The forthcoming movie Don Jon, written by, directed by, and starring youthful Hollywood heavyweight Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is not scheduled for release in the U.S. until October, but the trailer is out and very intriguing -- promising a bawdy comedy about porn addiction. It is highly unlikely that Don Jon will mirror the astoundingly accurate, highly disturbing portrayal of sexual addiction offered up by the 2011 film Shame. Nevertheless, it does look at sexual addiction -- porn addiction in particular -- as a real issue that evokes real-life consequences. The fact that Don Jon appears to be a goofy movie aimed at a younger audience is actually a good thing, as this may help raise awareness about the problems porn abuse can create among the population most affected by it.
In the film, Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, a character who appears to have been weaned on episodes of Jersey Shore. Gym rat Jon loves, in ascending order of importance, his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. His boys all call him Don Jon because of his ability to "pull 10s" (hook up with a different hot girl) every weekend. Yet, for Jon, even that doesn't compare to the escapist bliss provided by his deeply entrenched relationship with online pornography.In describing the film, Gordon-Levitt has said:
Interestingly, this sounds like a relatively accurate description of sex and porn addiction -- when objectification of people overtakes real-life experience. Even the way that Gordon-Levitt treats pornographic imagery in the film -- as a rapid-fired succession of different, astoundingly attractive women -- mirrors the way that porn addicts report behaving, in that they are always switching from one video to another, always searching for something newer, better and more exciting. For a porn addict, each hot new image hits home like a blast of crack cocaine. Each new image is a fix, and the more you fix, the better you feel.
"I wanted to make a movie about how we objectify each other and how that's always getting in the way of things. Rather than relating to each other, we treat each other as objects ... and we compare each other to these expectations that we have. And oftentimes we learn these expectations from movies or TV shows or commercials and magazines, different types of media. Or pornography."
Like many addicts, Don Jon eventually becomes dissatisfied with his life and looks to make a change. That change arrives in the form of Scarlett Johansson, whose character, Barbara, is as addicted to sappy romantic movies as Don Jon is to porn. Barbara's obsession is as potentially real as Jon's, even if it's portrayed in comic fashion, as we have long known that women tend to value an emotional connection more than sexual body parts. Thus, Barbara objectifies romantic relationships in much the same way that Don Jon objectifies breasts and buttocks, and with the same basic results, too, in that no one in the real world can live up to the unrealistic fantasies.
You may be asking: Is porn use really such a problem? Is a little bit of harmless fantasy all that destructive? And the answer for most people is no, porn and other forms of objectified fantasy are not a problem, merely an integrated part of their lives. Alcohol use is similar in this respect. For the majority of people, drinking alcohol is not a problem. Most people who drink alcohol, even to the point of being drunk, can stop whenever they choose. They are not addicted to alcohol. However, some people, once they start drinking, just can't stop. These individuals are alcoholics. Porn is the same. Once a porn addict goes online and starts looking, the game is up. And with porn addiction, as is the case with all compulsive behaviors (drinking, drug use, gambling, shopping, etc.), negative life consequences are bound to occur -- depression, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, shame and more. Again, for a more realistic depiction of sexual addiction, I suggest viewing the movie Shame, as Michael Fassbender's character Brandon provides a spot-on portrayal.
Sadly, porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help for their problem because they either don't recognize their solo sexual behaviors as the underlying source of their unhappiness or they are too ashamed to ask for help. For those who do seek assistance, it's usually to address their addiction's related symptoms (relationship troubles, depression, and the like) rather than the porn abuse itself. Some will attend psychotherapy for extended periods without ever discussing (or even being asked about) porn, masturbation, or other forms of sexual acting out. And when that happens, their core problem remains underground and untreated.
So is that the case in the movie Don Jon? Is Jon attempting to merely address the symptoms of his problem rather than the problem itself? With only trailers to go on at this point, it's difficult to know, though I'm quite curious to find out. I also wonder if sex and porn addiction are depicted as accurately in Don Jon (albeit couched in comedy) as they were in Shame. Even if that isn't the case, it seems likely that Don Jon is a step in the right direction in terms of raising awareness about sexual compulsivity and the issues it can create in people's lives. And, as always, awareness is a very good thing.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch outside Nashville, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, Mr. Weiss is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, Mr. Weiss has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the U.S. military and treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.