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Rus Funk

By August 31, 2022September 1st, 2022No Comments

Episode 77

Rus Funk

Master of Social Work, Consultant, & Activist

Did you know that pornography can actually deeply impact the way we view and treat those around us? Just ask Rus Funk, an advocate dedicated to advancing gender, sexual, and racial equality for over 30 years. One of his biggest projects is a curriculum called, What’s Wrong With This Picture? which aims to support men in examining the negative impacts of their porn consumption. His extensive knowledge and dedication for gender equality can be clearly heard throughout this episode of Consider Before Consuming. Listen as Rus Funk and podcast host Garrett Jonsson discuss the connection between porn and sexual violence, how porn has evolved over the years, and how Rus is helping men become a better version of themselves by creating space where they can be vulnerable and real about their porn consumption.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Rus Funk: addiction is a progressive disease, whether it’s with alcohol and drugs or whether it’s pornography or whether it’s with food, you know, it starts as some kind of thing that may or may not be problematic. And then it starts to become problematic, but there’s a difference between being problematic and being addictive. And so I, yes, I’ve heard, I’ve heard both of those conversations in the rooms where men are starting to question or have starting to question whether or not they’re addicted to this, but they’ve never been in a space where they can actually say that question out loud.

Garrett Jonsson: My name is Garrett Jonsson, and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.

And in case you’re new here, Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

We want these conversations to be educational, uplifting, and hopeful. As we sit down with experts, influencers, activists, and people with personal accounts, we cover a wide variety of topics that may be triggering to some, you can refer to the episode notes for a specific trigger warning- listener discretion is advised.

Today’s episode is with Rus Funk. While Rus was earning his undergraduate degree he worked in a rape crisis center, and got curious about how porn can promote sexual violence. Fast forward to today and Rus has been dedicated to advancing gender, sexual, and racial equality for over 30 years. One of his biggest projects is a curriculum called, What’s Wrong With This Picture, which aims to support men in examining the negative impacts of their porn consumption. During this conversation, we talk about how porn consumption can negatively impact men, how porn can promote sexual violence, and how his curriculum can help men become a better version of themselves.

With that being said, let’s jump into the conversation, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.

You’ve been working for how long in this field?

Rus Funk: Do we really have to say that [laughter], um, 30 something,

Garrett Jonsson: 30 years. So you’ve been working 30 years for this moment, right now?

Rus Funk: Right here. [laughter] With you.

Garrett Jonsson: [laughter] No, just joking. But 30 years, 30 years is a long time. You’ve put in some time, I’m sure you’ve learned some things. And for that, we are, we are grateful.

Rus Funk: Thank you. And, and, you know, it’s, this work is hard and trying and often discouraging, but also is very affirming. And so, you know, I have, my parents raised me with the belief that you give back the degree to which you’ve been blessed and the unfortunate catch of that, of living a life like that is that you can’t, and the more you give back, the more you’re blessed. So you’re not only can you never catch up, you’re always falling behind. [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah, that makes sense.

Rus Funk: I say all that to say is, you know, the ways that I have been blessed by doing this work and the people that I’ve been able to meet and work with far outweigh, outweigh anything that I could have contributed. So,…

Garrett Jonsson: Well, that’s a good perspective to hold. I think that’s a, that’s a healthy perspective to hold. Uh, can you lay a little bit of the foundational work? Just kind of explain who you are and where you’re from, maybe some of those family dynamics?

Rus Funk: Sure. Um, so yeah, um, my name is Ross funk. I am based in Louisville, Kentucky. Um, the work that I do is kind of brought me based working primarily focusing on engaging and mobilizing men to engage actively in work, to promote gender equality and gender justice. And one of the, um, significant barriers to gender equality and gender justice is pornography use and pornography as an, as an institution and as a well as a drug. And, uh, like I said, I’ve been doing this for since the eighties. Um, and I got into this work more broadly, largely because of who my parents are and how they raised me to be. Um, I grew up in south Texas. My parents were early on, um, kind of grassroots community based sexuality educators. And so really driving home, the idea that, uh, that good sex is something that happens between human beings who actually like, and respect each other.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: And, um, that’s, you know, that’s the value, that’s what we hold.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: Um, they were the folks who did that kind of sexuality. We had a small college in town. They did. So they did some of their work through the college. But I remember some of the things that they did with the college students, not obviously with us, we were too young, but you know, most of the time the, the conversations were in our home. So we,

Garrett Jonsson: Right. You lived under the same roof.

Rus Funk: Right. And, you know, the conversations were around the dining room table in the living room and, you know, we would be scooted off to our bedrooms, but, you know, we had our ears to the door. [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: Right. [laughter]

Rus Funk: Some very interesting conversations that my parents would facilitate. Um,

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. So it’s interesting that your parents had to educate on that version of sex, like the healthy version of sex. I find it interesting that your parents had to educate on that because it’s such a basic concept, but it has like, like you talk to pornography is misconstruing that it’s sending messages that don’t align with what your parents were teaching.

Rus Funk: Right. Absolutely. And you know, I think back in the day, this is in the seventies and eighties in south Texas, as I mentioned right now, I am in Kentucky. Um, yes, we do have to keep educating and intentionally and actively educating about that because especially to men and boys, because they’re not getting the information anywhere else.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: And unfortunately these days, you know, I grew up pre-internet pre-computer, there was, you know, my access to sexuality education was thankfully my parents until I became an adolescent that they, I was like, “Oh my God, no, please.” And the library, um,…

Garrett Jonsson: What do you mean by that? What do you mean when you put your hands over your face? And you said, “No.” like you were re resenting?

Rus Funk: Oh my God.

Garrett Jonsson: What were you resenting? Can you elaborate on that emotion?

Rus Funk: Absolutely. I, I was so tired of hearing it from my parents.

Garrett Jonsson: Oh,… okay, yeah.

Rus Funk: Cause it was my parents. Right. And I was like, “Ugh, really? I got it.” I don’t know. [laughter] um,…

Garrett Jonsson: Okay. [laughter] Yeah. I think most kids can relate to that sentiment if their kids, if their parents are talking to them about sex, I think they can relate to that sentiment.

Rus Funk: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: Most parents in your generation. And in my generation, they didn’t have the conversation about the, the birds and the bees. Right? They did not have the conversation. And if they did have it, it was one time. But it sounds like your parents had it hundreds of times.

Rus Funk: [laughter] Right. And the other piece that I also have a 12 year old, so I’m in a different, different way being able to practice this in real time.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: Um, but I didn’t realize how much, how much of the conversation around sex and sexuality in our country is still so shame based and kids walk away with, I can’t talk about it, but if I am talking about it, it’s embarrassing and it’s shameful and it’s, you know, excruciating. And my parents did a really good job around, you know, not shaming us for having questions, not shaming us for having feelings or being confused or whatever it was.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Um,…

Garrett Jonsson: They, they acknowledged the curiosity, the natural curiosity that’s within each of us. And it sounds like they acknowledged that each of us are here because of sex. Like… [laughter].

Rus Funk: Right [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: We, we can’t, each of us exist because of it. And, uh, sometimes it’s a tough topic to talk about. And so anyway, your, your parents, they did a good job. They, they raised an individual… you seem like a decent individual doing good work. And like you said, trying to engage and mobilize men and boys to become the best version of themselves. Is that kind of how you describe your work?

Rus Funk: Absolutely. And, you know, again, kind of borrowing from my learned from my parents, um, you know, I have some really strong feelings about pornography and the, the damage that it does and what the industry does, but I don’t have that. I don’t share that discussed with the people who use pornography. Um, and that’s, that’s a really important message that I try and engage in when I’m talking with men about this is, is I’m not gonna hide the fact that I have these strong feelings about the pornography as an industry. Um, I’m not gonna hide the fact that I have strong feelings about smoking in the tobacco industry. That doesn’t mean I hate smokers.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: And I’ve got people who smoke, who I love and care about, but the tobacco industry intentionally puts things in the, into cigarettes that addict you, that make it hard for you to quit that drive you into the next pack of cigarettes. Pornography does the same thing. That doesn’t mean I hate people who do pornography. It means I hate industry.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. So you can hate on the behavior. And also at the same time, have empathy and acceptance for the individual.

Rus Funk: Yeah. Or, or I think, you know, and that’s a nuance that is, is hard to tease out, especially, you know, when, when men are just getting into these conversations, my own experience is that men are having pornography is this thing it’s like this, this accepted secret.

Right? We all know, we all know that men look at pornography. We all know that men, that this is a common thing that men do, but men don’t ever talk about the fact that we do this. And there’s some, there’s some shaming and there’s some, you know, embarrassment around around that. And I found that, you know, for me to have any kind of protective conversations, especially someone who is outwardly critical of pornography, I have to start with “This ain’t about you all. I respect and value you all and who you are as human beings. And I want to bring us into a conversation around something that’s really hard for us frequently to have a conversation about.”

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: And that means creating as brave a space as possible.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. I grew up in the locker room. I grew up playing sports. I grew up in that environment. And as a heterosexual male, you saying that it’s something that we do as men, we often normalize porn consumption, but then we don’t talk about it. It’s a secret, it’s an accepted secret. Is that how you described it?

Rus Funk: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: I think that, that is, there’s a lot of truth there, from my experience in the locker room, we did talk about porn consumption, but it wasn’t a serious conversation. We didn’t ever discuss the harmful effects of pornography. We didn’t ever discuss how it was impacting us or the negative side. We would just joke about it.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: Right? We would talk about it, but not in a, yeah. Not in a more vulnerable way.

Rus Funk: Yeah. It’s kind of similar to dating in my mind, in my experience, it’s kind of similar that, that dating conversation, we don’t talk critically about dating or how I’m dating or how am I treating the person who I’m flirting with and dating as if they’re a worthwhile human being it’s, you know, jawing to each other around and bragging and, you know, stripping the humanity out of that conversation. So…

Garrett Jonsson: That’s interesting. Going back to what I said earlier, I grew up in, I was born in the mid eighties. I grew up playing sports. I grew up in the locker room. I heard all of that talk and I’m a person who really enjoys masculinity. I, I embrace my masculinity. And at the same time, I get curious about how those environments negatively impacted me and my behavior. I don’t know if you know much about me, Rus, but I used to be your typical porn consumer. And, uh, I grew up consuming porn from a very young age and continued, and my porn consumption escalated as porn escalated. And what I mean by that is I went from Playboy magazines to VHS, to a little bit of internet porn consumption. And then when the smartphone became available, that’s when my porn consumption… uh, it escalated significantly at that point.

And it wasn’t until I heard about Fight the New Drug that I pivoted away from porn consumption.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: And from there, I got real curious as to why I like, how were those environments negatively impacting my behaviors and my thought processes mm-hmm and my be, and my perspective toward women.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: And so I think that I am basically like an interesting case study for you as a professional because you, I kind of like am the epitome of what you are fighting, or I used to be. Does that make sense? Because today I’m at zero porn consumption and I no longer consume porn, but I used to be that individual. I used to engage in that behavior in my accurate in stating that?

Rus Funk: Mostly, I, I would, I don’t experience it as fighting. Um, I really like your language of curiosity, um, cause with the project, with, with What’s Wrong With This Picture, you know, the, the idea is really, is to go in with this sense of curiosity and encouragement o get to where you are of like start to look at, you know, is there impact of me viewing pornography? Um, what is that impact?

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: So, as an example, one of, one of our first activities is asks men to remember in their bodies, their first experience of viewing pornography and almost universally men have a mixed experience. There is of course the pleasure and the excitement and the curiosity, and all that, but there’s also a level of freaked-outted-ness… [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: Right. Or disgust. Or yeah, feeling freaked out- that makes sense.

Rus Funk: There’s some sense of, you know, embarrassment or shame or ickiness, or “I don’t know that I like this.” or “I don’t know what this is…” confusion. Um, but because as you described it as the “locker room talk”, all we talk about typically as men who view pornography, all we talk about is, you know, that “I liked it.”, and that “It’s fun.” And we don’t ever talk about that shadow side. Right? And what we know about trauma, I don’t think viewing pornography is a trauma, but I think there’s some lessons we learned from trauma. What we know about trauma is those negative negative experiences. If we don’t get a chance to unpack them, they become like magnets for the next time we have the experience.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Right? So men view pornography for the first time and they have a mixed feeling. They can talk about the positive experience.

They can’t talk about the negative experience of it. So they, but, but there’s enough of a positive experience because of the way pornography is constructed that they go to watch it again.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: That then reinforces the positive side, but it also reinforces the hidden negative side.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: And so here we are sometimes 20, 30 years later, and I’m in a, in a group of men who have never had a conversation, a re a meaningful conversation with each other pornography. And the first conversation is “Wow, as I’m in my body and remembering in my body what this was like, I’m remembering that it was in fact mixed. And I did have, I’ve been caring for 30 years, this ickiness.” That was my first experience.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: And what an opportunity to just a, in terms of group dynamics, to share that with each other, but also to kind of reinforce the need to get curious around what has this experience been. And so my, I see my job is as much more around how do, how do I hold spaces, where men can be curious with each other without shame, without blame, without judgment. Just, just get curious. And I trust that that curiosity as with you, as you described it, that curiosity leads them to come to conclusions that, that they start deciding they need to change their behavior about doing pornography.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. I wanted to read a couple stats because when I read these stats, I learned of these stats. My mind was blown, and I think they’re relevant to the conversation. This stat says, according to the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime, some 47,000 women and girls were killed by their intimate partners or other family members during 2020. This means that on average, a woman or girl is killed by someone in their own family, every 11 minutes. 47,000. Another stat that really hit hard for me was, on average in the us 20 people are assaulted every minute by their intimate partners, 20 individuals are insulted, uh, or excuse me, not insulted are assaulted every minute by their intimate partners. And then I start thinking about stats that we throw around at Fight the New Drug often, which for example, one sta says, research shows that women are almost always the target of violence and aggression in porn. And they, the estimate that it’s about 97% of the time, women are the target of violence and aggression. So in your career, Rus, during your time, over those 30 years, how have you seen porn evolve and how is it negatively impacting the consumer and how does it correlate back to some of these stats like that 20 people are assaulted every minute by their intimate partners in the us?

Rus Funk: You know, you just asked like three huge questions, right? [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. I asked way too many questions. I acknowledge that, for sure.

Rus Funk: It’s all good. Um, so I think, um, you know, I, I’ve done some work with a colleague, um, specifically looking at men who perpetrate and partner violence. What is their experience of looking at pornography? And what we find is probably no surprise. There is a strong and direct correlation, um, men, men who perpetrate violence. And this, this has also been found by other researchers in terms of sexual assault, men who perpetrate violence tend to have higher rates of pornography use than the general population of men. And I think to your point, there is, there is a scripting that goes on in pornography that men don’t pay attention to. So one of the things that I talk with men about is that in, we know from kind of basic media literacy, that when I am consuming any media, I am consuming not only what is presenting, but I’m also consuming the values that underlie what is presenting, right? So if I watch, I dunno if I watch star wars, I’m not only consuming the show, but there are some values that is, are underneath often hidden, um, in the star wars trilogies that I’m also consuming, right? If I’m paying attention, then I can notice what the values are. And then I can, you know, with my 12 year old, have a conversation around how does that reflect our values or not? And let’s just notice that those values are there and spit out the ones that we don’t like.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: That’s happening in pornography too. Right? So you’re consuming this pornography. There is this level of violence that’s in pornography. Um, whether it’s verbal violence or physical violence or choking, or, you know, whatever it is, that’s normalized, that’s accepted. So there’s a value that I’m consuming with it that the challenge with pornography is that men aren’t just viewing pornography, right? We’re, we’re masturbating while we’re doing it. And what masturbation does is it, it explodes the brain. It is more… your brain is more receptive. It is, it is, it is the, the learning or the values go deeper into the, into, into our understanding into our con into our, um, self. So into the way that we consume or experience, right, the, uh, the media.

Garrett Jonsson: There’s a guy named Dr. Norman Doidge. And I think that he stated the following, I might butcher the quote, but he said, “Pornography meets all the prerequisites for neuroplastic change.”

Rus Funk: Okay.

Garrett Jonsson: I think that’s like, what that sums up, kinda like what you’re talking about.

Rus Funk: Yeah. Much more succinctly than I [laughter] just did.

Garrett Jonsson: No, that’s the point.

Rus Funk: Yeah, that’s the point.

Garrett Jonsson: Exactly.

Rus Funk: And so what, what I think we’re learning from looking at men who, who do use violence and their experience of viewing pornography is that there, there does seem to be this kind of neuroplasticity effect. You know, they, they, they’re reading this, they’re looking at this, they’re masturbating to it, and then they want to try it for real. And the pornography lie is that women, like it.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: That it increases their pleasure.

Garrett Jonsson: Yep.

Rus Funk: That know that her saying no, or her crying or her turning away, or her screaming is actually an expression of pleasure. And, you know, how does that, how does that induce anybody to empathy or compassion?

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: And back to the lesson I learned from my parents, you know, those empathy and compassion has to be a foundation for good sex. And if these guys are A: learning that from the pornography use and B: not learning a counter story in any way… what, where do men get the counter story? Where do men learn that I, that empathy and compassion is a foundation for good sex?

Garrett Jonsson: Mm.

Rus Funk: [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: The Notebook. They’re getting it from The Notebook.

Rus Funk: [laughter] Right.

Garrett Jonsson: Maybe.

Rus Funk: Maybe.

Garrett Jonsson: But not very many sources is what you’re saying. And yeah. That’s, I think that’s a factual statement that you are shining a light on or a factual thing that’s occurring in society right now is men oftentimes don’t have a place to turn to learn about healthy sexuality.

Rus Funk: Right.

Garrett Jonsson: Do you know of a person named Al Bandura? Does that name ring a bell for you?

Rus Funk: Oh…

Garrett Jonsson: He’s the social learning theory guy.

Rus Funk: Yes. Thank

Garrett Jonsson: The social learning theory guy, he states, he came up with this theory, the social learning theory, and it states that we as individuals, we as human beings, don’t actually have to experience something to learn. That we can, uh, we can learn through observation.

Rus Funk: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: And I think that’s kind of sums up what we’re talking about here is social learning and porn consumption. What is a teaching kids?

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: What is it teaching men?

Rus Funk: Yeah.

Garrett Jonsson: So over the course of your career, have you seen ch have you seen porn evolve at all? And you, can you talk to how porn has evolved?

Rus Funk: I think the biggest way it’s evolved is kind of what you described is, you know, going from, you know, the magazine version to the film version, and now the accessibility version that it’s everywhere. Um, I think, you know, when it was, when it was magazines that you, you had to have some place, you had to buy some place…

Garrett Jonsson: And you had to show your ID.

Rus Funk: Yeah. You had to show your ID to get it. It was still pictures. Um, it, it, it meant that, so one of the things that I think the, the end answer I think is, is one of the things that has evolved is this level of prevalence and anonymity that now happens in men’s pornography use. Um, and that combination really leads to a complete lack of accountability, right? Men no longer have to have any semblance, any pretense of being accountable for the pornography use because it is on our devices.

Garrett Jonsson: Mm.

Rus Funk: And I can hit the private button and look at whatever I wanna look at and then go home to my partner. And she would never know unless she has some kind of way, and I don’t have to own it. Right? And unless she has some kind of way to get through the firewalls that I know well enough to put up, that she’s not gonna look.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. I did, I did that for six years of marriage. So I, I know from personal experience that you can get away with porn consumption.

Rus Funk: Absolutely. And you know, not that, you know, that lack of accountability, not only am I not being accountable for my behavior, I’m completely, um, undermine my accountability around the harm that that does. Even if my partner doesn’t know it.

Garrett Jonsson: Yep.

Rus Funk: If I’m sneaking around, I’m doing damage to her, I’m doing damage to our relationship.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. And I wanna call myself out if I can, cuz I just said that I knew on a, on a personal level that I could “get away” with porn consumption and that’s actually not true. I didn’t get away with anything like my wife. She was not aware of my porn consumption. So I got away with it in that sense. But like you’re talking to it negatively impacted me. It negatively impacted my mind. It negatively impacted our relationship, even though she didn’t know about the porn consumption. So I didn’t “get away” with anything. Like there were a negative consequences [laughter] just wanna state that for the record.

Rus Funk: Thank you for clarifying. That’s a good point. And again, I think, you know, that that level of honesty, that level of transparency, men don’t very often have experiences of being able to have that with each other around this topic. Yeah. And you know, the work I do is very much around how do we create spaces where men can, because one of the things that I found has happened is that because of, of the prevalence and the anonymity issue and the, and the understanding and this acceptance, that “all men view pornography”, we don’t understand tho those nuance of differences between your experience and mine. And what I found when I’ve been in these rooms is that there is tremendous differences in men’s experiences of using pornography. Um, so one example is, you know, we’ll have men talk about, about their different experiences and, and some men, you know, they’re, they’re in their thirties or forties or fifties. Um, and there are some men who are drawn to teen pornography. There are some men who are like, “You know what, that’s my daughter.”, “That’s my granddaughter.”, “I see anything around teen pornography just like grosses me out. I can’t watch that.” Um, well when Iman able to talk about that kind of nuance of difference, you know, what, what I think what happens with the, with the social norming of men’s pornography use is that most men, therefore social norm that their pornography use is just like every other man’s. So every man is, you know, every man likes teens. And so for them to hear that, that, “Oh, no, there are some men who don’t. Yes, they view pornography, but they don’t view that pornography.” Um, you know, we’ve had some in say, “You know what, the minute, the minute there’s any slapping, I turn it off because that triggers something about my past, when my dad beat up my mom.” or whatever. You know, to hear that kind of those, to hear them, share those stories and have to confront each other.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Or I’m sorry, have to confront their own experience by the, by, by somebody else that they have developed some respect and cared for. It makes them have to start rethinking. Wow. Really? So that’s not the norm?

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: That, that is a really powerful moment.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. There’s some research that is relevant to this conversation. I think this, this moment of the conversation, it’s a study from 2016 and it found that 47% of respondents reported that, over time, they began watching pornography that had previously disinterested or even disgusted them. And so in this study alone, if 47% of the respondents did experience that, that means that 53% did not. So we’re not saying that everyone who consumes pornography will go down this route, but some do.

Rus Funk: Right.

Garrett Jonsson: And I’m wondering if your experience, if, if, while you sit in the rooms with these individuals, with these men, talking about their porn consumption, do you ever hear people talk about that aspect of their porn consumption, becoming escalating behavior, meaning they’re searching out different types of porn that previously disinterested or even discussed them?

Rus Funk: Yes. And I heard from you kind of two parallel questions. One was, you know, sliding down that slope to, to doing what previously discussed me and also sliding down or starting that, when does, when does pornography consumption become a vindictive behavior? Right? And addiction addiction is a, is a, what’s the word I’m looking for? Um, addiction is a progressive disease, whether it’s with alcohol and drugs or whether it’s pornography or whether it’s with food, you know, it starts as some kind of thing that may or may not be problematic. And then it starts to become problematic, but there’s a difference between being problematic and being addictive. And so I, yes, I’ve heard, I’ve heard both of those conversations in the rooms where men are starting to question or have starting to question whether or not they’re addicted to this, but they’ve never been in a space where they can actually say that question out loud.

And in this group, they feel like they get to a point, obviously not early on, but in the part of the conversation in the, in the, in the context of the space that we create, they’re able to stay out loud. “I wonder if I’m addicted to this.” And I think who know as well as I do, when you ask that question, the answer is, yes. [laughter], you know, when you’re asking…

Garrett Jonsson: It can be, yeah.

Rus Funk: If you’re asking the question, “I wonder if I’m addicted to alcohol?”, the answer’s probably yes. If you’re asking the question, “I wonder if I’m addicted to pornography?”, the answer’s probably, yes. I don’t do addiction work.

Garrett Jonsson: Maybe. Also to, to challenge you a little bit on that, I, I wanna step in for the audience because maybe there’s some people out there who ask themselves that question. “Am I addicted?”

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: There’s a misconception that if you consume porn, you are addicted. According to experts, most consumers up porn are not addicted.

Rus Funk: Oh, thank you. Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: You know?

Rus Funk: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: And I think that that’s, uh, misconception because, and I just wanted to clarify that because in your statement, like, if you are asking the question, am I addicted, then it’s probably likely that you are addicted. I think that definitely can be the case. And I think it’s also possible to be curious about addiction, but you personally, aren’t experiencing an addiction. You know, like I personally got curious about my porn consumption. I never got diagnosed. I’ve only been to two therapy sessions in my life, and I’ve never been diagnosed for compulsive sexual behavior or any of that. I just self-diagnosed it. I just got curious about my own porn consumption and I self-diagnosed that I prob I probably had a compulsive behavior around it.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: But I, I, I just wanted to clarify that because sometimes it can be harmful to label yourself addicted. Is that your understanding or what’s your understanding on that label?

Rus Funk: And I, I, I appreciate your, your challenge that yeah, I absolutely agree that, you know, just watching pornography doesn’t mean you’re addicted. Um, and I think the experience from other kinds of addictions pretty often dictates that personal, most people do not ask the question about whether or not they’re addicted, unless they’re starting to have a problem with it.

Garrett Jonsson: Mm yeah. Yeah. That makes sense.

Rus Funk: Most people who drink alcohol don’t ask themselves, “Am I addicted?” Unless…

Garrett Jonsson: They’re starting to see a trend.

Rus Funk: Yeah. Unless they’re, you know, it’s starting to a negative effect, their behavior, and they’re not, they’re not paying attention.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Um, unless they’re starting to realize that I can’t stop.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: You know, I keep saying, “I’m gonna only gonna have one beer tonight and I never have one beer tonight.” You know?

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: That’s when they ask the question, I suspect that’s true with pornography as well. That mm-hmm , you know, that at the moment, when somebody starts asking the question, am I addicted? It’s not because like, you, they, they, we were just got curious it’s because “This is starting to affect me negatively, harmfully, and I’m seeing these negative effects. So maybe there’s something here?”

Garrett Jonsson: Mm.

Rus Funk: Well, if you’re asking the question, maybe there’s something here. There’s probably something there.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. Okay.

Rus Funk: Whether it’s addiction or whatever, there’s something there that’s worth paying attention to.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: Again, I just wanna reinstate, I think, thank you for saying that, because that is a really important myth to explode that, you know, men viewing pornography is not, not necessarily addiction.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. You talked to how porn has changed in the sense that it went from pictures to video to the internet, to the smartphone, but can you also speak to how porn has changed in regards to the messaging within porn? Have you seen more sadomasochistic themes being put into porn has be, has porn, have you noticed porn become being more and more violent and aggressive over your time in this career?

Rus Funk: That’s a really good question. I remember, you know, back in the eighties and nineties, there being some research on pornography and acknowledging that there was a lot of violence in pornography that the stat that you shared earlier that, you know, 90 something percent of pornography includes some version of slapping or hitting, or…

Garrett Jonsson: I think that the, the stat that I mentioned was that 97% of the time that there is violence and 97% of the time it’s toward women. Like they are the target of the violence 97% of the time.

Rus Funk: Yeah.

Garrett Jonsson: I’m just wondering, because thinking about my own experience, Russ, I told you that I grew up watching porn and back in the day, the way that I would’ve explained hardcore porn to someone, I would’ve said that it was like the explicit depiction of intercourse. That’s how I labeled hardcore porn when I was in high school.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: Compared to an image of a, of a topless girl in a cornfield, in a Playboy magazine. That’s how I would differentiate between soft core porn and hardcore porn. When I was in high school today, I label hardcore porn as what is popping up on the free tube sites, a lot more violence, a lot more aggression, a lot more degrading behaviors.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: What is your opinion? Do you agree with that? Has it evolved?

Rus Funk: I, I, I have to say I’m, I’m a step further away. Um, cause I don’t, I just, I don’t look at pornography in any way anymore, so I don’t know what,…

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: I don’t know what it looks like. Um,

Garrett Jonsson: Okay.

Rus Funk: I,…

Garrett Jonsson: But you sit in the groups with the men…

Rus Funk: Right.

Garrett Jonsson: What is, do they talk about the violence and aggression that they see or no?

Rus Funk: We tell we are, are more focused on their experience to it than what they see.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Um, the, the one time that that kind of comes up is there’s an activity that we do that that’s, uh, is called the harm continuum. And we have on one end of the room is least harmful on one end of the room is most harmful. And we have some, you know, both the, how we look at pornography and what we see. So those kinds of that in that activity, sometimes they bring up their own and then, then I ask them to bring their own experiences to the table. And then we put that on the continuum too. So there’s these pre-established ones. And then these emergent examples that they bring. Um, and so those experiences or those examples come up in that activity. But beyond that, there’s not a lot, I mean, there’s not, it’s only succession, so there’s not a lot of, there’s not a lot of room for those kind of details to come up.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. Do you see men transition into a better version of themselves during these six sessions?

Rus Funk: Very much so. Um, I, I, I think, you know, the, the easiest example is, is how we develop the, the program and, and is of itself. So again, the program is What’s Wrong With This Picture? It started out as a two session, you know, I don’t wanna call, call it curriculum, cuz that sounds too, grandiose two sessions, chit chat. And um, we used the, the, the design is called emergent curriculum design, which means you kind of outline what it is that you wanna do with a group of men or a group. And then you let them know that we want you to critically engage in this and help us flush out the curriculum. So our intention is to build out a curriculum. I don’t wanna write this as, you know, a 40 something year old looking out my window, I wanna write this. So it has some real meaning, which means you are co-authors of this curriculum.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Um, so the success is even in the, in the product itself, you know, these men came into the room, not knowing what the hell they were coming into. Um, they brought them their, their best part of themselves and they helped us flush out and develop over over two years, what became the end product? They brought really good thinking. They brought examples of activities. They, they, a lot of the exercises and activities they came up with in real time around how do we get men to understand this? Um, one of the things kind of, as an example of that, one of the things that, that they became insistent on was the, the fir the, we kind of had flushed it out as this program that left them with the knowledge and they came back and said, “You know what? That ain’t good enough because you’re, you’re talking about all the problems that come from view pornography that result in pornography. You talk about these other dynamics of gender inequality and you’re not giving us any skills to actually take action.”

And so from their in insistence, um, the last two sessions are all around being change agents. The, the six session, sorry, the seventh session is, you know, how you as individually can be a change agent. And in the last session, along with the kind of graduation is how do you as a collective become change agents? Um, and there are groups that I, I did this program with two years ago that we, it was supposed to be time limited, right? This eight weeks they’re still meeting and they’re still, you know, organizing in their communities around what they can do.

Garrett Jonsson: That’s cool.

Rus Funk: Whether it’s around finding pornography, maybe it’s, it’s around promoting gender equality, maybe it’s ending domestic violence. They may have pivoted the, the focus, but the fact is they’re still meeting as a group working to make their community a better place. So…

Garrett Jonsson: It’s one of the ripple effects.

Rus Funk: Yes, there’s, there’s lots and lots of positive examples.

Garrett Jonsson: That’s, that’s great. I think that it’s important to acknowledge that we are a product of our environment, right? That’s one of the factors, one of the variables that comes into play when we’re talking about, how does someone become and who they are today, because we’re unique individuals with unique biology and unique experiences. Those are basically the variables. If I had to sum it up, I’d say, it’s, those are the variables that make us unique. So we have to acknowledge that we are a product of our environment. And so I think that before we condemn men, we have to acknowledge the role, like what role men have been asked to play in society. And in my experience, when I was growing up, violence was encouraged. I grew up playing football where violence was encouraged.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: The goal was to hit someone as hard as you can to help your team win the game.

Rus Funk: Yeah.

Garrett Jonsson: If I think about my grandpa’s experience, my grandpa had to go to war. He was asked to go to war. He was asked to fight. He was celebrated because of that.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: But he had negative experiences during his time in war. And he came home and in this era, there was no diagnosis for PTSD.

Rus Funk: Right. Right.

Garrett Jonsson: It didn’t exist in the DSM. And so my grandpa had to take that on alone. He was asked to not only fight for his country, but he was also asked to provide for a family. And my, my dad experienced some childhood abuse at the hands of his dad.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: And, but my, my grandpa to his defense, he didn’t have the tools or the resources to address the trauma that was there.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: And I don’t even know where I’m going with this question or Russ, I kind of got off on a side tangent because it’s something that’s really, um, important to me. I mentioned that I try to embrace my masculinity. I want to become the best version of myself. I think that each of us as individuals want to become the best version of ourselves. I know my grandpa, he wanted to become the best version of himself, but he was asked to do some things that negatively impacted him. And I’m just wondering if, I guess the question is like, how do we as a society, how do we acknowledge the role that men have been asked to play? And yet at the same time, empower men to become the best version, uh, of themselves…. Yeah. And I know I, I ended that sentence as if it was gonna continue, but yeah, that’s the question, I guess… [laughter]

Rus Funk: [laughter]

Garrett Jonsson: I don’t know, Russ. [laughter]

Rus Funk: No. That’s a great lead in. That’s a great question. I think, I think you’re right. We are the products of our environment. I would, I would, I’m gonna come back to this. I think we are both products and producers of our environment.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Which I think gets back to their second question. And I think acknowledging the really impossible position that our environment puts male type people in. Right? You know, we’re supposed to be, you know, I, I, again, I have a 12 year old, but you know, he’s already learned the messages around “You don’t show emotion”, “You don’t express feeling.”, and he’s got me as a father. I cry at a good hallmark commercial [laughter]. So, you know, I think our environment does a lot to strip men away from having real connection with each other, from feeling their emotions. God, God forbid expressing their emotions from engaging in caring work. Um, you know, we aren’t, I mean, look at our policies, you know, what community has a policy that actually encourages fathers to take time off with your baby, actually take paternity leave.

Garrett Jonsson: Mm.

Rus Funk: We, we barely have parental leave, but the parental leave that we have is kind of, so it’s socialized to all be diverted to the mom and dads don’t get any, or if they do it because they earn their vacation time and, you know, just demand it. “I’m gonna take time with my baby.”

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: Um, and I, and I think, you know, the other, the last answer to your, that I have to your question is that, you know, reminding men that we are also producers of our environment. And taking some of that power back, that I can, the social environment around me. Yes, it is created. But my, the way that I interact with it or push back with it or challenge, it allows me to make some changes. Um, I can, you know, again, I talk with my 12 year old son all the time is that you create, you, you help create the social environment. It’s your school.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: And when you do things like wear your be kind shirt that is part of creating a social environment in your school. And so get intentional, man. Get intentional around what is the kind of environment that you want your school to be? And no, you don’t have the whole whole answer because you’re one of a thousand, but you’re one of a thousand.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Rus Funk: And when you show up and show up in your best self and show up like that, what I, my own experience is that that tends to attract people to you. And so you show up in your be kind shirt and there’s a whole lot of other people who maybe don’t have a be kind shirt or don’t know, there’s a shirt that has that message on it. But all of a sudden they see you wearing that. And they’re like, “Ooh, I wanna be like him.”

And all of a sudden, there’s not just one of you, maybe there’s 10, or maybe there’s 15, or maybe there’s a hundred and that now you’re starting to change the environment.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. You, you said that people would be attracted to that kindness. I also think sometimes people are not attracted to that kindness and that’s more telling on them as an individual.

Rus Funk: Yeah, absolutely.

Garrett Jonsson: They have some more work to do. Well, we are deep into the conversation and I haven’t even, I don’t know if I understand how you got interested in porn, talking about porn. Have you always focused on porn consumption or at what point did that become one of your focuses?

Rus Funk: It was one of my focuses from early on. So my entree into this work was, um, so first of all, my household was a little bit like a lot of, uh, households there was paradoxes in the household. So yes, my parents talked about human sexuality and right next to Our Bodies, Ourselves and their other human sexuality textbooks on our dining room, um, bookshelf was my dad’s Penthouse subscription. So I grew up like you, I grew up pornography was absolutely accepted and normalized and Okey doki. Um, when I went, I get went to, um, undergraduate school as a social work, uh, major and my intro to social work class as a sophomore, my intro to social work class was the, the teacher was really clear. You know, “Social work is not a sociology. Sociology is a theoretical degree. Social work is a practical degree. We gonna practice. So y’all go find some place to practice.”

And I search and I struggled and I tried to find a placement and I ended up, um, working at a, at the local rape crisis center, which was, which was dual rape crisis center, domestic violence agency. Um, and so my entree I’ll I’ll hook in pornography in a minute, but my entree into this was going to this, going to this rape crisis or learning how to be a rape crisis advocate at the same time that I was 18 year years old, living in an all men’s dorm in south Texas and that, um, sea change around what was it, what was, women’s mostly women’s experience like after being assaulted and then coming back and starting to critically listen to how we, as men talked about the women that we dated or wanted to date or who refused our dating. Um, I started to like put, put one in one together and get an answer that I didn’t want.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: [laughter] Right. I started to realize that, you know, rather than pointing my finger at those men who raped you point a finger at somebody else, you got three fingers pointing back at yourself. Right?

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

Rus Funk: Somewhere in that, in that experience. And I was still looking at pornography at this time, somewhere in that experience, um, I had my first experience of going to, um, a presentation on the harms of pornography. And it, it blew my mind because it was, it, it was about me. It was around, you know, she asked some of the questions like, you know, we know, we know X percentage of women who are depicted in pornography, and this was still the Playboy penthouse magazine version. This was still in the eighties. So, you know, some of the data that, that, that they knew then that, you know, X percent of the women who are being depicted in these pornography are not actually enjoying it. They’re actually being forced.

Garrett Jonsson: Mm.

Rus Funk: So as you’re masturbating to this, how do you know the difference between a woman who’s being whose rape was just depicted and your masturbation fantasy? And the fact that I couldn’t answer that question or, you know, the answer was, “Huh, I don’t.”

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Really like you like your experience it, that rocked my world.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: Um,…

Garrett Jonsson: It destroyed the fantasy.

Rus Funk: It destroyed the fantasy. And I’m going back into a dorm room, into a dorm where it is blatant that there is, it was not a hidden secret. It was a hi, it was very, very open that all had our pornography library and, you know, all this, all this stuff. And I’m like, it, it just, it was two years of just brutal kind of eyeopening [laughter] for me.

Garrett Jonsson: Mm. Yeah.

Rus Funk: Um, and so that was kind of where I kind of pivoted and, and really dove, dove into this around. Um, how do we, you know, again, because I was living in an all men’s dorm, most of this time, it created an opportunity. I, I, I became very aware of the lack of conversation that men had with each other and how, what, whatever conversation men did have with each other was undermining the conversation that women wanted us to have, or that the women were trying to have with us around being respectful, being, being equal about respect, equality, and justice.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. And around true intimacy.

Rus Funk: And yeah. And, you know, we can’t, it’s unfair and it’s unsafe. I think, to invite women into those spaces, to try and open things up completely unfair women got their own work to do with their own selves. Um, so I’m here, I’m with the men I’m in the dorm.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: So let’s who better than me to be, to try and, you know, dive into the space.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. I can agree with you on that. As I was in the locker room, growing up, that’s one aspect of the locker room I never, it never resonated with me. It never sat well with me. I did not like that type of discussion. And I think that it is important as men, when we see those behaviors, when we, when we experience those misogynistic behaviors, we need to call them out for what they are and be part of the solution. Right?

Rus Funk: Right, right. And, and B back to your point earlier around how we, our products of our environment, um, one of the things that I think makes it, makes it challenging for us as men to be these kinds of change agents is, um, that our voice shakes, right? That the mythology is that “I’m always supposed to be authoritative and confident and know what I’m doing.” Well, shit, half the time I was challenging other men or asking questions, I was so scared that my voice was shaking. Well, I think we need to give space to room that, of course your voice shakes, that’s being human.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.

Rus Funk: And so let’s, [laughter], let’s give space for the fact that our voice shake sometimes.

Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. When society says that men, that men aren’t emotional, I call bullshit on that. Yeah. We are definitely emotional beings. And I think that we just have a tough time, and this is for all individuals, not just men, we have a tough time identifying and articulating our emotions. To be emotionally intelligent, takes a lot of effort.

Rus Funk: Yes.

Garrett Jonsson: Doesn’t happen by accident. And so I love that you are calling men to become the best version of themselves, which includes being more emotionally intelligent.

Rus Funk: Mhm.

Garrett Jonsson: Well, before we end, I just wanna leave you with the opportunity to have the last word during this conversation. If there’s anything on your heart or mind or something you want, haven’t stated that you wanna restate or that you wanna reemphasize now is that time.

Rus Funk: I just, for your, for the listeners, for the audience, I just wanna, um, kind of bounce back to the idea and the, and the experience that you all have had here by listening to this, by listening to us engaged in this dialogue as two men, um, I hope you’ve learned something around what, even two men who don’t know each other across the country, through this two dimensional dynamic, we call Zoom. We’re still able to get to some level of authenticity and intimacy with each other and feel in your bodies, what that was like to experience on your end and imagine what that might be like to be, actually be in a room with men who can go, where we just went and the kind of change that this that’s, that that suggests, um, we, we can do what we need to do in this, in, in your community, wherever that is in our community, in this country, um, we can make the change that we need to make.

Garrett Jonsson: Thanks, Russ. We appreciate you. We appreciate the time you spent with us today.

Rus Funk: I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Garrett Jonsson: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Consider Before Consuming.

Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug.

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