The worst sex advice you've heard this year

Dec 15, 2022

 I have some Google Alerts set up so that I am notified when new studies emerge, when I or my work is mentioned on the Webs, or when someone gives really dumb advice about porn use. I got a pop on that third one recently.

Zachary Zane, author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto, writes the "Sexplain It" column for Men's Health. Based on his recent article responding to a reader, I probably won't be reading more. This piece is titled, My Kink Is Ruining My Dating Life. Here is the letter that Mr. Zane responds to in the article:

Dear Sexplain It,

So I don’t really believe in porn addiction, but is it possible to be addicted to nasty, kinky shit? Let me back up. I spent the pandemic alone and was helping take care of people, so I was celibate, and that meant that I jerked off a lot. But I started watching or reading wild shit. And I’m not saying I would do them all, only some of the extreme stuff.

Now that I’ve started dating again, I’ve enjoyed jerking off to this nasty wild shit online way more than the dates. It’s just so much hotter. I mean, it could just be the people. But is it possible to just have your brain warped by kinky fetishes to the point where they get you off, even if you’re too embarrassed to mention what they are in this letter?

—Nasty and Satisfied Alone

I wish this man had sent me an email, but instead he sent one to Zachary Zane. Let's see what he had to say. (Zane's text will be in italics, mine in bold).

Dear Nasty and Satisfied Alone,

I don't think the issue here is whether or not you have an addiction—although you don't, for the record. More on that in a sec. I think your real problem is the shame you feel about enjoying kinks that society has told you are deviant.

Back to your addiction question: As most sex researchers and educators will tell you, porn is not an addictive substance like alcohol—no, not even the "nasty, kinky shit" you're into. I reached out to Gigi Engle, ACS, certified sex educator at 3Fun and author of All The F*cking Mistakes, who explained that there are three major components of addiction that have never been scientifically observed with sex, porn, or masturbation: tolerance (in other words, people don't need more and more sex in order to reach orgasm); withdrawal (you don't experience painful withdrawal symptoms if you stop having sex or watching porn); and risk of death (people don't die of orgasm overdoses).

First, tolerance is absolutely present with compulsive sexual activity. It's clear as day in the letter that's featured here. This man isn't enjoying dating or regular sex anymore because his tolerance has risen and he needs more extreme and specific stimuli to get him aroused. Just as a drug user will use higher doses or stronger substances over time. And yes, for some this can mean a more difficult time reaching orgasm (like it was for me).

Second, I talk every day with men who are going through withdrawals from porn. They might have mood swings, insomnia, headaches, irritability, depression, flatline or intense cravings. These usually pass within a couple months of quitting. They're generally not as intense as withdrawals from substances, but they do tend to last longer.

Third, the risk of death is not part of any definition addiction that I've seen. At its core, addiction is about losing control over a pleasurable behavior that is causing significant harm in your life. It is absolutely possible to become addicted to porn use or harmful sexual activity. Plus, even if this was part of the definition of addiction, I've talked with plenty of men who had become suicidal largely due to the harms of their pornography and sex addictions.

So if it’s not an addiction, what’s happening? You’ve opened up a bit of a Pandora’s Box with novelty-seeking. In other words, you've discovered a new sexual fantasy that you enjoy, and you're currently focused on getting off to those fantasies. That's really all that's going on, and there's nothing wrong with it, as long as you're enjoying yourself.

This man is clearly in distress and recognizing the consequences of his porn use, and Zachary's answer is to continue digging himself a deeper grave. This stems from the common misinformed belief that porn use only reveals to us what we're naturally aroused by. And don't get me wrong, this does happen.

However, in a case like this where the man has been using for years, slowly escalating through more and more extreme genres? That's something else entirely. This process of tolerance and escalation can actually alter someone's sexual preferences, changing their innate sexual desires and proclivities. And this isn't a good thing. Hedonism is not the key to happiness and success. Pleasure does not equal fulfillment. The men I work with are extremely grateful to regain their sensitivity to vanilla sexual intimacy after stopping their porn use.

I like how sex and relationship psychotherapist Silva Neves, author of Compulsive Sexual Behaviours: A Psycho-Sexual Treatment Guide for Clinicians, responded when I showed him your question: “You’ve stumbled across some sexual things that made some parts of your erotic mind go YES!” Now that this part of your mind is active, you’re excited by them. It’s like when people try out rock climbing for the first time, love it, and want to keep doing it.

Or like when someone tries heroin for the first time, loves it, and wants to keep doing it.

So stop worrying about your brain being "warped" by porn. If there's anything you need to fix in your brain, it's the shame and embarrassment you feel about your sexual desires. If sexual shame is clouding your thoughts when you're on a date, I'm not surprised you're not connecting with people—you're probably too busy worrying that if they learned about your sexual desires, they would think you're sick or perverted (which you're not!).

I'm all for self-acceptance and destigmatizing sexuality. I think Zachary and I would agree about that. But the only way this man will discover who he is and what he wants from sex and relationships is to get off the porn. He needs to give himself the chance to recover his sexual sensitivity and innate desires.

Check out this older video of mine for more on rediscovering your true sexual nature and coming to terms with the desires you developed through porn use.

Unpacking a lifetime of sexual shame takes a lot of work, and therapy is a good place to start. You can also follow sex-positive and kink-positive accounts on Instagram like [...] You might also benefit from spending time on Reddit. There is very likely a subreddit on your kink, and just seeing other folks who share your kink can help normalize your desires. (Shameless plug: I also recommend you pick up a copy of Men's Health Best. Sex. Ever.: 200 Frank Funny & Friendly Answers About Getting It On. In that book, we really tackle how to reduce sexual shame and share helpful ways to discuss your sexual desires with partners and explore them safely.)

If you feel bad or disturbed about something you're doing, the answer isn't always that those feelings are the problem. Sometimes, you feel bad because your sexual actions or fantasies are contrary to your actual identity or morality. Or you feel bad because you sense the unending emptiness that awaits you when you search for fulfillment in ever more extreme sexual kink.

I don't know what your kinks are, but you could even try them IRL if you can do so ethically and consensually. Embracing your anxiety-inducing kinks is a great way to fight your own internalized stigma. As Neves says, “The bottom line is that once you've tried new [sexual] flavors that you love, it is hard to ignore them, and, in fact, it is not advisable to ignore them because repressing them can be damaging to mental health."

Acting on them can also be damaging to mental health. Just ask all them men I've worked with who acted on their porn-induced escalated sexual desires and later deeply regretted it after stopping their porn use and restoring their sexual sensitivity.

I can promise you that countless others share your kinky desires—after all, sounds like there's plenty of porn for whatever you're into. Consider planning dates with people who share your passion for nasty shit. FetLife is probably the first place you should look. It’s like Facebook, but for kinky folks, and you’ll be able to connect with other likeminded kinksters across the globe. Fetlife also coordinates in-person “munch” events, where you can meet and talk to other kinky folks in your area. You didn’t mention the gender of your partners, but if you like hooking up with men, then you should check out Recon, which is specifically for queer men. Recon’s tagline is “the fetish network,” and there are definitely guys into some “nasty, kinky shit” on that site.

And keep watching the porn you love! You seem to have created this false dichotomy: either you keep watching porn OR you find someone good enough that you don't need to watch porn anymore. Good news, my friend: You can totally have both! Watching porn and dating are two separate activities. That's also why, if a date doesn't go well, it's probably because you didn't have chemistry—not because you're into kinky porn.

Here's the hard truth: everything you do changes who you are and affects every other part of your life. Compartmentalization is in an addict's nature, but it never works long term. You cannot jerk it to thousands of hours of porn without it affecting your sexuality and relationships, as well as every other part of your life. My advice to the letter writer, if he happens to see this, is to give yourself the chance to discover who you are without porn. Go without any porn for six months and see if you're still interested in that "nasty, kinky shit." And if you can't stay away from porn for that long after deciding to stop, that's a hallmark indication that your use has become compulsive.

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