As humans, we can be quick to make judgments, and these judgments are often based on how things appear at first glance.
Often, we do not pause to hear someone’s story and find out why they may have certain struggles or act in a particular way. If we did, we might understand that the cliché many of us have heard since childhood—you can’t judge a book by its cover—really does hold true.
When it comes to someone who has experienced the negative effects of porn in their life, it is so important not to write them off as “perverted,” “bad,” or “gross.” Everyone who experiences the negative effects of porn is a human being who has a unique story that deserves to be heard.
To be clear, we’re talking about the people who are struggling with porn and can’t seem to quit it for good yet, but we’re not justifying porn consumption.
Here’s the reality of early porn exposure: Based on available data, the likely age of a child’s first exposure to porn is around tween years. The majority of kids are exposed to porn by age 13, with some exposed as young as seven, according to a 2020 survey.
But no matter how young, these incidents aren’t isolated cases, and it’s not like early porn exposure only happens to a small slice of people—in fact, in the United States, it happens to almost everybody before they leave their teens. A nationally representative estimate of U.S. youths (ages 14 to 18) exposed to pornography: 84.4% of males and 57% of females.
Think back to what you were like when you were a tween. Maybe you loved skateboarding, or were involved in your Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, or spent your time playing computer games. No matter what your hobbies were, none of us were the epitome of maturity at that age–we were just kids, doing the things kids like to do.
Now imagine a kid that age being exposed to pornography. Not a healthy thing to see especially at such a young age, is it?
Accidental or unwanted exposure to porn
The fact is, many people who struggle with porn stumbled upon it by accident as kids, maybe through a pop-up on the computer, when they typed in the wrong web address, or through a porn bot on Instagram.
Do you know how often it is these days for the slightest error or most innocent Google search to lead kids to hardcore content? Kids are also sometimes exposed to porn unwillingly by their peers. Others have found a parent’s or older sibling’s stash of porn. At that age, kids generally do not have the maturity or knowledge to know what to do with that kind of content.
Take a few of the many other stories we’ve received from Fighters around the world:
“I saw my first pornographic image when I was nine… I didn’t want it and I didn’t search for it. It came in the form of a spam email and I saw a picture of a woman in her underwear. That was all. No nudity, just that. But at nine years old, I knew I had stumbled on something exciting. My young curiosity overcame me and I continued to try and find more of the same.” – P., now 29 years old.
“I was simply a naive kid who didn’t even understand sexual feelings yet and got hooked simply from a happenstance encounter with a book that depicted an inappropriate image.” – T., now 20 years old.
“My story seems somewhat cliche, but I was eight when I was first exposed to porn. My parents were not very computer-savvy, so it was easy for me to cover my tracks. I came from a good home with stable, loving parents, but we never talked about the harms of porn. I was struggling with it before I even knew what it was.” – A., now in his 20’s.
“Around the time I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mother—an emotionally abusive alcoholic—revealed to me her stash of pornographic magazines. As her daughter, she encouraged me to look at and learn from them when she wasn’t home. So when I got the chance and the privacy, I crept to her room and slid open that bottom drawer and grazed over those images.” – B., now 17 years old.
Other people may turn to porn because of past abuse, as a child or teen, and are using it as an outlet to cope with what happened to them, as they feel porn may provide a temporary escape from the reality of what was done to them.
People who struggle with porn may also have a history of anxiety and/or depression. Porn truly can act as a drug, enabling people to escape from their current reality. It is only a temporary relief though and often leads to even greater anxiety and depression because it isolates the consumer and can lead to heavy feelings of shame or social anxiety.
If you have been struggling to quit an unwanted porn habit, please know that you’re not alone. It can feel lonely and frustrating, but there is hope. While research shows that consuming porn can fuel the cycle of loneliness, research also shows that it is possible to overcome a porn habit and its negative effects.
According to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change. So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress. Like anything, it takes time for the brain to recover, but daily efforts make a big difference in the long run.
Porn hijacks a natural desire
The reality is, porn preys on and capitalizes on natural human desires that we’re all wired with—the desire to have sex, the desire to be intimate with another person—and it twists them by making it seem like porn provides real fulfillment of those desires. In reality, porn is a lie and it can’t provide real fulfillment.
Shaming someone who is struggling with porn is the exact opposite of what that person really needs in order to overcome their struggle. Creating an “us vs. them” mentality hurts all of us. It further isolates the porn consumer, sometimes influencing them to turn to porn even more, and it prevents them from feeling they can share their story and receive compassion in return that can empower them to overcome their struggle.
Not seeing those who struggle with porn as real, three-dimensional people hurts society because it can actually perpetuate the problem of a porn habit by preventing people from getting the help they need, further isolating them.
Of course, on the flip side, partners of those who consume porn often experience intense feelings of hurt and betrayal. Partners deserve compassion, too, and a supportive community.
Love, not shame, as the answer
We aren’t trying to wipe porn from the internet. As a non-religious and non-legislative nonprofit, we aren’t focused on the religious or political approaches to fighting porn, and we aren’t a censorship movement.
We are all about decreasing the demand for porn through education. People have a right to know the harms that can result from consuming pornography. Many people in our society do not know that porn is not only harmful, but fuels exploitation. And, when given the facts, we believe that people will choose not to make it part of their life.
The bottom line is porn consumers are not horrible, “perverted” people. They are real humans with struggles. Some may hate their porn struggle but feel unable to get out, or be afraid to ask for help. Some may have no idea that porn fuels trafficking. After all, many were once kids who were confused by porn and did not know how to handle it.
You never know what someone has been through and why they act the way they do until you have heard their story.
This is why, as a movement, we are anti-shame and pro-love.
For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.
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