Vulnerability to pornography occurs when an adolescent is unconsciously programmed to interpret smiles, looks, statements, interactions, or events as sexual. Although one’s past is never an excuse for present behavior, each man has an emotional file-folder that catalogues possible influences for what may shape his present struggle. Consequently, if we are to understand why someone is addicted we need to take into account how he came to struggle with pornography. Let it be noted that while every man’s past contains its own unique reasons, I find there are some common themes in men who struggle with this problem.
1. Early Doses of Pornography.Some of the men I have talked to claim that they were introduced to pornography as young boys or teenagers. In some cases it was openly displayed in their homes through videos or cable TV, whether by neighborhood friends, relatives, or a parent. Sadly, others have mentioned they found it stashed underneath their father’s mattress or hidden in a closet. One man recalling how he never forgot what he saw or how it made him feel, had a craving for more. And knowing that his Christian father looked at porn gave him an excuse to feed his burning desires.
2. Repeated Exposure To Pornography. Men are sometimes introduced to sexually explicit material at a young age with regular doses of it through family and friends. With the advent of cable and satellite television the level of exposure intensified as movies, sitcoms, and reality shows brought into homes sexually explicit scenes. Recently, many of the men I counsel with report how the internet and the abundance of pornographic sites make viewing not only easily accessible but unobtrusively private.
3. Childhood Sexual Abuse. Sadly, there are many cases, where those who regularly view pornography today were at one time sexualized as a result of childhood sexual abuse. Dr. Patrick Carnes, the psychologist whose bookOut of the Shadows(now published by Hazelden Educational Materials) found sexual abuse in 81 percent of sex addicts. This seems counterintuitive, until you remember that an abused child’s unfolding sexuality is wrinkled by terror and shame- all subsequent relationships colored by insecurity and ambivalence. By adulthood, the individual mayhave repressed or minimized what happened, convincing himself that it did no harm. Or, because he consented, he has no right to complain. Or, he must be bad, because he felt physical pleasure. Or, because he loved the person who abused him, it left no impact. Sexual abuse, especially when the abuser is a male, can cause a young male victim to question his own sense of honor and masculinity. The mixed feelings swirling around the abuse leave him confused and ashamed. Young victims don’t know how to make sense out of feelings of shame, powerlessness, unworthiness, and vulnerability.1 Boys abused by older males may even begin to doubt their own heterosexuality. And the toxic effects is the all-too-common reality and horror that some victims may turn to 1 Bass, E. & Davis, L. The Courage To Heal, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p.378.pornography as a way of proving they can be sexually aroused by a woman. Other men use pornography to desensitize the sexually traumatic events in their past. This is why some explore pornography for a specific kind of woman or scene that reminds them of the abuse. Their distorted view of reality becomes a sexual script they later enact within the context of a sexual fantasy in which they can relive. For example, one man who was sexually abused and then mocked by an older female cousin, searched porn for women who reminded him of his abuser. Whenever he found a suitable imitation, he would drift off into a fantasy where he would rewrite the course of those events to his liking. Instead of being humiliated and rejected, he imagined his abuser liking and praising him. Despite the entrapment and vulnerability, many men would state that they never want to be around pornography. Indeed it is a battle that spirals many men downward to the brink of despair. Yet even with all the problems that pornography causes, men continue to seek out opportunities to look.