A few weeks into his senior year, Matthew was sitting in his room staring at an AP statistics book. The test was tomorrow, but he had no motivation to study. He pushed it aside and went to get a snack.
An hour later Matthew trudged up the stairs, vowing to study. He got sidetracked texting a friend and listening to music and an hour later he still hadn’t cracked the book.
After dinner he watched some television, loaded the dishwasher and texted a few more friends. In the back of his head, the stress was building, throbbing like a toothache. Finally around midnight, the stress was unbearable.
But instead of studying, he flopped onto his bed, grabbed his phone and typed in an X-rated porn site. That night, instead of the usual 2 or 3 hours of viewing, he watched video after video.
For seven hours straight he watched Videos
Matthew — who is now 20 and has allowed the Deseret News to follow him through his struggle with pornography for the last several years under the condition he not be identified by his real name — is part of a group that many therapists believe is growing: adolescents who see themselves as addicted to pornography, often unable to function normally due to an obsession with sexual images on the Internet. Yet, there’s increasing concern among these same therapists, mental health and medical experts that labeling teens as porn addicts could become more problematic than the porn use itself as it creates an added burden of shame and self-loathing over something that began from and is intertwined with normal biological curiosity.
A 16-year-old given in to self-stimulation from viewing too much to porn, "statistically the odds are much in his favor to find out that this is a maladaptive coping strategy," says Adi Jaffe, executive director of Alternatives Behavioral Health LLC. in California. "And once that's resolved, (porn) doesn't need to be that much of an issue anymore — it may even be a non-issue."
Jaffe knows it's much tougher for teens today, with their immediate access to images through multiple devices unavailable 10 or 15 years ago, yet he and other experts believe that helping teens identify underlying stressors, learn healthier coping mechanisms and recognize healthy relationships may curb porn use faster than attacking the porn itself.
Matthew says that approach could have backfired when he first sought help. He knows now, thanks to several years of ongoing therapy, that self-introspection into underlying issues is the best long-term approach. But at first, he needed help dealing with the porn itself, and wants therapists to acknowledge the extent to which many teens grapple with these images.
“If anyone had tried to call (my struggle) anything other than addiction, it would have irritated me,” Matthew said. “Honestly, it’s like downplaying the issue. A person who’s trying to fight it is doing better than a person who doesn’t consider himself addicted. I feel like there’s a line crossed when someone stops considering it an addiction and is OK with it being a part of their life.”
The silent struggle
Over the last two years, Fight the New Drug, a nonprofit anti-pornography group, has received nearly 20,000 essays from teens and young adults, male and female, pleading for help in combating their pornography problems.
“I feel alone, and when I feel alone, I decide to watch porn to help me deal with it,” wrote one 18-year-old girl. “I have tried to stop by myself, but obviously it's not helping. I don't have any money, and I'm too embarrassed to tell my parents. So now, I feel stuck. I'm getting depressed, to the point I want to end my life.”
This article was first published in the Desert News by Sara Israelsen-Hartley