The Dangers of Addictive Porn Use in Men

As a sex-positive therapist, I believe that pornography does not have to be pathological or problematic.  In fact, in the 1990s, feminists themselves helped create pornography that offered more realistic images to illustrate and celebrate the beauty of female sexual pleasure.  However, more and more frequently we are learning about the addictive effects of pornography and its association with sexual dysfunction in men.

The internet has allowed for free, private, and constant accessibility to pornography, and many researchers are documenting the effects of using it excessively.  In their book Your Brain on Pornography Addiction, Dr. Anthony Jack and Gary Wilson discuss the strong impact of excessive porn on the neurochemistry of the brain. Each orgasm associated with masturbation causes the release of dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter.  In the book The Porn Trap, Wendy and Larry Maltz cite how this “drug-like high” is also stimulated by the production of testosterone and other “feel good” chemicals, including adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin.  Moreover, an orgasm increases pleasure, numbs pain, and generates an overall state of relaxation.  Addiction occurs when a regulation to this reward system is no longer balanced.

Although curiosity about sexual imagery is common, compulsive pornography use can have a negative impact on one’s everyday life.  In particular, cravings become more paramount, general enjoyment in one’s everyday life decreases, sexual preferences may require more extreme stimulation, erections may wane when attempting penetration, and withdraw symptoms may develop.  In his book Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, Kevin Skinner lists withdraw symptoms such as dizziness, body aches, headaches, sleeplessness, restlessness, anxiety, mood swings, and depression.

Excessive porn use has also been shown to impact relationships in terms of loss of libido, preference for pornography, delayed ejaculation, anorgasmia, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, desensitized genitals, and loss of attraction to significant others.  One of the most prevalent issues is porn-induced erectile dysfunction, which occurs when a man needs porn or porn fantasy in order to obtain an erection and masturbate to orgasm.

Here are answers to some common questions about pornography addiction:

What makes porn use so enticing?  To begin with, if the user does not know what to expect, feelings of excitement and anticipation are often accompanied by surprise, shock, anxiety, and wanting.  Conversely, choosing a certain genre, sex act, or partner can create a customized experience.  In addition, unrealistic stimuli such as excessively large breasts and penises can be stimulating but reinforce the impractical body images idealized in mainstream society.

So how does porn use jump from sexual expression and release to addictive behavior?  In the book Storm of Sexual Addiction: Rescue and Recovery, Connie Lofgren explains that pornography becomes problematic when addictive behaviors lead to social isolation and avoidance of intimacy, as well as feeling guilty, unlovable, or ashamed. Some warning signs of addiction would include using pornography when tired, lonely, or angry; late-night use; spending more than 12 hours per week online in “entertainment” activities; and compromising other areas of one’s life, including family life, employment, school, socialization, exercise, and sleep.

So why does this happen?  Jack and Wilson attribute addictive behaviors to various factors. To begin with, when a male conditions himself to search for the “right scene,” nerve cells make new and strong connections that are associated with sexual arousal, increasing the need watch porn or to find the “perfect material.”  Also, increased use is also associated with hypofrontality, or decreased connections in the frontal cortex, leading to decreased willpower.  Through sensitization, unconscious memories activate cravings, such as turning on a computer.  Desensitization occurs when there is a decline of gray matter in the reward circuitry and fewer nerve connections, resulting in a numbed pleasure response and cravings for dopamine-raising activities.  Finally, dysfunctional stress circuits allows for stress to lead to cravings because they activate powerful sensitized pathways.

What about specific sexual dysfunctions?   Loss of gray matter results in reduced dopamine release, explaining erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and inability to climax.  Other nonsexual symptoms associated with decreases in dopamine include risk taking, anxiety, anger, decreased socialization, inability to focus, lack of motivation, apathy, procrastination, and depression.  Premature ejaculation can occur because one’s nervous system is conditioned to ejaculate quickly due to fear of being caught or the association between porn and ejaculation.  Uncharacteristic or upsetting porn fetishes may result due to the need for excitement; both newness and anxiety increase sexual arousal and new associations are made in the brain with each climax.  Another reason is tolerance – more intense pornography is needed over time to obtain the desired result.  Moreover, anxiety-producing material increases sexual arousal. The adrenaline response can be mistaken for sexual attraction.  In regards to libido, excessive stimulation can impair brain circuits for bonding with partners.

Jack and Wilson state that most men need approximately two to six months or longer to fully recover.  Fortunately, symptoms are reversible.  By halting porn use, a man is able to rebuild the sensitivity of his brain’s reward circuitry, enjoy everyday pleasures, reduce cravings, reestablish will power, and reduce stress that predisposes him to cravings.

If you are experiencing symptoms of problematic porn use, consult with a sex therapist to assist you with a recovery treatment plan. Help is available, and you can get better.

How Sex Therapy Can Help for Erectile Dysfunction
Can a Relationship Make It after an Affair?
Menu