For 20 years, this novelist had a secret addiction


In public, Benjamin Obler was happy, had a successful career and was able to form relationships with women – while in private he was gripped by a compulsion to watch pornography. Here, he opens up about his destructive habit and his battle to conquer it.

2010: It’s 7am on a Tuesday in January, a dark winter morning. I scurry into the building, thinking of the admission I must make: This past week, I looked at internet porn.

I had meant not to. In fact, it was the last thing I wanted to do. On top of that, it was nothing like the escape it used to be.

This is my Compulsive Sexual Behaviour men’s talk therapy group, where I go every Tuesday morning for two hours before work.

It’s not what any man would choose to do before work on a Tuesday. But we are not any men. We are desperate men. Our marriages, our families, our sanity, our freedom and, in some cases, our lives are at stake.

1984: I still remember the first time I saw pornography. A photo gallery of a woman tossed up on a beach like driftwood. Leaping over the surf, breasts buoyant. Close-ups of her goosebumps.

The household in which I grew up held a library of pornography in a certain two-drawer cabinet.

People ask me if I wish I’d never stumbled on that illicit stash. No. Things might have worked out differently if I’d discovered it later, but discovering our sexual selves is natural. It’s the frequency of my return visits I regret.

My mother and father worked late, my brother was often at sports practice. Most afternoons after school I was free to visit the library again.

This is where rituals began. I was nervous enough about being discovered to duck under the window facing the neighbour’s house. I’d sit on the floor, pull the drawer open slowly. Because of the depth of the collection, I could mine for new content, much like I’d be able to do later on the internet.

Sometimes, someone would arrive home while I was in the act. I’d hear a car in the driveway, the garage door rattling open. Panic! Sexual arousal became inextricably linked with the anxiety of discovery and fear of disapproval.

A porn magazine’s depictions of everyday lust are comical to a knowing viewer, but not to a 12-year-old. A female cop is undressed by the trucker she’s pulled over. A housewife seduces her female babysitter.

In the mags, there was no end to commonplace scenarios that yielded impromptu trysts. Sex-crazed women pervaded all walks of life, as eager to flaunt their nudity as I was to see it.

I was hardly away from the cabinet when I began anticipating my return.

1996: I have a home PC, my own apartment and a glorious CD-ROM with 100 free hours of AOL internet connection time. I get online and my search brings up thousands of results. In no time, I have a photo gallery before me. I don’t go without online porn for another 13 years.

I have girlfriends, some of them long-term. But I am oblivious in these relationships. One wants to marry, and I’m tone deaf to this suggestion.

I move from my home in the US to the UK, where I rack up a bill of thousands of pounds with British Telecom on the internet, charging it all to a credit card.

2000: I’m back in the US, working in film and TV production. I go to the office at weekends, telling my girlfriend I have to work on a project. I use the fast internet connection and file-sharing apps to get videos. I watch them there and slump in my chair afterwards like a junkie.

At home, I stay up late and go online after my girlfriend has gone to bed. When she finds porn sites in the computer’s browser history, I say it must have been spam, launched on its own or something. We fight bitterly. “That’s cheating!” she yells.

I cut the lies and confess to being brought up around it, admitting it’s always been there. But we are young and don’t know what to do about it.

For years we repeat this fruitless scene of meltdown and gridlock. When the relationship ends, it’s with a feeling of inevitability.

2007: I have just sold my first novel to a publisher, a momentous occasion for me. I’m married, to Diane, an intelligent, mature and successful woman.

We’ve bought a house. I’m 35 years old and fulfilled.

My other great interest is more active than ever. I have a fast internet connection, a PC with the latest hardware and my own office at the back of the house, in which I’ve installed slatted blinds.

In other words, I look at all the porn I want to, just as I always have.

Watching porn is like sleeping and eating. It is a part of me, though a part I don’t discuss openly.

Early in our dating life, Diane had walked in on me using internet porn, and that led to a conversation in which she professed her own appreciation for it — saying it’s natural, women are beautiful, nothing to be ashamed of, and so on. But it was not as simple as all that. In my mind, porn use was still something to be kept secret.

For months I’d been experiencing lethargy, achiness, appetite problems. I was moody, my sleep erratic. I frequently had frightening and violent dreams, my nocturnal kicking and thrashing often waking Diane.

The worst symptom was a feeling that swelled behind my eyes — an itchy, piercing pain.

I went on antidepressants. The symptoms eased. I felt better. My diet normalised. Food tasted good again. Thank God, I could enjoy life again!

As part of my return to health, I went back to the gym.

Then, one evening, I sat down to enjoy a long session of browsing pictures and videos of young women. It flooded my brain with numbing pleasure chemicals. Endorphins. The next day I woke to eyeballs that felt like they’d been baking under a desert sun. Descending the stairs, my legs screamed in cramps.

“Hit the web, hit the web,” I found myself thinking. That’s when I knew there was a problem.

At the office, I requested and was approved to work from home part-time, which I promptly and regularly abused. At home, I used porn then lay on the couch in a depressed coma.

It was the breakdown of sexual intimacy with Diane that got me into treatment.

Although she didn’t want me to be ashamed for liking pictures of beautiful, sexy women, at the same time we’d been at an impasse of intimacy for several years.

Diane and I agreeing to seek marriage counselling led us to the Center for Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota and my talk therapy group.

2015: This is the happy part. I live in upstate New York now with Theresa, who knows the full scope of my history with pornography. I’ve come to understand just how deeply my addiction ran.

One of the things we men learn in the clinic is our behaviour, our knee-jerk reaching for porn, is avoidant.

We don’t deal with our feelings. We have no ability to process stress, anger, fear. We also don’t communicate.

It’s taken me years to build up these skills but now I have them. So, whereas before, in the initial stages of porn abstinence, I literally felt like the world was coming to an end daily, now I simply get on with life.

My ability to have a relationship is the biggest change. I professed love before, to many women, but I didn’t know what love was really about.

As a young man, an educated person and a person raised in the Catholic Church, I knew the way I ought to regard women. I believed in gender equity.

As a porn user, I valued women as objects of my gratification and potential sexual partners. Once a woman became a former sexual partner, she had no value to me.

As for women I didn’t know, I could hardly see an attractive woman in public without looking at her body. Nor could I stop myself noticing a woman’s unattractive features. Critical thoughts formed in my head at the sight of a woman I thought unshapely, fat, short, plain, or ugly.

All told, it took me years from my first inkling towards quitting — years of intense therapy, marital counselling, retreats and hard work — to achieve sobriety from the pornography use I engaged in for so long.

As I’ve advised others, there is no point of no return. It can always be unlearnt. The story can always be rewritten.

Original article (Trigger warning: porn is in the margin)

‘High is like taking drug’


MANY people, both men and women, watch porn to loosen their inhibitions and spice things up.

For a lot of them it may be harmless, unless the content is degrading, violent or deviant.

But porn can lead to a serious disconnection between fantasy and real life. Instead of enhancing a relationship, it can mean objectifying the partner, and ultimately getting less out of sex. Porn becomes the only thing that satisfies.

It is much like any other compulsive sexual habit, which includes chat lines and self pleasuring.

Addiction to porn is also more similar to drug addiction than you might imagine.

Research with MRI scans reveals that the activity inside porn addicts’ brains is very similar to what happens in the heads of drug abusers.

And showing blue movies to those who think they are hooked on them produces completely different brain patterns from those in people who are not reliant on porn. Just like other addicts, people hooked on porn find they can’t control their behaviour. They’re driven to seek that high from porn and they end up needing more and more of it to get the same pleasure.

Both men and women can become porn-addicted, but it seems more common in men. Studies show male addicts are also more likely to display antisocial behaviour.

This includes heavy drinking, gambling and fighting. And they are often in worse physical and psychological health.

That doesn’t prove porn is the cause, of course, but it is possible.

Original article (Trigger warning: porn is in the margin)