The Math Folder
Published in

The Math Folder

All Roads Lead to Porn

Recognizing the triggers that fire your gun.

Illustration by author James M. Costa.

There’s an old joke that goes like this: a man walks into a bar, and nothing happens. The cute girl sitting at the back doesn’t return his look. The one ordering a drink next to him doesn’t casually strike up a conversation. And the group of women that keeps bumping into him while dancing doesn’t want to dance with him — they are just a bit too drunk and not very mannerly.

His night plays out as a series of purposeless strolls from one side of the club to another, from the dance floor to the restroom, and back to the bar, where he struggles to call the waiter’s attention to order yet another drink. His friends are with him. They share the same fate and partake in this ritual to a varying degree, but nobody embodies the inanity of this process like him.

He stares, but he doesn’t talk. He sways, but he doesn’t dance. He pretends, but he’s not having fun.

There’s no punchline: the man himself is the joke.

When the night draws to an end and the party languishes, when the best part of those that were there four hours ago has already found a bed to sleep on (theirs or somebody else’s), and the sticky floor hampers his drunken wandering more than a now scattered crowd, he decides it’s time to leave.

He calls an Uber and rides back home well deep into a not fully conscious state of disappointment. It’s late, but he’s not ready to go to sleep yet. He makes his way back into his place, careful not to wake up any of his flatmates, and creeps quietly into his room, closing the door behind him

Rolling come the credits again, aaand… that marks the fourth episode in a row. Time now to be a productive member of society.

I go back into my room and check my homework. A page and a half of math problems, a dissertation on Saint Thomas Aquinas, a couple English exercises. This is a list I can deal with, but its size is still big enough to overwhelm me at first sight, and by the time I sit down and bring out pen and paper my mind is already racing to justify a way out of it.

Math isn’t due until Thursday, and the dissertation is for next week (sure, it’ll take me a long-ass time to write the whole thing and I haven’t even started yet, but how urgent can something be when it’s due next week). Out of all these items, only one or two absolutely need to be done by today. Now that’s something I’m more comfortable putting off for a few more hours.

I turn my laptop on, then plunk my homework into a drawer, out of sight. For now, it’s merely a matter of responsibility — I’ll come back to it when it’s an emergency…

Impatiently and in a rush, a middle-aged woman is getting ready to go to work. She briskly grabs the umbrella by the door, the key to her husband’s car (hers is in the shop but he’s out on a business trip), then has to stop for a second to look for her wallet.

She finds it by the telephone, quickly throws it back into her purse, and exits the house, leaving her teenage son, at last, home alone…

Guess what! There’s a horny single in your area! He’s a dude though, and no, he doesn’t want to meet you. His horniness is something he can take care of perfectly by himself — yet he finds himself at a difficult crossroads.

See, the thing is that this guy has a long and problematic history with porn. He spent years binge-watching it as a teenager, to the point of developing a concerning dependency on it. Things are better now, but every now and then they still spiral out of control, and he finds himself trapped in a long and self-destructive binge just like in the old times. Watching porn, for him, therefore carries always a certain risk.

It’s unfortunate that a horny man like him doesn’t have much better options than porn while being single — not any that he is aware of, anyway. After that many years of coupling porn with masturbation, it’s hard to even conceive of jerking off without audiovisual support. He’s been trying, mind you, but some days he just needs that extra boost. Besides, he’s been feeling a bit down these last few days, and the magic of porn could help him evade those feelings for a while — this, though, is something that at the time he’s not fully aware of either.

He finally decides to watch porn, thinking that a video or two won’t hurt. The whole thing will be over in no time and he’ll be able to move on with his day, relieved and undistracted…

Gentle at last, I conquer my distress enough to tell my girlfriend that I love her. That I didn’t mean the mean things that I said. That we’ll work things out, together. That’s as far as my loving words go before I withdraw back into myself.

In the aftermath of a big fight, few things have the power to console me. Hardly anything can bring me out of my mental lockdown and back to life — if not healed, at least functional. I’m just not made for this. The emotional violence of our arguments is a million times more intense than anything I ever experienced growing up in a still (one might say repressed) family household.

A turmoil of feelings won’t let me think clearly, much less find any words to offer to my partner. She’s from a polar opposite school of thought, quick to the display of emotions and always eager to talk things through. My reclusiveness hurts her, and her hurt hurts me even more. Eventually she desists and heads to the shower to wind down.

Desperate for a chance to disconnect, I reach for my phone the moment my girlfriend is out of sight…

Eden Hazard will never be the player he once was. Reading about his latest injury, one is reminded of how great he was when he played for Chelsea and how much up everybody’s hopes were when he signed up for Real Madrid. Yet in the three years that have passed since, he’s only made headlines for his continuously disappointing physical condition.

Sports news websites in summer are desolate. When all the major leagues are done and on a break, these sites face two options: to bet on the minority sports they have unashamedly ignored throughout the year, or to squeeze the very last drop of content they can get out of the vacationing mainstream. Recaps of the ended season, infinite unfounded transfer rumors, reports on where the players are spending their holidays… even all sorts of non-sports-related articles are game.

Thrown into this mix, one of the world’s most visited sports news portals showcases a piece with the title “The top 5 porn actresses of the decade”. This is the world we live in, where a sports site read by millions (many of which are minors) decides to include a piece on porn to reap a few more clicks. Welcome to clickbait journalism. Fall for it and get carried away: one lazy click will take you to another, and then to another, and then…

Reading and playing soccer are great hobbies, and he enjoys them a lot, but a kid like him sometimes enjoys indulging in more creative activities. At the age of sixteen, he already toys around with fields of interest as diverse as digital illustration, coding, 3D modeling, and writing. He has an inquiring mind and an innate capacity to work hard on the things he enjoys.

The kid is full of potential, and all that potential weighs heavily on him.

Sunday evening stretches before him like a mirage Arizona desert road. There was a time when empty days were welcome as opportunities to diversify the fun — now they feel more like a hefty mass of hours to kill.

Finishing the left eye on that portrait is an intimidating task. Finding the bug in the game’s collision algorithm, mentally draining. And facing a blank page to start a new short story is nothing short of daunting.

Overwhelmed by his own hobbies, the kid is desperate for an easy way to pass the time, yet his unresting sense of responsibility won’t let him idle away the hours watching a movie or playing Call of Duty.

What he needs is something that allows him to evade while turning off his annoying inner voice.

Luckily for him, the Internet’s got just what he needs.

Tons and tons of it…

Children of the same father, these fragments share a common protagonist and introduce an identical story. They are all roads leading to the same destination: me binge-watching porn.

They are my triggers.

A disappointing night out, the desire to procrastinate, a big fight with my partner, sexualized content on the web or social media, a full day ahead of me with nothing to do, or just the simple act of being left alone: these were all situations that, more often than not, would result in me watching porn.

Identifying these situations was crucial in my recovery. Knowing my triggers helped me avoid risk and kept me alert while I was at it, and this alone prevented many relapses from happening. And yet as helpful as that was, it was barely scratching the surface.

The real power of triggers was unleashed when I decided not to shun them, but to reflect on and analyze them. My triggers then became roads leading to the core of my porn addiction, to the emotions that lie behind my constant craving and compulsion: social anxiety, academic pressure, high stress, lack of confidence.

It’s only once I came to truly understand the feelings behind my addiction that genuine progress began to happen. Being aware of my actual needs, I was able to entertain better and healthier ways to cope and figure out how to address the real-life issues causing them.

Little by little, porn ceased to be such an appealing destination — I had finally found better roads to explore.

What’s in your math folder?

What situations trigger you into watching porn?
What are the feelings that underlie your triggers?

Understanding your addiction is the only real way to overcome it, and there’s no better way to understand it than to become familiar with your triggers.
Figure out what’s leading you to porn. Trace back your relapses. Be aware of your moods. Increase your self-awareness, then reflect on ways in which you can address the distress while avoiding the risk.

Share your insights in the comments below, on Twitter, or in your favorite porn addiction community, and help spread the message by sharing this story on social media.

Let’s start a conversation!

Did you enjoy this story? Follow me on Twitter @TheMathFolder and join my free newsletter for more!

A lot of time and effort is put into writing and illustrating these stories, which I make available to everybody for free.
If The Math Folder is helping you, make a donation now to contribute to this project! Donations are a huge motivation booster, they make me feel rewarded for the work that I do and, in essence, they help keep The Math Folder alive.

Thank you for your support!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
James M. Costa

James M. Costa

Writer and illustrator. Recovering porn addict. Editor of The Math Folder.