- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Michael Leahy, founder and executive director of Bravehearts ministry on sex addiction, has written three books on the deleterious effects of pornography. Two of his books, “Porn Work: Exposing the Office’s #1 Addiction” and “Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex on Campus,” are out this month.

Staff writer Cheryl Wetzstein recently interviewed Mr. Leahy about pornography on campus.

Question: The University of Maryland recently allowed a segment of a pornographic film to be shown on campus. Is there a problem here?

Answer: When institutions green-light things like this, it just continues to create a culture of normalization of pornography. Where it’s going to be a real shock treatment is when [college graduates] go to work for employers who have a zero-tolerance policy on pornography. And that’s pretty much all of them.

Q: You have surveyed some 26,000 university students about sex. What have you found?

A: We’re finding that there is a lot of shame and a lot of unwanted sexual behavior, a lot of hiding of the things they do sexually. One amazing finding is that fully one in five students feels that their sexual behavior is not “normal.” But here’s the most amazing thing about that: We never define for them what is “normal” sexually. So [their responses] are based on their definition of what is normal.

Q: What do you think they are referring to when they say their sexual behavior is not “normal”?

A: I don’t know specifically because we didn’t ask them to elaborate on their answer, but I would imagine it involves sexual behaviors that either instill guilt or a sense of shame or clearly violate their personal standards. Either way you look at it, it’s alarming. I think they’re coming face to face with the consequences and the hidden dangers of accepting what I call the “faulty belief system” that goes along with pornography and a sex-saturated culture.

Q: What do you mean by “faulty belief system”?

A: This is something I came face to face with in my recovery from my sexual addiction. A faulty belief system is any assumption or myth or belief that we hold true, but that just isn’t true. For instance, there’s ones that say, “Sex is my greatest need” or “Porn’s only about sex; using porn isn’t hurting anyone; it’s no big deal because it’s just about sex and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Some of that is true when it’s healthy sex in the context of healthy relationships, but pornography typically portrays anything but healthy sexuality in relationships. Pornography portrays the idea that … when she says “no,” it really means “yes”; if you’re not satisfied, bring someone else into the marriage bed with you; group sex is perfectly acceptable, assuming it’s consensual. As a result, what we’re seeing now is a generation of kids who have bought into the lies and been totally desensitized to the negative impact that this will have in their real lives.

Q: What else did your survey of university students show?

A: The survey showed that less than 1 percent of college students are sexually addicted, which does not surprise me.

Q: Why no surprise?

A: It’s because sexual addiction takes hold when one of two things happen. One, when you go to work for an employer who doesn’t tolerate you sitting there, cruising porn on your lunch hour on the company computer, the company network. And two, when you get into a committed relationship with another person who generally doesn’t share your views on pornography. And that almost always happens a couple years out of college [when the man marries or starts having an exclusive relationship with a woman]. This is when men and women both start hiding their guilty pleasures; this one in particular can easily escalate over time into a full-blown addiction.

Q: Is it hard to stop a porn habit?

A: We find that there’s a general sense that people believe they can just walk away from this material when they need to or when they want to. But while they’ve been in college, there’s been no impetus for them to stop. So, the key is, when they have to stop, what will they do?

I believe there is a percentage of people who will be able to stop. Another percentage - the majority - won’t want to stop and will continue to view it in secret.

And then there are those who will develop some real problematic, unwanted sexual behaviors. They won’t be able to stop even when they want to, and they will become fully sexually addicted - that’s the estimated 6 percent to 8 percent of the general population who is sexually addicted. Most of these people will have invested most of their time with Internet pornography, which we refer to as the “crack cocaine of sexual addiction” because it’s just not that easy to stop.

Q: You were just in Eastern and Central Europe talking to college students. Europe is much more liberal about pornography and sexual mores. What did you find there?

A: Europe is a few years further down the road than the U.S., as far as their mainstreaming of pornography into the general culture, the mainstreaming of these “faulty beliefs,” if you will.

In general, in the former Eastern Bloc countries I visited, I found that many women tend to dress much more provocatively than women here. The men are much more objectifying, and the women have just accepted it. It’s like the worst nightmare of the early feminist movement - where women are totally sexualized, they are only valued based on their sexuality (body shape and size and physicality).

Q: Did the European students differ from American students in their opinions about pornography?

A: I had a lot of women come up and tell me they’re in such messed-up relationships. They said the culture basically reinforces the guys’ views and the faulty belief systems of porn, which is that it’s all about pleasing a man sexually.

So European students are just as paralyzed in their ability to experience healthy intimacy in relationships as the students over here. But over there, there’s more of a feeling of hopelessness, more of a sense of just giving in.

I just find it amazing that American college students continue to bring up this [argument] that “Porn is more accepted in Europe” and “They have more liberated sexual views, so we’re just puritanistic; what’s wrong with us” and “We should be more like Europe, that they have less sexual violence and crime than we do” - claims that I’ve never heard a single student back up with evidence.

And I say to them, “You don’t want to be more like Europe” when it comes to relationships.