|by Brandon Stewart '08 • April 3, 2007|
Over 150 students gathered in Salter Hall Monday night to hear Michael Leahy, self-proclaimed recovering sex addict give a presentation entitled, "Porn Nation: Living in a Hypersexual Culture".
Mr. Leahy’s 90 minute presentation covered the influx of sex in our culture and the effect it has had on us all, but especially the current generation of college undergraduates. Leahy identified two of the most common ways people dismiss the effects of pornography: the idea that no one gets hurt and that we have the freedom to choose to be exposed to the material. Leahy declared his lecture would hopefully dispel those myths.
The first few minutes of Leahy’s lecture were spent reciting a listing of startling facts about the porn industry. As he put it at the start, "I want to be open, honest and transparent with you tonight." The world-wide porn market rakes in an estimated $57 billion a year, with a significant portion of that money being generated by the United States. In fact, Leahy shared with the crowd, there are roughly twice as many adult shops in the US than McDonald’s restaurants. The internet has become a huge outlet for growth in the pornography industry attracting nearly 40 million customers at over 4.2 million websites.
But the lecture wasn’t all about citing facts. Leahy gave a personal testimonial about the damage a porn addiction had on his own life. The youngest of five children, Leahy moved around a lot and eventually settled in Spokane, Washington for the majority of his childhood. It was as he hit puberty that he began to be interested in pornography and his addiction began. But he cited an earlier episode, in which he was shown a naked woman on a playing card, as his first experience with the power that sexual imagery can produce.
He then narrated his collegiate and post-graduate life which he described as being completely devoid of any real intimacy. Instead, said Leahy, he had bought into the culture of sex’s myth that "real men are sexual conquerors and that woman are merely sexual objects." But he had thought all of it was over when he married Patti Gail, the woman who he said he fell in love with "in one of those love at first sight moments."
They had a good marriage of 15 years with several children when Michael’s desires began to overcome him. He related how he began to rely more and more on himself for fulfillment and the sexual intimacy between himself and his wife took a violent nosedive. In fact, his life was in a real tailspin and in 1997 he began an affair with a woman. In fact, after his marriage crumbled a year later, he learned that this woman was having affairs with at least five other married men at the same time.
With a sad laugh, Leahy said that at that point he realized "that I had gotten everything I asked for." He had found a woman who embodied all of his sexual fantasies, but at the cost of his marriage. As the marriage began to dissolve, his wife even became suicidal, having blamed herself for failing to be a good wife. But as Leahy openly admitted, "I was an affair waiting to happen." Indeed, "the seeds were sown long before that" when he began to rely on focus on his own sexual gratification at the expense of the other aspects of his life.
Interspersed between Leahy’s lecture were video clips from a number of psychologists, counselors, recovering sex addicts, and a former prostitute. There was even a testimonial from a former Playboy playmate. Each addressed the issue of sexual addiction in different ways, but were almost unanimous in their description using words like "high" and "buzz". In fact, throughout the night, sexual addiction was compared to the experience of a junky attempting to get a fix from some narcotic.
The testimonials provided sage advice for those who are in similar situations. As a former sex addict stated, "What you do currently will affect your ability to have intimacy in the future." This sentiment was echoed by many throughout the video clips. The sexual liberation which has been proclaimed so proudly by many in our culture has had many serious deleterious results. Indeed, the incidence of on-campus rapes has not declined and roughly one in four college females are reported to be suffering from some sort of eating disorder.
Towards the end of the lecture, Leahy offered up a four minute intermission and invited people to stick with him but that the rest of the lecture would be more grounded in a spiritual message and that those that wanted to leave could do so. He then launched into a series of video clips and personal testimony which presented the idea that the best way out of this sex addiction was through Christ.
The lecture was hosted by the Wabash Christian Men, the Newman Center, the Religion Department and the Gender Issues Committee.
There were mixed reactions in the crowd. Brian Deyo, President of the Wabash Christian Men was pleased with how the event turned out. "Wabash Christian Men brought Michael Leahy to campus to help address what we see as a serious issue in our lives as students, and present the idea that Jesus Christ is the only way to find true pleasure and intimacy in life."
Others had slightly different views. Zafer Ahmed ’08 said, "I didn't quite buy Leahy's contention of a "Sex Syndrome." I agree and accept his points about the hypersexualization of American society (and the subsequent influence porn has had on it), but I saw "Porn Nation" as Leahy's justification for having an extramarital affair." For Zafer and others, there was not enough focus on personal responsibility and too much emphasis on the effect pornography had on people.
Mike Karam, president of the Newman Center was particularly pleased to have the opportunity to co-sponsor this event. "We were pleased that the WCM approached us with this opportunity. It was special for us to have this opportunity to show our Christian solidarity across Protestant/Catholic lines."
"Everyone understands the potential for disease, however, the Newman Club's concern – like the concern of the Church – are the emotional and spiritual dangers of pornography and unchaste behavior period. Leahy's talk was an exciting opportunity for us to bring someone in who could level with our secular culture on its own terms-- speaking from personal experience, with physical examples of the destructiveness of pornography-- and to help to make it aware of the objective reality of the grave dangers of unchaste behavior."