When Autobiographies Have Power: A Review of “Porn Nation” by Michael Leahy

Sometimes you should listen to clichés. I judged this book by its cover. I don’t know exactly what I thought Porn Nation was going to be about, but it turned out to be more of one man’s story of losing everything, and finding recovery. Autobiography isn’t necessarily bad, it just wasn’t what I had expected in a book titled Porn Nation: Conquering America’s #1 Addiction. The title was suggestive of a more universal approach to the topic. Instead we get one man’s own personal struggle history with porn. But it turns out that such a story can actually be very powerful. Never underestimate the power of the story.

What started out as a casual consumption of pornography as a young kid and teenager, eventually became an addiction for Leahy. Working in the computer business at the dawn of the Internet meant that he was exposed early to the “crack cocaine of sexual addiction” – Internet porn. It turned his life completely upside down. Leahy recounts all the gritty, uncomfortable, shameful, and unnerving details of his being swallowed up by addiction. It is certainly an honest look at what pornography can do to a man and his family.

Readers get to see the self-destruction of the author as he isolates himself from his family, rejects his wife, and finally abandons them through a full-on affair. We follow along as he describes how sexual sins led him into deeper and deeper perversions. The more I read, I confess, the more uncomfortable I became with the retelling of his life’s story. And readers should surely be aware that this is not light reading, it is detailed and hard to endure at times. In some cases the detail may be a bit too much. There is a fear that some might be able to read this and find themselves sinning vicariously through Leahy’s story. It’s definitely a book for me to read with their guards up. And yet there is a powerfully important message to hear in reading this book: porn is not innocent!

Especially powerful is reading chapter five, where Leahy’s ex-wife shares some of her journal entries. We watch her own self-doubt, brokenness, and rage pour out in these entries as she describes what she feels and what she learns about her husband. It is heart breaking to read, but for many it will serve as an important reminder of how serious this sin is. Leahy’s inclusion of it in the book is certainly strategic, and I appreciate that as a pastor who counsels more young men on this subject than on any other.

Leahy’s story turns to the fight for recovery in part two. It’s a long process for him but one that begins with a determination to change. I really appreciated his two principles for recovery: (1) whole person recover, and (2) increase/decrease. He talks specifically about the importance of balancing the physiological and the spiritual. There is much about any addiction, but especially this one that must be seen as a spiritual battle. Leahy talks about his own turn back to God, the church, and especially the Scriptures as a special tool in the fight against pornography. And yet, unlike some, he is not so naive as to think if you just pray for help then God will make all the struggles go away. He recognizes that sanctification is a synergistic work. God and man working together for his growth in Christ-likeness. Leahy teaches us to starve out sinful sexual desires. He writes:

Simply stated, it says that what you feed grows, and what you starve dies…Whenever I identified a certain aspect of my addiction that I was feeding or something healthy that I was starving, I’d “flip” it in my mind and apply the opposite part of the equation. For instance, instead of “feeding” myself sexual images from cable TV or the Internet, I’d “starve” myself of them. And if I found that I was “starving” myself of healthy relationships by isolating, I would look for opportunities to “feed” myself by getting more socially involved. Of course, as I did that, the Law of Increase/Decrease guaranteed the outcome. By feeding my self healthy relationships and growing my circle of friends, I was starving my feelings of loneliness and isolation and killing my insecurities and feelings of insignificance. (96-97).

There are some helpful principles to be drawn from this book to fight your own battle with porn, if that where you find yourself. But that’s most definitely not its strongest use.

Stories have real power. The autobiographical element of this work is what makes it a strong book. There are things about the book that bother me, but reading Leahy’s story, and seeing firsthand how his own use of pornography destroyed his marriage, indeed his life, is important to read. The young men I counsel would do well to learn from the destruction of another man. Porn is never harmless, never innocent, never simple. Michael Leahy teaches us that well in this book.

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