The Intensity Trap: Why Porn Is Really Addicting

In the summer of 1966, I discovered a thrill that would keep me hooked for life. I was 11, and we were visiting an old amusement park in the downtown sector that featured one of the country’s biggest roller coasters, a rickety monstrosity rightfully called The Cyclone Racer. Even my first glimpse of it fascinated me: a grinning brown dinosaur daring me to come closer while the screams of its victims warned me not to. I was dazzled.

Then the ritual, which I relish to this day. You jump in an open air car, buckle up, wait for the initial lurch, then start the slow, rickety climb, each clank of the chain sadistically announcing your execution. Then one brief look at the cliff you’re about to dive over, a moment to gasp, and shazam! Indescribable.

Clearly I got hooked, repeating the ride three more times that day, then countless times in countless parks over the next 46 years, and I’m still not cured. Tell me there’s a roller coaster nearby, and you’ll know where to find me.

Years earlier, I had also discovered porn, then sexual acting out, and the false excitement that goes with it, repeating the ride countless times over the years. Similarities between the one legitimate thrill and the other destructive one are pretty clear. They’re both intense, both highly sensual, and both take you for an indescribable ride that starts in one place, ends in the same place, gets you nowhere but delivers quite a punch in the process. Enjoying them is understandable, but only a fool thinks either one will really get you anywhere.

Yet, as P.T Barnum noted, there’s one of those born every minute. The industries built around anonymous sexual pleasure thrive, even as major corporations nervously tighten their belts in this uncertain economy, because fool after fool repeats the same ride. Porn shops, adult websites, strip clubs and massage parlors offer intensity, and I’ve come to believe that’s what people really get hooked on. Not sexual release, which seems to be the vehicle, but the intense experience the release brings to body and soul.

And intensity, by its very nature, is a tough product to compete with. Once it’s been experienced, the brain records the memory of it, reminding a man when he’s bored, uncomfortable, or resentful of what overwhelming pleasure he can find (along with relief from pain and forgetfulness of unpleasant circumstances) by repeating it.

But an intense experience is unlikely to really improve anything. You jump in, pay for a ticket, buckle up and enjoy, and when the ride’s over you’re back where you started, exhilarated but unchanged. And the difference between that and a more legitimate experience is like the difference between a car and a roller coaster.

I ride the roller coaster for fun, not function. Nothing really comes of it; nothing’s accomplished when the ride’s over. Conversely, trips in my car produce valuable results. My car takes me to my office, my son to his youth group, my family to our dinners. Granted, I don’t jump into it with the same anticipation I feel when strapping into a roller coaster car. But I know when I drive my moderate, routine vehicle, the intensity may not be there but there’s real meaning in the direction it takes me.

Plenty of guys are bored with their lives – their cars, so to speak – which serve a function but aren’t always so intense. Having discovered the roller coaster alternative they get hooked on the ride while neglecting the real. They forget that the real, though not as intense, will always deliver satisfaction, while the best the intense can offer is temporal gratification at the expense of, well, everything. Marriages get lost, along with reputations, children and security, all because the Cyclone Racer got ridden one too many times.

Real intimacy, with God, family, and others, delivers what intensity only promises: authentic and long term fulfillment. You and I will, no doubt, feel the intense beckon us today. But on this day we remember the honorable women and men who’ve fought noble battles, we can recommit to faithfully fighting our more private ones. So my salute today, made wholeheartedly to heroes known and unknown, is given along with resolve to keep priorities in order, valuing the intimate over the intense, recognizing the honor of a legitimate battle and the mandate to engage it victoriously. The wife, sons, work and friends God’s so graciously given me will not, now or ever, be sacrificed for a roller coaster, no matter how alluring.

But of course, legitimate intensity now and then is allowed, Six Flags is still open, and when time and budget permit, why not? If we can strive for purity while indulging juvenile itches that violate no morality, so much the better. Some like it pure. Me, I like it pure with paprika. So much more interesting.