By Lauren Timmermans, LAC, MBA, CSAT, Former Primary Therapist, Gentle Path at the Meadows
The viewing of pornography can absolutely be part of your healthy sexuality. It can exist comfortably within a relationship in which both partners have discussed usage openly and find a relationship with porn pleasing and gratifying. Of the large number of people who view pornography at some point in their lives, only a small percentage of those individuals become addicted. For those who are addicted, pornography is a compulsion in which you become powerless in the face of the “drug,” and your life has become unmanageable.
Forbes shares that in 2010, 4% of the internet and 13% of all searches were sex related. As access to the internet and its content grows, it’s not surprising that Sexual Research and Social Policy reports around 85% of all people use porn, though this number varies by age and gender.
Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Patrick Carnes identifies three types of cybersex and online pornography users:
Recreational users consist of those who watch pornography in ways that are both appropriate and inappropriate. They watch to satisfy curiosity or for educational and exploration purposes.
At-risk users are more vulnerable to compulsive use or depression- or stress-induced viewing. Oftentimes, these users can resist until they are exposed to pornography.
Sexually compulsive users are typically viewing 11 or more hours of pornography a week and have established a compulsive pattern that can make their lives unmanageable.
Watching pornography creates an emotional bond with an artificial world. This makes it increasingly difficult to bond with real people in everyday life. It can also lead to a life where sex is void of intimacy. Sex becomes about the behavior and not about the emotion, nurturance, intimacy, and love we get through a true connection with a partner. Porn use becomes compulsive, and viewing may escalate. You can begin to view themes or genres you may once not have considered in order to get the same dopamine hit you got when you initially started watching pornography.
Watching pornography creates an emotional bond with an artificial world. This makes it increasingly difficult to bond with real people in everyday life.
Porn can change your health and your relationships — and not for the better. The Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that married couples who viewed pornography more frequently reported significantly lower levels of marital quality six years later. Marriages that were the most negatively affected were those in which the men were viewing pornography at the highest frequencies. Porn has a real impact on relationships, and the more you watch it, the rockier your partnership may become.
Pornography addiction also changes your expectations when it comes to sex, and this often means finding sex disappointing or unfulfilling. Archives of Sexual Behavior also reports higher pornography use being negatively associated with enjoyment of sexual intimacy with a partner. And PLOS One found that individuals engaging in compulsive porn use experienced greater “impairments of sexual arousal and erectile difficulties in intimate relationships,” but had no problems responding to sexually explicit materials. So, porn can train you to only react to porn and to have trouble enjoying or even performing healthy, consensual sexual behaviors.
In addition to changing how you view relationships and experience sex, pornography addiction has a complicated connection to your mental health. The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy explains that people may use porn in response to loneliness. However, this same use increases feelings of loneliness. The Journal of Behavioral Addictions shares that compulsive porn use has a similar relationship to depression, stress, and anxiety.
Understanding pornography addiction involves understanding its causes. These causes are often closely related to its effects. As mentioned above, many of the mental health issues stemming from problematic porn use are also causes of problematic porn use. This creates a loop of increasingly negative mental health and increasing porn use that can be incredibly difficult to escape from on your own.
Early exposure to porn can also impact your use of it later in life. The Journal of Psychosexual Health reports, “exposure to pornography during the formative years of adolescence has been seen to have various long-term deleterious effects on sexual maturation, sexual behavior, Internet addiction, and overall personality development.” The more and the earlier you see porn, the more likely you are to experience the harmful effects of pornography addiction.
And because porn is addictive, porn itself can be a cause of continued, compulsive use. Surgical Neurology International explains that viewing porn can induce alterations in the medium spiny neurons in your nucleus accumbens. These alterations are similar to those seen with drugs of abuse, among other chemical and neurological changes in your brain and body. As with any addiction, viewing porn wires your brain to want more.
How do you know if you or a loved one potentially has a problem? Read through this list and keep track of how many resonate:
- Being preoccupied with pornography on the internet
- Engaging in pornography frequently, for long periods of time, or longer than intended
- Repeatedly being unsuccessful in efforts to control or stop viewing porn
- Experiencing restlessness or irritability when attempting to limit or stop engaging in internet pornography
- Using internet porn to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression
- Returning to internet porn day after day in search of increasingly more intense sexual content
- Lying to family members, therapists, or others to conceal porn consumption
- Committing illegal sexual acts in the viewing of porn (such as viewing child porn or soliciting illegal behaviors)
- Jeopardizing or losing significant relationships, jobs, or education because of pornography viewing behaviors
- Incurring financial consequences due to porn viewing
If you or your loved one identifies with three or more of these behaviors, it may be worth talking with a behavioral health professional, particularly a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT). By seeking pornography addiction treatment, you can make positive changes to your personal relationships, realign with your higher power, regain time lost to addiction, and engage more fully in life.
When you’re ready to learn more about how to overcome pornography addiction, reach out to us at Claudia Black Young Adult Center. We offer treatment for mental health, addiction, and intimacy concerns. Through our wide range of therapy options, including support groups, you’ll find comprehensive support for pornography addiction recovery.
Or if the care available here doesn’t offer the intensity or specificity of what you need, we’re happy to connect you to other programs that do, such as those at Gentle Path at The Meadows and Willow House at The Meadows.
No matter what your struggle may be, we can assist you in creating a support network of peers and professionals to help you set and achieve your recovery goals. Contact us today to get more information about all of our treatment options.