Michael Leahy vividly remembers the first time he saw a pornographic image: he was 11 years old, on the playground at recess, when a classmate showed him a playing card with the image of a naked woman on the back.
For the next 30 years, he became more and more engrossed in the material, until his obsession destroyed his first marriage, finally giving him a much-needed wake-up call.
Leahy shared this and the rest of his story to a crowd of some 200 students Thursday night in an event called “Porn Nation.”
Leahy and his wife, Christine, travel around the country to college campuses, sharing their story and the impact pornography has had on their lives, as well as the spiritual journey that helped turn them around.
The event was sponsored by Cornerstone, a Christian-based organization on campus. Cornerstone staff member Matt Schneider organized the event, which last took place at UNC in 2006.
“I was talking with students in Cornerstone and they expressed interest in just the topics of sexuality, pornography, and it reminded us that we had this event 6 or 7 years ago,” Schneider said. “It was a great way to start a conversation, so we decided to move forward with it.”
Schneider said he wants students to be more educated on the issue, regardless of where they come from or what their religious affiliation. He also noted the importance of being open and honest about an issue that is uncomfortable for many people to talk about.
Leahy and other members of Cornerstone stood in the Pit this week, encouraging students to take a survey available on pornnation.org, which asks students about their relationship with pornography and sexual experiences.
“We wanted to take a pulse of how UNC views this issue and how it has affected people personally,” he said.
During the event, the Leahy’s took turns sharing their experiences with the four stages of pornographic addiction: attraction, compulsion, obsession and destruction.
Leahy said he watched porn recreationally for many years before it began to take over his life, and that the onset of internet porn in the 90s was a turning point in which he entered the third and fourth stages.
Christine Leahy shared her experience with what she called “serial online dating.” She spoke about her commitment issues stemming from her father abandoning her and her family as a child, and her desire to fill that void in her heart.
While she never found herself attracted to porn, the men she engaged in relationships with did. She said the dangerous effects of watching porn, like treating women as objects, came out of those relationships.
About halfway through the presentation, the Leahy’s took a four-minute break, telling the audience that the next segment of their presentation would talk about their spiritual journey with God. They said they wanted to give those who did not wish to listen to this part an opportunity to leave, though they hoped the audience members would want to stay.
“I promise you, I have done this for years, I’ve always done it this way – we’re not judgmental, we’re not condemning, we’re just sharing our story,” Michael Leahy said.
The Leahy’s held a Q&A session afterwards, answering questions from a handful of students. One student asked about the difference between the harm in recreational viewing and full-blown obsession. Leahy said he thinks both harm the viewer in some way, and that those effects will come out in the way you treat and view women.
“I really appreciated how Mike described pornography as hate speech for women,” said sophomore Kimberly Blasey, who attended the event. “His story was really powerful in showing that no matter how confident and successful someone is, no user is immune to the damaging effects of porn.”
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