When does watching porn become a problem? by Ian Richards (Guest Blog)

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When does watching porn become a problem? by Ian Richards (Guest Blog)

 Twenty years ago, saying the word porn in public may well have resulted in raised eyebrows and silent murmurings. The once British stiff upper lip attitude towards sex has now evolved and our cultural attitude towards it has changed. Pornography is now a more mainstream pastime, with users across the planet finding it an easy and, in particular, a private way to satisfy their sexual needs. However, there is a darker and more sinister side of pornography. It can and often does have a devastating effect on the viewer’s mental health. 

Before I explain why, it’s probably worth taking a look at some recent statistics which will give you an idea of how big this problem currently is. 

  • On average, there are 68 million search queries relating to pornography every day 
  • Shockingly, over 115,000 are related to child pornography 
  • Internet pornography statistics show there are roughly 4.2 million pornographic websites that make up 12% of the total internet content 
  • Pornographic pages have 372 million hits daily 
  • Cybersex/pornography addiction is a common cause of separation and divorce 
  • It is believed that it hinders the development of healthy sexuality amongst adolescents 
  • It is believed to affect between 5 and 8% of the population 

The Times suggested in a recent survey that 58% of the British population watch porn. Here are the results of the survey compiled in 2019. 

  • 12% of all websites on the internet are pornographic 
  • 1 in 3 porn viewers are women 
  • Internet porn revenues worldwide are a staggering £4.2 billion per annum and are estimated to be a £13 billion industry 
  • 25% of search engine requests are porn-related 
  • The average age that a child first sees porn is 11 (Source: onlineschools.org) 
  • 20,000 participants were surveyed in Australia and 4.4% of men felt they had an addiction to porn with woman at 1.2% 

When does watching porn become a problem? 

So why is it that such a simple bit of fun, within the privacy of someone’s four walls, could become an addiction? 

For some watching porn is harmless fun and enjoyable, but for others it might be used compulsively. Compulsive or problematic porn use can act as a self-soother for someone who is suffering with anxiety or depression. It is also associated with someone who has deep-rooted underlying issues that haven’t yet been resolved. 

While it’s not believed that watching porn can cause depression, in my experience many clients who come to see me with a porn addiction issue often do present with anxiety, depression or both. The problem here of course is that it’s counterproductive. You watch porn to self-soothe then afterwards have feelings of guilt and shame which inevitably leads you back to watching porn again – this is called the addictive cycle. Continually viewing porn can cause sexually compulsive and dependent behaviours. It can also result in the development of sex addiction. 

The neuroscience of addictive behaviours 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) used by our nervous system which sends signals between our nerve cells. It is produced in the dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the midbrain. It plays a number of roles in the body such as body movement, mood and behaviours, amongst others. If there is a deficiency with dopamine it can cause a variety of issues; Parkinson’s disease and addiction are just two of many. 

Dopamine is also the control centre of the reward system of the brain. When it’s released it mediates our pleasure experiences and we enjoy things such as eating chocolate or having sex. Exercising also releases dopamine and the more you release this chemical the more you crave it. So, the pleasure and reward will create the motivation to repeat the behaviour. You come home from work at night and have a glass of wine with your meal, then it’s a glass of wine while you’re cooking the meal, then its whole bottle and so on. 

Dopamine informs the brain that it has enjoyed the experience and craves more of the same and this is where the addiction cycle begins. Porn addiction rewires the brain, and the more you watch it the more the dopamine gets stronger and stronger. Over time this will cause you to find the videos less arousing, leading you to become desensitised. I have had clients who have spent all night and day watching porn without reaching climax. Many develop erectile dysfunction (ED) as they loose any sense of arousal. 

If someone is addicted to porn, they may lose interest in other healthier activities that they once enjoyed. They will start to neglect things that were once important to them like family and friends. Work can become secondary as they will often feel mentally consumed every day. This can then lead to relationship issues, infidelity, separation, and divorce. 

I have had clients who have suffered loss of employment leading to financial difficulties. Porn addiction can have a devastating effect. They will have probably tried to cease their behaviour on numerous occasions, only to find themselves falling back into their addiction. 

There is also a growing concern about the rise of porn use in adolescents and, yes, teenage girls are watching porn too. It can hinder the development of a healthy sexuality and can create distorted attitudes around sex. Just as when someone takes drugs, the more an individual participates the stronger the urges will develop. 

What are the side effects and warning signs of porn addiction? 

  • Lowered desire to have sexual interactions with a partner 
  • Noticing it becoming more difficult to maintain an erection and eventually potentially suffering from (ED) erectile dysfunction
  • Noticing that porn and masturbation is the only way you can manage to orgasm 
  • Noticing the occurrence of relationship difficulties 
  • Using alcohol or drugs to booster sexual arousal 
  • Being drawn to viewing various paraphilias 
  • Visiting illegal sites 
  • Feelings of shame 
  • Feelings of low self-worth 
  • Experiencing lack of motivation and increasing levels of procrastination. 
  • Decreased memory and the ability to focus 

Can the porn addiction cycle be reversed? 

Quite simply, yes. Having long periods of abstinence together with therapy does help the brain’s physiology return to a normal state. 

Developing one’s self-awareness and learning how to manage negative feelings in a healthier way can help on this difficult journey. While this may take some time there is increasing evidence that many individuals suffering from this issue can return to a normal healthy relationship with sex. 

Ian Richards (m. 07465 226668) is a sex and porn addiction therapist based at LifeWays in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Psychotherapy delves deep into the root causes of your symptoms.  Psychotherapy in Solihull, encompasses a multitude of approaches, each offering a wide range of tools that help different people.