Whether during an interview or presentation, I’ve been asked dozens of times how we stop kids from getting hooked on porn. I’ve offered a rehearsed answer that sounded good, but in the back of my mind probably wouldn’t work. I didn’t know the answer. It wasn’t until I went back to being a kid in my mind that the solution became clear.
A Young Porn Addict in the Late ’80s
When I was 13 years old, about 30 years ago, the term “Internet” had not been coined yet, or if it had, it was only known by hardcore computer geeks who were inspired by Matthew Broderick in War Games. The Apple II computer in our house was useful for typing papers for my junior high school projects and playing games that didn’t quite measure up to our Atari.
The computer wasn’t an issue with my porn addiction, because there was no way to get it with a computer at that point. It had been a few years since my first exposure to explicit pornographic magazines and I took every chance I could to watch late-night HBO if something looked especially “adult”. You could spot those movies when not only did it have an R rating and an N for nudity, but also had SSC for Strong Sexual Content. That was like a beacon for what I wanted and I don’t hesitate to say at 13, I was already a pornography addict.
The world of porn opened up to me that year because for the first time, I was able to get a video rental card at the local independent video store. This was long before Blockbuster wiped everyone else out. You either rented videos at the Mom and Pop places, like this one, or your local supermarket.
I’d been going to this video store with my parents for a couple years and saw the sign that said you had to be 16 to rent videos. One day that year, I wanted to see a WWF wrestling video, so I took it off the new release shelf and brought it over. I said I didn’t have a card to rent videos there. They gave me one without even asking my age. I still remember my member number: 3660.
It didn’t take long before a wrestling video became a PG-13 movie, then R, then a softcore porn video. Then I got brave, and went to the back of the store where they had a small room cordoned off with a couple of saloon-style swinging doors. I actually went underneath so nobody would hear the creaking of the doors opening.
They had binders with pages of cut-out box covers. You’d find a box cover you liked, then find the correspondingly numbered video on a nearby shelf. I picked one out, mixed it in with the other non-porn video or two I was renting and walked to the check-out counter like I owned the place.
“3-6-6-0,” I told the lady standing there. Like one of the Stepford Wives, she mindlessly punched in the number, picked up each video and punched in their corresponding number.
“Due back Wednesday,” she said for the hundredth time that day.
I always wondered if they were actually breaking any laws doing that. The movie theater wouldn’t let me see an R-rated movie under 17, and most convenience stores wouldn’t sell porn to people under 18, but were those in-house rules or were they laws, like the state had over liquor or cigarette purchases?
This was a massive day in my life because it was the first day I had an endless supply of pornography. No more waiting for HBO movies. No more hoping to catch the Playboy Channel unscramble briefly. No more buying magazines. I could have as much porn as my wallet would allow.
Introduction of the Internet
It was another five or six years before the Internet made it into my house. The World Wide Web, “browsing” or “surfing the ‘Net” were still a couple years away from American lexicon. After writing an article about local online Bulletin Board Services for the local newspaper, I decided to take the plunge and buy a modem. They were faster than ever before and everything I read said that we’d all be talking to each other soon enough.
Sure, you could spend two days downloading a video clip, or 20 minutes downloading a single picture, but the Internet of that day was not conducive to porn.
It took a couple of years and getting a few million more people online, but the technology caught up. For whatever reason, pornography and pro wrestling are always on the cutting edge of what’s available. I’m sure there’s a heck of a college thesis in that. If you want to know the latest in technology, just see what the smut peddlers and the fake fighters are doing.
Very early on, it became quickly clear to me that the Internet would replace VHS tapes (or maybe it was DVDs by that point). Five or six years after I first heard the siren’s song of the modem going online, Google arrived, ready to deliver anything my mind could conjure.
I recall having conversations about the sudden influx of unfettered access to pornography into people’s lives. Just 10 years earlier, you had to make the walk-of-shame from the magazine rack or the back room of the video store, and that was if you could pass for being old enough, or in my case, find an establishment that valued the dollar over the moral purity of a 13-year-old boy.
Even then it was clear that I was going to be part of the last generation to have to do any actual work to look at pornography. I had to ride my bike to the video store, about two miles each way, play the whole cat-and-mouse game of trying to act older (though they never denied me) and mixing in a mainstream movie or two. I had to hide the porn from my parents and make sure they wouldn’t catch me watching it.
Even in 1998, it was clear the way people viewed porn would be forever changed and it didn’t take a genius to understand the Clear Browser History button would be a 13-year-old’s best friend. You could look at anything your heart desired and nobody would ever find out.
I couldn’t imagine having been a 13-year-old boy in the age of the Internet.
I wrongly hypothesized that viewing porn was going to become a mundane activity. I saw the danger of getting my hands on porn and the potential of being caught as part of the intrigue. I was wrong. Take away the danger and intrigue and you’ve still got naked people doing naked things. I now know that will always be enough to draw people in.
A Pathetic History of Porn Education
Nobody talked about porn as a bad (or good) thing when I was a kid. Nobody talked about it except far right-wing politicians or religious zealots who always seemed detached from reality. Stories of going blind or hairy palms were ludicrous, yet preached by these groups. It was almost cartoon-like with its idiocy.
There was a blip in the late 80s and early 90s with groups like the Parents Television Council or the Parents Music Resource Council gaining a little bit of ground – that’s back when explicit lyric advisories were placed on CDs and TV shows started being rated. But they also talked about the dangers of violence in video games and Satanic lyrics in music, so again, their zealotry eliminated any actual common sense they occasional brought to the table.
These days, I don’t see porn as being the taboo subject it was when I was growing up, but I also don’t think it’s seen in a negative light nearly like it was. I’m not sure this is a good thing.
I’m guessing these days (where the average kid first sees porn at 11) there is no sense of danger or doing the wrong thing that there was back in my day. There are no more gatekeepers beyond a parent trying to put a filter on a computer – but those are easily skirted by anybody over 9, either in age or IQ. There is an unending supply of porn flowing to children through the Internet on their computers, tablets and telephones.
I don’t think we can stop it. I think it’s a fool’s errand to try. Our government’s war on drugs has proven they don’t have the resources and on a First Amendment basis, as a journalist, I don’t like barring people’s right to freedom of speech or expression. Even if I find it reprehensible, I’ll still defend the right to say it or do it.
I don’t think pornography will ever end. It just evolves. If you look at the history of Penthouse Magazine over the last 20 years, you’ll see most have turned their back on the pornographic magazine industry. Playboy even ran an experiment through much of 2016 with eliminating nudity from the magazine. They went back to it after few people bought the magazine sans skin.
Eventually, in our lifetime, there will be no Playboy or Penthouse magazines. This is no more a victory for anti-porn groups than when early man stopped drawing dirty pictures on the walls of the cave. It’s an evolution, not an extinction.
Let’s Teach the Boys About PIED
These days, there’s a fairly new medical diagnosis affecting young men: Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED). I’ve spoken to several professionals who have explained it to me. Basically, these men can get erections and reach orgasm if they are looking at porn. However, if they are in a real life situation, they simply can’t finish, if they can get erect at all.
If you suffer from PIED, you could have a Victoria’s Secret model as a girlfriend, but unless you’ve got pornography playing in the background, you’re not going to be able to perform to completion. It doesn’t matter how sexy or how crazy she gets.
I may sound insane, but I think this is the way to get to the 12- or 14-year-old boys who are starting to look at porn on a regular basis – aren’t yet addicts – and haven’t started having sex with partners yet, to pay attention.
We can decry porn as immoral, we can cast the actors as victims or we can pretend none of this is happening – those techniques haven’t helped one bit.
One of the only thing these young guys want more than porn is an actual girlfriend. Despite spending a fair amount of time looking at porn, I always wanted a girlfriend more than I wanted a magazine or video. When I was in my mid-to-late teens and finally engaging in sexual behavior, I realized I was right…it was always better than porn. Like most addicts, I didn’t turn to porn as a surrogate for sex as an adult. When it came to crossing the finish line, I always preferred my wife to a video on the computer.
At the same time that we’re teaching kids about the evils of drugs, or teaching them the birds and the bees, it might be a good time to talk about pornography addiction. Understanding the harm of drug addiction is easy. Understanding the potential harm of gambling or food is a little tougher for a young mind, but not a huge leap. Understanding there is any harm in looking at pictures or videos of naked people probably doesn’t register because it doesn’t seem like there are consequences.
While it will likely feel awkward for the educators and everybody is going to laugh when it’s brought up, I think the best defense we have to slowing the ever-growing numbers of porn addicts (1-in-3 men under 30 believes they may be addicted according to 2016 stats) is to teach the cause-and-effect nature of pornography with the effect being PIED.
If you tell a bunch of 13-year-old boys that in the next several years, when they’re finally able to convince real-life girls to engage in sexual behavior with them that they’ll look like a fool because they won’t be able to function normally, I think we may be surprised just how effective that information can be.
We can back it up with plenty of science and there are no shortage of first-person stories out there. Let these 13-year-old boys know that if they watch too much porn they are likely to not be able to have sex and you’ll see a lot of 13-year-old boys take a different approach to porn.
Right now, our warnings are too abstract, too easy to ignore, or simply meritless. Show them that they may be stuck with porn, alone, for the rest of their life and I have a feeling the Clear Browser History button is used less.
I never tried hard drugs because of what they could do to me. People scared me into staying away with the facts. I think we can use the facts and make a dent in these ridiculous numbers of young porn addicts we face today.