MUNICH — Fear is Daniel’s constant companion. The fear of relapse, of falling back into his old addictive habits is not unjustified because it would be all too easy.

His addiction is not centered on drugs, alcohol or shopping, but pornography. Even pictures of bikini-clad women in sports advertisement are enough to disturb the equilibrium Daniel has managed to build for himself with the help of a therapist. He managed to get his high school diploma last year, but only through private tutoring, and by joining a support group for those addicted to porn. He spent years in front of his laptop, watching porn and masturbating up to three times a day. His therapist says that he should be proud of having escaped the vicious downward spiral. But Daniel does not feel proud, he only feels shame.

He works in a Café these days to save money and move to Australia, to travel and surf, but most of all to forget.

Young people have always been susceptible to depictions of sexual acts because they want to know what you can do while having sex and, above all, how sex works. Generations of youngsters have perused the pages of Playboy and other magazines to satisfy their need for information on the topic. But nowadays, 12 year olds are already watching hard porn films online and masturbate while watching them. Not a single German federal state has included the topic of pornography into the syllabus, despite the fact that some 40% of all 11-13 year olds have seen pornographic images or films at least once in their lives. They forward sex films to each other that might depict humans having sex with animals or a woman having sex with five men at the same time.

But what influence does this have on adolescents? Is Daniel the exception or is his story representative of an alarming trend? The Berlin-based sexologist Klaus Beier says that "it would be naive to believe that the watching of pornographic films does not have any influence on adolescents. The actions of the people [depicted on film and in pictures] are copied and stored in the brain."

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Photo: Poster Boy

The debate whether porn is debilitating or not, has been around for decades. Scientists were, up until now, not aware of how much of an influence the consumption of pornography has on teenagers and why some teenagers become addicted while others do not. New research has proven that severe, daily consumption of porn has not only increased among adolescents but that it can even lead to erectile dysfunction. A Swedish study has demonstrated that youngsters who watch porn on a daily basis are much more often in conflict with their parents, take more drugs and suffer from higher rates of depression than their non-porn-watching counterparts.

We first established contact with Daniel via a German website dedicated to porn addiction where young men talk of their despair as they watch porn at any given time of day or night but fail to have real sex with real people. Their relationships suffer because they are not able to get an erection while with their partners, but only while watching porn.

Daniel started to smoke marijuana to relax, improve his mood and drive away the feeling of guilt that would build up. His grades started plummeting because he daydreamed of porn while in class. His parents and teachers were concerned as they failed to get through to him and sent him a carefully worded email. The email sought to reassure him that being young had been difficult for them, too, and that they wished they had had someone to talk to. The email contained links to websites of therapists, specializing in adolescents.

Do they know the difference between film and reality?

Sexologists, teachers and parents speak of a "generation porn," of a generation that grows up with pornographic films and knows, long before they ever have their own first sexual experiences, what gang-banging is, for example. The porn industry’s depiction of sex suggests to youngsters that men have to have gigantic penises and that women are "mere objects driven by lust and who cannot get enough of penetration and sperm," says Professor Beier.

So, what does this do to adolescents? Are all of them in danger of having to face what Daniel had to go through, or do they know the difference between film and reality?

Beier, who heads the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine at the Berlin Charité, says that our age is unique in that "a complete generation grows up" with films that demonstrate how sexual encounters "supposedly work." More and more young men tell of their inability to have a normal relationship due to their excessive consumption of porn. But Beier is convinced that "many users" of online porn are aware that the reality of intimate relationships is "very different" to the ones depicted in porn.

Daniel was 12 when he clicked on Youporn, one of the world's most successful porn websites, for the very first time. He found the website address in the boys’ lavatory in school, scrawled onto a cubicle wall. He was shocked but also aroused by what he saw and his need for new material quickly spiraled out of control. He spent hours in front of his laptop and his mood plummeted proportionally to the time spent in front of his computer screen. The worse his mood got the "crasser" the films got. A vicious downward spiral.

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Photo: CGP Grey

Several studies conducted in California and Europe demonstrate that daily porn consumption leads to depression, aggression, poor concentration as well as sexual disorders. According to these studies erectile dysfunction among men below the age of 20 have increased significantly.

Some have aimed to treat the problem with so-called "no-fap strategies." No-fap is a term related to the verb "fapping," an American term for masturbating. The no-fap strategy involves not watching any porn and not masturbating either. Daniel visited a no-fap website after having googled the terms "porn" and "addiction" and was surprised to see how many websites deal with this specific topic. Daniel decided to go cold turkey for a month and announced his intention on the website to put pressure on himself to see it through, and realized only a few days into his abstinence that he was much calmer and, finally, had space for other thoughts.

The therapist Marlene Henning also has experience with the damage that porn can cause. A young male patient recently told her that "we are the generation that wanks with the left hand while the right controls the mouse." She also specializes in providing sex education in schools and is sometimes shocked by the anonymously posed questions by young students that she receives prior to attending the school.

When her son was 16 and playing cards with his friends at home she asked them if they watch porn on the Internet. Her son was the first to answer, "Mom, we know that this isn’t real!" But one of his friends said that "every time I have sex, I have porn images in my head." Another added that "girls think that they have to perform like the girls in porn films."

Daniel, now 18, feels that he has broken his porn addiction, and even has a steady girlfriend now, although he sometimes suffers relapses. But it is the relapses that actually encourage him to get away from porn altogether.

His last entry on the German "no-fap" forum is dated two years ago, and is a long letter farewell note. He wrote about the moment that he discovered Youporn, the ensuing loneliness, the feeling of living below ground for years. But Daniel also described his escape: "Finding like-minded people was what saved me."