Portions of the following article were originally posted on Verily by Baleigh Scott. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Not too long ago, Russell Brand joined the ranks of those speaking out against pornography in a video posted to his YouTube channel. In it, he gives a powerful and unapologetic assessment of soft-core pornography, not only listing its known negative effects on young men but corroborating them from personal experience. Voyeurism, objectification of women, the need to validate one’s masculinity through beautiful women, fear of true intimacy, the tendency to view women as trophies rather than individuals; all of these he admits to and attributes to his exposure to pornography.

More than simply acknowledging the devastating effects that porn has had on him, Brand also admits that he has, as of yet, fallen short of quitting it—despite his distaste for the stuff. “If I had total dominion over myself, I would never look at porn again,” he says.

These words, I think, strike an all too familiar chord in the pornography debate. Total dominion over one’s actions, self-control: Are these attainable goals for young men? For young women, too? That a man or woman who fully understands the harmful effects of pornography remains unable to avoid it raises doubts. Regardless of whether or not pornography is healthy, the question remains: Are men and women capable of abstaining from it?

The majority opinion—it seems—is a resounding “no.”

“All men look at porn… The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates,” Dan Savage famously remarked. And his statement only repeats a notion almost universally accepted.

And women’s magazines assume that women watch porn and like porn as much as men. It’s as if you’re not a sexual being if you don’t log on and watch it.

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We see it manifested in countless male TV characters from Barney Stinson to Frank Underwood. We heard it reiterated in Jennifer Lawrence’s response to the celebrity nude photo leak a couple years ago: “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”

I have personally confronted the notion many times in everyday conversation. I once told a very close friend of mine that my fiancé does not look at pornography. In response, she raised her eyebrows, tilted her head, looked me in the eye, and exclaimed, “I think he might be lying to you about that.”

In a world filled with doubt and confusion, it seems that we, as a society, have come to believe in one immutable truth that people can’t help but look at porn. The only option for girlfriends/boyfriends, fiancées/fiancés, husbands/wives, it seems, is to accept it.

And yet, I cannot.

To be clear, I am not denying the widespread use of pornography among men, and ever increasingly among women. I am not trying to argue with statistics. But there is something disturbing about the way we discuss men and pornography. There is something more at stake here, and statements that porn-use is inevitable for all men are problematic for a number of reasons.

“Everyone Does It” Can’t Be Possible

First, to insist “all men look at porn” is, like most broad generalizations, simply false. Statistics on porn consumption range from claiming 64 percent to 80 percent of men are habitual users, but regardless of the precise numbers there is an active and growing movement against pornography of which men are a vital part—Fight the New Drug is just one part of it. What’s more, there are whole societies of people who fall in line with Russell Brand, who have found porn use damaging and addictive, and have found healing in self-restraint.

The Reddit community No Fap, in which members challenge themselves to give up porn, has garnered more than 140,000 members. The group provides support, camaraderie, advice, and—notably—success stories for those looking to “recover from porn-induced sexual dysfunction, stop objectifying and establish meaningful connections, improve your interpersonal relationships, live a more fulfilling life.” One needs only to peruse the wealth of success stories posted there to find that men, even those recovering from serious addictive behavior, are not powerless to resist it.

And yet, though this evidence of men avoiding porn is comforting and inspiring, it is ultimately beside the point. The insistence that men cannot help but look at porn is problematic for a much more serious reason than the mere fact that it is not true. Regardless of the number of men who look at porn—be it none, some, or all—to suggest they don’t have a choice in the matter is demeaning. To say that anyone, by their very natures, are slaves to their sexual appetites, is to deny them free will—and their very humanity.

The Difference Between “Common” And “Necessary”

There is a significant difference between acknowledging that porn use is common and insisting that it has to be. One does not necessarily follow from the other. Even if everyone partook in a particular activity it is not sufficient to prove that they have to. If it were, one might easily conclude that because all men have eaten fast food at some point, they are incapable of surviving without it.

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This illogical reasoning is particularly problematic in a society striving for gender equality and against sexism. Indeed, excusing male behavior on account of some constrained view of “human nature” is reminiscent of that archaic brand of sexism that claims women can’t take on leadership roles because our decisions are invariably dictated by emotion. Or that women can’t properly manage our finances because our “natures” render us defenseless against the shiny gleam of a new pair of shoes. In these cases, “nature” is just another word for “prejudiced stereotype.” By insisting that financial irresponsibility or emotional recklessness are the necessary results of the female “nature,” we are at once absolved of these behaviors and shackled to them. Likewise, denying men’s ability to resist porn may excuse their conduct, but it also confines them to it. Porn addiction (which neuroscientists have compared to cocaine addiction), is not only a serious matter, but it can be overcome. To deny men the opportunity to do so isn’t kind to men; it does them a disservice.

We Can Do Better Than Assume

It is possible for men, and women, to reject pornography. I know this because I am engaged to a man who has done so for years. But even if he struggled and failed in his efforts to avoid pornography, I would never denigrate him by assuming he can’t control himself enough to refrain from it. So let’s change the way we discuss pornography. Let’s promote a dialogue that does not demean men by claiming that their natures render them powerless in the face of porn. Let’s elevate the conversation by refusing to deny anyone their choice in the matter. Because men—and we all—deserve that.

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Why This Matters

It’s not okay that society puts the expectation of watching porn on anyone, as if they cannot choose otherwise for themselves, and they’re uncool if they choose not to. By making porn seem like a “perfectly healthy” manly pursuit, we ignore the individuality of every person and lump them all together as people who cannot think or act for themselves apart from porn.

It’s healthy to realize that every day, you do have a choice regardless of what anyone tells you. Watching porn doesn’t make you any more or less of a person, while it does have negative effects on your life and those around you. In the end, it’s degrading to assume that anyone needs porn, because everyone has a brain and the choice is ultimately up to them.

What YOU Can Do

Fueling the myth that guys need porn is only going to make the normalization of porn worse. SHARE this article and raise awareness on the fact that pornography is not normal or natural.

Spark Conversations

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