Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hooked, even after the pleasure goes

(This is the text of my That's Men column published in The Irish Times on Tuesday 14th October 2008):

The term 'porn-zombie' was new to me until I came across it on addiction therapist Jason McClain's website.

McClain was referring to the way in which viewers of porn on the Internet - and I think it's fair to say the vast majority are men - lose track of time as they watch pornography for hours on end.

He takes the view that you have a pornography addiction if your consumption of porn interferes with your relationships or with key aspects of your life away from the screen.

He doesn't see it as an addiction, or necessarily as a problem, if you have a genuinely take it or leave it attitude to pornography. He is not, of course, referring here to child pornography and neither am I.

There are reasons, though, why the journey from 'take it or leave it' to 'porn-zombie' can be a quick one. Anything involving sexual stimulation has a powerful draw and when the stimulation is available free of charge, as it is on the internet, then the draw is all the more powerful.
And remember the collapse of the Internet bubble about eight or nine years ago? Very talented people in Silicon Valley found themselves out of work. Some gravitated towards that area of the web which continued to make money - pornography (the free pornography is, of course, meant to lure people into subscribing to pay sites). The result? Pornography websites became among the slickest and most sophisticated in the world. Link that sophistication with sexual stimulation and you begin to see how easy it is for internet porn, in particular, to draw people in and keep them there.

And the new browsers from Internet Explorer and Google come with what sceptics call a 'porn mode' option that allows people to surf without leaving a trace on their computers.

Add to all this the human tendency to escape into pleasure to avoid the stresses of life. By this I mean that we tend to drink too much, comfort eat, spend too much, do drugs, do pornography and so on and on as a response to emotional pain.

If you can do these things and then put them aside while you get on with sorting out your life, fine. But all too often, they become an end in themselves even after the pleasure has gone out of them.

In relation to pornography addiction, McClain identifies three stages.

The first is anticipation. Here the consumer of pornography is anxious to get people out of the way so he can get to the computer. Next is consumption where the user may well get into that 'porn-zombie' state. The third stage is self-hatred and a sense of time wasted. Then the cycle is repeated, sometimes as a way of escaping from that painful third stage - a bit like taking a drink at lunchtime to help with a hangover.

He suggests measures such as evaluating the effect of porn on your closest relationships, and maintaining an awareness of your behaviour while you are actually consuming porn instead of falling into the 'zombie' state.

He also advocates using software that doesn't allow you to go on to pornography websites. You can always disable the software temporarily but he argues the hassle involved in doing this may give you enough pause for thought to change your mind.

He recommends a free filtering system called OpenDNS, which you can find at The only problem is that it involves, according to its website, "taking a few minutes to unbundle your DNS service from your ISP's Internet connection" which would frighten the living daylights out of me.

But there are lots of filtering programs and if you can find porn you can find them too.

Final thought: people who have a dependence on pornography are not bad people. They are just people who are hooked on a very strong drug and who need to make new choices.

They could start off by looking at McClain's website at which promotes his ebook but also has a link to his blog with lots of good, free information. If you are married to somebody with a pornography addiction, you will find much here to interest you as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How a German sex education film and Vatican II ruined my taste for Maltesers

(This is the text of my That's Men column published in The Irish Times on Tuesday 7th October 2008):

The Malteser is, I think you will agree, a jewel of the confectioner's art.

But thanks to Pope John XXIII and a movie called Helga, I can't look at a Malteser.

My tale illustrates the dangers of liberal Catholicism and of sex education - for the latter is what Helga purveyed - particularly when both conjoin.

Let me explain. The other day, a friend confided that she cannot face a Fry's Chocolate Cream. This product is another confectioner's jewel, a shining light of sophistication in a coarse world. I know this because one of my grandmothers, a sophisticated lady if ever there was one, used to give Fry's Chocolate Cream bars to myself and my sister when we were children, after she had corrected our grammar.

Anyway my friend, at the age of five, was handed an entire box of Fry's Chocolate Cream. She did what any intelligent five year old might be expected to do - she faded into the background and scoffed the lot.

The results were as you might expect. That's why she can no longer experience the joy of eating Fry's Chocolate Cream.

In psychology this is called the Garcia Effect after an experiment in, let's not go there.

Anyway, her sad tale reminded me of my Maltesers issue.

In the 1960s, a West German health minister called Käte Strobel decided to promote sex education. One of the fruits of her endeavours was a 1967 sex education movie called Helga.

Helga was special in its day because it was a mainstream sex education movie and because it featured a childbirth scene. It was also special because the film censor allowed it to be shown here.

And the Pope? Even before Ms Strobel got going, Pople John XXIII had convened the Second Vatican Council. This had the effect of liberalising the church and making us all think we lived in a new era.

A cohort of liberal priests emerged from Vatican Two and these priests were convinced that it would be a good thing for the young people of Ireland to be exposed to Helga.

Buses were organised to bring young people up to, I think, the Savoy in Dublin to see the film and be educated.

A have a dim memory of an earnest priest flitting about a bus in Naas that had been organised for the young people of the town and environs.

A major attraction of the Helga movie was that people were reputed to get sick during the childbirth scene. So we didn't go to it so much for the sex education - we knew bloody well there'd be no sex left in it by the time the censor was through - as to see if we could get through the childbirth scene without throwing up.

On the way into the movie, you will have guessed, I treated myself to an entire box of Maltesers. I'm talking about 1960s boxes here, big boxes - the sort of boxes you're meant to share.

I remember absolutely nothing about the movie. A Canadian contributer to the Internet Movie Database says that "I remember naked girls in a school shower," but it's a safe bet that the version we saw omitted this key scene.

What I remember is that I ate all the Maltesers myself while wondering if the childbirth scene was going to make me sick. It didn't but the experience created assocations in my mind with Maltesers which have prevented me from ever again eating one of those wonderful (as I recall) taste bombs.

So in the end, Helga was a let down. The church went on to implode and we all became heathens and went to hell in a handcart.

It wasn't worth it, not at the price of putting me off my favourite chocs.

The star of Helga, Ruth Gassmann, went on to make a number of movies including the 1972 Robinson und seine wilden Sklavinnen shown in the UK as Robinson and His Tempestuous Slaves and in France as Trois filles nues dans l'île de Robinson.

Now. why couldn't they have bussed us up to that one? I'd even have chanced another box of Maltesers.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Check out my Poetry Daily feature today

I'm delighted that Poetry Daily, a website I've been reading with admiration for years, is featuring one of my poems today, Saturday 4th October. The poem, The red heifer, is from my collection You've been great. Click on over there and take a look.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)
And here is the rest of it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

'Wholly inappropriate' behaviour by the Irish Nationwide?

I just love the outrage over the attempt by the Irish Nationwide to get British investors to move money into its coffers in light of the Government's new guarantee scheme. "Wholly inappropriate" is the phrase being used by the great and the good about this attempt by a bank to capitalise on an opportunity. What did they expect? If you lock a drunkard in an off-licence overnight you are hardly in a position to bleat "wholly inappropriate" when you find him pissed the next morning. Not that I'm suggesting the folk in the Irish Nationwide take a drink. It's a metaphor.

(This is the complete post. Ignore the wholly inappropriate "Continue reading" link below.)

And here is the rest of it.