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Michael Leahy Has the Dirt on Porn

Chicago- When Michael Leahy visits a Web site, three people are alerted through an automatic e-mail. When he travels, he tries to book hotel rooms with a nosy companion in an adjacent, linked suite.

He avoids newsstands. There are Playboys and Penthouses and any number of so-called racy “laddy” magazines there, but Cosmopolitan, too.

Leahy, a 48-year-old divorced father of two, describes himself as a “recovering sex addict,” with a problem originally fed by pornography.

He’s on a mission not to ban porn, but to warn people, particularly college students, of what he considers its dangers, namely that it stunts intimacy and complicates marriage and other relationships.

Leahy will visit some 50 campuses this year, including eight in the Chicago area this week, with a multimedia lecture series he calls “Porn Nation — The Naked Truth.” On Monday, he spoke at Roosevelt University, the University of Illinois/Chicago and Columbia College about what he calls his “secret life” with “the materials.”

When he was 11, he found a playing card that showed a woman nude from the waist up. As he grew older, he bought magazines and then cruised the Internet. Dissatisfied that his wife didn’t match his pornographic fantasies, his marriage broke up.

Today, he says porn helped him avoid honesty because he feared rejection.

“Intimacy is ‘in to me, see’? — letting yourself be known to another. But when you’re an individual who has a big chunk of your life totally hidden from somebody else, it’s hard to make that happen,” he said.

Leahy has proved a popular draw elsewhere, including on the ABC-TV program “20/20” and on the daytime talk show “The View.”

Sometimes, he’ll debate porn star Ron Jeremy, though Leahy is solo in his Chicago stop, which is sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. Leahy does preach a Christian message, but he invites the audience to leave if they wish: “Some people just aren’t ready,” he says.

He also earns the ire of some conservative groups when he says that many college students, growing up in a suppressed society that shies from frank sexual education, turn to porn for instruction.

While he blames porn for campus rape, Leahy said in an interview he has no studies to support that contention, though he argued, “in porn, no almost always means yes.”

One Roosevelt student, Amanda Veldkamp, 19, of Warren, Mich., says she doesn’t need studies to convince her that porn is dangerous — she can see the effects of it among her female peers. Coeds dress provocatively, she said, to mimic porn because “that’s what we’re competing with,” she said.

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