“You deal with porn addicts a lot, right?” she asked me over brunch one day*.
I considered the question carefully. My friends fall all over the porn acceptance spectrum, from using it daily and swearing by its benefits to being so vehemently opposed that they won’t even talk to the people on the other side. This particular friend should fall somewhere in the middle, in a ‘live and let live’ kind of position, and while I didn’t see her using porn, I didn’t see her caring if other people did, so I was surprised to hear an admission of addiction as a possibility. “Not so much directly anymore,” I said slowly, taking a sip of water. “I don’t get to speak to people as much as I used to.”
“Oh.” She shifted uncomfortably. “But you’re still comfortable with the topic?”
“Comfortable, how, exactly?” I asked, eyebrow raised. I wasn’t sure if we were about to have a debate over our croissants or if something else was happening here.
“Well, like, do you feel comfortable talking about porn addiction?”
The change in her tone was palpable, and I felt as though I suddenly understood where this was going. My mind flashed to her husband, and my stomach clenched in anticipation of the conversation we were about to have. “Kara**,” I said gently, putting down my water and placing my hand over hers. “What’s going on?”
She snatched her hand away and started playing with her wedding ring. “Well, like, I was just wondering how much you knew about it.”
I stared at her. “Kara?”
Suddenly she blurted out “I was just wondering if you talk to people who aren’t addicted to porn but are more like, haunted by it?”
Just like that, the conversation went down a completely unexpected path. “I’m………not sure what you mean.”
“Well like, say someone isn’t addicted to porn, but they sometimes use things they’ve seen in porn to…you know…” her eyes got round and her voice drifted off, as she started looking around the restaurant to see who might be listening.
“I’m fairly certain that if that person needs to resort to images they’ve seen online to, you know,” I copied her expression, so she’d know we were on the same page, “then I think that constitutes an addiction. Or at least, a problem…”
“Well they don’t NEED it!” she said quickly, twisting her ring again. “They just sometimes aren’t ready and when they’re trying to get into the mood, they can’t help but use it, you know?”
“Kara, is this about Keith? **”
“Keith..what? No. Keith doesn’t watch porn.” She laughed, as if the idea was absurd.
“So, what exactly are we talking about here?”
She blew out a sigh. “I’m haunted by a girl in a turquoise shirt.”
“Ok,” I said slowly. “Well, I’m going to need more context.”
“I don’t watch porn. I’ve never seen the appeal. But years ago, I watched part of one at a party, you know, and there was this girl who wore this turquoise shirt and a mini skirt. And she kept the shirt on the entire time, and I don’t know. I think about her when Keith wants to be intimate, and I’m just not feeling up to it. It’s like I can’t help it. I’m still attracted to Keith, and it’s not every time or anything, but just when I’ve had a long day, or I’m tired, or I don’t feel appealing. Keith doesn’t know. I want to tell him, but I don’t even know what I’d say. ‘Sometimes I think about a girl I saw 10 years ago to be intimate with you?’ And like, there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t know how to purge images from my head, so there’s no way to fix it. It’s stupid. He probably wouldn’t even care.” She laughed again.
“Would you care?”
“If Keith was using an image of someone else, someone significantly younger than you, to be intimate with you?”
Her face fell. “I’d be devastated.”
The truth is, when my friend told me this story, I wasn’t all that surprised. Not because I knew she was, as she described, haunted by images from her past, but because I have spoken to many, many people who struggle with porn use. One thing I’ve learned is that dependence on porn can manifest in many ways, and it varies from person to person. When she described this girl that she thinks about, that she hasn’t seen in ten years but is somehow still clear as day in her mind, I thought of many other stories I have heard describing the same phenomenon. I’ve heard it described as “an x-rated movie behind my eyes” and “an XXX show without having to watch more porn”. For people who are struggling to stop watching porn, or who didn’t want to watch it in the first place, the semi-permanence of mental imagery can be devastating. Luckily, I’d spoken to all of these people before she decided to share with me, so I knew what to say.
“Look. I don’t think you’d be bringing this up to me if you didn’t want to do something about it. There are a lot of resources out there for this, and I can help you find them. In the meantime…” our eyes met, and she finished my sentence.
“I should tell Keith.”
*details have been changed to protect identity
**names have been changed to protect identity