Why men need to de-radicalise from porn - I was one of them

'We're looking at a future of far more widespread abuse against women and girls if we don't de-radicalise men now'

By James*, Collective Shout Supporter, UK

Radicalisation: the process whereby an individual comes to adopt increasingly radical views in opposition to the accepted norms.

Radicalisation is a term normally used in reference to terrorism; the young, disaffected Muslim who travels to join IS or the self-described patriot who shoots up a place of worship that he considers harbouring invaders. What is it that makes ordinary, law-abiding citizens so full of hatred, that they will inflict violence on fellow humans? It takes immersion in dehumanising subcultures to turn an ordinary man into a terrorist.  

Whilst some of the specific discourses in these subcultures can be found online by those who seek them, there is another far more pervasive, far more widespread radicalisation taking place. A radicalisation behind laptop screens and smartphones that preaches the objectification, dehumanisation and hatred of women and normalises sexual harassment, rape and child abuse. That radicalisation is called porn use. 

In this essay, I'll discuss my discovery of porn, how my addiction escalated, how it radicalised me and how I managed to de-radicalise myself.

‘The risks I took were insane’

I grew up in an abusive household. My father would physically and psychologically torture me from a very young age and my mother, bless her, didn't have the emotional skills to give a child the kind of love he needed, particularly in response to abuse. As ridiculous as this sounds, the only respite I had from the age of 11 was masturbation. I wasn't getting any positive emotion anywhere. I was bullied at school and my home life was dreadful. So this was all I had to feel good.   

It was the mid-nineties, the first pictures I used while masturbating were from clothes catalogues. A couple of years later, I escalated to what in the UK is referred to as Page 3 - the third page of several tabloid newspapers in the UK show pictures of topless women. By my late teens, I sneakily recorded ‘erotic thrillers’ from television to videotape, right under my parents' noses. I took some pride in my ability to hide, to deceive, to lie, all characteristics needed to make a good addict.  

It was around the end of my first year of university that I discovered hardcore porn. I was completely blown away by this. To this day, I remember the first 10-second clip I saw, it was at the same time disgusting but also exciting and intriguing. I couldn't stop watching. The raw intensity of it made me seek out more. And more.  And more.  The risks I took to watch it were insane. I mean, unless you were completely raving mad, why would you risk everything to sit at the back of a university computer lab to watch porn?

Like any addictive behaviour, it quickly escalated. I couldn't stop watching. Tube sites took off a few years later and by then I was a goner. Things that had previously disgusted me, I started to seek out. I was still disgusted by them, but I had to feed the wolf in my mind that I had created. I couldn't stop. One of the things porn users do to continue to justify behaviour that they know is intrinsically wrong is rationalise or as I would describe it, radicalise.  

How I justified it

At some point in all of this, I thought that I respected women but my internal dialogue slowly gave me permission to watch the most abhorrent things, just to keep getting off, to keep chasing that high.

"Well, she's getting paid so it's alright"

"I know a lot of women are trafficked into porn but this is a reputable company, so I'm sure the women are here of their own free will"

"I'm sure she enjoys getting ejaculated on her face.  Why would she do it otherwise?"

"Eighteen is an age where people are trusted to make good decisions.  So she's only doing what's right for her.  It's a free choice"

"I'm sure she enjoys being choked like that"

"She's not really a schoolgirl and he isn't a teacher, it's just fantasy"

"She isn't really a kidnapped hitchhiker, it's just fantasy"

"She's not really a babysitter, it's just fantasy"

"That looks like it's hurting her, I bet she's loving it"

"He's f---ing her so hard, she looks like she's about to pass out, that's so hot"

"Well, it's only up her skirt, she doesn't know anyone's filming it"

"It's only a video of her arse, you can't see her face"

"Well, you can see her face, but I doubt anyone who knows her is watching this"

"I'm sure she's drunk, that stupid whore, I bet she's loving it"

"Women are whores who just want to be f-cked"

"Women only exist to pleasure me"

"Look at her in that skirt, I bet she's a f---ing slut"

"Who goes out looking like that, I bet she wants to get f---ed"

"I'd love to see that slut get f---ed"

I was a slave to this subculture. I could not stop, no matter how hard I tried. Anyone thinking that these ideas had no real-world impact is dead wrong. Despite being married to a very attractive woman, I couldn't get aroused with her and I would blame her for this. I wrecked her self-esteem. I considered paying for sex, something I consider disgusting and immoral. I would think about cheating and come up with all kinds of justifications.  

When I reached the apex of my addiction, when I realised I had to stop - I made an attempt (unsuccessfully, thank God) to take videos of women shopping. Well everyone else was doing it, right? PornnHub and Xhamster are full of videos, some made in defiance of the law, of "amateur" women and girls just going about their day to day lives, with no idea legions of perverts will be masturbating over them. The comments sections were full of guys who loved these videos, they had millions of views and searches. How abhorrent was this behaviour if so many other men were doing it? I have no doubt, if I continued down this path, in a few years' time, my addiction would only have escalated until I was arrested for some kind of sexual offence.

‘I stopped seeing women as human beings’

This was my radicalisation: I stopped seeing women as human beings, I objectified every single woman I laid eyes on, I turned them into a porn movie in my head the minute I saw them, I imagined sexual encounters with every one of them and I thought I was entitled to their bodies, whether they liked it or not. I saw only lips, eyes, boobs, butts, p-ssies.  

As someone who outwardly was against rape, abuse, sexual harassment, molestation, who considered himself a feminist (there are a lot of so-called feminists out there that defend porn, so it's pretty easy to rationalise this to yourself), I sure did let myself get turned on by depictions of all of those things. Any sane person, reading the thoughts listed above, would think I was some kind of sex offender. In reality, I was an educated, successful professional who was respected by my community and my peer group. There is no difference between the thoughts I've listed above and the kind of comments you'd find on videos on PornnHub, Xhamster or any other porn site. These sites are radicalisation echo chambers.

I hated that I liked these things and I hated myself for liking them. I hated that I had become a pervert. Deep down, every porn user knows what they're doing is wrong. They know intrinsically that sex is something you do, not something you watch. They try to hide that guilt and shame but it just comes out in other places. Anger management issues, depression, compulsive lying, emotional instability. In my case, it came out in the depression and anger that I hadn't sought help for since my childhood.  

After I got married, casually I tried stopping for years. But it would be an endless cycle of madness - no porn for a couple of weeks, depression then porn use. Then I'd get even more depressed about porn use which I would medicate with even more porn use! A few years into my marriage, I told my wife about my addiction. I couldn't carry the burden of my guilt any longer and I selfishly used my wife as a crutch. I nearly lost my marriage. Even today, my wife doesn't trust me and who can blame her, really?

My wife doesn’t trust me

After I confessed to my wife, I decided that I had to taking quitting seriously. I tried NoFap and I would abstain for a few months then relapse, usually when I got depressed about something. This cycle happened for nearly two years. One of the guys on the NoFap forums suggested counselling and therapy. I found a counsellor who specialised in addiction.  She recommended two things: EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy and a Twelve Steps group. EMDR therapy would address the root cause of my emotional trauma and Sex Addicts Anonymous would address how to live without my compulsive behaviour.  

I read as much as I could about survivors of the sex industry, about the sexualisation of media, about survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I read the works of Gail Dines, Exodus Cry and Collective Shout. I started supporting charities that helped survivors of abuse and trafficking. I needed to rebuild my morality, to return to thinking that abuse is wrong and should be condemned and stopped, not something you masturbate to.  I had to re-learn empathy. I had to start seeing women as human beings again and not just living sex dolls. I had to understand that the high I was chasing was nothing like a sexual high from actual sex, it was what I used to replace the absence of love, connection and power that I didn't have when I was younger. It is only now, four years after deciding to quit and over a year of therapy and 12 Steps groups, that I can see how warped my thinking became after being immersed in porn culture for most of my life.

‘Porn is every toxic male power fantasy, polished, scripted and in high definition’

Today, I can see clearly that porn is the commercialisation of women's bodies as a masturbatory aid for men. It is mass marketed prostitution for men who don't want to pay for sex. It is every toxic male power fantasy, polished, scripted and in high definition. It is a small window into how the world would look if society, morality and culture hadn't restrained male lust and violence against women over millennia. When porn apologists say things like "It's just a fantasy, I wouldn't treat a woman this way in real life!", what they're really saying is "This is exactly how I feel about women, and I would love the opportunity to do this in real life, the only things stopping me are laws, jail time and potential social ostracism”. Why would they be masturbating to it otherwise?  

The men who decide to do the things they see on the screen will either try it with their partner, if they think they'll get away with it, pay for it or break laws to do it. The rooms of Sex Addicts Anonymous are full of men for whom the fantasy went too far, whose addiction stopped them thinking about the consequences, who lost their marriages, their families, their jobs or their freedom in search of the next high.  

Anyone who naively thinks they would never let their porn use escalate simply doesn't know what their radicalised mind will make them do if simple circumstances in their life changed. Each time I was faced with increased stress professionally, the sordidness and depravity of the porn I watched would escalate. I never dreamed I'd get into "barely legal" porn or upskirt videos when I first started looking at porn, or even several years into my habit.  

Porn users who are honest with themselves will acknowledge that what they're masturbating to now is not the same as what they were masturbating to a couple of years ago. They move easily to simulated rape, quadruple penetration, incest, simulated child abuse and a focus on how much torture a woman can take and still endure the shoot-tube sites promoting the violation of women's privacy and breaking the law by sharing voyeur and upskirt videos.

We weren't designed to sit in front of hours of high definition, violent, abusive, coercive, simulated sex. The demand for illegal material has skyrocketed in recent years and this has gone hand in hand with mass porn use. It's a problem that we won't be able to arrest our way out of or legislate against. We're looking at a future of far more widespread abuse against women and girls if we don't deradicalise men now.  

James*, 36, works as a research scientist in Oxford, United Kingdom 

*Name has been changed

Video: Movement Director Melinda Tankard Reist speaks with Daniel Principe and Richie Hardcore - two men doing great work to challenge porn culture and dismantle harmful ideas about masculinity.

See also:

Men who buy sex: in their own words

Taking a razor to toxic masculinity: The Gillette ad doesn't shame men, it calls them higher

Pornhub commits crimes against women and girls

Racist and antisemitic: Pornhub is a hate group

Tips for Parents and Carers

Submission on Online Safety Legislation Reform

Submission to Inquiry into Age Verification for Online Wagering and Online Pornography

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  • Lyn Kennedy
    published this page in News 2020-10-22 14:45:40 +1100

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