go about recovering. In Wack, I put together as wide a variety of perspectives as possible by including statements from the young and the old, men and women, porn addicts and partners of porn addicts, casual users and hard cases, etc. No matter my readers’ unique history and relationship with porn, I wanted to provide stories that would resonate with them.
What was the most surprising / shocking statistic or piece of research you found when researching for the book?
Great question! I was definitely shocked to realize how much consistent use of Internet porn can physically alter the structure and function of our brains. Not only do porn addicts show stronger brain reaction to porn stimuli than non-addicts, but it also appears that this addiction can weaken parts of the brain meant to govern self-control, rational decision-making, motivation, and more. See this study recently published in Germany: Kühn and Gallinat (2014)
How important is an open dialogue about porn use in helping to deal with the problem, and also building up accurate self-report for research purposes?
Learning how to open up to the people in my life was essential to understanding and overcoming my own dependence on pornography. By talking about my weaknesses, I came to accept myself as I was and without shame. Only then did I have the power to move forward and develop into a better man. This was not easy, but it was most definitely worth it.
Secrets are like weights that get heavier the longer you carry them. If anyone out there is struggling with any addiction that you think is a problem for you, tell someone. Start anonymously on an online support community or with a therapist if you have to, but don’t stop there. The more people you discuss your problems with, the lighter your burden seems, and the stronger and more empowered you become. And along the way, you may just find that you have inspired and helped others struggling with their own secrets.
Do you think porn use can ever be healthy?
For some people, light porn use may not be detrimental to their health, but pornography provides nothing that promotes health or happiness. Our libidos exist to drive us to connect with other people, and a healthy sexual relationship provides satisfaction on many levels that last long after a climax. Porn, on the other hand, tricks our sexual response systems into pursuing something that isn’t really there. After orgasm when the feelings of physical pleasure fade away, we are often left only empty and alone, because those are not really women in your computer. Those images are only light and shadow, and more and more people are rightly choosing not to waste themselves on the pursuit of phantoms.
As a recovered addict, do you find the pleasure you now get from sex is equivalent to what you used to get from porn? Is it better, different, and how?
There are so many differences that it is hard to put them all into words. When I was using porn, I was always hungry for more—more sites, more variety, more extreme content—but no matter how deep I delved, it never made me happy. I was so desensitized from this pursuit of pleasure that real sex was awkward, unexciting, and disappointing.
After more than half of a year without porn, a mere glance or a smile from an attractive woman sends a charge of energy through me, and real sex is a sublime, incomparable experience. Before, I could only feel pleasure and reach orgasm when using my own hand, but now my physical sensitivity has skyrocketed, and the emotional satisfaction of connecting to a real woman through great sex is wholly lacking in porn use. One night with a woman I desire is worth more than a thousand sessions alone with my computer and a box of tissues.
What would you like to see next in the area of porn addiction?
I don’t support banning porn production or distribution, but there are three very important changes that we need to make happen. First, people need to know that Internet porn use can be more than just a harmless pastime—it can become an addiction that causes severe sexual and emotional dysfunction. I wrote Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn so that people wouldn’t have to go years not knowing what was wrong with them or how to fix it (as I did).
Second, we need to make it much more difficult for minors to access or stumble upon Internet pornography. I support a system in which service providers would be required to block access to porn sites unless the holder of the account calls and requests that the block be lifted. Those who want to opt in can do so, while those who don’t won’t have to worry so much about it.
Third, parents need to educate themselves about the porn problem, get comfortable discussing sex, and then educate their children about the modern dangers they are going to encounter. So much of this problem exists only because we are uncomfortable confronting and discussing topics of sex, especially among family members. If we don’t teach and guide our children, however, the Internet will.
How difficult was it to set your own personal story down?
At first, very difficult. But the more I learned and realized how big of a problem this is in our society, the more I knew that I had to share my story because it had great potential to help others. Several of my friends have since quit using porn and experienced fantastic improvements in their lives and relationships, and many other people I have never met have thanked me for sharing this information, so I know that I made the right choice.
What difference did going porn-free make to your life?
Whew, I’ll just bullet-point the main differences, because there are a lot:
- I now achieve and maintain a strong erection during sex without having to constantly imagine porn scenes, and the sensations I feel are much, much improved. For quite awhile after regaining my erections I still had severe porn-induced delayed ejaculation, but now that has subsided as well, and I am able to orgasm during vaginal sex with a condom.
- My emotions are richer and have more depth. For about 12 years I didn’t cry a single time, and I realize that that period of my life started about the time when I started watching porn. Now, it’s like I am truly awake and able to experience the full range of human emotion, from tragic sadness to sublime wonderment and awe. I love it.
- I have no shame. Before this journey I had learned to talk about porn with friends and knew it was a common activity, but I was never proud of it. Now, for the first time in my life, I am completely honest with the people I love and even with strangers. I have told many people about my past history with porn addiction and how it harmed me. Some judge me harshly for it, but that slides right off of me. I am completely secure in myself.
- My appreciation (both sexual and emotional) for the real women I meet has skyrocketed.
- I fell in love, which is something that never happened for me when I used porn. I met her seven months ago. And I was completely honest with her about where I was in my life, which I think is a big part of why she loved me. The relationship is over now, but it was a great experience for both of us. • I have more mental and physical energy and certainly more time.
- My motivation and willpower are leagues ahead of where they were. I still sometimes surrender to procrastination, but in the last seven months I have written a 60,000-word book, started a business, negotiated a promotion at work, pursued and fell in love with a beautiful woman, adopted a consistent workout and meditation regimen, and made a dramatic diet change that has me feeling healthier and stronger than ever. I realize now that porn—along with overuse of video games and TV / movies—was a tranquilizer that served only to hold me back from pursuing my dreams.
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|Review: Wack Addicted to Internet Porn by Noah B. E. Church
Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn (2014) is a guide to current research into porn addiction, and a manual for those seeking to cut down their own habit. Noah B. E. Church goes beyond scientific research, and brings in his own story – painfully honest … [Read More]
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