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Help! How Do I Know If I'm Addicted to Porn?

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Alexander Cheves is the author of the bestselling My Love Is a Beast: Confessions and runs the popular queer sex advice blog Love, Beastly where this post originally appeared. Please visit LoveBeastly.com to submit your question. 

Hi Beastly (or Alex lol),

My Pronouns are he/him/his.

I’m a 22-year-old, gay, POC college grad. For some time now I’ve been really into sc*t porn/porn in general and lately, I’ve watched it more often than I care to admit; but porn has become somewhat triggering for me at times after some memories of childhood trauma resurfaced and I’ve run into some crazy things online that I’ve had to report. I’ve been seeing a therapist now and things have been much better. Now I still watch porn, but sometimes I get so worried that I’m gonna be triggered by something and spiral from that. At the same time though I want to enjoy porn more because currently, my life circumstances don’t allow me to connect with my sexuality at all (recent college grad, living at home with parents in the middle of a racist homophobic nowhere town). I haven’t had that many sexual or emotional connections with other guys that I’ve really been interested in and it really hurts sometimes, so porn has kind of been an outlet for me to feel good and have some connection to my sexuality. Do you have any sort of advice? I really want to move forward in a more balanced way and feel good about myself, my sexuality, my kinkier side, and start getting actual connections and experiences somehow and become a well-rounded gay guy. 

Sincerely,

Marcus 

Hi Marcus,

I’m not certain if sc*t porn is what’s triggering you, or if it’s something else. There’s nothing wrong with liking sc*t porn — more and more people seem to be getting into it as its taboo (and the taboos of other kinks and fetishes) wanes in our internet age of total access to everything.

Your question doesn’t specify what things in porn trigger your trauma responses. I’m glad you have a therapist to work through your trauma with, and I hope you’re able to talk to your therapist about this as well. You need a therapist with whom you can share the unvarnished truth of your sexuality — your porn life included.

The porn industry gets trashed in public discourse, especially in mental health discourse. For various reasons (thanks to various smear campaigns and moralistic sex panics) people everywhere seem to think porn is mostly populated with underage, trafficked minors. This is false — most of the industry is regulated and most production companies in the U.S. are official businesses that verify performer ages. Many people see porn as an exploitative and harmful industry for women, which is wrong again — porn gives many performers, women included, the ability to control their finances, set their schedules, raise children, and live comfortable lives. Porn gets hashed up in talk of porn addiction and blamed for all sorts of social ills. Few see porn as something healthy, vital, or beautiful. The industry does have problems, but I think those problems are exaggerated and over-reported to feed a growing anti-sex crusade on the left and right sides of the American political spectrum.

Porn can be beautiful. More importantly, it’s here to stay, regardless of its ills and irrespective of what laws get passed to eliminate it, so we must do our best to support performers and make porn the best and safest industry it can be. Porn has always been a haven for queers. The same is true now as in the past: minority folks who struggle to find work elsewhere — who have lost their family’s support and have to support themselves at young ages — have often found steady work and financial security over the generations in the porn industry. We did this in the ’80s and we still do now, and platforms like JustFor.Fans and OnlyFans have democratized the industry and given a more diverse array of people the ability to profit from their own content.

Porn still is, for better or worse, how people all over the world like you discover, explore, and connect with their sexualities. Yes, some data shows that porn can lead to sexual compulsion and addiction, but since we still don’t know all there is to know about the science of addiction, it’s hard to lay the blame squarely at porn’s feet: those who become addicted may be genetically predisposed to such addiction in ways we don’t fully understand yet. Using the prevalence of legitimate porn addiction to ban porn would be the same as using the prevalence of alcoholism to ban alcohol (something that, as history proved, is disastrous).

Personally, I think all talk of sex and porn addiction is inflated. It’s hard to make an objective call on porn addiction since sex is not a neutral topic in the belief systems of most cultures; every therapist and doctor has a cultural, moral, and religious background that includes beliefs about sex and nudity, beliefs that are deeply ingrained in how we view truth, and these beliefs undermine so-called “objective” estimations of sexual behavior. You’ll find higher rates of “porn addiction” in the U.S. than, say, Germany, as the U.S. is a highly religious country with widely negative views of sex. German culture, in contrast, is fairly secular and has more progressive views of sex — it’s a cultural climate in which fewer people are likely to pathologize certain sexual behaviors as harmful.

I won’t say more about “porn addiction” because — being honest here — I don’t think most diagnoses of porn addiction are real. I think they are efforts to self-pathologize founded on cultural shame rather than real mental illness. There’s no need to warn you against porn addiction, especially since you have a therapist who is more able than I to estimate whether or not your porn consumption is tantamount to compulsion. Nothing in your question suggests that it is.

I want you to enjoy porn and have a good life with it, and I understand that can be hard if you sometimes see things in porn that elicit a painful response (again, I don’t know what those are). Since searching for porn online is precarious for anyone who doesn’t want to see certain things (as it is for, say, people who struggle with meth and want to avoid seeing it), your best course is to accrue a private collection of porn off the internet. This might be many things: a folder of downloads on your computer; a hidden photo album on your phone; a collection of video files (or saved URLs for specific videos); a stash of dirty books, magazines, art, and other print media; and so on. I know many folks who curate private porn stashes over time, a “spank bank” of self-curated eroticism. It’s a great hobby, and it will make you appreciate the wonderful world of erotic media out there that isn’t pirated video clips.

There’s a whole world of art, naughty comics, illustrations, and dirty cartoons you can find and collect. Vintage gay porn magazines are so hot — I collect them. Instead of scrolling through video sites — with search algorithms that always seem to deliver exactly what you’re not looking for — I suggest exploring the world of print porn. If you like videos, subscribe to performers on OnlyFans and/or JustFor.Fans, and enjoy their content. This would require you to seek out performers who don’t do whatever it is that you don’t like seeing, which of course risks seeing whatever that is, but that’s the game.

You have options! If you curate your porn life and explore avenues of porn offline, I promise you will come away with a huge appreciation for the wonderful world of erotic media. There are so many great photographers and books and other things to explore. Happy hunting.

Love,

Beastly

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