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I want to quit using porn.
July 11, 2014 7:06 AM   Subscribe

(NSFW) I'm a man in my mid-20s. I'm concerned about my longtime porn habit's effects on me, so I'd like to quit using it. What's the best way to do that? How can I then determine and mitigate its effects on me? More details inside.

I'm a straight man in my mid-20s. I haven't had sex. I didn't abstain from it out of religious conviction. I just never had the opportunity, and I never really pursued it, either. I'd like to change that, and to that end I'm working on a number of problems - anxiety, depression, physical unfitness, social isolation, and so on - that would be good to solve even if I had no interest in sex at all.

But since I am interested in it, I want to deal with, or even counteract, the potential effects of my longstanding porn habit.

I've used pornography in one form or another since entering puberty. I used it about as often as I could, getting to the hardcore stuff when I was 16 or so. Shortly after college, when I could take my laptop to bed and be alone, it basically became a nightly sleep aid. In a time when you can see pretty much any porn you want for free, I've paid for porn. I don't think the way I use porn is healthy, and while it might not be an addiction per se, I don't think quitting porn use would be a bad thing for me.

I feel close to the point where I can't get aroused any other way, and that's probably well past the point where I should have quit. I have a difficult time masturbating and staying erect without it - certainly if I loosen my grip and try to be a little more gentle than I used to be.

In addition, I also fear my habit might have affected, and be affecting, the way I interact with other people, particularly women. It might have affected the way I think of sex and how it works. The stuff I watch is "mainstream," but mainstream straight porn is sexist, racist, and unrealistic as hell, and that's just for starters. I worry these attitudes in stuff I've habitually consumed must have affected me somehow. I don't know how founded in reality this worry is, but if it's well founded, I don't know what to do about it. And part of my worry is that I don't know whether I actually have anything to worry about, whether it's mostly all in my head or not.

As a note: despite my concerns, I don't think Porn Is Inherently Bad or whatever, and I don't think people who use it are bad people. I just don't think it's healthy for me right now. I used to go to a therapist, but they recently moved. I plan to return to therapy soon, and I plan to talk about these issues with my new therapist.

So: What are some good ways to help myself quit my porn habit? How can I judge how badly, if at all, it's affected me? Once I've done that, how do I reverse, or at least mitigate, its effects?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you don't mind Reddit, plenty of resources and like-minded folks on /r/NoFap/.
posted by Bardolph at 7:18 AM on July 11


i agree that r/nofap can help, but make sure to go into it with a mindset of "take what works and leave the rest." they can dip into weird gender essentialist pseudo science woo at times.
posted by nadawi at 7:23 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I would suggest you ramp down your usage gradually. If you try and quit all at once you are less likely to be successful. Try to start using less pornography overall, but give yourself an out for some relief. Switch from videos to still pictures, then from pictures to stories or erotica. Even inside those categories, in movies stop watching BDSM and just watch MF, or watch partway but stop before the "money shot".

The point of both is to stop relying on external factors and more on internal factors. Focus on your own fantasies and imagination. At first you will be imagining the ending for the video you just watched or the story you just read, but in the long run you will start fantasizing about the person you are crushing on, or your current partner. This will help you to figure out what turns you on and what you want out of actual physical experiences and relationships.

Good job on making the decision. I use pornography intermittently, but I give it up when I am actively dating. I find not having pornography changes my interactions with women. If feels crisper to me, more sexually charged, and I am much more into it - not just the sex, but the flirting and the moment to moment anticipation and excitement of the date.

Good luck!
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:38 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I don't think you can judge how much it's affected you, and if it's possible for you to let go of that idea it would be helpful to you. What you can affect is the future.

So, let's look at what you're getting out of this habit:

Intense stimulation can be really helpful as a distraction from feelings of anxiety. Certainly if it's helping you sleep, that's an important function as well. You also get sexual stimulation and enjoyment out of it.

So, the big one, IMO, because it affects so many things in your life would be sleep. Can you try a bit of melatonin to help you get to sleep instead? Can you watch TV until you fall asleep or listen to the radio if your anxiety is keeping you up?

I think that if you find another way to deal with your anxiety and your need to sleep then it will be much easier to stop.

In terms of the sexual aspect, it is important to feel sexual feelings and sexual pleasure. I think that you might try touching yourself at different times and in different places than you're used to watching porn. Try to relax and see it as you getting to know yourself. I think you'll eventually find different things that help you orgasm.

In terms of grip, a lot of circumcised men are, for lack of a better word, rough with themselves. I wouldn't try to deal with that while also dealing with the porn issue. One thing at a time! I'd also consider that it might not be an issue when you're having partnered sex. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:43 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I second the idea of trying to switch to written fiction, as a way of starting to relearn how to use your imagination and figure out what fantasies turn you on.

That's stuff that will make a big difference when you do start getting sexually involved with other people. It's a lot easier to have good sex when you know what you like — and when the list of things you like is more about activities or situations, rather than the ethnicity and body-type preferences that mainstream visual porn tends to cater to. You can tell someone you're sleeping with "Hey, you know what would be hot? Getting it on in the shower." You can't very well be like "You know what would be hot? For you to have darker skin and bigger hips" or whatever.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:23 AM on July 11


Are you exercising? I find that running tends to help regulate my libido. When I say regulate, I mean I find myself at a manageable level rather than having days where it feels almost out of control and days where I feel nothing. Once I have spent a good part of the day getting my heart pumping, my libido feels like the rest of my body and mind, awake and aware but not high strung.

And I agree on the idea of using written fiction and your imagination more. It's actually a pretty useful thing to be able to use your own mind to help you get in the right mood when/if you start trying sex with another person.

You do have some legitimate concerns in the idea of how porn depicts the world, I agree. However, I think the biggest thing is that like all media consumption, porn, in excess, can distract you from the story of your own life. So much of modern life is spent try to distract ourselves or near entirely abstract ourselves out of existence entirely by completely focusing on media. It can be very comforting when you are feeling down on yourself, but ultimately, you are removing yourself from a position where you can actually make your life feel better.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:54 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I don't think porn is inherently evil, but I do think it can affect one's view of women when watched a lot. When on a daily basis you are seeing women being treated as sex objects designed for your pleasure -- and getting sexual reinforcement of that message -- it's hard to separate that from normal interactions with women. Not to mention the very unrealistic expectations it sets up for sex and relationships. So based on the habit you've described, I think cutting back is a good idea. But I don't think you can really quantify its effects. The fact that you can't get aroused without seems like enough to want to stop.

I can't relate to this particular habit, but personally, when I need to refrain from something, cutting down and half-not doing it doesn't work for me. It seems to make it harder -- you get a little of something and then you want all of it. Like, if I were a smoker, I'd be the type to just go cold turkey and skip the gums. So my question to you is, can you just stop masturbating altogether? An extended absence of masturbation might recalibrate your ability to get aroused without porn. I think masturbation may just be a habit, not an absolute necessity. Or maybe the rule could be, if you get aroused (without porn) and need to get off, you can, but you're not allowed to use porn nor masturbate just out of boredom.

I think you should start with deleting all the porn you have and deleting all the bookmarks of your favorite sites, etc. It will be easier to stop if it's not one click away. And find a new way to sleep. It may be hard at first, but you'll adjust accordingly. In general, using your laptop in bed or bringing it to bed can be distracting and take away from the relaxation of your bed. But sometimes, when thoughts are racing through my head, I turn on a favorite light/funny TV show or movie to listen to while I fall asleep to distract me. Like an episode of The Office or something that I know well and won't feel the need to stay up for to hear the ending.

Good luck with things, and you can make all the changes you seek. It may take a little time, but if you're determined to do it, you absolutely will!
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:54 AM on July 11


Congratulations on your decision! Bringing this up in therapy is a great choice.

Find another hobby or endeavor that you can use to fill in the time spent using pornography; if it's something you can do away from the computer, that will help.

If you have a close friend you can trust with this confidence, ask them to be your lifeline; someone you can call when you're feeling tempted. They can talk you off the ledge and help you through periods of temptation.

There are a number of technical hurdles you can place in your own path to make it more difficult to access porn. None of them are perfect, of course, but they can help.

Feel free to PM me if you'd like to talk in more detail.

Good luck!
posted by DWRoelands at 8:56 AM on July 11


I will suggest you not only stop using porn but also take a break from mainstream movies, magazines and other visual media. They all present slick, unrealistic images of people which ordinary women cannot live up to. When I was divorcing, men like you (who had little or no real world experience with actual women) were horribly critical of what I looked like (I mean naked). In contrast, men who had a lot of actual live partners in their history gave me very favorable reviews.

There is substantial evidence that I look pretty good (or at least did in the past) compared to most ordinary people but I cannot compete with images that are the product of a team of hair dressers, make-up artists, clothing consultants, professional photographers etc which have then been airbrushed and edited and yadda. The men who were openly insulting tended to see less of me. The men who were nice and made me feel good about taking my clothes off for them got to see more of me. Generally speaking, the insulting men were comparing me to media images whereas men who said nice things were comparing me to memories of other actual women, warts and all.

No, not all inexperienced men were insulting. It was a general trend though and something I think you need to be aware of: Most real people -- even the real people who get paid to act or model for these unrealistic images -- simply do NOT look like that IRL. (You could check out articles about "stars without makeup" for some idea of how far apart their public image and actual looks often are.) And I think it is likely this is an issue you will need to work on if you hope to have an actual relationship with a real person.

And then I suggest you work on learning to be intimate with and emotionally connected to another person. I think porn addiction is rooted in the fact that it's an emotionally empty experience. So you need to get a bigger and bigger "hit" to keep getting off on it. I think this is why there is so much sexism, racism, etc in porn: Those things get big emotional reactions out of people. They "get a rise" out of someone. But they do so in a mostly negative way and the way it is handled makes you less sensitive, not more, to the ways in which racism, sexism, etc hurt people. That strong emotional reaction is rooted in the fact that those things hurt people and are a kind of exercise of power. The more you get numb to that and feel like it is no big deal, the harder it is to keep getting off on it. Thus you have to go for more and more hardcore things.

Personal vulnerability, emotional attachment, real intimacy -- those things also get a big emotional reaction but can satisfy something in you emotionally in a way that porn does not do. I think of addiction as a hunger that grows the more you feed it. I think healthy habits are those that can get you to a place of being less needy/hungry for having partaken.
posted by Michele in California at 10:37 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I like to hope I'm not the only woman in the world who would find it really attractive if a man told me he didn't watch porn or had given it up (for many reasons).. which possibly has a subtle irony to it. Below is a great TED talk.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Why-I-Stopped-Watching-Porn-Ran

You may also want to check out the "The demise of guys" talk by Zimbardo - a very engaging psychologist. I think he possibly goes into the neuroscience too.. if not there is another TED that does when they tried to study some young men who weren't watching and couldn't find any.

Basically sexual dysfunction is now pretty common in young men watching all this shit. This is pretty sad eh? Sex everywhere yet all these people not actually having sex.

Betty Dodson is an 80 something hilarious psychotherapist (very sex positive and into fantasy) who talks on it too.. also has a site dodsonandross (it's not as weird as it sounds honestly!)

The posarc site is good generally on sex addiction etc though the writer is a little anti everything at times (eg the film 'shame' about sex addiction etc)...

All this stuff may possibly help in terms of strengthening your resolve.. though it seems pretty strong from what you say anyhow.

In terms of addiction generally? And this would apply to any - write yourself 2 lists - the short term benefits of engaging in the behaviour v the long term negative consequences. Keep it where temptation is.

Define what 'recovery' would look like to you.

Think about underlying issues and explore more.. eg related anxiety etc

Think about triggers and relapse (look this up) ditto urge surfing. Learning about addictions pschology is generally really interesting.

A 12 step may or may not be your thing slaa would be your closest I'd guess...

Think what do you get from it and how else can you meet those needs?

I imagine if no girlfriends yet.. that has blown up as a thing.. so what would help you loosen up about women and maybe even physical contact? Meeting women in non pressurised situations? A non seedy massage (maybe even start with hands or feet)... dance? martial arts? an acting class?

Lots of luck :) I've generally found it a worthwhile endeavour to stand apart from the herd.
posted by tanktop at 10:41 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Someone above mentioned running. Consider doing even more than that to develop a better appreciation for the rest of your body. Do yoga, take some dance classes, try martial arts, anything that gets you more in touch with your body. You'll feel more confident as you go out in the world, you'll move more gracefully. And when you do eventually find a partner you'll understand better how to touch her in all the places and ways that porn usually does not show.
posted by mareli at 10:54 AM on July 11


I listen to a podcast called "Bad Christian" and the hosts are now using X3 Watch to keep themselves accountable in the realm of porn.

Basically, you set up the software and give it the email address of someone you trust. Every time you visit a porn website (or other questionable content, depending on how you set up the filters) it emails your friend to let them know.

This removes some of the "nobody knows I watch porn" feeling and can help you with accountability. For example, if your friend receives a ton of emails, they'll know to talk with you about it.
posted by tacodave at 1:52 PM on July 11


I strongly suggest you acquaint yourself with Patrick Carnes' work. An excellent place to start would be his book In the Shadows of the Net.

It's certainly true that habitual use of porn affects your relationship with others, if only because your relationship to the people in porn is one-way only. You decide what you're in the mood for, you find that video and you watch it, fast forwarding, pausing, rewinding, whatever you wish for.

Relationships with real people usually involve listening to others' wishes, considering their desires, etc. Real relationships mean you lose some measure of the control you have with porn. This is scary, but it's ultimately a really really good thing.This can be a hard journey, but many have done it before you, and you can do it too.
posted by jasper411 at 2:27 PM on July 11


I second the "tapering off" idea. It works. You start with the most pernicious thing you regularly, addictively do. If you're trying to quit carbohydrate, that's usually sugary drinks. So you start using gradually less and less sugar in coffee, or you cut your cornsyrup soda with seltzer until you're drinking seltzer. Then you target the next most sugary thing you ingest every day and taper off that. Several months later, you're eating nothing but steak and kale and you're feelin' fine. I see no reason you couldn't apply the same principle to your situation.

You also need to find another indulgence so that you don't feel deprived. I suppose you could try to develop a Candy Crush addiction, but really I don't see why you couldn't replace sugary porn with healthy, nutritious porn. Find some non-mainstream, by-women-for-women stuff featuring women who haven't been augmented and styled to the point where they're in another species, and gradually cut the too-polished, too-dick-oriented, male-gaze-ey stuff with the new stuff--exactly like cutting Coke with Syfo. You want to retrain your eye so you're first not weirded out by real bodies and then gradually so that you can see what's good about them. It is totes possible and it is what we all have to learn to do in order to continue to have sex with other people after we emerge from our Adonis twenties. I mean, unless we're celebrities or filthy rich and can pay young hotties to indulge us forever. Everybody on the earth except weirdos with too much money has to learn to embrace backhair and sag eventually.

Ooo, ooo, and you know what else!? If I were you I'd seek out the sexy movies of yesteryear. Last Tango in Paris, Summer of 42 (I don't know if that last one is actually sexy. I seem to remember it was, but I was 12 or something when I watched it). And then just movies that are about relationships, like Splendour in the Grass, although that one has Natalie Wood in it and she's better looking than anybody on the Earth before her or since her, maybe, whether they've been airbrushed or not, so actually it might set you back.

Finally, I recommend listening to Dan Savage's podcast. Just start listening to it and keep going and after a long time the sheer numbers of people with problems just exactly like yours and much much worse than yours and all the people trying to help each other will make you feel ever so much better about yourself, and sex, and the world, and other people, it'll be amazing. Unless your mileage varies, but it probably won't. That show saved my sanity.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:41 PM on July 11


I'm about four weeks into cold turkey: no porn, no onanism. The world is a much brighter and intense place for me 'cause of it -- so far.

What I did was first stop the onanism. Watch the porn but do not touch yourself or get off physically. Do this for a while and then stop the porn watching entirely.

It's only four weeks, but I'll say this: I should have left off it long ago.

(Also, yeah, mainstream porn is crap.)
posted by bertran at 11:05 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


The way that you talk about worry and meta-worry ("I'm worried: are my worries well-founded?") reminds me of this passage that I have been thinking a lot about from The Wisdom of No Escape:

"Yesterday I began to be curious about the experience of resistance. I noticed that I was sitting there with uncomfortable feelings in my heart and my stomach--dread, you could call it. I began to recognize the opportunity of experiencing the realness of the four elements, feeling what it's like to be the weather. Of course that didn't make the discomfort go away, but it removed the resistance, and somehow the world was there again. When I didn't resist, I could see the world. Then I noticed that I had never liked the quality of this particular "weather" for some reason and so I resisted it. In doing that, I realized, I re-created myself. It's as if, when you resist, you dig in your heels. It's as if you're a block of marble and you carve yourself out of it, you make yourself really solid. In my case, worrying about things that are going to happen is very unpleasant; it's an addiction. It's also unpleasant to get drunk again if you're an alcoholic, or to have to keep shooting up if you're a drug addict, or to keep eating if you have overeating addiction, or whatever it is. All these things are very strange. We all know what addiction is; we are all primarily addicted to 'me.'

The third noble truth says that the cessation of suffering is letting go of holding on to ourselves. By "cessation" we mean the cessation of hell as opposed to just weather, the cessation of this resistance, this resentment, this feeling of being completely trapped and caught, trying to maintain huge 'me' at any cost. The teachings about recognizing egolessness sound quite abstract, but the path quality of that, the magic instruction that we have all received, the golden key is that part of the meditation technique where you recognize what's happening with you and you say to yourself, 'Thinking.' Then you let go of all of the talking and the fabrication and the discussion, and you're left just sitting with the weather--the quality and the energy of the weather itself. Maybe you still have that quaky feeling or that churning feeling or that exploding feeling or that calm feeling or that dull feeling, as if you'd just been buried in the earth. You're left with that. That's the key: come to know that. The only way you can know that is by realizing that you've been talking about it, turning it into worry about next week and next October and the rest of your life. It's as if, curiously enough, instead of sitting still in the middle of the fire, we have developed this self-created device for fanning it, keeping it going. Fan that fire, fan that fire. 'Well, what about if I don't do this, then that will happen, and if that happens then this will happen, maybe I better get rid of such-and-such and get this and do that. I better tell so-and-so about this, and if I don't tell them that, surely the whole thing is going to fall apart, and then what will happen? Oh, I think I want to die and I want to get out of here. This is horrible and--" Suddenly you want to jump out of your seat and go screaming out of the room. You've been fanning the fire. But at some point you think, 'Wait a minute. Thinking.' Then you let go and come back to that original fluttering feeling that might be very edgy but is basically the wind, the fire, the earth, the water. I'm not talking about turning a hurricane into a calm day. I'm talking about realizing hurricane-ness, or, if it's a calm day, calmness. I'm not talking about turning a forest fire into a cozy fire in the fireplace or something that's under your cooking pot that heats your stew. I'm saying that when there's a forest fire, don't resist that kind of power--that's you. When it's warm and cozy, don't resist that or nest in it. I'm not saying turn an earthquake into a garden of flowers. When there's an earthquake, let the ground tremble and rip apart, and when it's a rich garden with flowers, let that be also. I'm talking about not resisting, not grasping, not getting caught in hope and in fear, in good and in bad, but actually living completely."


I think therapy would be a great decision--it sounds to me like your addiction might be as much to worry as it is to pornography.

Speaking only from my own experiences with anxiety, when I find myself asking questions like "How can I judge how badly, if at all, it's affected me? Once I've done that, how do I reverse, or at least mitigate, its effects?" these end up being retrospective hallmarks of a brutally critical anxious loop that I can only identify once it has subsided. In other words, I will find myself getting very solid about how I've fucked something or some aspect of myself up, and wondering how bad things might be, and how I might be able to fix things, and feeling like fixing things is probably pretty much impossible. Then, with some distance, for me most often a matter of some months, I will look back on that time of my life and be shocked at how thoroughly and sincerely I had invested myself in the notion that I had done something irreversibly damaging when in fact things were just as fluid as they ever were and always will be.

The details of your situation are unique and mostly unknown to me but I can tell you with great confidence that you should have faith in the resilience and adaptability of both your body and your mind. Notions like "irreversibility" are anxiety fanning that fire.
posted by holympus at 5:28 AM on July 12


"What I did was first stop the onanism. Watch the porn but do not touch yourself or get off physically. Do this for a while and then stop the porn watching entirely."
Such a great idea. The problem isn't the porn or the onanism but the feeling that you're in thrall to it and can't do anything else. But it's you running the show, not "Fort Booty" et alia.

Also, holympus and P. Chodron and everybody else saying this are right: nothing has crystallized. Mid-twenties is young. You haven't had time to even begin to ruin yourself, so don't be thinking you're stunted for life. You don't have to "mitigate its effects," you can throw it off entirely. Your brain is young and strong and malleable, and it's more than ready to stretch and grow and build some new synapses in this area. Do what bertran did and you'll see: very shortly it will start to make "porn" for you, out of the stuff of the real world.

Give it what to work with. It's summertime. Go out and walk around in the sunshine. Sit somewhere pretty. Eat a seasonal fruit. Look around at all the pretty people.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:11 AM on July 14


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