This Guy Writing About Porn Addiction Doesn't Have a Clue

This Guy Writing About Porn Addiction Doesn’t Have a Clue

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porn addiction doesn't have a clue

This post was originally published on February 10, 2015.

In today’s edition of I just can’t, some guy named Jonathan Van Maren wrote an article called “Middle Aged. Happily Married. Christian. And he sobbed as he told me of his porn addiction.” The article is about how porn is poisoning individuals and destroying families, or something like this.

Funnily enough, the way Van Maren talks about how he feels when he thinks of porn addiction is the same way I feel after reading articles like this. As a former sex worker in recovery for sex addiction, I find articles like Van Maren’s difficult to read.

Takes One To Know One

Just last week I wrote about sex work and sex addiction for The Frisky. I talked about my own experiences selling sex on Craigslist and how, for me, sex work was less about work and more a matter of compulsion. I wrote about hypersexuality and its effects in ways similar to the self-identified sex addicts that Van Maren’s article quotes. I recognize how my compulsive behaviors rewired my brain, just like Van Maren describes, until I was—as he says—“incapable of enjoying many of the simple joys of family life.”

To be sure, sex addiction is a real problem. And the sex industry and sex addiction can sometimes be linked. In both cases, providers as well as consumers can suffer from sex addiction. However, not all individuals involved in the sex industry (on either side) are sex addicts. The circumstances that compel women to sell sex vary—as do the reasons, I imagine, that men look at porn.

Van Maren doesn’t seem to get this. The article starts with the moment when, sitting with a man who struggled with a decade-long porn addiction, the author first realizes “just how pervasive the porn plague is.”

“How many fathers feel distant from their children because they are watching girls the same age as their daughters do horrifying and degrading things and have those things done to them?” he writes.

There’s a lot to unpack in this statement. For the sake of fairness, let’s start with what Van Maren is getting right: sexual compulsivity is an issue that has to do with intimacy. Absolutely. A sex addict’s conduct and the feelings that result from it isolate and separate them from their loved ones. I’ve been on both sides.

A Family Affair

My father was a consumer of porn, and probably a sex addict. One of my earliest memories is sneaking out of bed one night and peeking into the living room, where my father was secretively watching porn. A part of this memory is the memory of confiding in my mom what had happened. Witnessing her jealousy, shame and feelings of inadequacy is a part of living in a family system affected by sexual compulsivity. I was fearful of my father, and felt—as I intuited my mother felt—in subtle competition with my young friends for my father’s sexual attention.

The idea that porn distances a parent from their child is, in some circumstances, absolutely correct. Sex addiction impacts not just the individual but the whole family—and these effects can be devastating. I know firsthand.

But to assume that this “rewiring” is happening in the heads of every single person looking at porn is an unwarranted extrapolation. What’s more, the assumption that all families are devastated by pornography and sex addiction in the way that mine was simply because porn enters the home invalidates the truth of my experience.

Quit Mislabeling Sex Work

Let’s not forget to mention Van Maren’s description of a sex worker’s performance as “horrifying and degrading.” Though my becoming a sex worker was, in part, a misguided effort to make sense of my sexuality, no one watching my performance could have known anything was wrong. When I worked as a stripper, there was nothing “horrifying” about my stage show! In spite of the complicated reasons I was up there, I looked beautiful. My body was banging, and I really loved to dance.

It’s offensive when people like Van Maren presume our work is necessarily degrading. But then, Van Maren’s not really concerned with my feelings. This is evidenced in the very next paragraph, when he ventures to presume how “real” women must feel having to compete with sex workers. As if “real” women” and sex workers are two mutually exclusive categories. I am not a real woman to Van Maren and other anti-porn activists. Rather, I am only my body and what he sees when he looks. Of his own childhood, and growing up in a porn-free home, Van Maren says that he spent his time reading books and playing outdoors, “hiding in a culvert catching frogs, playing with our family dog, making half-finished tree forts, [and]hatching elaborate scenarios to play out with my siblings.” Uh, yeah, asshole, me, too.

Of course, Van Maren’s work is not about me. Instead, he’s using the stories of people like me—individuals suffering or in recovery from sexual compulsivity—to push his own anti-porn agenda. Throughout the article, Van Maren suggests he finds sex disgusting and insinuates that a woman’s body is inherently offensive. More than once he describes himself as feeling shocked, disgusted and sickened by sex. He describes pornography as images that are “scarring” and “perverse,” which really makes me wonder what kind of porn he’s been looking at.

An Unqualified Opinion

The reality of the sex industry, including the porn industry, is so much broader than what Van Maren imagines, and sex workers, even those of us with negative experiences—including those of us affected by sexual compulsion—would be myopic to take such a condemning view. Van Maren, with seemingly no experience whatsoever, takes whatever view he wants.

When I think back on my life as an active addict, and as the daughter of a sex addict, I would be disingenuous to describe it as all bad—and it would be harmful to advocate for the abolishment of the industry. The way I see it, sex addiction is a lot like alcoholism. For lots of people, there’s nothing wrong with having a drink. For others, there’s nothing wrong with watching (or making) porn. An act doesn’t an addict make.

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About Author

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in New York City. She has written for NY Magazine, The Guardian, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, xoJane, The Fix and elsewhere. She is the founder of Becoming Writers, a community organization that provides free and low cost memoir-writing workshops to new writers of all backgrounds and experiences.