Cardboard Butterflies

At the UCAP conference in March, there was a speaker that shared a story about an entomologist, Nikolaas Tinbergen, A study was done on mating habits/rituals of a type of butterfly. The females would flap their brightly colored, ornate wings to attract a mate. In the study, the entomologist made cardboard replicas of the female butterflies that had unnaturally large wings and much brighter coloring than the real female butterflies.

What happened was interesting and a fantastic parallel for pornography users. The males tried mating with the fake cardboard butterflies while the real thing was neglected and unable to fulfill the measure of its’ creation.

I view this as a powerful metaphor of the world of pornography addiction. Countless men rendered impotent by an addiction that claimed their agency as a youth. Now seemingly powerless and struggling in silent shame, they spend their energy trying to mate with a “cardboard butterfly”, a fake, a phony, a fantasy, an imposter. What they masturbate to is not real. It cannot offer love, connection, friendship, dedication, true togetherness, forgiveness, patience, hope or joy.

And the real female cannot offer what the male is trying to mate with, how can they compete with the artificial colors, lighting, design, and enhanced size? That is not how they are genetically built.

The fantasy of pornography is counterfeit on every level and countless men are wasting their lives trying to mate with a cardboard butterfly and countless women are left desolate as they wonder, “what is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I attract a mate?” “Why don’t I fit in?” “Why don’t the boys like me?” In today’s world it seems like girls have to choose between being alone or trying to look like the cardboard butterfly.

Plastic surgery for women’s breast augmentation and other procedures has sky-rocketed over the last decade, in lock step with the growth and proliferation of pornography. During the last decade, Cosmetic surgery increased 446% to reach 12 billion dollars. 92% of the procedures were voluntary procedures, mostly breast enhancement and liposuction.


Yes ladies, looking like a cardboard butterfly will likely get you some attention. But is it the type of attention you want?

The men have been groomed to use and discard cardboard butterflies at will, after all, cardboard butterflies have no feelings, they require no emotional investment, no conversation, no listening to, no arguing, no life’s challenges, no offspring, they have no feelings, require no apologies and are enough to “get them off” on command, every time, whether you are in the mood or not.

Can you compete with that? Can anybody compete with that?? Is that the type of attention you want? Is that the type of competition you want to enter into?

Men (or women addicts), by fighting for your agency, getting proper help and by assembling a team to help you overcome the addiction, you will find that true healing and powerful connection is possible. As you work to be freed from the addiction, an amazing thing will happen. You will feel the world again. You will feel warmth, love, kindness and hope pierce your heart that has had so many walls around it. As you become emotionally vulnerable, your ability to love and to be loved will be expanded. As you enter into a real relationship and face the trials that a real relationship brings, you will feel deeply and love more completely than you ever knew was possible (especially while you were in the cloud of addiction). You will find, as I have, that in reality, it is the fantasy that cannot compete with the real thing.


  • Stacey A.

    So true! Thanks for sharing, as a recovering addict, I struggle with connection and making them real, not a fantasy on my part. It’s really hard to get away from the Cardboard Butterfly mindset. But it is possible!

  • Judah JD

    God bless you for this, it helped me a lot.