Sitting in the waiting room of a top London Harley Street clinic is a 30-year-old man dressed in a designer suit, scrolling through his iPhone. On the street outside his good looks and charming smile might catch the eyes of passersby, but in here he keeps his head down and avoids looking directly at the receptionist.
He is one of Britain’s growing number of pornography addicts, whose shocking secret is one click away from destroying his life forever.
“What gives you a thrill one day doesn’t do it for you the next,” he later explains.
“You’re always looking for a greater buzz and then it leads you into a darker place you never believed possible.”
And one expert in the field now claims porn addiction is affecting children as young as eight. He knows, because he’s treating them.
“This a physical dependency – people are self-medicating with porn and each time they need a greater, more hardcore hit,” reveals Rob Watt, who has over 13 years experience treating addicts.
“It’s a secret, shameful world which people struggle to admit – until it’s too late.
“I’m currently working with kids as young as eight who are watching hardcore porn in the middle of the night and getting up first thing in the morning to watch it again before school. The effects are truly devastating and will only get worse.
“A school counsellor and a group of parents came to me because what they found on a child’s phone wasn’t even regular sex. We’re talking necrophilia and bestiality. It had already gone that far.
“It gets dark quickly. I work with married, company bosses who spend six hours a day in porn chatrooms, those who’ve seen over 1,000 sex workers. I had a client watching porn involving roadkill – then heading out in their car in the middle of the night to act it out.
“Nothing surprises me any more.”
We spent the day with Rob inside Innisfree – Europe’s first long-term treatment centre for pornography and sexual compulsivity – which he founded in 2015 after years working at The Priory.
He believes that due to the accessibility of more hardcore content online, porn addiction is set to reach epidemic proportions as the next generation who’ve grown up with unparalleled internet use struggle to form relationships and hold down employment.
“My background was alcohol and drug addiction but I found that more and more people with porn and sexual compulsivity were presenting themselves to me and we had no idea how to treat them,” he says.
“The consequences are catastrophic but the regular 28-day programmes weren’t working. I left in 2012 to start my own private practice and this is now the only one of its kind in Europe. I believe long term therapy and treatment as well as a period of abstinence is the only answer.
“Here at Innisfree we have a team of highly skilled clinicians who have contributed to developing a unique model where we all have our individual specialisms and the treatment is delivered all under one roof over an extended period of time. We also treat the partners of porn addicts, which is also a growing number.”
Rob admits he has seen over a 100% increase in clients in recent years. And the consequences of their stories are as catastrophic as they are heartbreaking.
“Some of the men attempt suicide through the shame, sometimes their partners do when they make the discovery,” he says.
“Probably the saddest story was a client whose child committed suicide.
“We also see people with physical injuries from masturbating up to 12 times a day – lacerations on penises are common, internal and external injuries on women, for female sex addicts exist, too.
“I even had a client who was left incontinent from excessive use of sex toys.”
Rob, who suffered alcohol and drug addiction himself before retraining at Bath University, believes more should be done to recognise that this is a medical condition.
He reveals: “Dopamine is the neurochemical of desire. It’s perfect for pornography. You get one big hit and an overload, flooded with dopamine and whatever it is you are looking for, it will never, ever be enough.
“It’s why you can’t say to a teenage boy, ‘Please stop looking at pornography and get on with your homework you smutty boy’. It’s not possible for him to stop. This is a physical dependency.
“The tipping point into addiction is consequences. It’s when you wake up in the morning and physically need something over anything else.
“The people presenting here in my clinic are not having a good time. The consequences are ruining their lives – they’re about to lose their partners, they’ve been caught looking at porn at work, masturbating in public or they’ve crossed the legal line. We treat offenders here.
“When people use pornography over an extended period of time unchecked for six or seven hours a day, maybe with cocaine and alcohol as well, then the lines get blurred and the tolerance level develops.
"We treat people who have been watching underage images and are usually in the judicial system for that and it happens quicker than you think. But we definitely don’t treat paedophiles. If they’ve had contact, we refer them elsewhere.”
Often, just like the man waiting patiently in the waiting room today, Rob’s clients are high-flying businessmen, or men holding down good jobs, with wives and children in tow.
He says: “We get people who have functional, professional adult lives who are often successful. But then they have this child-like quality to them where they are very irresponsible, watching six hours of porn a day, sneaking off in the night.
“The treatment is opposite to a drug addict or alcoholic. You can’t stop someone’s physical need for sex..., you just need a healthy relationship with it.”
In the clinic today I meet James, a 32-year-old former office worker who has been coming here since December when his wife found his porn use on his laptop.
“I was nipping to the toilets at work and masturbating,” he explains, “eventually I lost my job. When my wife found out she left me. This has ruined my life.
“I physically couldn’t stop. I was self-medicating my depression with porn as a quick-fix. It made me feel good.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t have sex with my wife – it was boring in comparison. I’d stay up late at night watching videos and in explicit message rooms with what I believed to be women. In reality, I have no idea.
“Their every fantasy could be indulged in. I liked BDSM (Bondage, Dominance Submission and Sadomasochism) and it got darker each time I needed a greater high. Had my wife not found out, who knows what would have happened.
“Maybe I would have wanted to act out on them. I’ve met people here in group therapy who have.
“Right now I don’t want to ever watch porn again. But porn is a broad term.
“I have watched movies with lots of sex in them. Are they safe? I hope to get to the point where I could have a new relationship. But I worry that I could never have a normal sex life again.”
Rob and his team, including wife Kat Watt, a therapist treating the female sex addicts here, believe the increased accessibility of porn online for younger kids means that the next generation may struggle to ever form normal, happy relationships.
Kat says: “We are only just, 20 years later, starting to see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeing the consequences of people who have grown up watching porn. When men have their first sexual experiences through watching porn as a teenager then they have never known it to be any other way. That’s what they think sex should be, how women should be.
“We are terrified for that generation because it’s possible they may never be able to enjoy sex normally in relationships.”
Rob agrees: “The horse has bolted with pornography. The internet is limitless. Kids who are 10, 11, 12 years old aren’t stumbling on a dirty magazine any more. They are watching it online and learning to masturbate in a way which is so microstimulant. They don’t know how it is to be intimate with another person until it’s too late. As that generation gets older, the issue will only get worse.”
But Rob and Kat are uncertain how to solve the problem – only how to treat it.
“The porn industry is big business. It’s a multi-billion pound industry and there’s too much money around and a lot of people invested in keeping it alive.
“Plus with different laws on what’s available in different countries it seems impossible to police. Of course, we wish it could be. We see the effects here. Lives are literally being ruined.”
Rob Watt believes there are three issues causing pornography addiction.
1 Opportunity: The explosion of internet porn means you are only three clicks away from your wildest fantasy.
2 Trauma: Big T and little T traumas happen in childhood when something terrible happens and the emotional needs of a child aren’t being met so they respond accordingly or revisit that trauma in the brain later.
3 Attachment: When people have attachment issues from their parents, something is missing and they need to develop a coping mechanism to fill the gap because usual behaviour wasn’t modelled for them.