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2/25/2010

08:18 AM PST

Ex-porn addict Michael Leahy takes on the XXX industry

--on the web

from www.campustimes.org - I’ll be honest, I had some fortunately unfounded expectations. I assumed the speaker would have a thick-tongued Southern drawl; I expected quaint Christianity, moral imploring and nodded heads. I expected graphic clips of porno moments gone wrong, clear heels upended, and videos featuring sleazy neon signs. I anticipated being shocked into short-lived soft-core shame.

So, the question then is: What did I get instead?

Welcome to Porn Nation: The Naked Truth, a presentation hosted by — of all unlikely sources — Campus for Christ, (C4C) UR’s chapter of the national organization Campus Crusades for Christ.

In a revealing program punctuated by ludicrous video clips and euphemisms, speaker Michael Leahy — a self-described sex addict — exposed the politics of the porn industry and articulated the negative impact pornography has had on the lives of former prostitutes, Playboy playmates and the married men who secretly dish out big bucks for sexual services.

As the founder of Brave Hearts, an organization seeking to reduce the demand for sexual media, Leahy’s relationship with illicit images has always been turbulent, as he struggled with a 10-year addiction to Internet pornography which he claims culminated in a marriage-ending affair. In a nasty down-turning spiral initiated by his increasing dependence on Internet porn, Leahy devastated his relationship with his wife and children, as well as souring his ties to his brother in a business deal gone awry.

Today, Leahy credits that spiral with forcing him to self-reflect, a process which led to his revived spiritual faith and the development of the 7-year-old Porn Nation program. Leahy’s talks have been featured on ABC’s “20/20” news segment, “The View,” and CNN — in another unanticipated twist, his now ex-wife accompanies him on these programs to discuss the marital problems she agrees stemmed from his porn addiction.

Leahy’s discussion, in fact, was peppered with surprises: In Leahy’s travels across the country, leading Porn Nation critiques, he has frequently debated against ramrod porn star Ron Jeremy, who is featured in more than 1,700 videos and has reportedly bedded over 4,500 women. The two men, despite their wildly different relationships to racy material, have become quite good friends as a result. Leahy’s talk was peppered with amusing anecdotes about their unlikely alliance and hot tub heart-to-hearts.

Despite the promotion of ardent profiteers like Ron Jeremy, Leahy believes that masturbation is not a victimless crime, as he argues the booming billion-dollar pornography business is merely a symptom of the larger erosion of cultural values. He points to the sex-drenched videos of rap stars like Ludacris and pop icon Britney Spears as advertisers’ blatant attempt to encourage more debased urges.

While Leahy’s autobiography certainly raised audience members’ eyebrows, he provided little empirical evidence to support his conclusions, leaving some searching for statistics.

“I thought some of his presentation would have been stronger if he had included more concrete facts,” junior Bridget Lenkiewicz said.

In addition, Leahy did not address the objections of some pro-sex feminists who feel the sexually liberating possibility pornography offers is integral to advancing women’s rights — i.e. what about all those wonderful instruction videos?

While one would assume Leahy is most at ease in front of more conservative crowds, he jovially disagreed, saying he appreciates campuses where his tenets are a hard sell.

“The Bible Belt is boring,” Leahy said. “I enjoy coming to schools like this one more than the Christian colleges because the students here will express themselves more freely and say openly what they think.”

And express themselves they did. The audience response was not quite the “quaint Christianity” anticipated from a C4C-hosted event, as the function was attended by a fairly even swirl of religious, spiritual, and secular students who each agreed and critiqued alike. Clearly, the C4C coalition is asserting itself as an open-minded student spirituality group, because the club’s post-presentation discussion was not heavily anchored to religious rhetoric and seemed like a larger discussion of mixed moral messages.

For instance, during the question-and-answer portion, some students challenged the psychology of sexual addiction, which has yet to be accepted by the established medical community. In response, Leahy pointed out that those who suffer from other psychological disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa have waited decades before professionals recognized their debilitating conditions.

Others questioned the prevalence of sexual addiction; to this, Leahy responded that his story is not intended to be paradigmatic but merely reflects his own intriguing circumstances.

Overall, Leahy’s talk surely responded to my initial assumptions. There were no Southern drawls, no clear heels, no neon signs. To those ends, I was satisfactorily proven wrong. But I suppose, now, the larger question remains: Is it really possible to abstain from masturbation? Eh, maybe not. But Lent is only 40 days.

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