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‘It consumed my life’: Plea for better sex education to help battle porn addiction

On the surface, Chloe* and Jessica have nothing in common. None of the same friends, none of the same interests. One is an author and speaker, the other works in our courts.

Yet both tell a similar story of struggling with porn addiction in their teens, which began affecting their life and relationships.

Jessica says she was first exposed to pornography at 13.

“I was researching online for a school project. I first realised porn had become an addiction when I tried to stop watching it during my senior year of high school. It had consumed my life.”

She recalls feeling stuck and wanting to stop, but at the same time feeling like she couldn’t.

With sleep and study being affected, Jessica fell into a rage, resorting to self-harm and eventually developing dissociative tendencies and maladaptive daydreaming as temporary fixes.

“I felt like I couldn’t break free without pretending to be someone else,” she says.

Laura Davis, a primary prevention educator and counsellor at Hobart’s Sexual Assault Support Service, says early exposure to porn may affect how children perceive sex as they get older.

“Pornography is so overwhelming for our brains in terms of how we process stimuli from a screen … Children are using [porn] as an education tool for sex, which is quite concerning.”

Up to 80 per cent [of current online porn] is considered to be sexual violence and encourages people to engage in super violent behaviour. – Laura

“We want to make people understand that porn is not a good education source, there is no consent, its mostly violence and that even when we are aware how unrealistic it is, it still impacts our sex.”

First contact as a young teen

The Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found in a recent survey of 941 participants aged 15-29 that the average age of first exposure to porn is 13 years for males and 16 years for females.

“The first time I ever saw porn was when I walked in on my dad looking at it … I was probably about eight or nine and that started feeding my interest in these bodies we live in,” Chloe* says.

Her addiction to pornography going “very full throttle very quickly”, she says. She hid in her closet so even the slightest sound wouldn’t be heard by anyone walking by her bedroom door.

“I would wake up every day and be tired … I even shut down other activities at night so I could be by myself and masturbate. This went on for about three years.”

Dr Christopher Fox, director of Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne and senior lecturer in sexual health, sex education and sexology at the University of Sydney, says that these “out-of-control sexual behaviours” hide a deeper concern.

“Whether it’s an addiction, an out-of-control behaviour, a compulsion or an obsession, people are relying on sex or pornography … in 99 per cent of cases to self-soothe or to help themselves feel better.”

“What people are becoming addicted to is a process rather than a substance,” he says.


'It consumed my life': Plea for better sex education to help battle porn addiction

Dr Christopher Fox

Jessica said she kept circling back to pornography because she wanted to learn more – it was a new thing and she wanted to understand it. Eventually curiosity became addiction.

“When I began college, I was watching it all night while my roommate slept less than 10 feet behind me. All of this while I was also wanting to stop,” she says.

I was actually caught at that college and the dean’s staff said this case was one of the worst they had seen. They said it couldn’t have been me and that I must have handed out my internet password to multiple men due to the volume of content. – Jessica

For both women, their addictions not only affected their day-to-day life, but their relationships with intimate partners, family and friends.

Chloe says she is only slowly leaving the addiction behind her.

“I felt as though in my past relationships that I was expected to perform during sex, like they expected me to perform and even myself, I felt a need to perform because that is what porn has taught us. I am only now just getting over these emotions six years later,” she says.

Both found a lack of support services for women who are struggling with porn addiction.

Jessica says that “only by the grace of god” did she win the battle. “During my first year of school at a second college, I finally felt safe to share my struggle and felt like I could find help and get free.”

Better sex education for children

Comprehensive sex education in primary and secondary schools is one way to help women and children addicted to porn.

Dr Fox believes that early exposure in the understanding of porn literacy can give people a better chance of more positive experiences later in life.

“Comprehensive sexuality education needs to cover more than ‘the birds and the bees’, it needs to cover relationships and how we engage in sex and what sexuality is,” he explains.

“Understanding porn literacy, understanding how to consume porn and why porn is made, we can then give a better experience to people.”

A 2018 survey found that students acquiring further sex education online doubled between 2013 and 2018, with 79 per cent of students looking for further sexual health information outside of school.

I felt as though there were so many questions that I had when I first started to explore porn, I had so many questions and queries that were not answered by the sexual education I was provided. – Chloe

“I felt that these burning questions I had weren’t answered by my teachers, so I had to go out of the way to find out for myself.”

One positive effect

Eighty per cent of people who report suffering with porn addiction say they felt “shame and guilt” associated with their behaviour.

Chloe, however, says her porn usage eventually taught her to feel comfortable within herself, and even helped her develop a new part of her sexuality later in life.

“I watched so many different types of porn back then … and I would definitely say it was a factor that made me realise I am sexually comfortable with both guys and girls,” she says.

“If there is any sort of positive take away from my past addiction, it would be that I am now comfortable in my sexuality.”

On the other hand, Jessica said goodbye to pornography all together with the help of a strong support system around her.

“A team of women came alongside me to help me not only work on overcoming pornography but also work on building up the areas of my life that had been stunted, like my emotional regulation,” she explains.

“It took nearly two years for me to feel like I could actually say no to pornography and to feel like I was walking in freedom.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction or needs further support, please contact the numbers below: Emergency Services: 000 Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14 Samaritans: 13 52 47 13YARN: 13 92 76 Headspace: 1800 650 890 QLife: 1800 184 527

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