Most boys seek pornography by age 10, driven by a brain that is suddenly fascinated by sex. It's not mere nudity, but novelty that sends their arousal skyrocketing.
My interview with recovering porn “addict,” as Noah Church describes himself, lays out the dismal consequences.
Noah grew up in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. “My parents and I only ever had one conversation about sex. I think that was the idea in their generation –one talk to understand biology. But in my generation, we learned from the internet.
“By age twelve, I saw things I never should have seen." How could he know what girls really wanted and what men really felt? "The first girl I wanted was when we were in high school. When we decided we wanted to make love, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get an erection. I didn’t understand why. Feeling shame, feeling broken, not able to be the man in the relationship I wanted to be. I eventually broke up with her. The same thing happened with many other women over the next six years. When I was 18 in 2008 and searching for answers, I found nothing.
Noah never thought of it as an addiction until his early 20s. “I always thought it was normal—all my guy friends used porn regularly. Until I saw a Ted Talk by Gary Wilson [in 2012] called “The Great Porn Experiment.” Wilson is a British academic and an expert on the neurochemistry of addiction.
Here is the most alarming observation on why it’s taken so long to study porn's impact on users. The top Canadian researcher, Simon Lajeunesse, could not find any college-age males who weren't using porn. So, studies have no control groups. This creates a huge blind spot. “Imagine if all guys started smoking heavily at age ten and there were no groups who didn't," Gary Wilson proposes. “We'd think lung cancer was normal for guys.”
As an adult, Noah realized the pernicious impact of porn. He wrote the book he needed to read when he was 18, Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn. Since then, he has been coaching porn users at colleges and sex addiction conferences.
Now 28, Noah is able to look back at his failures to connect physically and thus emotionally with women, but understanding the cause does not wipe away years of self-shaming humiliations. It has set back his readiness for real intimacy, much less marriage. ”I think many of us are facing digital addictions. And that is zapping a lot of our energy and motivation. It certainly did for me. The internet is an incredibly powerful stimulus, but misusing it can lead a lot of people astray. When someone gets rejected 20 times from a job, they want to escape from that failure, and it’s easy to move home and play video games.”