Terry Crews fights porn addiction: "You cannot accept any pornography in your man's life"

The "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" actor comes clean about what he calls his "dirty little secret" — and is offering advice

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 24, 2016 4:29PM (EST)

Terry Crews   (Reuters/David McNew)
Terry Crews (Reuters/David McNew)

When a celebrity comes forward with an admission of time in rehab and an inspirational call for others to break free of their addictions, it doesn't usually look like this. But in a series of confessional videos this month, former NFL player and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" actor Terry Crews has been sharing the odyssey of what he calls his "dirty little secret" — porn addiction.

Crews first revealed his porn habit two years ago, in his memoir "Manhood." In an interview with Wendy Williams at the time to promote the book, he admitted, "I was addicted to pornography since I was 12 years old. My father was addicted to alcohol and my mother was addicted to religion. So what happens is you had an addictive household." And he said that the addiction eventually led him to cheat on his wife.

But lately, he's been delving into the topic more. In his first video, posted on February 11, he said called pornography "a worldwide problem" and added that "It messed up my life in a lot of ways…. My wife was literally like, 'I don't know you any more. I'm outta here." Crews said that he turned his life around after entering rehab roughly six years ago, and that he now believes porn "changes the way you think about people. People become objects. People become body parts. People become things to be used rather than people to be loved."

In a second video, posted last week, Crews continued the conversation, saying he'd received "a lot of questions" about porn addiction and "how to beat it." He discussed his experience with therapy, and insightfully talked about the necessity of overcoming shame. He also told women that "You need to confront your man about this problem. You cannot accept any pornography in your man's life…. That's a message for all women out there. And I'm calling on men to be more accountable." And in his latest video, posted just Tuesday, Crews says that he's been receiving "a lot, a lot" of support from people facing their own addictions, especially to pornography. He spoke of his "sense of entitlement" and how he felt his wife "owed" him sex.

Crews' candor and insight about his experience "self-medicating" with porn are admirable — and they've clearly struck a nerve. And it's hard to dispute that porn — and its easy ubiquity — have changed the playing field, for all of us. One 2013 study estimated that 70% of men — and 30% of women — watch porn regularly, and that one third of Internet bandwidth is devoted to porn. That's created different, usually unrealistic and often negative expectations of what sex is supposed to be. In her forthcoming "Girls and Sex," Peggy Orenstein reports that "In one study of 304 random scenes culled from fifty best-selling videos, nearly 90 percent contained physical aggression toward women, while close to half contained verbal humiliation." The implications for women and their satisfaction are depressing, at best. As one young woman tells Orenstein in the book, her boyfriend "thought it would just happen, like in porn, that I'd be ready a lot faster and he could just, you know, pound." I suspect many of us who have sex with men can offer a similar story of disappointing experience with that guy.

Yet for all the positive aspects of Crews' willingness to put himself in the midst of a difficult and potentially embarrassing conversation, it's also important to note he's doing it in the context of a self-described "servant to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Crews works hard to stay nonjudgmental and stick to his own story, but his narrative of masculine pride and description of pornography as strictly "an intimacy killer" is still one that seems shaped by his moral views as well as his difficult past experience. For many of us, porn doesn't have to be an intimacy "killer," and not everyone who watches it will fall down the rabbit hole of addiction. But by admitting that he has had a problem — and being so clearly and openly embraced by others who face it too — Crews is creating a call for more honest communication around the topic, and the consequences of overusing porn. And a dirty secret doesn't have to a secret — or dirty — any more.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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