Let me start by saying this isn’t a piece on judgement. While I’ve determined certain things about pornography in my life, I don’t assume this goes for everyone. We all have our choices to make. This is simply my story of trying something new.
I’ve never considered myself a pornography addict. There has been no reason to. It simply hasn’t impacted my life to the point where it became unmanageable.
Like many men in the online pornography age, it was simply an escape. And between the ages of, say, 16 and 33, I escaped often. Just often enough to get a dopamine high and then fade back into my normal existence.
Then in grad school I read a book called The Porn Trap where I realized porn wasn’t just a little escape now and then. Its impact on my psyche was far deeper—it was actually changing my brain (Maltz and Maltz, p. 19)…and not for the better.
In the world I grew up in sex wasn’t talked about. Our Christian school didn’t have sex-ed classes. It didn’t come up much at home. I didn’t even get a decent education on STD’s until I was 22.
In that absence, pornography filled a void. So that, it wasn’t simply changing my brain. It was changing my brain AND changing the way I interacted physically/sexually in my relationships with women.
Pornography became for me, and many people, I believe, the teacher of sex. As anyone who has watched pornography can tell you, it wasn’t teaching me healthy lessons. So many story-lines are manipulative, violent, and downright abusive.
In other words, it wasn’t teaching me how to have healthy sexual relationships. Rather, it left me with a visual representation of what NOT to do, but very little knowledge around how to be healthy in sex.
So about 15 months ago I stopped. I can’t totally explain why it happened. I’d tried to stop before to no avail.
This decision has done wonders for my sex life. It has done wonders for my understanding of consent and how power and privilege impact sexual relationships. Most of all, it has helped me stay present with partners—alive to the moment instead of escaping into an abyss of physical pleasure.
In the aftermath here’s what I realized: pornography taught me that sex was simply for my pleasure. It taught me sex was supposed to be about power, privilege, and taking what I wanted.
It taught me that my orgasm was the most important thing.
That, I think, is why I ultimately stopped looking at pornography: because I couldn’t stand another day of physical touch being all about my climax.
And yet, sex and sexuality are so complex. It feels impossible for me to judge the choices of others.
What I know, and what I believe science backs up, is that pornography isn’t simply an experience in time that leaves us once we walk away. Much like a drug, the feeling of the high stays in our body long after the high is gone.
Is that reason enough to stop? It was for me, for now. What I think will sustain my choice, however, is how good sex has become since my pornography exile.
I won't lie, good sex is worth it.
"And the story's only mine to live and die with
And the answer's only mine to come across
But the ghosts that I got scared and I got high with
look a little lost"
About ten years ago the rapper, T.I., made a movie called ATL. The movie centers around T.I. and his group of friends who compete in roller skating competitions.
The movie stuck with me for almost a decade because of T.I.'s final words:
"My pop said I'd put these skates down when I found something more important.
I think he was right.
This is the beginning."
Those words have remained in my psyche for many years because it reminds me of two important lessons:
1) There are some stories we tell about ourselves that we hold onto long after we realize we won't always need them.
2) It's alright, even good, to do so because sometimes they provide us safety we desperately need.
I've been thinking about this recently in regard to the stories we tell about ourselves. Specifically the often negative stories we tell--the ones we use to help us survive.
A while back I wrote a blog post for The Seattle School about something a professor said to me. Doug told me it was time to put my worn out stories to rest--referring to the narrative I've told about myself as a "breaker of women's hearts".
It shocked me the first time those words left Doug's mouth. In retrospect, it's because I had no idea I was telling a story. Over time I had simply amassed an amount of data and determined this data added up to a certain reality--I was a heartbreaker. It never occurred to me this wasn't true. Or, at the very least, it never occurred to me I could be missing some important complexity.
But as I look back, the thing I realize is those stories, even the least true story I ever told about myself, deserves grace for one simple reason: at some moment in time it protected me from something I needed protection from. I can't tell you exactly when or where or how with every story, I just know at some moment I needed each of them.
The point is that sometimes it's okay to look at some unhealthy part of ourselves and just let it go. It's okay to recognize some part that needs to change, and save it for another day. Sometimes our stories need grace enough to say, "you know what, I still need this little unhealthy part of myself for a little while longer. Not always, but for at least one more day".
I think it's so easy sometimes when we are growing and changing to look back at our old selves with scorn and shame and act like we didn't exist before we found therapy or the 12 steps or whatever is causing us to change.
But today I'm reminded off all the messed up, unhealthy, neurotic ways I learned to survive and I'm thankful. I'm thankful they were there when I needed something to hold onto. I'm thankful I was protected by my stories when I couldn't otherwise protect myself. And I'm thankful I can put some of them down because I've found something more important to hold onto.
Most importantly, I'm thankful for the stories I still grasp onto. A day will come when I don't need them anymore, but today simply isn't that day.
Engaging Men in #Metoo
Recently I read an article in TIME magazine discussing #metoo and what men can do when they “see other men behaving badly”.
The author, Susanna Schrobsdorff, suggests a list of “dos” and “don’ts” isn’t enough. She says we need men to hear from women directly and that we’d all benefit if men would ask if they’d done something offensive.
One of the things they teach when learning to work with trauma survivors is that facing one’s abuser can be a powerful experience. It can empower and heal in the most amazing ways.
It’s also not something to be taken lightly. We may not be ready to face those who have harmed us. It takes time and healing to build the emotional and psychological strength necessary to face our wounds.
In other words, it’s not the right time to face one’s abuser simply because said abuser is ready to talk.
That’s what struck me most about the TIME article. Certainly open and honest conversations are important, but when we, as men, see #metoo taking place and start asking questions like “have I ever done anything to make you uncomfortable?” we’re essentially choosing when and where a woman and potential victim has to answer a question about harassment.
We could be inadvertently pushing a victim to talk about something they may not be ready to talk about yet--and causing them to experience their trauma all over again. Even if it comes from good intentions, it’s still patriarchy and misogyny.
I liken it to a white person asking a person of color to tell us whether we’re racist. I wonder how many times in their lives a person of color is asked to assuage our white guilt to make us feel better? Each time they’re put in such a position racial inequality in America rears its ugly head.
This is why it’s so important men join the sexual harassment and abuse conversation. Because we can’t simply ask women to make us feel better about it. It’s not only up to women to fix sexual harassment--it’s up to us too.
It’s also why it’s important men work together on issues directly impacting those who have been hurt by unequal power structures in our society. For example, a local Bend organization, Saving Grace, puts together a monthly coffee chat (Bluebird Cafe, 8am on every Third Thursday) for men to talk about ways to get involved in the anti-violence movement.
It’s a great opportunity to meet other men, develop trust, and wonder about the choices we’ve made and the pain caused. It’s a great place to engage our complicity in violence against women and find healthy ways to impact the problem.
#Metoo has the power to stop the silence and change the way we engage violence and harassment in America. But it will all have been for naught if it simply reinforces the power structures already in place. Yes, men need to wonder about their past actions, but a victim isn’t the best place to start.