More About the Personal/Professional Balancing Act that is Causing Some Anxiety

So, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks, and I’m guessing those of you who kind of know me through this site, or at least read my entry from several days ago know that I’ve been going through a bit of an internal struggle with how to evolve my professional life.

I like having this as a place where I can mix my professional and personal life. I probably comment more freely and unprofessionally than a lot of people on LinkedIn, but I still tame my act big-time on there compared to the stream-of-consciousness I give you here. For a few days, when I thought this WordPress site should be strictly professional, I started linking the articles I wrote here to automatically go over there. I detached them today. While there is a cross-over audience, it’s not a big enough one. They don’t care about who I am; they care about what I am.

Based on the feedback I got the other day to my post, some of it not in the comments and sent in the form of email, it’s clear that people follow this WordPress site not only for the information I provide, but also for just being myself. And I’ve realized I need an outlet where I can be myself. I need a place I can drop an F-bomb and accidentally stray into political incorrectness without being beaten down. I need a place where I can be as honest and genuine as possible, and I’m finding that place is never anybody’s professional life. I need to maintain a level of professionalism, but if people find their way here, they’ll get a more human side.

As many of you know, I was chosen to give a TEDx Talk this December. You can read about it HERE, so I don’t have to rehash the details. If you want to help shape it, take this SURVEY. In the professional realm of mental health and addiction — where I’m one of the only former addicts talking about the disease of porn addiction — TED Talks are a very big deal. On a level of respectability/marketing/legitimacy/etc., being on a podcast ranks between a 2 and a 5 depending on the podcast. I’ve done a couple better ones, but the bulk are probably about a 3. A TED Talk starts at a 7 and can become a 10 if the speech goes viral online. It is not overstating it to say that this could be the best opportunity I have to break into a world where I get paid to give presentations, where I can launch a successful coaching business and write books that sell 10 times better than my current ones.

The challenge for me right now, that I am on the precipice of this opportunity (an opportunity that I understand has no guarantees…it could tank and that’s the end of me trying to make this a full-time endeavor), is in asking myself if I really want to go there. What happens if 100,000 people see my TED Talk as often happens for people who give them online? What happens if it’s 500,000 people or a million? Those numbers don’t seem real, but YouTube says they are. The reality is…I don’t know what happens and that’s become very obvious to me in the last couple of weeks since announcing that I’m doing this TED Talk.

Ever since the TED Talk has been announced, I’ve been hit with a lot more of…everything. Specifically though, instead of getting 2-3 requests to connect on LinkedIn per week, I’m getting 3-5 a day. While most are completely legit, I can still tell that many are full of shit and I don’t connect with them. There have been a few I accidentally let by and they are either weirdos or throw sketchy ideas for collaboration, or want to sell me something. I’ve had people asking for business advice, wanting to know “how to get to the next level” and even one writer yesterday who asked me to represent him from a marketing/PR standpoint because of all the podcasts I’ve been on. 

I cant’t remember if I told the people who read my blog about being invited to participate in a conference. If not, the quick version is that I received an email about two weeks ago that looked very official from an organization in the UK that was holding its fourth annual conference on addiction. According to their website, it was supposed to happen in Spain in October, but they turned it into a two-day webinar instead because of COVID. I think they didn’t have as much interest from speakers as they’d hoped, likely because of the travel and amount of people they’d be around if the event happened in-person. They asked me if I had an idea that I could give a talk about in their behavioral addiction track involving many of the ideas in my latest book.

Now, in the past, I’ve looked into conferences, and even applied to be in a few. I would guess that 80% of the time it was clear that even if you were chosen to present, you were expected to pay a registration fee. I was a little surprised, but then I checked the Internet and it sounds like in most cases, keynote speakers are given a free pass and a small stipend (including travel fees) but most others pay to attend. My problem is, I don’t know if this actually is normal or if I am just finding sketchy conferences that are full of crap and not taken seriously in the real world. If I put a conference I’ve attended on my resume, will it stick out like a sore thumb because I paid to attend? When I used to hire people in the real world, I always chuckled to myself when I saw “Who’s Who in (Whatever Topic)” listed because that’s a well-known scam that technically isn’t a scam, but suckers a lot of people in and divorces them from their money.

I’ve talked to a few trusted mental health professionals today and they’ve largely told me that paying for registration can be standard operating procedure…or it can be the sign of a scam. All urged me to carefully look at the history of the conference producers and try to find people that have participated in the past to speak with about their experiences. It makes sense and I’ll be trying to do that this weekend and next week.

There are three things that can happen here with the professional/personal balance in my life. I can be a breakout success and then flame out, which I’ve experienced; I can be a total failure, which I’ve experienced; or I can figure out how to strike that balance, a task I have very little experience with. I know I’m mentally far healthier than I was the last time I jumped into the professional world with two feet, but because I couldn’t handle that world (and in not being able to handle it made some very poor personal decisions that led to my demise) I worry about the next time I jump in with both feet. I haven’t had the opportunity yet, but I think it may be here, or may be more near than I can see…and it makes me anxious.

I’d like nothing more than to make freelance writing and ghostwriting a much smaller piece of my professional life and not lean on it for nearly my entire income. I’d like to explore this other world, but what if I fuck it up? I fucked things up last time and ended up on the TV news for two weeks and jail for six months.

I’m sure this mostly babbling, but I need a place for that. And this will always be my place for that. The real me, warts and all, isn’t going anywhere.

In a Relationship, Is It Selfishly Better to Find Out Your Partner is a Porn Addict, or a Recreational User? I say Addict.

Sometimes, I find myself babbling during a podcast and stumble into something that makes a lot of sense I’d never put into words before. It’s kind of the same process as therapy, which is why I urge people to see a therapist, even if they only think they are babbling for 49 minutes. That 50th minute may be where the magic happens. Likewise, if you can get people to invite you onto their podcast, they’ll ask you questions and you’ll be forced to explore the answers.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on something I said a while back on a podcast, and have begun discussing it with a few people because it’s nothing I’ve heard before, but it’s something that just seems to make sense to me and I’d be curious if it makes sense to you.

For partners (yes, generally women dealing with a man, so forgive me if I do the non-PC thing and sometimes assume this is the arrangement) of any kind of addict, the partner is not the reason the addict got into their addiction. With addictions like gambling or drugs, this is just generally a given. Wives usually don’t wonder what they did wrong that caused their husband to be a video game addict and husbands don’t wonder what they did wrong to make their wives food addicts. The boyfriend didn’t make his girlfriend and alcoholic and the girlfriend didn’t make her boyfriend a cokehead.

This dynamic is often ignored or overlooked when it comes to porn addiction. The partner of the addict, upon learning of the addiction, will often go through a process called betrayal trauma that can last days, months or years. Essentially, it is the pain and hurt of both knowing that your partner was “living a double life” coupled with the pain that their addiction involved sex/nudity/other people, which crosses a certain line of harmful intimacy/cheating/betrayal in the mind of the non-addict. Often, it destroys relationships.

Now, here’s the thing. Regardless of the betrayal trauma occurring, the porn addict is sick. We know that they have a brain disease that is likely a system of a much bigger issue, including unresolved childhood trauma or another mental health issue. I don’t want to be seen minimizing the betrayal trauma, but it is not my focus right this second.

I can tell you that based on my story and based on the story of many sex/porn addicts that I know, have interviewed, have met, etc., the addiction is never about lust. Never. In my case, my addiction allowed me to subconsciously create a false sense of control. I didn’t realize this while in my addiction, but it’s crystal clear now after six-plus years of recovery. I wasn’t an addict for the naked girls or taboo feeling of getting away with something. It was serving a need I had since early childhood, when I had my sense of safety regarding control taken away.

I can also tell you I didn’t drink because it tasted good or I liked the social lubricant. I’d say 95% of my drinking was done alone, isolated, simply to numb my brain to the point I wasn’t thinking beyond the very surface.

Cocaine addicts don’t snort because it’s fun to watch white powder disappear. Video game addicts don’t sit in front of the TV or computer for 15 hours because they appreciate fine digital graphics. Food addicts don’t like cake that much more than you and I. All addicts have a brain disease happening. It’s not about the substance or behavior. It’s about the subconscious pleasure, safety or sense of wellbeing the addictive behavior or substance provides, and it becomes the priority in life.

I think it’s also important to mention that almost all addicts suffer a decreased sex drive and need for intimacy, except those who are abusing stimulants like cocaine, or those who have just experienced a chemical-induced high. For the most part though, especially in males, there’s enough science to show that there is usually a slowing or shutting down of the libido. Ask a heroin addict how important sex and/or intimacy is to them.

So back to porn addiction. Why do female partners suffer from such betrayal trauma? I believe it has nothing to do with the addiction itself. I think the fact that there may be an addiction is often forgotten and lost in the betrayed person’s mind. They focus on the perceived intimacy/fantasy with another person that comes with their partner’s use of pornography. That use usually ends with an orgasm – just as the act of intercourse does. If intercourse is supposed to be “sacred” and reserved for only the partner, it’s understandable why they are hurt.

In researching my second book, learning these women’s stories and reading many of them on online forums where they post and receive advice, it stuck out to me that while many of these women clearly had partners who had an addiction, others had partners who seemed to barely have an unhealthy relationship with pornography, and even more simply caught their partner looking and had no real evidence to reach a conclusion that he was an addict.

I’ve come to wonder how often this kind of betrayal trauma happens with the female partners of men who are not porn addicts, because I think these are the female partners who really have to worry.

We all know the person who can have the occasional beer or two, or the person who can play video games for an hour and then put it away for several days. I visit a casino two or three times a year with my wife, never lose more than $40 and always walk away if I’m lucky enough to win $100. I don’t bet on sports or play the lottery, so I’m not sure if I can even be called a recreational gambler, but let’s just say I am for the sake of this article.

Let’s say for whatever reason, my wife was 100% anti-casino and anti-gambling. Maybe her father gambled away her college fund or her mother lost the family house…whatever. If she were to ask me never to gamble again, I would not have a hard time walking away from it. I find it fun watching the reels of the slot machine spin, but it’s a moment I wouldn’t miss if it disappeared from my life.

Let’s say some friends ask me to meet them for steaks and blackjack this weekend at the casino. I have three choices as I see it: I can decide not to go because it follows my wife’s wishes, I can tell her that I got the offer and gauge her response deciding accordingly, or I can decide not to tell her and just go.

If I go without telling her, it doesn’t make me a gambling addict. I may want to see my friends, do something without her, have a steak…whatever. I continue to stay within my “lose $40/win $100” gambling rule I’ve set for myself. Let’s say that my friends make a plan to do this once a month. It may be my only chance to see some of them, I appreciate the camaraderie, whatever, but I decide to make it a regular thing. This also does not make me a gambling addict.

It makes me a serial liar. It makes me someone who puts my own wants above some very specific boundaries set by my partner. It reveals a self-centeredness that shows I’m probably not a very good partner. But it doesn’t make me a gambling addict.

Now let’s consider the guy who looks at pornography but is not an addict. I absolutely believe that most people who use pornography, both men and women, are looking for little more than visual stimulation to help them achieve an orgasm.

I believe that these people (who are the vast majority of society in the under-50 group of men and under 35 group of women) learned along the way that they can satisfy their sexual needs with a self-induced orgasm. Masturbation is a selfish thing, but nobody understands how to work your equipment better than you do.

Intimate lovemaking is a wonderful thing, but sometimes in the eyes of many, just having sex with somebody they barely know can be the release they need, even if there is no love or true intimacy involved. Again, not moralizing or judging, just recognizing a fact. And sometimes, despite the option for intimate lovemaking exists with a partner, a person simply wants to experience the faster release of self-orgasm because they are not in the mood/too tired/whatever to invest what is necessary for mutually beneficial lovemaking.

I do not believe that the non-porn addict becomes an addict when they opt for occasionally masturbating over having sex with their partner.

But, like with my gambling example, what if the female partner views pornography as a reprehensible thing? What if she views her partner’s masturbation as a slap in the face and rejection? She has every right to set those boundaries, but does his breaking them without her knowledge automatically mean that he’s an addict? Of course not. Does lying about it automatically make him an addict? Not at all.

Yes, addicts lie. So do husbands and boyfriends who are caught doing something they shouldn’t. Addiction and lying are horrible character traits, but they are not mutually exclusive. One involves a disease and the other is just about covering one’s tracks. Five-year-old kids lie. Politicians lie. Salespeople lie. That doesn’t make them addicts.

Here’s the most important distinction between the addict and the liar who uses pornography: One is mentally and physically programmed beyond their control, the other just likes to get off. Addiction is certainly nothing I’d wish on anybody or their partner having gone through it with porn and alcohol, but I wasn’t using just to get off. In truth, when my porn addiction was at its worst, there was no “grand finale” orgasm. I wasn’t using it for sexual gratification – I don’t think I ever was. Yes, frequency of intercourse with my wife slowed down, but I got a very different need met when I was with her vs. when I was utilizing pornography throughout the first 11 years of our marriage before my addiction came to light.

I believe the recreational user is getting the exact same need met when they look at porn vs. when they have actual intercourse. Yes, there may be a fluctuation in the intimacy level, but I believe the recreational user choosing to use porn is simply looking for the orgasm and uses pornography as a visual aid.

The next question becomes is it better to be with a partner who has a disease of the brain that has nothing to do with you, or do you want to be with someone who has no pre-existing condition and is consciously choosing porn over you?

I’m not going to debate that human emotion is a tricky subject and that betrayal trauma shouldn’t register regardless of your answer to that question, but if I was in the situation of so many women who discover that their partner is looking at porn, I’d take some selfish comfort in knowing it was a disease and not a rejection of me.

Am I crazy here? Am I correct? Assuming I am anti-pornography, I would be more concerned about my role in my partner’s viewing of pornography if they were not an addict vs. if they are. Being an addict is an extenuating circumstance. Being a liar just means your partner is an asshole.

I Want to Be a Talk Show Host When I Grow Up

Actually, fun fact is that even before I went to work at the local newspaper when I was 17 years old, I was given a radio talk show in the summer of 1993 at the Bates College radio station, WRBC. I ended up getting my job at the newspaper after it ran a story about my radio show being a hit with the kids in my high school. The station manager wanted WRBC to run year-round, so in the summer months when only about 15% of students were on campus taking classes, they opened it up to the public and I seized the opportunity. They allowed me to continue through the school year.

Instead of being a talk show host, I went down the road of the written word, which has done well by me. With the exception of a few months here or there, I’ve consistently made my living as a writer or editor since I took a job in the sports department of the local newspaper about six months after the radio show started.

Fast-forward 25 years. One of the very first interview shows I went on as a guest after my initial book came out was The Virtual Couch with Tony Overbay. I found it in a list of mental health podcasts and wrote to Tony seeing if he wanted a guest to talk about pornography addiction. I was scared to death to talk about my story, but knew I’d have to be vulnerable to promote my book. I was still feeling my way through my new world and was still processing what had happened to me over the last several years.

Tony could not have been more non-judgmental, welcoming and ultimately made me feel like mine was an important story to tell. Not every podcast has been like that, and if I had found one of the more confrontational hosts, or one of the hosts who doesn’t care what I’m talking about, I’m not sure that I would still be doing this. I need encouragement in the early stages of a project, and then can deal with later slings and arrows. Start with negativity and I bail out quickly.

When the brainstorm hit me to write a second book with a therapist, I had a short list of about four I wanted to approach, all who had interviewed me. Tony was the top of that list and while he understandably hedged a bit, calculating the time commitment it would take, he welcomed the opportunity and our professional relationship changed, but we also began building a personal one.

I think one of the things that works with our relationship is that we defer to each other’s strengths, which is why our book has been well-received. I’m not a therapist and he’s not a recovering addict and we don’t try to play each other’s parts. Conversely, I don’t live on the west coast, am married to my high school sweetheart, have four kids, am very spiritual, understand anything about computers or enjoy running. Tony isn’t an east coaster with two decades of professional writing experience, an ex-convict or former politician. However, we’ve both operated businesses we lost passion for, made poor decisions for security-blanket purposes, and like to have our hand in many projects at one time. We have similar personalities with very different life experience and it compliments each other.

We also are immersed in the world of podcasts in very different ways. Tony has been hosting the Virtual Couch for nearly three years and until today, published 199 episodes, almost all interviewing people in various aspects of mental health. He constantly has to produce different and interesting ideas. I don’t know how he manages the consistent quality output, but he deserves the tens of thousands of hits he’s getting. I, on the other hand, have been on around 150 podcasts since I first visited Tony on Episode 27, and it’s rare when I get a question that I haven’t answered before. Instead of telling the same growing audience different things, like Tony does, I’m telling different audiences the same thing most of the time and never know if 20 or 20,000 will get the message.

For his 200th episode, I pitched the idea of him being a guest on his own show and letting me interview him. We spend 20 minutes talking about the evolution of his podcast, the next 25 minutes talking about his personal journey in life and the last 15 minutes is reserved for the rapid-fire question round. I had a great time playing a different role and it’s made me think that at some point, I may enjoy having a podcast and it doesn’t have to be about pornography addiction. And as a guest, Tony was terrific, holding nothing back. If you have some time, check this out:

We All Make Mistakes. Some Are Just Bigger Than Others. I Can Relate.

You probably don’t remember what was on cable news the day before Coronavirus went around-the-clock. Same goes for 9/11, but it’s easy to understand how once the terrorist attacks took place, whatever was on CNN disappeared and was forgotten.

Arguably the biggest story in the world of justice on 9/10 was the first day of the trial for many people involved in the rigging of the McDonald’s Monopoly Millions Sweepstakes.

The what?

As it turned out, between 1989 and 2001, while McDonald’s customers were saving game pieces from the French fry boxes and drink cups hoping to match them up and win a prize, almost every major winning game piece was sold by a small group of people with access to the winning tickets. The FBI estimated that more than $24 million in prizes were diverted to this criminal conspiracy.

Then the planes hit the buildings and people largely forgot about the trial.

I don’t recall if I heard anything about this story when it was happening. In 2001, I was in my first big-deal lead editor job at a newspaper, which for a man-child of 24 with no college degree was impressive and rare. I was also living on my own, recently out of a long-term relationship, and was at a point in my life when I partied much too often, much too hard. When the owner of the company sent us home around noon on 9/11, I spent the next four days in front of the TV doing very little other than smoking weed, drinking beer, looking at porn and sleeping. There were probably harder substances or prescription pills mixed in that I just don’t remember. It’s easy to understand why I may have missed that story. I missed most of the first half of my 20s.

I first read the entire story about the McDonald’s game rigging in a magazine a few years ago. I remember it was convoluted to read because of how many people were involved, and the fact that the two guys most responsible were both named Jerry. But it was a crazy story because it was not a story of organized crime by well-connected mobsters. There may have been an element of that here or there, but it was mostly regular people in varying circumstances justifying getting themselves involved in a scam unlike any other in history.

The entire story, from its genesis to where people are today, was recently chronicled in the excellent HBO documentary series McMillions. If you have HBO, or you cable system is giving limited access to HBO during the pandemic, as many are, I urge you to watch this series. Unlike Tiger King, which was entertaining in a car-crash way, this is actually a well-told story with a beginning, middle and end. Sure, like any six-hour documentary, it drags in places, but I believe the final episode is one of the best hours of TV I’ve seen in years.

While I was convicted of a very different crime that was all of my doing, I drew many parallels to the situations of many of those who were part of the scam as depicted in McMillions, both as they were participating in and how they now look back on the ordeal years later.

There’s the single mother who always had trouble making ends meet or the LDS foster father who wanted to give his foster son a leg-up in life. There’s the crazy wife of the one guy in organized crime too scared to leave or disobey him and his oblivious flight attendant mistress who was just along for the ride. The show is rife with characters who are concurrently deeply flawed, yet sympathetic; smart and cunning, yet dim-witted and convincible.

I’ll try not to provide too many spoilers, but it’s my guess that most people watching will say that, depending on how the participant was presented in the documentary, the justice system was either too lenient or too harsh in its sentencing.

I heard a lot of that after I was sentenced, when my book came out and when I first started sharing my story on podcasts. For unintentionally, yet negligently engaging with a teenage girl in an online chatroom in 2013, encouraging her to behave sexually and taking two screen captures, I served six months in jail and three years of probation. I obviously never wanted anything like that to happen in my life, but I caused the entire thing to go down. While my mind was clouded by addiction, it’s not any excuse for my heinous behavior. I just was not of a mindset where I saw it happening to me in real time, nor one where common sense overrode my poor choices. All of these years later, I bet I still actively regret my decision a minimum of five times a day. It stays that front-of-mind, always.

There were people who openly called for decades-long sentencing for my transgressions and others who thought I shouldn’t have served a day based on my clean history, mental illness at the time and rehabilitation prior to sentencing.

What is the proper sentence for someone who convinces a teenage girl to expose herself online and takes a picture of it? There was no physical contact and I couldn’t actually make her do anything she didn’t want, right? But I was also taking advantage of a situation and manipulating it with depraved indifference against someone who was still a minor, right?

McMillions shows that even when people are doing the wrong thing, how they should be dealt with is not always a matter of black-and-white. If the “ringleader” gives a million-dollar winning game piece to his friend that will help pay for healthcare he wouldn’t otherwise receive and that friend cashes in the ticket with a phony story, is he any better than the former drug dealer who is given a winning ticket by the same ringleader, and is going to tell a similar story, yet spend his winnings on a yacht? What about if the ringleader sends a million-dollar winner to St. Jude Children’s Hospital? That actually happened.

I understand both sides of these kinds of debates. Instead of wading into the debate whether I got a lenient or tough sentence, I accepted it and tried never to question it too deeply. The judge decided what was proper, and radical acceptance was the fastest way to deal with it. I see both sides of the debate. You cannot get away with what I did, but did six months in jail teach me anything three months, or two weeks, wouldn’t have? Those questions can never be answered, so why waste energy asking? Because it makes for an interesting debate, I guess.

The most important theme for me in McMillions, though, was forgiveness and understanding. No matter how you feel about my ultimate punishment, I think we can all agree I made a mistake worse than most people ever will. Ignoring my professional life and the fallout there, my mistake was the kind of thing that echoes throughout relationships with family and friends, causing them to face introspection over what I did. Many friends dropped me and will never give me the chance to prove I’ve changed. Some family members are just starting to talk to me after 6-7 years and some still won’t. It’s nothing I can control, but it certainly is a situation I created, not them.

My transgressions caused a world of embarrassment and shame for my close relatives. My daughter had to switch schools. My wife was released from her job under BS circumstances. Emotionally, those close to me felt a lot of heartache seeing me in such dire straits, not knowing my legal fate. I’m sure it caused anger, pity and scorn that they hid well. My crimes, and the attention brought to them because of my community stature at the time, rocked a lot of people’s worlds. I didn’t really care what happened to me through most of it. I cared about what happened to all of the people who didn’t deserve the pain and inconvenience my horrible decision making caused because I knew none of them would ever do that kind of thing to hurt me.

When I was going through the legal process, I met many officials who I could tell thought I was just a piece of shit, didn’t give me a second thought and saw the world in black-and-white. I was a statistic, a charge on the docket or just another inmate. These are the kind of people who have helped make this world so divided. They refuse to see nuance in situations that deserve it. Thankfully, I also met a lot of deeply decent human beings in both the justice and law enforcement side of things. They understood I made a horribly rotten choice, but it didn’t make me a horribly rotten person. I just made a mistake I’d have to pay for, but it was not a reason to condemn me for life. It’s telling when a stranger working to prosecute you knows this, but someone close to you refuses.

Understandably, the web of people – dozens and dozens – who were involved in the McDonald’s Monopoly game scandal, saw many fractured friendships and relationships, but one of the final montages in the documentary showed that nearly two decades later, many bonds can be mended… some can even be forged. The lead federal prosecutor is now good friends with the first person to ever cash in a game piece, the stepbrother of the ringleader. That made me smile.

Speaking of the ringleader, he understandably got the longest sentence, and predictably, some thought it was appropriate and some thought it was far too short. He refused to participate in the documentary and is now living out his remaining years (he’d be around 80 now) with his seventh wife in Florida.

They show the horrible fallout of his choices. Companies went under. Many people lost their jobs and reputations who did nothing wrong. His lapse in judgment hurt so many people.

I thought about if he should have got more time and I thought about if he should have participated in the documentary as he is clearly the antagonist, but I respect the fact he did his time, has not reoffended and wishes to be left alone. It’s his right.

I’m guessing I enjoyed that last episode the most because it’s where I find myself now and where I’ll be the rest of my life: trying to live with a choice that hurt people both close to me and who I will never know, having to live with the consequences, fallout and limitations created by that choice and still trying to believe things can be better than they were before any of this happened. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s never black-and-white. Nothing ever is.




Sorry Parents, You Can’t Porn-Proof Your Kids in 2020

My parents raised me to think that one sip of beer would lead me, minutes later, to the destitute life of a wino, laying in the gutter, hiccupping while holding a bottle like an alcoholic cat out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I was also told smoking cigarettes was gross and would give me almost immediate lung cancer. Marijuana would kill me. Pornography would turn me into a Peeping Tom pervert before the day was done and gambling was something only done by degenerate mobsters. Needless to say, I tried them all.

Once I recognized that one of their dire warnings was little more than hyperbole, I recognized all of their dire warnings were BS. It took me a while to become an alcoholic and I was always “functional.” Cigarettes and marijuana were used for years, and I quit both on my own. I still will occasionally visit a casino, but don’t think I’ve ever lost more than $50 in an evening. Losing more isn’t fun. And even with pornography, I never found myself hiding in anyone’s bushes or drilling holes in the wall of the girl’s locker room.

The message I got from my parents was ultimately, “None of this stuff is as bad as we said it was.” I know it’s not the message they want to send.

I appreciate all of the parents out there who want to stem the flow of pornography into their children’s lives. Whether it’s putting parental controls on the cable box, filtering programs on their computers or content blockers on their cell phones, their heart is in the right place – just like my parents’ hearts were.

My mother would lose it if HBO was on and a breast or a bare buttock came across the screen when I was a kid. We immediately had to change the channel, even if it was only something like the movie version of Romeo and Juliet from 1968 which they played all the time when I was a kid and had about two seconds of nudity. I could watch a show with all the swearing or violence I wanted, but the moment there was more skin than you could see at the beach, that show was over for me.

I don’t remember if she had any justification for it. I think it was mostly along the lines of, “Change the channel because I said so, I don’t want you seeing that kind of stuff.” For an inquisitive little kid like me, “Why don’t you want me to see that stuff?” is the question that swims in my head, but was smart enough not to ask. Her overreaction was curious. Clearly she didn’t want me to see any of that stuff.

But, around 11, my cousin showed me my first hardcore pornography magazines. At 13, a friend I met in middle school would invite me over to his dad’s house on weekends where the Playboy Channel was part of the cable package. At 14, I found a video store that would rent me porn.

What did all of these things have in common? My mom wasn’t aware of any of it. She still hasn’t read my first book, so I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t know about any of it.

She couldn’t porn-proof me and nothing has changed in 35 years. You can’t porn-proof your kids. You can remove every device in your home where the image of genitals could ever appear and all you’ve done is take care of one home in your neighborhood. Unless you’re living in a Little House on the Prairie world, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. A drop is better than nothing? Are you trying to convince me or you? I believe porn blockers are more for parents to give themselves peace of mind they are protecting their children more than anything else.

The average age a boy sees hardcore pornography these days is between 8 and 10. The average age a child gets a cell phone is 11. Let’s say that you buck the trend and your son doesn’t see porn between 8 and 10 and at 11, you gift him with one of those specialty phones like Gabb Wireless that keeps things like the Internet and photo texts off their device. Do you think every child your son interacts with has parents doing the same thing with their child?

My friend’s dad had no idea we were watching the Playmate of the Year Video Calendar for 1989 late at night on the TV in the basement. I’ve got to imagine they’re still making the same kind of content. And that doesn’t even begin to address the world of desktop, laptop and tablet computers. I have a feeling that before “Brush Your Teeth” to the end the night, the three words a teenage boy remembers most are “Clear Browser History.”

You can’t porn-proof your child and I’m not sure you should even try. What you need to do is talk to them about pornography. In a very age-appropriate manner, you need to tell them when they’re young that, like cigarettes or alcohol, pornography is something for adults and they aren’t to touch it. If they find any, or stumble upon it on their phone or computer, you won’t be mad at them and if a friend shows them, you just want to know about it. As they get older, you can get into more nuances of “that’s not depicting love or what sex is really like” and even a little older, especially for boys, you can talk about things like Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction.

I understand you love your kids and I understand you want to protect them, but shielding them instead of preparing them is not the best tactic, I am proof of that.