As a therapist I’ve been seeing more and more clients whose lives have been impacted by an obsession with internet pornography. I’ve seen clients who sit for up to 8 hours at a time in front of the computer screen, viewing porn, and I’ve seen clients whose partners have become distant and alienated because of their addiction to internet porn. So I was very interested to read this book, Porn Nation: Conquering America’s #1 Addiction by Michael Leahy, and to see if it might be useful in helping clients deal with this very real problem.
Porn Nation is a strange hybrid of a book. It’s part memoir, in which Leahy tells how his addiction to internet porn escalated into other behaviors and eventually destroyed his marriage. And it’s also part self-help guide, with some very useful information about recognizing the progression of pornography obsession and breaking the cycle of addiction. But it’s also part diatribe about the evils of our “sex-saturated society” – not too surprising, given that the book’s publisher, Northfield, is associated with the fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute.
I respect the author of Porn Nation, Michael Leahy, for his openness and candor in telling the story of his own struggle with internet pornography. He pulls no punches and leaves out no embarrassing detail, from his first accidental masturbation experience to his increasing obsession with pornography – and on to engaging in “peeping tom” behavior, cheating on his wife, and eventually alienating his family and divorcing his wife. He talks candidly about the pain he caused his wife and children, and even includes excerpts from his ex-wife’s journal (presumably with her permission) about how deeply she was wounded by his behavior.
Leahy also writes honestly about the long road to recovery from his addiction. The answer he found was in a “faith-based” (code for evangelical Christian) support group that defined healthy sexuality as only existing within the context of monogamous heterosexual marriage. That worked just fine for Leahy, but it’s no solution at all for those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender – or unwilling to buy into an evangelical Christian worldview that views sex as basically evil.
That view of sex comes through most tellingly when Leahy writes about the progression of sex addiction and introduces “a new term – sexual compulsivity syndrome, or ‘Sex Syndrome’ for short” (page 138). He goes on to equate ‘sexual compulsivity’ with ‘sex’ itself, in a very important section of his book. This is more than just a matter of semantics. Words matter. Leahy’s words reveal the anti-sex bias inherent in the evangelical Christian worldview. (To be fair, that anti-sex bias can be found in every other world religion as well.)
I do not believe pornography or erotica itself, as long as it is without coercion and between consenting adults, is inherently bad (although it can definitely be misused, or used compulsively, by some). I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU who still believes in the First Amendment. So I’m sure Leahy would lump me in with the “academicians and sex workers alike [who] will defend their conviction that there isn’t enough wide-open sexuality yet to liberate our repressive society” (page 113). Leahy goes on to dismiss that caricaturized view without serious consideration. He goes on at length to lament our “sex-saturated society,” mentioning, at one point, one of my favorite TV shows, Sex and the City.
But even though Leahy misguidedly equates “sexual compulsivity” with sex itself in his discussion of “Sex Syndrome,” I believe the syndrome he describes is an accurate portrayal of what many sex addicts go through. As a therapist, I appreciate Leahy’s emphasis on the need for total honesty, accepting responsibility, and confronting the core beliefs underlying sex addiction. And I appreciate his lengthy references to Dr. Patrick Carnes, a well-respected expert who has outlined the indicators of sexual addiction (discussed in detail in Chapter 12 of Porn Nation, “Am I a Sex Addict?”).
So would I recommend Porn Nation? Yes, but only to a very limited clientele:
1. Those who already hold to the evangelical Christian worldview and who need help understanding sex addiction, either for themselves or their loved ones;
2. Those who want to read a compelling personal account of one man’s struggle with – and recovery from – an obsession with internet pornography.
For everyone else who is struggling with this issue, there are better alternatives available.
(By the way, Sex and the City: The Movie was absolutely fabulous – it was like an extended episode of the series, with its main theme being the importance of forgiveness. Very enjoyable.)