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Overcoming Porn Addiction: Stumbled in at 11, Struggled out at 14

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Tom now shares his story – which ends with him weaning himself off porn at the ripe old age of 14 and finding joy in life again – with groups of parents.

He says he first started looking at it “as a curious child who had just begun puberty”.

“I was looking around on the internet and easily stumbled across pornography. I felt strange and, honestly, just guilty the first time I saw some, but I kept bingeing over the next few months. Just after my 12th birthday, I masturbated to porn for the first time and it sparked an addiction.”

He was watching it every day and he wasn’t alone. Tom says porn was rife at his high school and he heard from friends at two nearby schools that it was just as bad.

“I would see pornography at lunchtime, on other people’s laptops. I would see videos that were spread around my school of underage sex, like of 12-year-olds. It was just this hyper-sexualised society and culture at the school.”

And the way his peers spoke about girls wasn’t any better. “It was disgusting, they treated them as though all they were good for was cooking and washing dishes.”

Tom knew what he was doing wasn’t good for him.

“I really hated the way it would always make me feel. I’d search on the internet to see if it was bad for you or not. I couldn’t have deep connections with anyone. I viewed women as just objects, essentially. It was hard to have any connection or conversation. I had no goals, I just did not care about life at all.”

A quarter of young people who see porn will see it at aged 12 or younger, with earlier exposure for boys, according to figures provided by The Light Project, a charitable trust run by sexual health experts to help youth, families and schools.

Tom now shares his experience with parents. Photo / Mike Scott
Tom now shares his experience with several parents. Photo / Mike Scott

Seventy-five per cent of Kiwi boys aged 14 to 17 have been exposed to it and 58 per cent of girls. For 71 per cent, the first exposure was by accident and 44 per cent were not on a porn site when they came across it.

The Turning Point

Tom eventually came across an online community forum, supporting people who want to give up pornography and masturbation.

“I began to get immersed into this organisation of people. It took quite a while for me to make any progress with it because of how badly I was addicted.”

He stumbled across a video about the neuroscience of abstaining from masturbation and pornography, which “changed my whole perspective”.

“After learning about how it affects the brain and how it affects someone’s life who is addicted, it just changed my whole perspective… with that information, it helped me never masturbate again and never watch pornography again.”

The eloquent teen talks about how excessive amounts of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure) affects a person’s wellbeing, increasing the likelihood of depression and drive to do anything. He says he has seen peers who were addicted to pornography go on to have other addictions, for example to drugs.

Tom eventually “dropped into a conversation” with his mother about the online community he had joined and slowly she unravelled the extent of his addiction.

“As a parent, you think that’s what teenagers do,” Sarah says. “They shut themselves away in their room because they want their privacy, You assume that’s normal.”

She was shocked to discover the kinds of things her son was looking at. “I had to say to my son, ‘No, girls don’t like that. Girls don’t want to be in pain when they have sex.”

“I worked really hard to have a good relationship with my kids so they want to talk to me about these things. I feel really honoured that he trusts me with these delicate, uncomfortable conversations.”

A totally different person

Tom says he’s now been “sober from porn” for over 400 days. He never went back to school after lockdown and is studying NCEA level 3 maths and physics via correspondence. He is passionate about nutrition, cooking and weight training and excited for his future.

“I’m a totally different person to who I was back then.”

Once everything was out in the open, the mother and son spoke about what they could do to combat the “terrible ideas about what a relationship is” among teenagers. They decided to invite a group of Sarah’s friends over.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, I thought I was a parent who communicated quite well. My son went through that and it never occurred to me once to have a conversation about porn’,” Sarah says. “So I got some brave people together to come and listen to my son so that they would go away and have those brave conversations with their kids.

“Often we hear from these researchers and adults about what’s best… but to hear a 15-year-old boy talk is like, ‘Woah’. It’s so much more powerful. Some of the stuff he said I had never heard before.”

Tom says it was scary opening up, but ultimately it felt good.

Sarah says one friend who has daughters was reluctant to come, thinking girls weren’t affected by porn. But mums need to understand girls are looking at it too and their relationships are affected by what boys are looking at, she says.

Sex therapist: ‘It’s normalised’

Jo Robertson, a sex and relationship therapist at The Light Project, says she’s not surprised someone as young as 11 had been exposed to and impacted by porn.

“Porn is accessible, anonymous, affordable, and watching it is now normalised among young people. The porn industry is unregulated and actively markets porn content to children through games, streaming shows, social media etc.”

Porn teaches children and teens problematic ideas about sex and relationships, she says.

“The content they will most likely see is often aggressive and degrading. It can teach them that consent is not that important or that it’s okay to just ignore someone’s ‘no’ during sex. Adults have a higher level of critical thinking and have some real-life sexual experiences that expose porn as fake and hyper-sensationalized.”

Eighty-nine per cent of teenagers say they know porn is influencing them, with 72 per cent saying they have felt uncomfortable about something they’ve seen, Robertson says. Forty-two per cent of frequent users say they would like to spend less time looking at it but find it hard not to.

Robertson encourages parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their children.

“A few of the key things are to ask them questions before jumping into lecture mode, be unshockable, give them a non-judgmental space to ask questions, and remind them you are safe to talk to.”

If teenagers want to reduce their porn use they can put filters on their devices, have more device-free time, and identify when they are triggered into viewing it (like when tired or stressed) so other coping strategies can be developed for those emotions.

School counsellors should also be on hand, as they are needed.

Tom also believes that upbringing has a lot to do with it. One teenager he knows sings a song about porn with his father.

“When you’ve got a dad who encourages crap like that it’s no wonder kids turn out like that,” Sarah says.

“I’m grateful I’ve got a son who doesn’t think he has to be tough and a typical macho man, he can actually express all his emotions and not be ashamed to do that in this home.”

Signs that porn may have become a problem

• You feel you have to watch more and more to be satisfied.

• You feel agitated or stressed when you’re unable to watch it.

• You’ve tried to stop watching it but haven’t been able to.

• You need to watch increasingly violent and extreme porn to get aroused.

• You think about it a lot and miss it when you don’t watch it for a while.

• You neglect other activities as a result of watching porn.

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