Mitch didn’t think his life could get any better. He was a happily mar­ried man in his early fifties, with three teenage daughters who adored him, and a highly esteemed career as a high school teacher and coach. He served on education committees and boards. Students and parents praised him for his friendliness, talent, and competence. His colleagues respected him. From the outside, he was the picture of a successful American man.

Like many of his childhood friends, Mitch began looking at porn as a teenager after finding some of his father’s magazines. As a young man, he would occasionally buy a porn magazine while on a business trip or rent a porn video. In the late 1990s, with the availability of the Internet, he soon discovered that it was easy to get as much porn as he wanted on a computer. He began watching it more frequently and on a regular basis.

“I didn’t want to keep any pornography in my house or on our home computer, because we still had our three daughters living at home,” he said. “I didn’t want to risk exposing them to it. So I started looking at porn at work over the Internet, in my private office alone with the blinds shut and the door locked, long after all the students had left. Looking at it there seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought it was safe.”

Mitch considered the porn he was looking at harmless. “It was mostly soft-core stuff,” he said. “Naked bodies. Adult men and women having regular sex—nothing out of the ordinary. No kinky stuff. Nothing illegal. I really liked the pictures and videos that had some kind of love story to them where the couple would end up making love. They had silly plots a lot of the time, but lots of sexual action.”

Even though Mitch said he and his wife were sexually active and had been throughout their thirty-year marriage, he used porn as a way to supplement his sex life. “My wife doesn’t care as much about sex as I do,” he said. “She’s never felt as passionately about it. That’s just the way it is and I had accepted that early in our marriage. Porn is always there, and with the Internet, always available. It makes for incredible sex. It gave me a powerful rush and very intense orgasms. It was an attractive drug of choice.”

Mitch realized that his porn habit, as he described it, was compulsive, but it seemed similar to other compulsive activities that were part of his life that he considered benign. “I had to read the paper every morning, I had to watch a little porn after school, and I had to have my late-night snack. If I didn’t do these things it bothered me. Porn was the only really bad compulsion I had. And I didn’t really consider it bad, just not some­thing I would want anyone else to know about.”

One Friday, after the last school bell rang and all the kids had left the classroom, Mitch was sitting at his desk organizing the papers he needed to grade over the weekend. Suddenly, in walked the principal, district superintendent, and an assistant. They all looked grim. “I greeted them pleasantly. I had no idea why they wanted to see me,” Mitch said. “Then in a stern voice the superintendent said, ‘We’ve been tracking what you’ve been doing on the Internet. We know you have been look­ing at porn on your work computer. We’re taking your computer with us today and we intend to have you fired. Turn over your keys to your classroom and the building, now. And get out!’ I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what was happening. They were treating me like I was some kind of sexual pervert and predator.

“They asked if they could get my home computer. I said, ‘Sure, sure—you can have it. There is nothing there. I just did it here.’ And then the superintendent said, ‘Well, we’re going to check every computer you’ve ever been on and we won’t stop until we find something to have you arrested.’ ”

Realizing that his secret life was about to be exposed to everyone, Mitch decided he should come clean with the people who mattered in his life. “I told my pastor about it first,” he said. “And that evening I sat my wife and daughters down in the living room and confessed every­thing. They were shocked because they never had a clue.” Mitch then contacted his union education representative and got a lawyer. They told him he could probably keep his job if he fought the school district.

Instead of fighting, however, Mitch decided to resign. “My school district threatened to destroy me publicly,” he said. “They had done it to two other men before me. I got a call from a guy in the district who said, ‘If you don’t come down here and resign, we’re releasing this to the press.’ They wanted to make an example of me. It didn’t matter that I’d never spoken or behaved in a sexually inappropriate way to any of the kids I’d ever taught or coached. And, the fact that I had an outstanding thirty-year record working for the district didn’t matter. They wanted to get me and I knew they could. It would ruin me in the eyes of the com­munity. Whatever people read or hear in the media about you, no matter what the truth is, it can’t be changed.”

Mitch looks back on his experience of being caught using porn at work as being a “tough, dark time” in his life. His thirty-year teaching career got wiped out in an instant. He lost the respect of his family mem­bers, friends, and colleagues. “But,” he said, “as unfair as the experience seemed at the time, it did make me realize how lethal it is to have a prob­lem like this and keep it secret. After being put on probation with the school district and voluntarily going through a sex offender assessment and treatment program, I was finally able to get my teaching certificate back. Even though I’m in a new career now, I still keep my teaching certificate with me in my wallet as a reminder of what I went through. I had a problem with porn that I didn’t take responsibility for. I just kept it secret. If I had really been courageous enough, I would have told my wife and pastor about it before I got caught, and gotten help. If I’d done that, I’d probably still be teaching now. As it was, my porn habit ultimately overwhelmed and controlled me. It steamrolled my life.”

Mitch found out the hard way that porn use can easily cloud your judg­ment and trick you into taking risks you don’t even consciously realize you are taking. As smart and competent as he is, when under the influence of a desire to use porn, he made what he now calls some “very stupid choices.” Even though at times he had a nagging sense in the back of his mind that looking at porn at work wasn’t a good idea, his desire to do it made it seem okay. He rationalized his behavior by telling himself, “It’s only soft­core. No one will ever know. I’m protecting my family by doing it here at school.” He never had the inclination or took the time to really think out what he was doing and all the ramifications that would occur if he ever got caught. Something about using porn made him feel invulnerable.

When Mitch talks about porn having “steamrolled” his life, he is not only referring to the fact that his outstanding three-decade career as an educator was destroyed in a single day, but also to many other ways in which his life and the lives of those closest to him were profoundly im­pacted. Mitch’s wife was shocked and angry. She felt personally hurt and interpreted his porn use as a serious sexual infidelity. His daughters were disappointed in him. He had to be dishonest with students, parents, and others about why he suddenly left his job. He was forced to find another way to support his family. And for a long time he lived in constant fear that the truth would come out and his reputation would be further tarnished.