"Porn poison is ruining men but there is hope"

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porn siteDespite all the porn, we may be moving towards a romantic renaissance. Recently I caught up with a wonderful friend whose company I adore because he is so damn honest. As usual, over a few drinks, we made each other laugh, talked politics and then moved on to deeper issues like how are you really?

The answer, pleasingly, was we both felt cheerful, content and grateful, something which has not always been the case. For my friend, there was an unhappy time   years ago when he found himself addicted to porn.

In Australia, one in four web pages is porn-related. 

Even when recalling those times, the change in my usually ebullient mate's countenance  was visible and visceral. But he  wanted to talk about it because it was real, it was scary, it ruined his life and in part, marriage.

 "I can't tell you what it was like walking in the door each day and experiencing the fear of knowing that within minutes I would be sitting in front of my computer with my pants around my ankles masturbating," he explained (told you he was honest). 

"It was so demeaning to know that while I may have been watching what is regarded as conventional porn these days - which, let's face it, is extreme and unrealistic anyway - pop ups would appear on my screen tempting me to view something darker and more degrading and I would click on them out of perverse curiosity. 

"I can't explain how I felt watching girls whose age I couldn't be sure of being humiliated and rendered inanimate objects, mere holes to be filled and defiled. I hated myself. Looking back I think that on a subconscious level I wanted to see someone treated as worthless and disgusting as I felt. How sad and sick is that?"

While I couldn't disagree with my friend, I did to a certain degree, understand and sympathise. While I will never advocate censorship or deny pornography has a place (albeit very small) in society, today it is a very real and extremely troubling problem causing untold damage to both sexes. 

In Australia, one in four web pages is porn-related and the vast majority of porn viewers (anywhere between 75 and 90 per cent) are males, with about 7-10 per cent addicted to on online sex.

While much has been written and debated about porn from a female perspective, lately I have been intrigued, enlightened, but most of all overjoyed to hear men speak up and admit they don't like what porn is doing to their relationships (or lack of them), their self-esteem and sense of humanity.

One of these men is British comedian and self-confessed sex-addict Russell Brand, who last week posted a video blog on his website russellbrand.com. "Pornography is not something that I like. It's something that I haven't been able to make a long-term commitment to not look at and, it's affected my ability to relate to women, to relate to myself, my own sexuality, my own spirituality," he confessed.

"Our attitudes toward sex have warped and perverted and have deviated from its true function as an expression of love and means of procreation. If you're constantly bombarded with great waves of filth, it's really difficult to remain connected to truth."

On the video he cites a report from the Journal of Adolescent Health on the  effects of prolonged exposure to porn - an exaggerated perception of sex in society; diminished trust between intimate couples; the abandonment of hope of sexual monogamy and; the belief promiscuity is a natural state.

He talks of how softcore porn is everywhere from bump and grind music clips to women fellating ice-creams in advertising, and how this leads to states of voyeurism, objectification, the belief that women are collectibles like trophies and a fear of true intimacy. 

Melbourne psychologist and author Meredith Fuller agrees with Brand but, like me, is seeing a glimmer of light in the darkness. Among those seeking her help to save marriages grown stale or considered "boring" after being overly influenced by porn, and young girls feeling "worthless and ugly" because of boyfriends comparing them to, and preferring, the inanimate and compliant women they see on screen, she's also seeing men – and lots of them – craving a real emotional connection.

"These guys are generally in their early 30s and they are enlightened," Fuller explains. "They want more than an image of sex or a booty call at the click of an app. These men want touch and tenderness, commitment and connection. They want to romance a woman and respect her. 

"But it seems a lot of women have been conditioned to believe these men don't exist. It's like they have given up and bought in to the messages of porn, thinking they have to have hair free pudendum and perform sexually in ways they may not be comfortable with to be accepted. Many of the young men I see who want a real connection are also growing beards and I believe it's a reaction to women going hairless. It's like they're saying, it's OK to be natural." 

Fuller says another hopeful sign the fulcrum of sex is moving to a more moderate position is that trendsetters such as Lady Gaga are swinging away from thrust in the face imagery to something softer and more romantic. 

"I can see how performers like her are leading the way to a romantic renaissance," Fuller says. "We have got so down in the gutter around sex there is nowhere else to go than back to a gentler, more alluring, mysterious and layered stance."

Brand  urges men to "address our obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them" and wants us all to ask, "How can we understand our sexuality? How can we express it lovingly in harmony with the principles that it's there to demonstrate procreation and sensual love between consenting adults?"

Perhaps Brand's position is best summed up by a quote from a priest he cites on the video, "porn is not a problem cause it shows too much, but it shows too little".

I say, bring on the light and shade. My friend did, and now not only has a loving relationship with his new partner, he actually likes himself, too.

Age columnist Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author. Twitter: @Wendy_Squires

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