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How I Overcame Porn Addiction to Become a More Present Dad

Matt Dobschuetz had a toxic relationship to porn that almost cost him his marriage. Now, clean and sober, he helps other men confront and defeat their porn addiction.

Pornography is not some new concept. It has been in existence for hundreds of years, continues to evolve with us  — and technology — and is not going anywhere. For some people, that can be problematic. After all, pornography, more accessible now than ever before, doesn’t mirror what real, consensual relationships look like. It’s a very one-sided relationship, after all, and although it can be used in a healthy way — and sometimes with a partner, for fun — for some people, their relationship with porn verges on addiction.

Matt Dobschuetz understands this. He’s a father of two sons, and a husband to his wife. He works in marketing. He discovered porn shortly before his eighth birthday and maintained a 25-year relationship with it. He used it regularly it at first but, eventually, began to use it as a coping mechanism, turning to it when he was feeling lonely or stressed out. Porn wasn’t just an occasional sexual aid, either. It became the primary way he was sexual — even through the early years of his marriage. Eventually, his usage began to drastically affect his relationship with his wife.

But with help and support, Matt handled his addiction, saving his marriage and family in the process. Now, Matt his returning the favor, helping other men and women interrogate their relationship with pornography through one on one counseling and his free podcast, Pornfree Radio.

We spoke to Matt about his toxic relationship to pornography, how he overcame it,  and why he will always be open, and accepting, of his kids’ curiosities’ when they end up finding pornography themselves.

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When or how did you realize that porn was becoming a problem for you?

I was exposed to porn at a young age. I was about eight years old. When I saw it, something clicked. There’s this thing that just woke up. As I went into puberty and discovered masturbation, the two became kind of synonymous with one another. I knew I had a problem. It was like I was in conflict. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I tried to get some books to figure out how to deal with it. No one talked about it. No one would ever even talk about it like an addiction.

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Did you ever try to tell someone about it?

Shame kept me hidden, made it a secret for me. I remember one time, I was sitting with my parents over the dinner table. My dad serviced some customers who had a Harley Davidson dealership. They had bike magazines with photos of topless women on bikes. One time I went with him, and I opened up one of the magazines. That might have been why it came up at dinner. My dad brought it up. I was being quiet and my mom, before he even explained, said, “Well, you never look at those magazines, do you?” She just was really like, ‘That would be the worst thing in the world.’ From then I realized I can’t talk about my interest in this stuff. My mom’s reaction was so strong.

That must’ve made it harder to talk about as you grew up.

I made a couple of attempts to ask for help or to tell someone about my struggle but no one really understood it. It was easy to want to stay hidden. People were uncomfortable with it. So I kind of learned to hide it, and not talk about it.

It became an easy source to go to whenever I felt stressed out. I had emotional issues that I didn’t want to deal with. It was an easy coping strategy for a long time, and like a lot of religious guys, I thought maybe when I got married, it would solve the problem. I’d be able to have sex, so my need for porn would go away.

What happened when you did get married?

It was almost the opposite. The intimacy required in marriage created more anxiety. Despite my best attempts, I got more involved with porn after I got married. Using pornography and masturbating compulsively throughout the week made it harder for me to have an erection while having sex. It also made it harder for me to be present during sex.

It got worse. There were points where I remember my wife getting ready for intimacy and I would roll over and pull up my phone to get excited. I was definitely dependent on porn. Porn was the primary way I was sexual. And intimacy with my wife was almost secondary. Then my wife caught me downloading porn in our office a couple years into the marriage.

How did she react?

She said something really interesting: “I know this isn’t about me.” She saw this as a deeper addiction or dependence. I started getting some help just by talking about it. I started to use tools to eliminate porn from my life. We locked up our computers so I wouldn’t have access when she wasn’t around. That helped me create a boundary between me and the computer.

How else did you look for sobriety?

I remember when my wife caught me, I felt seen. I was explaining some of the hiding, the lying, and some of the ways that I had withdrawn into this. Even though it was painful, I felt somewhat liberated. Like my secrets were making me sick. I invited her into this hidden world and wasn’t rejected.

When I put the lock on the office doors, after a couple of days, I wasn’t having obsessive thoughts about getting on the computer. The craving, actually, diminished. And I remember feeling safer, like my home environment became very safe, and so when I would come home, I would actually feel relaxed and secure. In the old days, I would come home and obsessive thinking would start kicking in.

But then, bad things would happen and I would realize, man. I don’t have this coping source. I don’t have this thing anymore and it would suck. I remember even being open with my wife and saying, ‘Gosh, this would be a day I would totally look at porn.’ Or, ‘I’m feeling horrible about work or I’m feeling horrible about something in my life.’ And I don’t have that anymore. It was almost like you were using a — what do they call it — something to numb the pain?

An anesthetic.

Yeah, it was almost like I was using an anesthetic for my life. But all of the sudden, I felt pain. I didn’t cry in my twenties. I never felt sadness. I never felt highs, either. I would just kind of be in the middle. Some of those early days, I remembered what it was like to be really sad. To have feelings, to really get angry about something. I was experiencing emotions for the first time. Like, real emotions, without any numbing or coping.

How did your addiction affect your relationship with your kids?

By the time that we started having kids, I was sober. But we adopted our second son. His integration into our family was a challenge. He had trouble sleeping. We were all fatigued, trying to help him settle in. He was very dependent on me. I felt a lot of pressure, and frankly, I was tired and overwhelmed. I had a full relapse. I went down to my basement and I think I went on a torrent site and downloaded a whole archive of stuff and started going through it.

I felt awful. Here I am, I have two boys, I’m charged with raising them and helping them to grow. And here I am, in the office in my basement, with my pants around my ankles.

I had sort of a relapse protocol. I had some people to call. I talked to my wife. I cut off the access that I had opened up and I remember going to my wife saying, “Listen, I really messed up. I did this.” She had another moment of grace. She said, “This is probably one of the most stressful things we’ve ever done. I understand why you went back to it.”

That felt good. I realized, I’m not perfect. I still have to use tools. I still need help with this. I can still be a good dad. This doesn’t invalidate me as a dad.

Do you plan on talking to your kids about your addiction?

Absolutely, I mean, I do the podcast on being porn-free. The boys know I do a podcast. For a couple of years, I think they thought it was about marketing, because they knew I was in marketing. They haven’t listened to it. They wouldn’t understand it. They just assume it’s dad. And they know that we’re more concerned about, like, YouTube than other parents.

I’m not one of these people who would be like, “Well, my kids will just figure it out.” I am a big proponent of having really strong boundaries at home, just in terms of our computer network, in terms of our TV. I don’t think there’s any good reason to give them lots of access to potentially harmful stuff. So, while I don’t want to shame them, or shame their curiosity, I don’t want to make it easy for them to stumble into a world of adult pornography.

Do you worry about them consuming porn one day?

It worries me a little bit. I realized that the things I saw when I was 8, when I was 12, I wasn’t able to handle. Even as an adult, the more I engaged with it, the more took over my life. So I’m worried, just like someone who may be recovered from alcohol might worry about his kids drinking alcohol one day.

I’m a person of faith. There are some things in porn that I think are really contradictory with the way I see healthy relationships. I’m concerned about it as a substance, but I’m also concerned about the message and the morality of it.

Finally, why did you want to dedicate your podcast to this topic?

One of the motivating factors for me podcasting, and talking about this, is that I really believe when men are healed of this, or when they recover from this, it helps the entire family. The difference between a father who is distracted, withdrawing into porn, and escalating his addiction, and a dad who is present, growing in intimacy with his wife or partner, and is available to his kids, engaged, is just night and day. So, part of me, I feel like, part of my mission is to help them recover to be better fathers.