Oct 122005
Authors: Brandon Lowrey, Vimal Patel

Recovering pornography addict Michael Leahy likens his disorder with alcoholism. But being addicted to the drink might be easier to get away from, he says – someone isn't shoving a glass of beer in your face at every corner or on every Web page.

"I went through hell, became suicidal and almost took my life over it," Leahy told a crowd of about 500 CSU students Wednesday night. The Atlanta, Ga., resident has been touring campuses across the country, trying to "reframe" students' perception of pornography as anything designed to be sexually arousing.

Porn, he said, ruined his life. He lost his promising career, his 15-year marriage and compromised his relationship with his two children.

"Internet pornography is the crack-cocaine of sexual addiction," said Leahy, the founder and executive director of the non-profit, awareness-raising Bravehearts. "I try to stay away; there's the occasional slip here and there."

Religion has played a crucial role in his recovery, he said.

The Campus Crusade for Christ heard of Leahy's tour and organized the gathering, dubbed "Porn Nation." They drew the crowd using vague, sensual imagery and chalk scrawling on the ground at Lory Plaza.

Many bewildered – yet intrigued – students filled the Lory Student Center ballroom with chatter before the lights dimmed. Students' expectations ranged from a psychology presentation or "neo-evangelical Christian brainwashing" to a porno fair or a pornography recruitment session.

"I think porn is horrible," said Erik Smith, a restaurant and resort management junior. "I think it ruins our society. Guys look at girls as objects."

English major Jason Zook said porn is not inherently evil.

"You could say the same things about violent video games, that they perpetuate crime," he said. "But it all comes down to what goes on in your house."

His girlfriend, Sarah Vaughan, a physical education teacher in Frederick, said she also occasionally watches porn and doesn't mind that Zook watches it.

"It puts us in a passive place sometimes, but it can also put (women) in a powerful place," Vaughan said, referring to the power women have to arouse men.

"It seems like the more porn is available, there are more rape cases and assault cases," said Ben Carlucci, a construction management junior and member of Campus Crusade for Christ. "I think it's very mainstream in society, so mainstream we don't even notice it anymore. In the 50s (the amount of pornography) was 1/100th of what it is today."

The organizer of the CSU event, Allie Anderson, a sophomore equine science major and co-leader for Campus for Christ outreach, said over the course of setting up Porn Nation she learned how large of a societal issue obscenity is.

"You don't even realize how much we're exposed to pornography in the first place," she said. "It's like any type of habitual sin."

The pornography industry brings in an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion each year, according to CBS.

At a porn shop near campus, an employee who would only identify herself as "Sam" estimated about half of the shop's customers are college students. The rest of the often-quiet people who crowd the cramped adult toy store are older men, she said.

Fridays and Saturdays are the hottest nights, Sam said.

Customers asked for their opinions on pornography for the most part refused to comment Wednesday afternoon. However, one middle-aged man gave his views on condition of anonymity, saying that being quoted outside of a porn shop would adversely affect his personal life.

"I like it," the Fort Collins resident said. However, he conceded, "I do believe porn is addictive, and I do think kids start out younger and younger. … It's more addictive than they realize."

The well-dressed man said a balance should be struck in regards to pornography.

"People can get off on a deviant path," he said. "I think, on the other side of the pendulum, it would be a total repressive society that forbids all that."

Leahy traveled the deviant path. He formed his "relationship" with porn at the age of 11.

The once-successful computer software specialist lost control in the mid-1990s with the advent of the Internet, he said. The Web made smut too easy to access and provided too much of a selection.

Before long, his relationship with porn began to successfully compete with his relationships with real people. He began planning his day around several hours of viewing the images and videos, and eventually cheated on his wife with a woman he met online.

He said she looked more like the kind of woman in a porno video.

Much pain and a divorce followed, but, years later, he began touring the country and speaking to media with his ex-wife. They're friendly with one another now, he said.

Leahy said he sometimes holds debates with Ron Jeremy – a porn actor who recently was the subject of the acclaimed documentary "Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy."

The former sex addict described the experience as surreal.

CSU is one of more than 50 campuses across the nation he's visiting. A second event, "Pure Freedom" is set to be held today in the Lory Student Center theater. He said his hope is to let students know about the "slippery slope" of sexual deviance.

Student Jason Zook said he and his buddies have discussed pornography's impact on society.

"We all agreed that it does more bad than good," he said, adding, "But I like it."

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