Like other kids he grew up with, Hank, a divorced forty-seven-year-old, began looking at Playboy regularly in his early teens. Although initially he didn’t consider it pornographic, it didn’t take long for Hank to make sexually provocative photos the focal point of his masturbation.

At seventeen he had sex with a girl for the first time and got her pregnant. They were forced by their parents to get married. Even though Hank’s young wife liked sex and was eager to have sex with him when­ever he wanted it, he was surprised to find himself still needing to reg­ularly masturbate to porn. Hank says, “I never found personal sexual satisfaction being with my wife. I was eighteen years old with a normal sex drive and a regular, willing sexual partner. I couldn’t understand why I still had to have my pornography, but I did.”

Hank got divorced, but his need for porn continued even after he began sleeping with a number of other women. “I kept having the same feelings of sexual frustration. I realized it wasn’t that I had needed nov­elty or variety in sex, it was that I was looking for the ideal woman, like the ones who exist in porn. Porn hadn’t prepared me to be with a real woman. I wanted perfection or nothing.”

In the years that followed his divorce Hank got more heavily involved with porn. He says, “After my marriage I felt like a starving man at a banquet. Suddenly I could get all the porn I wanted and not have to worry about anyone else. I got to gorge myself and I did. Even the way I had sex with real women was just another form of porn for me.”

Hank describes himself as becoming a “party boy” who just wanted to get laid. “For a while I was fairly sexually active. I had a number of sexual partners, but each one was totally frustrating. My ‘relationships’ wouldn’t last more than a few weeks or a few months because after the initial fascination and mystery wore off or my immediate sexual needs were met, I found the woman inferior. I judged her as below me, not my equal, not someone who I would be proud to be with. I was also ashamed of being with her because I knew I was just using her for sex and didn’t really want a relationship with her. I wasn’t pursuing an intimate partner, I was looking for a piece of ass, but more often than not my sexual needs were met by pornography use. By the time I was in my late twenties I had pulled back from the dating scene, preferring to use porn and have occasional one-night stands when I needed some human contact.”

Hank didn’t mind having little sexual contact with real women. His masturbating to porn was completely satisfying on a physical and emo­tional level. He enjoyed the feeling of having total control over his own sexual experience. He says, “I didn’t have to think about anybody else’s needs. I could control every level of my own sexual response.”

By thirty years old, Hank felt he had learned how to address all his sexual needs in such a way that he didn’t need a woman. “All I needed was the stimulation I got from visual and written pornography,” he said. “When I felt a fever of sexual need I would turn to pornography and masturbate. I could finish up in ten minutes or prolong the experience with a gradual build-up to a fever pitch that lasted for hours.”

But Hank’s physical finesse with using porn came at a social price. Hank reflects, “I became less capable and willing to reach out and spend time to build a relationship with a woman. I was way too self-centered. If I went to a party and found someone to have sex with, it was still all about me. Sometimes I slept with a woman just to make sure I was okay and still in touch with humanity.”

Over the course of the next ten years, strange shifts began occurring in Hank’s relationship with porn. Masturbating to porn stopped being something he was choosing to do to address his sexual urges. He began needing to masturbate to pornography frequently in order to simply feel good. “It became compulsive. I had to do it or risk feeling miserable. I had been masturbating to porn a lot, once or twice a day, every day for years, but it had turned into something more than just a need for sexual release. I started masturbating for longer periods of time and needing newer and different types of porn. I progressed from Playboy and soft­core magazines to the very edges of child pornography. And the progres­sion was almost unnoticeable to me. It felt natural. I needed different and deeper stimulation. Playboy didn’t satisfy me because it’s too plain, too common. I wanted magazines that were barely legal. I also began using porn in combination with alcohol and other drugs to heighten the effect. My experience of porn changed drastically.”

Hank increasingly found himself in a bind. “Visual images no longer worked for me. I’d get a tingling or a tickling of a sexual response, but my sexual needs became more internalized, based on ideas in my own head. I felt like I could write my own script for my perfect sexual response. So I began writing my own pornography for myself, starting from my own sexual desires. Writing enabled me to justifying my continued porn use. I told myself this is intellectual and I’m learning how to write by doing this.”

Hank would hide away in his room for days at a time, writing por­nography while getting high on methamphetamine and drunk on frozen vodka martinis. “I could maintain an erection for hours, literally for hours. And I did this for months. Every weekend I’d lock myself in my room and do this stuff. It started out as something great, but quickly became very, very unsatisfying. I started feeling bad for staring at a pic­ture of a woman, for using her body parts this way, and not caring a thing about her. I’d use her image until I no longer found her interesting and then drop her in the trash. I felt ashamed for her and for myself.

“I understood what I was doing, how selfish and self-centered it all was, how little I got out of it. But it’s almost like it was feeding itself. I was no longer in control of my sex life. I had become the object of the por­nography. We’d switched places. The pornography had a life of its own. It was the dictator. It was running the show and I was just the whipping boy.”

Hank’s preoccupation with porn and the exhaustion that resulted from his weekend binges started to cause him trouble at work. “I’m a welder and you have to be very precise and very careful. After all, I’m working with fire and dangerous gasses. One wrong move and you can hurt yourself or even die. One day after I’d just come off of a three-day run of writing porn, getting high, and getting off, and had maybe three hours of sleep, I went to work and just stood there. It was like I had for­gotten this job and who I was. I just stood there and broke down. It was almost as if my conscience wept. I felt this very deep level of shame. It was like I had reached the point where my conscience was giving up, my conscience was reaching out to me in the only way it could.

“It’s odd that I’ve never talked about this and I’ve never really been able to verbalize it, but in that moment, I could no longer drink, I could no longer do drugs, and I could no longer do pornography. It all came to an end in an instant and I just broke down. I broke down physically while I was at work. I broke down emotionally. I broke down spiritually. I was so bereft of any positive self-image that I just wept. It was almost like part of me died and I was grieving that death. I was no longer able or willing to do that to myself anymore. No longer willing to give that much of myself away. I just wanted to feel whole again.”

Unlike with Mitch, Hank reached bottom from the inside. No one caught him using porn. No intimate partner threatened to leave him. He didn’t lose his job. Porn use sent him on a gradual slide into a psycho­logical and spiritual abyss where he lost touch with his values and who he was as a human being. He came to realize that no matter how cocky he’d been, believing he could fool others about his secret behaviors, he wasn’t able to hide what he’d been doing from himself. He reached his own personal and moral limits.

Emotional breakdowns are often the result of an unresolved internal conflict about what we are doing or not doing in our lives. The psycho­logical pressure we feel inside gets so intense that it explodes from our subconscious, where it has been lurking all along, to our conscious state. And as it does, it triggers mental exhaustion and collapse. Hank’s mental/ spiritual breakdown was a natural consequence of having ignored his core values, feelings, and needs. His breakdown triggered the realiza­tion that he no longer wanted to be doing porn and other behaviors that weren’t healthy and good for him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Hank’s hitting bottom experience allowed him to see that his life had become unmanageable. He could no longer deny the fact that his prob­lems with porn, drugs, relationships, and masturbation had spun out of control. As Hank reflects, “The line between extreme self-indulgence and inevitable self-destruction is very thin.”