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Porn in the USA

Thanks to the nerds who created the Internet, you no longer need to visit the adult bookstore incognito to get your smut on. But is easily accessible porn a good thing?

"Bob" 31, didn't realize he had a porn problem. Until it cost him his wife.

His fixation began with softcore magazines when he was a teenager, and grew slowly. But it didn't become a full-blown addiction until he discovered Internet pornography, by which time he had already gotten married and had a young daughter. "I started isolating myself-because I wanted to spend time on the computer," he recalls. "My waking hours were ruled by it. Porn dominated my life:

Sometimes he'd pull exhausting all-nighters surfing the Web for raunchy material, leaving him bleary-eyed the next day and barely able to accomplish anything at his job as an Internet marketing specialist in California. Soon Bob became distant from his spouse, and communication started breaking down, putting a strain on his marriage. His wife told him he had a sexual addiction. But he paid no attention ,and she eventually left him.

Bob's case may be extreme, but it's not altogether uncommon. Today, nearly 75% of U.S. households have Internet access. Translation: Three-quarters of American homes can download porn. Roughly one-quarter of all Web searches are porn-related, and porn sites (of which 1,000 new ones are created daily) receive millions of hits each day. Porn itself has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

"Now you can get [porn] in the privacy, of your own home, without sanction;' says Julie Albright, Ph.D., a researcher on Internet sex and a sociologist at the University of Southern California. "Imagine a schoolteacher being seen walking into the town's triple-X bookstore--the ultimate taboo. Now he doesn't have to"

This easy access is making sex addiction much more common, some psychologists say. They claim that adult entertainment can impact society negatively by hindering men's relationships with women and leading to obsessive, self-destructive behavior. A study published in Professional Psychology found that as many as 7.1% of men now say they spend up to 30 hours a week surfing for porn.


 


Porn-industry sources counter that the rapid growth of porn is merely the result of meeting demand. They also claim that pornography can serve as a healthy release and provide greater intimacy, between men and women.

Both are probably right--which is why the issue can be so confusing.

THE RISE OF PORN

People have craved sexually explicit distractions practically since cave dwellers first took charcoal to a rock wall. In ancient Greek times, they turned to pornographos--"writing about prostitutes: These days, Webster's defines pornography as "sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal."

The current boom in adult entertainment can be traced to the late 1960s and early '70s, when porn was legalized in Denmark and stag movies motivated American men to buy home projectors and hang sheets in their basements. Breakthrough films such as Deep Throat (1972) and Debbie Does Dallas (1978) put X-rated awareness on the mainstream map--and drew the ire of the feminist movement, which argued that adult films objectified women. During the '80s, the advent of video made producing adult movies cheaper and allowed people to watch them discreetly at home. And now, since the popularization of the Web in the mid-'90s, access has never been easier. Broadband Internet and on-demand video have practically made porn an upstanding member of pop culture. Today Jenna Jameson can share talk-show couch time with Jennifer Aniston.

Adam Glasser, a porn star/director known professionally as Seymore Butts, says the reason adult entertainment hit the mainstream is simple: Sex sells. Producers of the stuff are simply feeding demand. "Even on broadcast TV, people are trying to find creative ways to titillate the audience; he notes. "Now you can see Dennis Franz's ass or, on Joe Millionaire, captions like 'slurp, slurp:"

Glasser is regarded as a trailblazer in the "gonzo porn" genre--adult movies with almost zero plot (meaning millions of men no longer have to wear down their fast-forward button). He also stars in Family Business, the Showtime reality show that chronicles his life in the porn biz. "Sex wouldn't be so available if people didn't want it," he adds.

THE PORN IDENTITY

But it was just such easy availability that ultimately did Bob in. "The Internet was really the downfall for me," he says. "My senses dulled, and I stopped focusing on my day-to-day life. I gave up my interests, my friendships: With his marriage over, "All of a sudden, I woke up and saw my life in ruins."

"Weston, who runs no-porn.com, a Web discussion board for sex addicts that receives more than 1,000 visitors daily, says he, too, found the Internet irresistible. "I even downloaded porn at work," he recalls, "which is professional suicide. I was never fired, or even accused of using porn, but I wasn't as valuable to my company as I could have been."

His situation at home also deteriorated. "I felt like I was living a secret life; he says. "As a father, I was distant and demanding. The irony is I thought I was a great husband and father. I've learned that I was mistaken."

These experiences follow an almost textbook story line for sexual addiction. What begins with mild curiosity snowballs into such an obsession that addicts start isolating themselves, falling deeper into their dependency. Sex addiction typically begins when the individual has specific sexual experiences that form his sexual-arousal template. "They create a life based around secrecy and shame" says Charlie Walker, Ph.D., vice president of operations at the CompassPoint Addiction Foundation, a research center which specializes in treating various addictions, in Scottsdale, Ariz. "They don't need anyone else for gratification." Addicts also constantly try to up the ante each time they indulge. Sexual compulsivity is typically a disease that escalates over time. "It's like when someone starts off needing a beer a days adds Walker, "then works up to a whole case: They experience a continuing escalation in their behaviors, becoming desensitized to images that were once stimulating. The sex addict requires increasingly more provocative pictures in the same way the alcoholic needs to increase his intake to get the same feeling.

Walker says porn becomes an addiction when someone begins ordering his life around it, often to the exclusion of everything else. He can't resist sexual impulses and easily loses track of time when surfing adult content. Porn can also hinder relationships, segregate addicts from friends, colleagues, and especially significant others, and create unrealistic sexual expectations of women.


PRESS "PLAY" FOR FOREPLAY

This isn't to say that everyone who enjoys porn is destined to become an addict. "There are people who use pornography as part of their arousals says Walker, "but it does not become an organizing principle of their sexuality--just like there are people who can drink responsibly:

Glasser claims his movies can actually be sexual aids for couples. "People can learn not only about technique, but they learn about their bodies in general," he says. "I get letters from people all the time thanking me for helping open their eyes about their sexuality." He cites one such letter from a woman married 27 years, whose husband, after watching a Seymore Butts film, "finally found her G-spot?"

James, a 33-year-old from D.C., says he uses adult movies--on video and downloaded from the Internet--as foreplay; "On occasion, my wife and I like to watch porn to intensify our sexual experience;" he says. "It's a quick way to get aroused, or even get us back on track for round two."

Glasser argues that there's a problem when guys watch adult videos and don't tell their significant others--a sign of relationship issues that run deeper than an interest in pore. "You've got to ask, Why does this guy feel like he's forced to watch it behind closed doors? That's a problem right there. Communicating about sex and sexuality is almost as important as having sex regularly with someone you love."

True, but the reality is that porn is mostly a guy thing. According to the Web resource Internet Filter Review, 72% of" all visitors to porn sites are male. And if a guy does communicate with his girlfriend or wife about porn, and she wants no part of it, he may very well continue to watch in secret.

PORN-FREE

For guys whose obsessions become too difficult to manage, new sex-addiction treatment groups are more widely available. I. David Marcus, a psychotherapist in San Jose, Calif., says anyone who spends several hours a week pornicating should question whether he's becoming dependent.


 


Take away the temptation by installing SPA-M-blockers for your e-mail, he says, and software that will log you off the Web after an hour or two. If the problem spirals out of control, talk to a friend, seek help, or attend a group session like Sex Addicts Anonymous (sexaa.org). However you do it, get away from that computer and take back your life.

Bob finally reds like he has come to terms with his addiction. "I realized pornography wasn't my friend anymore," he says. He sought counseling and joined a 12-step group for sex addicts. Now he has a new job and a "zero-tolerance policy" for himself regarding porn. "I'm just more focused on my goals in life," he says. "I have far more self-respect. I have the shame of the past, but I don't carry the shame and guilt of that lifestyle any longer."

STUCK ON SMUT?

Are you a porn addict? Find out: Close that issue of Happy Mammaries, get your right hand off the mouse, your left hand out of your pants, and take this quiz (adapted from "The Sex Addiction Screening Test" by Patrick Carnes. Ph.D.). This test is not a substitute for a complete assessment from a professional therapist versed in treating sexually compulsive behaviors. For the original test. visit sexhelp.com

Which of the following applies to you and porn?

1. I often can't resist my impulse to view it.

2. I often spend more money, or time, on it than planned.

3. Many times I've tried--without success--to reduce or step altogether my porn usage.

4. I spend excessive time looking for it, viewing sexual materials, or being engaged in sexual activities.

5. I'm constantly preoccupied with it.

6. Sometimes, instead of meeting family, work, or social obligations. I'm using it.

7. I continue using porn, even though I'm aware my habit is taking a personal, financial, and maybe even physical toll on my life.

8. The more I use it, the more I need to up the thrill or risk level to get the same satisfaction.

9. I'm passing up potential work and social opportunities for porn's sake.

10. I become upset, stressed, or irritable when I'm unable to access it.

Summary: If you answered "yes" to four or more of these statements, consider seeking professional treatment from a therapist trained in treating sexually compulsive behaviors.

Contributor Greg Melville teaches journalism at St. Michael's College in Burlington. Vt.

next: The Consequences of Pornography

Last Updated: April 8, 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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