Internet Porn Ruined My Life

By Alexander Walters


Michael with Ron Jeremy.

If you were a teenager in the 90s, your porn came from three trusty sources: magazines shamefully bought from the newsagent and hidden inside a newspaper on your way home, those soft porn B-movies on late-night Channel 5 and – when utter, unavoidable desperation hit – the lingerie section of the Argos catalogue and back page boob-job adverts in your mum's magazines. Besides being ball-clenchingly embarrassing to look back on, it was a comparatively innocent time – the Brideshead Revisited of pornography to today's internet-enhanced Cannibal Holocaust

That shift to online didn't only make us pick up on fetishes that older generations went to their graves unaware of and normalise hardcore smut that would have Mary Whitehouse spinning furiously in her grave, but also made porn instantly more accessible, driving up viewers' demand. YouPorn is now estimated to account for two percent of all web traffic, which probably doesn't shock you too much, but is an insane statistic considering that's one website and the internet is a pretty big place, all things considered.

The shift had a bigger effect on some than others – like Michael Leahy, for example; a man who developed a crippling porn addiction and managed to ruin his entire life with just an internet connection and his right hand. Clearly this is just about the most extreme case you could ever come across – it's not like five minutes a day is going to make everyone in your life despise you (unless you have inexcusably boring friends) – so I called Michael up to see how he got from where he was to the author, speaker and expert on pornography addiction he's become.   


Michael and his family in the 80s.

VICE: So, Michael, how did your crippling porn addiction start?
Michael Leahy: My story really begins at the age of 11, when I first encountered adult material. It was hard back then – in the late 60s – to get hold of it. It was about finding a stash of magazines at your friend’s dad’s place or in the woods, or whatever, so my exposure was pretty limited. I was a recreational user of porn for a long time, even at college when video came along. Later on, the advent of higher quality porn and digital distribution on CD-ROMs increased my usage, but it wasn’t until the internet arrived that the real problems began.

What was it about internet porn that changed things?
This was the early 90s and it was like the Wild West days of internet porn. We could literally watch the number of sites that were available grow right in front of our eyes, to the point where – pretty soon – we couldn’t see the edges of it. That was the beginning of the end for me. The internet changed everything. Within a fairly short period of time, I found myself watching up to eight hours of pornography a day, every day.

How? Were you unemployed or just doing it at night?
No, I was doing it at work. I was working for a big corporation and we had something that was very rare back then: a high speed internet connection.

Didn’t you get caught?
This was long before companies realised what people were using internet connections for, so there was nothing to stop you accessing any sites you wanted and there was nobody checking up on us.


Michael in the early 90s.

What effect did it have on your work?
It wasn’t unusual for me to be on a business trip and stay up until 3 or 4AM watching porn, knowing full well that I had an 8AM meeting the next morning where I was making a presentation to sell multi-million dollar software to corporate directors. I'd literally nap for a couple of hours, wake up, tired, put my suit on and go to the clients. I’d maybe schedule a trip for three or four days and only see half a dozen clients, then spend the rest of the time watching pornography. As you can imagine, I began to find it pretty hard to hold down a job.

Yeah, I bet. How did porn change your sexual behaviour in real life?
One of the fetishes I picked up online was voyeurism, so I would often schedule business trips around that. I'd be able to expense hotels at £125 per night, but I would choose to stay in £40 motels in a seedier part of town because I knew that the rooms were crammed together, buildings looked over each other and there was little privacy. I’d spend hours and hours looking into other windows, masturbating and waiting for someone to walk by their window undressing.

What was the peak of your addiction?
The addiction escalated into an affair with a woman who I met online. The relationship was exclusively about sex – she was nothing more than porn with skin on. It was like a 24/7 high as opposed to the occasional high that I was getting from watching porn. When you’re having an affair and you’re hiding the relationship from your wife and kids, there’s an adrenaline rush and a buzz that you get from doing it. That was the peak. When my wife found out about the affair, I admitted to my pornography addiction and my compulsive behaviour. I’d say I was going to stop every day and I made myself believe it, but I continued going back to porn.

Was there anything loving about your affair? You describe her as porn with skin on, as if she were an object. 
What made her pornographic to me was that she was exactly like the woman I'd been searching for every time I browsed the internet. She was the epitome of it. It wasn’t until my wife had divorced me that I realised my affair partner was also an addict, of a kind. I discovered at the bottom of my depression that she was seeing about five or six other guys who were married with kids. I got exactly what I was asking for – that perfect porn woman who doesn’t want any ties or a long-term relationship. Of course, I was so attached to her by then that I wanted commitment, but it was the last thing on her mind.


Michael at one of his lectures.

So by this point you’d lost your wife and become estranged from your kids – what made you turn it around?
It was when I was lying on the floor of my apartment in Atlanta having suicidal thoughts. I was thinking seriously about walking over to the Wal-Mart not too far from where I lived, buying a gun, sticking it in my mouth and pulling the trigger. It was when I started thinking about writing a suicide note to my boys – that, thank God, is when I woke up. I decided that it wasn’t the legacy I was going to leave to my kids: the father who killed himself because of an addiction to porn.

And you’re better now?
I might be “recovered”, but I still see counsellors and go to group therapy. I’m sure I’ll be in counselling for the rest of my life. It’s kind of cathartic to be able to talk about it and revisit some of it, but some of it is still painful. I have a really hard time talking about my boys and the price they paid. I’m reconciled with them again, but my wife started seeing someone else and eventually remarried, which closed the door on that. We’re friends, but it’s sad to think of what might have been. You know, the sitting-on-the-porch conversations about the kids as you grow old together.

And you now tour the US speaking to college students about your experience – isn’t that painful?
It’s painful, but it’s important for people to hear about because these are some of the consequences you don’t think about when you’re a college student. You think you’re going to meet the person of your dreams and won’t need porn anymore because you’ll have this wonderful wife who you can have sex with whenever you want, but it just doesn’t work like that.

So you're saying porn is damaging?
Well, sex is a permanent fixture in our consciousness and our relationships. To abuse that part of who we are is just asking for trouble. That’s why even porn on a recreational level will damage you, probably in ways subtler than it did to me, but it will do damage. You’ll feel a level of sadness when you catch yourself thinking about your old girlfriend, or Miss November, or a porn star, or whatever, when you’re having sex with your lover. You’ll know that connection wasn’t there – that intimacy wasn’t there – and she'll sense that too.

So what’s the answer? Ban porn?
In my speaking tours and books, I make it clear I’m against censorship, that I’m not interested in morality discussions and that I’m not here to tell anyone how to live their life. What I’m interested in is the facts, how pornography affects our brain chemistry, our physiology, our relationships. I very much bought into that whole porn culture. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, I didn’t believe I was hurting anyone and yet eventually that lie would end up costing me a 15-year marriage, my two boys and my career.

Thanks, Michael – I'm glad things are working out for you.

Follow Alexander on Twitter: @alexwalters

More porn: 

My Mum and I Make Porn Together

Indifferent Cats in Porn

We Went to the Porn Awards

Be a Porn Writer in Seven Easy Steps

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