Recovering Porn Addict Speaks Out

Although many college-age students might not agree, pornography in U.S. culture can affect them in many ways, including desensitizing them to sexual images and the objectification of women, a speaker told a University crowd Wednesday.

Michael Leahy, a self-proclaimed former porn addict in recovery, spoke as part of a presentation called “Porn Nation” held in 150 Columbia Hall. Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored and organized the event.

In front of an overflowing crowd of more than 500, Leahy spoke to raise awareness of the issue of sex addiction, to demonstrate how the porn industry affects everyday culture and to tell his personal story of how it influenced his life.

“There’s nothing shocking about my story,” Leahy said. “The shocking thing is that I’m out there talking about it.”

Leahy said that sexual images saturate our society every day, and that the average person is exposed to about 14,000 sexual messages each year. He noted that what may have been considered obscene 20 or 30 years ago is acceptable by today’s standards. The main problem here, he said, lies in the mainstream media “normalizing the abnormal.”

Leahy said he has seen firsthand the effects of overexposure to pornography.

At age 11, Leahy was first exposed to pornography on the playground of his school while living in Tacoma, Wash. He said he liked what he saw but didn’t want anyone else to know about it.

“I kept it a secret,” he said. “I kept it a secret for 30 years.”

When he married, what he thought was a harmless fascination with pornography caused harm.

Leahy said he found himself fantasizing about other women even on his honeymoon, and began to wonder whether he could remain happy with his wife. He hit his lowest point, he said, when he eventually had an affair in 1996.

“I entered the classification of becoming sexually addicted,” Leahy said.

He and his wife divorced two years later in 1998.

“I had no idea that I was going to lose control of something that used to be a novelty,”Leahy said. “But that’s what happened.”

He added that it was a problem that eventually cost him dearly.

“I was a 40-something-year-old guy who was sitting on the mountain top, and I had lost everything,” Leahy said.

Leahy began attending support groups and getting serious about his recovery after this, he said. He stressed that the most important part of his recovery was finding faith in God and consciously deciding to make a change by using him and Jesus Christ as examples. He discovered that his most important need was not sex, he said, but love.

“I had no idea that my greatest need was not just to be loved, but to love,” Leahy said. “When I actually love others … that’s something supernatural.”

Leahy’s spiritual message was not without opposition.

After the presentation, Steven Shapiro, a manager at the Research Services and Administration department, stood up and publicly asked Leahy if he was aware of CCC’s purpose and accused him of manipulating students to promote his spiritual message.

“They were deceptive in their advertising,” Shapiro said. “The only mission Campus Crusade for Christ has is to convert people to their religion.”

Leahy said that such opposition to the religious theme is not uncommon, and he has seen the same thing at other campuses.

Emily Ebert, a volunteer with CCC who helped organize the event, commended Leahy’s presentation and his awareness of the issue.

“We live in such a sexual culture, but pornography is still such a taboo topic,” she said.

Leahy has been speaking at colleges for the past two years, and he has also participated in “porn debates” with pornographic actor Ron Jeremy at some schools.

Leahy said that the general response to his presentations has been very positive. He has visited 60 other campuses in the past 18 months.

“Overall, I think the students of this generation value authenticity, openness and honesty,” he said.