'It's like giving a drug to a child' – the true cost of porn addiction

“It’s like giving a drug to a child. It changed my life forever.”

For 26-year-old James Wong, online pornography began as a harmless fantasy – and ultimately led to a destructive addiction.

He shared his story with TVNZ’s Sunday programme, to highlight the impact that porn is having on Kiwi youth.

Mr Wong was introduced to porn at the age of nine. In his teens, his use became compulsive and excessive.

“I could watch 40 different videos in one sitting,” he said. “It can go on for so long, it’s not even pleasurable. It’s a trap that keeps you hanging on.”

Mr Wong used porn to escape stress and negative emotions, but it took an even greater toll on his body and his mind.

He developed erectile dysfunction, and felt a “deep sense of shame”, because of the secretive nature of his addiction.

“I couldn’t have a real relationship, because I was developing this insidious relationship with the porn itself,” he told Sunday.

Mr Wong is not alone. Health professionals are increasingly concerned about the highly stimulating – and even addictive – effect of online porn.

Los Angeles-based sex therapist Dr Robert Weiss told Sunday that although not every porn user will become addicted, some will.

“If you’re 15 years old, if you’ve never seen a naked person, and you’re looking at ritualistic, bizarre or unusual sexual practices over and over again and masturbating to them – it’s going to affect your sex life and it’s going to be a problem,” said Dr Weiss.

Much of today’s online porn is graphic and violent. New Zealand’s chief censor, David Shanks, is concerned that it is giving young people warped views about what real sex involves – without any illustration of consent or the use of protection.

“Porn on the internet is not about making love,” said Mr Shanks. “There’s sites that just focus on degrading, humiliating acts, or even promote sexual aggression and rape.”

“It’s the last thing you’d want to have young people using as a primary source of education about what sex is.”

The Chief Censor’s office recently commissioned a major survey of 2,000 Kiwi teenagers, to understand how they are using porn, and the effect it is having on them.

The Government will use the results of that survey – to be released in December – to look at whether porn can be regulated.

The Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, told Sunday that she has been briefed by officials on how porn is influencing teenagers’ real-life behaviour.

“We’re having more young women show up at health services with physical side effects of incredibly rough sex – tearing, bruising, situations like that,” said Mrs Martin.

“The number of times in [porn] imagery that choking while having sex takes place – and that’s happening to our young women.”

The Minister is keen to protect young people from being exposed to porn before they have developed an understanding of what healthy, safe sex involves.

“Some people will see this as me trying to take away some of their rights,” said Ms Martin. “But on both sides of the camera, there’s too many young people at stake here.”

With the help of a sex therapist, James Wong is working through his addiction.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, because I’m trying to undo something that I’ve been doing my whole life,” he told Sunday. “But there is a way out.”


Where to get help:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354, free text 4357
Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234
Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865
Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757 free text 4202
Kidsline - 0800 54 37 54
The Lowdown - free text 5626
Rape Crisis - 0800 883 300
OUTLine - 0800 688 5463

For parents wanting to have conversations with their kids about porn, visit The Light Project or the Classification Office.

Throughout this week, TVNZ’s news and current affairs programmes will report on the influence of porn. Follow our series here, and read more about why we’re covering this issue.

Sunday investigates the rise of online porn and the impact it’s having on young people in New Zealand. Source: Sunday