I was ushered into pornography the way most young men are—in secret. I was working at a camp in Colorado after my freshman year of high school. Another guy, Brent from Dallas, was the one who showed me the magazine he found in the woods.
Even writing that particular word still seems secretive. Magazine. It’s something that contains things that are deceptively more easy to bury.
Also, like most men, I remember the feeling that those pictures gave me more than the images themselves. The pages contained the first fully-naked woman I ever saw, like being on a rollercoaster or driving a Porsche roadster, only a hundred times better. I felt my stomach drop and my heart race as I turned the pages as slowly as I could.
That feeling—that rush of energy, of dopamine, of blood—is something that has stayed with me for over twenty years because I never wanted it to end. And from 26 to 36-years-old, it has been the most consistent thing in my life by the widest of miles.
More than any woman I’ve been involved with.
More than the love of any man, woman, or child I can recall.
That drug has been something that I’ve chased more than any woman, gone to bed with more than any woman, slept with, even—excuse the phrasing—had sex with, more than the real thing.
And that’s where things get complicated quickly. Because even though I’ve admitted my addiction, even though I’ve taken steps toward ending it, and even though I’ve been in recovery for coming up on two years now, I’ll still choose to stay at home and touch myself to one on a computer screen rather than talk to one in reality.
Why? Let’s just say that the desire to see a woman naked on screen has made it extremely difficult for me to commit to one with her clothes on. Even more ironic, that desire—can we call it lust?—to see one undressed has made it impossible for me to undress myself in front of her.
I’m telling you, it’s that feeling of drinking fantasy down like wine. It’s knowing that you could watch for hours and not speak to her afterward. It’s knowing that you could get up, leave, and come back to her still offering her body to you. It’s knowing that no matter how much that pixelated beauty gives to you, you still don’t have to give anything back to her.
Nothing. Absolute zero. I didn’t have to give a fuck, I realized.
Only instead of not giving anything, I gave everything. To be precise, I gave it up. I gave up my time, money, and attention. I gave up my drive, focus, social skills, and the ability to be around people that cared about me. I even gave up—and this is something I’ll save for another time—my ability to maintain an erection at age 35 during the most sacred act we’ve got.
On paper, I made the loftiest of trades. To have porn, I gave up my life. To gain something unreal, I gave up the only real thing I had ever known.
I wish I could go back and tell that sixteen-year-old Stephen not to make that kind of trade. Or the 19-year-old or the 25-year-old or the 28-year-old or the 34-year-old.
I’d like to think that each one of them, with not even a little hesitation, would put the laptop down, collect himself, and go back out into the world.
The lie that pornography let me believe is one the biggest parts of my story and I so wish that it wasn’t.
I wish I’d had the courage to see through it earlier in life. I wish I’d never chosen to see a second naked woman.
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