By Melissa Chalos
There’s no question that pornography is more accessible and more acceptable in our society today than it has ever been in history. In 2020 alone, porn sites received more traffic than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Zoom, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined. A worldwide $97 billion industry, porn is streaming 24/7 on any device, and for the most part it’s free.
But there is a price to pay. And when it comes to building healthy, intimate connections with others, the price may be too high.
Pornography can be harmful, in part, because it creates a distorted reality in the mind of the consumer. Repeated use trains the brain to think that “what you see is what you get” — that what you see represents sexuality that is healthy, consensual, and reality-based.
Porn creates unrealistic sexual expectations that real sex between partners cannot deliver on. It’s a world in which both men and women are, ultimately, devalued.
In fact, pornography actually increases your sense of loneliness. People often turn to porn as a substitute for connections they don’t have. Porn presents the illusion of connection and intimacy, but it actually promotes objectification and promiscuity, which oppose the concept of attachment. The more people turn to pornography to feel less alone, the less likely they are to create meaningful connections in real life. It is temporary relief that creates a cycle of emptiness.
Llimited sex education, parents who often gloss over or avoid honest conversations about sexuality, and increased access online are all factors that contribute to more and more adolescents being exposed to distorted view of sexualtiy in pornography. And at early stages of psychosexual and brain development, children are unable to process the images they see. More than 20 scientific studies have shown that teens who use pornography experience a negative effect related to their self-esteem and mental health. It promotes sexism, racism, and violence, adversely shaping sexual belief and behavior.
Damaging to Relationships
While many consider pornography as a resource to enhance sexual pleasure within a healthy relationship, the ongoing use of porn is often an indicator of disconnection and dissatisfaction. How?
Porn creates unrealistic sexual expectations that real sex between partners cannot deliver on. It’s a world in which both men and women are, ultimately, devalued. For men, it is a one-dimensional release that sets them up for disconnect with real sexual partners. For women, it leads to low-quality sex with infrequent orgasm. As a “how to” manual for quality sex, porn fails miserably — and in no way leads to greater sexual satisfaction … regardless of gender.
Porn use is often a hidden secret in relationships, which, once revealed, diminishes essential trust and harms the self-esteem of the partner not engaged with it. In many cultures, ongoing porn usage is seen as a form of infidelity.
“Pornography is a poor substitute for the bonding version of sex,” marriage and family counselor Michael Taylor says. “The vulnerability is removed in pornography, and that makes it too simplistic to produce the security and bonding that are a significant part of the physical interaction of a couple.”
It can also create physical issues such as erectile dysfunction … even in younger men. According to one survey, 45% of young men with a porn addiction have erectile dysfunction, a surprisingly high percentage. Over time, with increased usage of porn — as with other addictive behaviors — it takes more to achieve arousal.
These and other indicators spell relationship trouble for those who engage with pornography on a daily or regular basis.
Pornography Can Be Addictive
Although the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not recognize porn addiction as an official mental health diagnosis, habitual porn usage does have a similar effect on the pleasure centers of the brain as drug usage does.
Viewing porn doesn’t mean you will become addicted, but these are signs that it could be getting out of control:
- The time you spend watching porn keeps growing
- You feel you need a porn “fix” — and that gives you a sense of euphoria
- You feel guilty about the consequences of viewing porn
- You are neglecting responsibilities or sleep to view porn
- You are unable to enjoy sex without first viewing porn
- You are unable to resist porn even though it’s disrupting your life
How to Break Free from Porn Use
As with any long-term behavior, breaking free of pornography is possible. You can choose a different path for yourself. But it’s not a one-and-done decision. It’s a series of healthy steps in the right direction over time.
Porn use is often a hidden secret in relationships, which, once revealed, diminishes essential trust and harms the self-esteem of the partner not engaged with it.
What might freedom from pornography look like? What is step one? It’s important to acknowledge the negative consequences of porn in your life. Write it down, in detail, so you can refer back to it when you feel the need for a porn fix.
From there, you can take these difficult but important steps to stop watching porn and regain control, including:
- Come clean: Be honest about your porn habit… with yourself and with your partner or significant other.
- Find an accountability partner who will ask about your porn habit on a regular basis and help you in your efforts to conquer it
- Ask this person to install anti-porn software on all your devices and keep the password secret for accountability
- Delete electronic porn and bookmarks on all your devices
- Discard all your hard-copy porn
- Make an activity plan of things you can do when the urge for porn is strongest
- Plan to engage in alternate activities that keep you focused and moving forward
Breaking free of pornography will require you to identify the “why” behind the porn use in your life. Is it stress, boredom, social withdrawal — what feeds your need for pornography? It will mean you have to identify the times and triggers that lead to porn consumption and make a plan for those. Often, the best way to get to the root of the issue and to establish new behaviors is to seek professional help.
Gentle Path at The Meadows specializes in helping men who struggle with sexual and other addictive disorders to understand who they are at their core. We are here for you, should you need us.