I was 13 years old when I was first exposed to porn online. Led by curiosity, it wasn’t long before I found myself consuming increasingly graphic porn that was violent and degrading towards women. Porn taught me that I existed solely for male pleasure. My innocent childhood fantasies about what it meant to be in a loving relationship evaporated and were replaced by toxic beliefs that my value lay in my sexual availability. Not only that, but porn had normalised male domination and control to such an extent that not only was I completely blind to its dangers, but I was actually drawn to it. BDSM porn had taught me that coercion, control and domination/submission were not dangerous, but exciting. The vulnerability this created in me, the loss of childhood years that should have been filled with joy and deep connection with my family, and the negative impacts on my self worth and sense of safety in the world is something it has taken me years to recognise and when I did, it hit me like a ton of bricks. All the nights that I had spent crippled by anxiety, self-loathing and depression, all the times where I had crossed my own moral boundaries and the relationships where I been unable to see unhealthy patterns and behaviours were the fault of porn.

In addition to creating vulnerability and impacting the way I behaved, porn made my thought life almost unbearable. Intrusive, objectifiying thoughts about others and hateful, unkind thoughts about myself plagued me, no matter how hard I tried to will them away.

With porn creating a dopamine-filled escape for me, I withdrew from my family, avoided dealing with complex emotions, and ultimately lost the opportunity to develop emotional resilience as I should have in those crucial, developmental years. I believe that porn traumatised me and damaged my brain, and my battle with depression and anxiety continues over a decade later.

At the time, I knew that something was deeply wrong, but I was blind to the role porn had to play in my declining mental health and wellbeing. The inability to understand why I wasn’t ok only added to my despair, and my strongest memories of that time are of consecutive nights spent crying myself to sleep, and hoping that somehow I wouldn’t wake up.

I’ve been free from porn for a decade of my life now, but there are layers of damage that I am still uncovering. I’m terrified at the digital landscape that faces young people today, and the ever escalating levels of violence in porn. I hope my story can play some small part in compelling those with influence to change the story for the children across the world who desperately need protection from the threat porn poses to their lives.

TRIGGER WARNING: “Please be mindful when deciding on whether to read these stories that they are emotionally impactful and may be triggering. Within people’s accounts, there is mention of rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse, other forms of abuse and violence, self-harm and suicide. There are various helplines available for support.