We here at PornHelp feel some ambivalence toward celebrities who publicly struggle with sexual addiction, porn-related or otherwise. On one hand, we empathize with anyone who has faced the abyss of out of control sexual behavior, and applaud those brave enough to shine a light on that frequently misunderstood condition. On the other hand, public declarations of sexual addiction by celebrities often sensationalize the problem, and seem calculated to sell magazines and to increase reality TV viewership rather than raise genuine awareness.
For better or worse, we’ve developed a shorthand for toggling between these conflicting inclinations. We call it the “US Weekly Rule.” It goes like this: if the first place we hear about a celebrity’s struggle with sexual addiction is in US Weekly (or a similar publication), our instinct is to doubt that it’s legit.
Here’s where we’re coming from. Addictions involving out of control sexual behaviors thrive on isolation, secrecy and shame. They often ruin lives quietly, and become public knowledge only when some cataclysm forces them into the open. Sexual addictions don’t discriminate. They afflict young and old, men and women, famous and ordinary, gay and straight. They involve unwanted, frequently compulsive behaviors that defy repeated attempts to stop. They inflict terrible consequences on psyches, relationships, and careers. In short, sexual addictions are nothing to celebrate, for anyone.
When a celebrity genuinely struggles with sexual addiction, the problem may play out in public as an inexplicable downward spiral. Though the decline itself might be tabloid fodder, the label “sexual addiction” tends not to surface right away, and is rarely offered by the celebrity himself in the moment as an explanation for what’s going on. Think of Tiger Woods, for instance, whose contrite admission of serial infidelity and sexual acting out only followed a year-long slide culminating in a car wreck. In other words, like “ordinary” sex/porn addicts, the “addiction” label usually gets applied to these celebrities only once their desperate misery or efforts at recovery come to light. Their stories make us sad as any tragedy does, but we also can’t help but feel hopeful that their telling may lead to a better public understanding of how powerful and vexing sexual addictions and related disorders can be.
Those tragic stories differ, in our eyes, from the significantly less sympathetic tales of "sex addiction" that too often grace the covers of gossip magazines. In the typical version, a celebrity is found to have cheated on his or her (typically celebrity) spouse/partner, and directly or through a publicist offers “sexual addiction” as an explanation (some may say “excuse”) for the transgression. The story breathlessly features a high-profile check-in at a rehab center. Photographs of mistresses and jilted lovers. Salacious tell-alls. The works. These stories make us roll our eyes, and invite us to indulge in a little schadenfreude.
The US Weekly Rule isn’t foolproof. That particular magazine may break legitimate news now and again, and we get that celebrities differ from the rest of us in how their lives get shared with the public. Ordinary folks don’t have reporters sniffing around our private lives for a scoop. Publicists or no publicists, Tiger’s reported battle with compulsive sexual behavior was bound to come out eventually because his downfall was just so precipitous and notable. But the guy wasn’t - and still isn’t, so far as we can tell - trying to sell that story for clicks or shout-outs.
Which is to say, the US Weekly Rule works as a general guideline because the notion of voluntarily breaking the news of a sex addiction in a gossip magazine seems, at best, highly suspicious. No recovery program we’re aware of requires, or even recommends, that a person publicly announce their struggle (certainly not until well into recovery and after serious reflection on the consequences of speaking out). Virtually no one who has endured the pain of a sexual addiction, celebrity or not, wants to offer up that agony for others’ consumption. The vast, vast majority of us are just trying to put it in the past and rebuild. And as for the few among us courageous enough to talk publicly about their sexual addiction in depth (thank you, Terry Crews), well, we see a big difference between them and tabloid speculation about affairs and betrayals.
So look, we know we’re whistling in the wind when we say this, but we sure do wish that people in the public eye would think twice before coopting the label “sex addict” to describe their every indiscretion. Because, the thing is, every false or opportunistic celebrity claim of sexual addiction cheapens and sensationalizes the struggle of people who really do suffer from out of control, compulsive sexual behaviors. And that’s the last thing those of us who’ll never appear in US Weekly need.
Broadly speaking, we see two conversations about porn happening in the world today. One of them - the one you most often read about in the news - is a large-scale conversation about how pornography production and consumption affect society writ large. This is the controversial conversation. The one that politicians and faith leaders get fired up about. The one that provokes dueling accusations of cultural decline and “moral panic”. The one that that can get a little exhausting.
Then there’s the second conversation. You hear less about this one because for the most part it’s not happening in the open. It’s a conversation individuals are having with themselves about whether and how their own porn use conforms with their self-perception and personal needs. People having this conversation rarely speak it aloud, except perhaps in prayer, or to a therapist, or in a close, trusting relationship. And yet, despite its relative obscurity, it's this second conversation that's becoming increasingly essential to our lives.
We like to think of the distinction between these two conversations as akin to the difference between political campaign talk and personal voting choice. Yes, one influences the other, but it’s only the latter that we treat as sacred and profound. One is about how others think they know us, the other is about how we know ourselves.
Like voting choice, our own internal conversations about our personal porn use habits can involve varying considerations of personal economics, emotion, morality, ethics, and aspiration. There isn’t likely to be a one-size-fits-all factor that decides how a person feels about their personal porn use any more than there’s a one-size-fits-all reason a person chooses one candidate over another. Indeed, research suggests that porn use may affect people in varying ways.
Some people, of course, experience an overwhelming compulsion to consume porn. When these people continue using despite negative consequences and repeated, failed attempts to stop, their behavior is (or closely mimics) an addiction. Depending on their degree of self awareness, these people tend to think on some level that using porn is either really good or really bad for them. Either way, their internal conversation about their personal porn consumption often dominates their thoughts. The key for them is to find help when they realize they need it, and that's why this web site exists.
But the others - the majority for whom porn use isn’t (at least, not yet) an all-consuming obsession - are different. Porn doesn’t occupy their every thought. And yet, porn can still shape their perceptions of personal sexuality, body image, spirituality, and gender roles, to name a few. These people may not have an ever-present shouting match about porn use going on in their heads, but they may yet ask themselves questions that shape their personal porn use habits. Questions like “Does porn affect expectations of what’s supposed to happen with my sexual partner?”, “Does porn influence how I perceive my own sexual attractiveness?”, “Am I ok with consuming porn if I don’t know or can't tell whether the performers have been exploited?”, and “Does my porn use reflect my values?”.
The big, loud, public conversation about porn covers these topics and many more, and yet, like a large-scale political campaign, it often lacks the subtlety and nuance that drive personal views about porn consumption. Yes, it may be true that “porn kills love” in some respects, but there are also couples who insist they have enhanced and strengthened their intimate, loving relationships by visiting PornTube together now and again. Conversely, yes, it may possible to consume only porn that’s produced “ethically,” with well-treated, well-compensated professional performers and safe working conditions, but the overwhelming bulk of pornography is not produced to such ethically observant standards, and at its worst involves abhorrent degradation and exploitation of the most vulnerable among us.
Finding a way through these competing generalities to an informed, nuanced personal perspective about porn use requires some sustained, quiet reflection. We view taking time for that reflection to be essential for every citizen of this digital world awash in porn. It's a duty no less profound than the duty to make an informed choice in a voting booth. Porn has become far too pervasive, far too dug-in to our lives, to leave solely to the talking heads in the public conversation. Each of us must develop an informed view of if, when, and how we consume porn, or risk leaving life-changing decisions about our and our intimate partners' sexual existence to the faceless online mob.
And so, we heartily encourage all of our readers - but particularly those for whom porn use is not presently an all-consuming obsession - to dedicate some time to their own internal conversations about personal porn use. We also encourage you to dip a toe or two into the loud, public debates about porn to help inform yourself, but to do so with the critical eye of a voter during a campaign. Check your sources. Be aware of agendas. Know yourself and what matters to you. And then, take time to focus during a quiet moment - a voting booth moment, if you will - to pinpoint exactly what questions you ask yourself about porn, and how the answers affect if and how you consume it.
Finally, if you want to break the prevailing silence on your own internal "voting booth conversation" about porn, we welcome you to share the questions you ask yourself, and the insights you gain from answering them, in the comments below.
Longer-form writing from the PornHelp team on current topics relating to problem porn use and recovery.