Joe Duncan, I have a love/hate relationship with it. My mind is creative AF, but as I have shared ... I have a buttload of trauma that totally screwed with me in ways that would have leveled "ever" guy I know.
I doubted myself as you did up until I started engaging people mostly women, but a few men. I was horribly broken. A fantastic and brilliant Ph.D., another person who is an amazing woman, and a whole bevy of just down right amazing women started to open my eyes.
One tremendous intellect after she started to hear the path I went down, and for those that want to know more, I am 100% transparent/open. Basically stated you are a black swan in a pool of white swans. My therapist at the time stated the same thing a few years back, saying I don't know how you didn't end yourself like every other man that has had just one of these things happened you have had multiple.
How ... that glass wall of porn and booze and work and Catholicism and God. What is worse? I have had access to high-speed internet capacity even in the era of low-speed everything. I worked in telco so I literally had access to the main bones.
As a fun example, I once needed to restore my 200GB of iTunes data that I lost. 45 minutes in the mid-2000s. So can you imagine that even when you have friends of friends who even ran kink (dot) com?
So given I did the work and therapy and pulled myself out of the rabbit's hole, well it is a drug that takes time to ween off. That I am, the one thing I did to break the cycle. Not reward it with the dopamine hit and rush of orgasmic bliss. Only with a partner do I do it, and it is meant to show something or explain when words don't match or can't be seen.
So I actually was able to go 14 days for the first time ever, since that fatal evening when the baby sitter told me lets play a game. I tie you up, you try to get out and I will challenge you (at the age of 8).
What I found, holy fuck Joe. I found a level of energy that even my battered body from allergic asthma couldn't stop. I empathized and sympathized and felt "a lot". It was like a weight was lifted from me.
Then I realized I had a lot of work to do. Given I have always had a high libido, as I repaired my body, I know it will go up exponentially as the weight comes off. I need to be ready for that, so the temptation isn't there.
The key I found for those that are meek or lack confidence, is you have to read erotica. If you are going to take that "hit", let it be with words and a book, and you know what ... if you are a CIS-Het guy, support women writers.
Why? Women get balance. They know how to regulate. They are deeply layered, and it will of course help you understand how to interact better.
After that get skills, exercise, become a richer man, and if you truly love women. Support them, help them, and learn about them (feminism).
That doesn't mean you can't use porn, but make sure it is together and only used as an aide. E.g. you have a certain thing you like, share it, and then act it out together. This is what is important.
Other good books (yes I read a lot)
Pornland: How Porn has hijacked our sexuality by Gail Dines
The Porn Trap by Wend and Larry Maltz
Love and Pornography: Dealing With Porn by Victoria and Garry Prater
I am willing to admit I am a flawed man and was and is damaged. The thing is though, I refuse to give up on my masculinity and most important I want to be the best sexual partner for the person I am with.
If and when repaired, trust me. I have a cache of mental, consensual, and respectful things to do and I will have the spark of manhood that I can see in this author.
That being said, Porn has performance tested and built the best web technologies on the planet. I chuckled at my job with testing, I threatened to unleash a torrent of data to performance test a carriers system. It is funny because in my job I use the phrases "stress" testing and 'load' testing and I chuckle on the inside...
Fantastic article Joe ... as usual you knocked it out of the park. Be proud dude!