Interview With A Former Porn Addict Who Is Also My Ex-Boyfriend

by Alexandra Molotkow

Matty

Matt Pollack is the director, along with Jamie Popowich, of Run Run It’s Him, a documentary about his porn addiction. It screened at CineKink in New York and won for best documentary at the 2011 PollyGrind Film Festival — you can buy it on demand for $10 a pop.

When I first met Matt, in 2005, he was “29 years old with four memberships at adult video stores, 55 tapes of compiled porn, and absolutely nothing to show for it: no girlfriend, no ambition.” This is according to the film synopsis; from my point of view, he was funny and charismatic and incredibly easy to be around. He asked if he could interview me for the film, over the course of these interviews we fell in love, and we stayed together for three and a half years.

By the time the film came out, we’d long broken up, and my feelings about porn, as well as male-female dynamics more generally, had changed a lot. It wasn’t his fault, but for a long time I had mixed feelings about the movie and having been in it. Matt has since gone porn-free. He is engaged to someone great and very happy. I’m curious about things I wasn’t as curious about when I was 20, so we talked.

When we were going out, you were very open about being a porn addict. And at the time it seemed benign to me — you talked about it in terms of some funny quirk, almost. Were you, or was I, too flippant about it?
 I would say the only time we talked honestly about my porn addiction was when we did the interviews for the film. Porn, for me, was always a solitary pursuit, and something I did not like to talk about, it would fill me with dread and self-loathing. I remember you catching me once, and you laughed it off, but it filled me with such anxiety and fear. I guess you never quite get rid of those shame-inducing circuits in your head.

I was comfortable talking about it in the film, because I was either talking to Jamie — a close friend — or I was interviewing people about it, and I wanted those interviews to be interesting and candid, so I pushed myself. But I never felt safe talking about it with you, or anyone else I’ve been in a relationship with. It always felt as if the brain police would break in and take me way to shame island. Flippancy was a device, to add some levity to something that probably made us both uncomfortable deep down.
 
 When you first released the film, you’d asked if I would write something about it. I’ve always felt bad that I didn’t. I think part of the reason was that I re-watched the movie, and heard myself, and felt that on the whole I was pretty uncritical of things I’m a lot more critical about now. I get the impression you might say the same?

 Yeah, it depends on the context, but certainly. There’s a good reason why I was so ashamed of my habit, because I do think it is kind of vile [laughs]. But it provided me with an outlet for a long time. I would never begrudge anyone who needs to use porn, that would be hypocritical of me, but I certainly have very mixed feelings toward it.
 
 Tell me about your headspace when you conceived the movie.

 I always wanted to make a film, but I assumed I needed a shit ton of money, or to hire actors, and it just seemed like — I can’t do that. Then, seeing films like Sherman’s March, and Vinyl, and some of those Werner Herzog documentaries, I started to think, oh, I could do this. And I thought, What would happen if one of Alan Zweig’s, or Werner Herzog’s subjects decided, Fuck this guy, I’m going to make my own movie.

You thought you’d make a fit subject?
 Well, I was in Alan’s movie I, Curmudgeon, and I found that kind of gave me a certain level of confidence, because people really seemed to laugh at what I was saying in the film. Initially this was just gonna be a film about me being an older virgin, trying to lose my virginity. But that turned out to be kind of a tired idea, and the whole time I was really getting into porn in what I considered to be a pretty obsessive manner. And I felt so ashamed of it, and so secretive, that I decided, this has to be the movie.

You would have been 23?
 23 or 24. I was 24 when I lost my virginity, and I thought that would kind of eliminate my porn habit, but if anything it just made it worse. You can’t just go out and have sex with people, at least I never could, and so to fill the space, I would just rent lots of porn.

What were your porn habits like at that point?
 My habit really started with ’70s stuff, because I wasn’t embarrassed to rent it. It seemed more socially acceptable, like I’m renting this to laugh at it, or because of the funny music. When I started renting new titles, it was just — This is what I’ve been looking for! I became a member of three or four adult video stores, and I would basically rent DVDs, take them home, and tape the scenes that I liked, stockpiling this edited collection.

It was something that I did quite frequently, I would say two or three times a week. It got to the point where it was like, man, they just can’t make this stuff fast enough for me. I could see the humor in it. I think I told you a story once about being in one of those places, and a guy scanned the new release wall and just yelled out, I came all the way from BARRIE for this?!?!?!

So you would rent these movies, and sort of make mixtapes?
 Yeah, if there was a scene that really stoked that feeling, I would tape it. But spending money on this stuff, it felt like I wasn’t getting anything out of it until I got something to keep in my archives — it was all about building this archive. At first it was like, OK, I’ll do one tape of my favorites. And then one tape becomes five, and five becomes 10, and it just keeps going and going until — I think when I stopped renting I was at 77 tapes.

And how many clips per tape?
 I would say about two hours per tape. On average, four to six scenes. And then — this is in the movie, but it got so confusing that I developed this ledger system, an inventory system where I would number the tapes, in this black binder. It was just becoming such an albatross, especially financially.
 
 One thing I always found kind of interesting about the tape thing — because you collect records.

 Yeah.

And you collect books — 
 I’ve always been a collector, yeah.
 
 So it always seemed like you applied the same instinct to porn.

 Yeah. And as the Internet kind of took over and these stores started to close, I had to travel farther and farther out of the city, and I actually enjoyed going to these weird, sort of creepy neighborhoods, places I had never been before. There was an excitement about walking into the place and seeing what they had. And it sounds insane to say, but there was kind of a romantic aspect. I was putting the sweat in.

At the same time, I’d be spending all day on the TTC for this stuff. It was depressing, too; it was very depressing. I’ll never forget the time I walked into a store, and this teenager was in there, and he was trying to decide on which fake vagina to buy, and he wanted to know why one of the fake vaginas was 10 dollars more than the other one. And the clerk was like — I just work here because I can’t get a better job. I’m not here because they looked at my resume and said, Wow, you really know your stuff.
 
 It sounds like there was a recreational, and a human, and an aesthetic element to your porn habit that didn’t have that much to do with the porn itself.

 Oh yeah, certainly. And when I think about it with hindsight, it wasn’t really lust that was driving it. I would say it was much more driven by anxiety, in the sense of, I just didn’t know what the fuck to do with myself. I was working a lot then, and I had trouble just hanging out at home, or being able to concentrate on something. Porn was something to do. When you jerk off, you’re expending energy, and, whatever, when you ejaculate, you do feel a sense of relief — now, it is a very hollow relief, usually followed by some pretty intense self-loathing. But it is still a relief from the anxiety of, What do I do with myself? I could do that, or I could do 100 pushups. It was a pretty easy decision to make.
 
 So it sounds like these missions you were sending yourself on, and this archive you were collecting — like, it was work, in a way. How much of the satisfaction came from jerking off, and how much of the satisfaction came from just, doing the work?

 The satisfaction was in the anticipatory sort of excitement of, What am I going to be looking at? Everything else was just kind of going through the motions. It was trying to find that needle in the haystack.
 
 So it is like shopping for records.

 Yeah, most definitely. Let’s say you just find something in a record store, and your spidey sense kind of tingles — you don’t really know about it, but you just have a feeling, and you bring it home and it’s like, This is great! That’s a pretty great feeling. But that feeling will fade very quickly, and eventually you’ll want to go back to the record store and find it again. It’ll never be enough.

The thrill of the chase.
 Exactly. I would say that was pretty constant until my early- to mid-30s. And once I switched to the Internet, it was like a joke. I just thought it was insane that literally 10 feet away from me was this sex zoo.
 
 What changed when you started watching online porn?

 I actually found that it took up more of my time. Because you could become a member of these free sites, and you could favorite scenes, and it was like you were building an archive online. And it didn’t take up any space, and it didn’t take any money, and it was just all there, and so I would just spend a couple of hours a day going through these free sites and favoriting scenes that most of the time I wasn’t even watching. I just became obsessed. It felt like an easier way to build a collection.
 
 Where was the satisfaction in putting together these archives?

 It sounds crazy, but there was a sense of almost — I don’t know if it’s the right word, but almost safety? I needed to know that I had this stuff at my fingertips all the time. I needed that feeling that I would just go to this place and all my stuff would be there.

I started to feel ashamed of how much of my day was taken up with making my rounds — Gotta check my sites! And every day, there would be like 10 new pages to look through. It just became like a file clerk’s worst nightmare. I’d leave the house to buy groceries and stuff, and kind of be like, Where the fuck has my day gone? I was just building this archive in the ether.

I hit rock bottom with it. I felt like I had wasted so much time and energy and money, and there was just no end in sight, and I’m sitting here with a wet noodle in my hand. I just couldn’t get anything else done. I was stuck, you know. I was just stuck.

And it started to get depressing in other ways.
 Oh, it was very depressing. It culminated one day, I was in Starbucks, and there was a girl that was kind of friendly, like she would kind of make an effort with me. And I wanted to introduce myself to her, not even to ask her out, and I couldn’t do it. I just felt this sense of, Who the fuck is going to want to know me, the way I am right now? I felt really ashamed of myself, and that kind of pervaded my whole character — I felt like I couldn’t talk to people with confidence. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with porn directly, but at that point in my life, porn was kind of all I was doing.

How did you quit?
 Eventually I just weaned myself off it. It took a couple of months. Stuff with the film started to pick up. And I met [my fiancee], who had a great deal to do with it. I feel uptight about including her in this, because I’ve screwed a lot of things up in the past in this regard, but I feel like credit should be given where credit is due. When we first got together we had long talks about my issues, and they certainly made her uncomfortable, but she was honest with me about her feelings toward it. And those talks were essential to my quitting.
 
 When you talk about being — first of all, I’m really glad you’re in a good place.

 Yeah, of course.
 
 When you describe building this archive, it seems to come from kind of a nesting instinct.

 Sure.
 
 I feel like that’s pretty universal. And it could sort of be anything, it could be records, it could be GI Joes. Or kitchenware.

 Sure.
 
 But porn is — it’s a dangerous variable, because it has an effect.

 Yeah.
 
 So can you talk about the kind of porn you were watching, and the effect it might have had on the way you thought about women?

 I would say the scenes I liked the best were the ones where there was a guy, and kind of an innocent girl, and he had to kind of show her the ropes. I assume it came from the fact that I always felt so powerless with women, and so stupid about sex, that it was kind of living out this fantasy to see a guy be sort of in control, and have some confidence. I never felt like I could only get a hard-on in a certain type of scenario, or that I chased after younger girls — I know you were 10 years younger than me, but most of my girlfriends were my age. It just kind of was a way to kind of fill a lot of time, that had a clear-cut end result. I didn’t have to risk rejection, or try to go to bars to pick up women.

But I felt deeply ashamed of myself, that I needed to watch this stuff, like people would think I was sick. And it made me feel like I was really weak-minded, because I would rather spend three hours renting porn and watching it than like, reading a book, or even working on the film. It just kind of made me feel like an empty vessel. I could see someone with certain mental proclivities doing a lot of damage to themselves. There’s a certain sentiment I sort of picked up on among younger men, where it’s like, Oh, I’m OK, I don’t need a girlfriend, I have porn! That was, I felt, the dividing line — wow, you’re really in trouble. I always felt the most shame when I was looking at porn and I didn’t have a girlfriend.
 
 I guess what I’m getting at is, you’re watching scene after scene of young women being dominated by men, and kind of literally splayed open, while not having that many interactions with actual women.

 I felt like I was always able to separate the reality from the fantasy. I knew that those things weren’t going to happen in my life — I would have completely run away from that kind of situation. Like, I remember going to my girlfriend’s house in high school, and her parents weren’t home, and it was kind of like, Are we going to have sex? And I made up this story that I had to finish a bristol board project and ran out of there.

Also, you might think I’d be sitting there watching scene after scene, but it doesn’t usually work out that way. Like, you finish pretty quickly. And once you finish, it’s just kind of gone. And you just sort of feel hollow and shitty and lonely.

I just worry that it’s not purely a fantasy. I feel like, not only do people watch these things and get skewed ideas about gender dynamics, but these things also reflect gender dynamics in the real world. And it’s not just men it affects. When I think about how I was at 19, newly aware that I had some sexual currency, and that this sexual currency rested on my innocence, or my gameness — it sort of disturbs me. I don’t think that you’re a bad guy by any means, but we’re living in a society, right.
 Of course. And I will say this — there’s a large part of me that was ashamed of what I was doing because I was watching stuff that, at times I thought was pretty questionable. And I know the difference between right and wrong, but when I’m sitting there, and I have an erection, and I’m jerking off, and I’m going scene after scene — it’s like, all bets are off, in a sense. Like, your rational self kind of goes out the window.

Yeah.
 And right when I was finished, I would feel so disgusted with myself, I’d feel really awful about what I just did. But I wanted to make a film about the private experience of being a user. I didn’t want to build the film around a social issue, or the question of whether this was right or wrong, because I felt like those films had been made before. I wanted to make an honest film about being someone who was obsessive about this stuff, and how you can be swallowed up by it. And in the back of my head, there was a feeling of — I wish this film had been around when I was 25. I would have felt a little less alone, and maybe I wouldn’t have felt so terrible about myself, and maybe I would have gotten a handle on the fact that I had to stop wasting my time on it.

That makes sense.
 And you know, it was hard to watch some of that footage afterward. Like, it was not an easy film to put together, because there was a lot of like stuff that I felt pretty weird about. Honestly, there’s a reason it took me three years to put it out into the public. I was terrified to screen it here, and to an extent I still am.

Do you think it does something to guys, to see these women as just sexually available, like props for male desire?

Oh yeah, certainly. I guess, I always felt like I could never have sex with someone without feeling like I had gotten to know them a bit. I never thought of it as, This is what life should be like!, because I knew it wasn’t. It’s confusing, to think of a woman as some avatar, or something to just get your rocks off. I know that that sentiment is out there, and I’ve certainly known men who feel that way — like, fuck, if you want to do some research, just go through the comment section of some of those sites, and you will see a gallery of some pretty fucked up dudes. It can be pretty darkly comical, too. Like, I remember a comment where a guy kind of lamented the fact that he was going to have wait 90 minutes to go again, and what is he going to do to pass the time by? That’s as grim as it gets. Thinking about somebody who’s probably just living in their own filth, with this pud in their hand, drinking Gatorade, trying to revive or something. I’m sure the power trip involved could do horrible things to the way a person thinks, but I guess my assumption would be that there was already something off.
 
 Now that you’ve quit watching porn, what gives you the same kick?

 I guess I just feel better about myself. Just masturbating using my imagination seems fine, though I don’t do it that much either — like, I live with my girlfriend [Laughs]. I guess the things that give me satisfaction are the things that have always given me satisfaction, whether it’s reading a great book, seeing a good movie, listening to a good record. It’s just, I just emphasize those things more now.
 
 I don’t have any philosophical problem with porn itself, and when people get really uptight about what kids are watching, one of my impulses is to say, you guys are olds, and you’re catastrophizing. On the other hand, the idea of an eight-year-old kid watching Max Hardcore clips on his phone on the playground scares the shit out of me.

 I saw porn for the first time when I was 10, and it stained my mind! It scared the shit out of me. And I’m not a psychologist, I couldn’t say exactly how it affected me, but it certainly affected me. It certainly made me pretty terrified of sex. I mean, curious about sex, too, but also terrified.

I sort of can’t believe porn exists. How could it not resonate in a negative way? I almost feel it’s like the legalization of grass — certain people have licenses to smoke, and I feel like there are certain people who are just cut off from the world of sex, and maybe they should be able to apply for their porn cards. But if I caught my nephews watching porn, it would be like — Oh my God! Turn that off!
 
 What kind of talk would you give them?

 I would want to address the reality/fantasy aspect of it. That this really isn’t what life is like, and you shouldn’t expect it to be — you should not expect that somebody is going to… want to do that [laughs]. It’s not something that you’re entitled to just because you’re alive and a man.
 
 Matt is currently at work on his second feature,
Friend, about his friendship with Mark Thibodeau.