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How Porn Can Harm Sexual Function in Consumers

This guest piece by Gary Wilson explores the different ways that porn can become a huge problem for consumers and stunt their sexual satisfaction.

By December 16, 2021No Comments
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This guest piece was written by Gary Wilson, author of Your Brain on Porn. 6 Minute Read.
4 Warning Signs: Is Your Porn Use a Problem?

By Gary Wilson

The four warning signs:

  1. Have you escalated to porn material that used to be uninteresting or turn you off?
  2. Do you have difficulty becoming aroused, sustaining erections, or climaxing during partnered sex? Can you orgasm without using internet porn?
  3. Do you notice unaccustomed brain fog? Social anxiety? Lack of motivation?
  4. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t view porn?

Let’s break these 4 warning signs down.

1. Escalation to material that used to repel you

Have you heard that “You like what you like and you can’t help it?” Perhaps this was once true before streaming porn and its endless novelty and potential for escalating to wild and weird new genres. Porn users believe they can use it to find their “true sexuality” and that their tastes will remain focused on their preferred material. If this were so, the nature of porn material featured on the large tube sites would remain similar over time, with mainstream porn tastes largely driven by evolution and tiny corners devoted to extreme material.

Related: How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner

But neither is true. Recent research shows that nearly half of internet porn users report escalating to material that they once found uninteresting or repellent.Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.046Copy  Research also shows that among today’s porn users, 21% of straight-identified men view same-sex porn, and 55% of gay-identified porn view hetero porn.Downing, M. J., Jr, Schrimshaw, E. W., Scheinmann, R., Antebi-Gruszka, N., & Hirshfield, S. (2017). Sexually Explicit Media Use by Sexual Identity: A Comparative Analysis of Gay, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men in the United States. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(6), 1763–1776. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0837-9Copy  So much for the belief that you find your niche and settle in. Employing various methodologies and approaches, over 20 studies have reported habituation to “regular porn” along with escalation into more extreme and unusual genres.

Tube site fare is also shifting. Here is one guy’s reflection:

“I’ve looked at the top of the front page of Pornhub enough times and over such a long period of time that I’ve seen [the sharp turn towards much darker content] first hand: where there were once relatively straightforward vanilla man/woman videos, suddenly videos with deeply concerning fetishitic concepts and taboos such as incest, domination or even pseudo-rape are among the most popular and promoted videos taking their place at the front of the website. Avoiding this kind of content has become a hard task. Even the thumbnails seem to place emphasis on amplifying the deprived nature of these videos.”

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

Why are porn tastes morphing? Neuroscience research suggests that today’s ever-novel streaming porn is so hyperstimulating that it has a paradoxical effect on many viewers. It can actually numb their sexual responsiveness, such that they need increasing levels of stimulation to get the job done. This is an unhealthy sign and can affect relationships: as of 2018, nearly 60 studies link porn use to less sexual and relationship satisfaction.

2. Difficulty becoming aroused or climaxing during partnered sex

An unhealthy porn-induced decline in sensitivity to pleasure can show up as difficulties during partnered sex. Since the advent of porn tube sites, rates of low libido, delayed ejaculation, and erectile difficulties are soaring in men under 40 (who previously almost never reported such problems).Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy 

Worse yet, the problem is veiled. You see, most porn users with porn-induced sexual dysfunctions can get erections and climax when viewing porn. Unless they are very far gone indeed, they only experience difficulties climaxing or sustaining erections when they try to engage in partnered sex. Obviously, if they can perform when alone with porn, but not without it, “performance anxiety” cannot explain their difficulties.

Related: How Porn Can Affect The Brain Like A Drug

While 25 studies link porn use to sexual problems and lowered arousal, most doctors still have no idea that internet porn use can contribute to such dysfunctions. If a guy reports that he can get an erection and ejaculate “when masturbating,” it’s evident that his equipment functions. Any problems must be due to head games of some kind, right? Doctors just hand the latter patients a free sample of sexual enhancement drugs and, perhaps, a script for counseling for their presumed “anxiety.” The elephant in the room—dysfunctions stemming from internet porn overuse—remain invisible, causing patients to despair when all they may need to do to heal is quit porn.

Why is this happening? Today’s streaming-porn enthusiasts sometimes become so conditioned to ejaculating to screens, a voyeur’s perspective, endless novelty and their favorite fetishes or extreme material that both porn-free partnered sex are essentially foreign activities. Their brains don’t associate the latter situations with sexual arousal.

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3. Unaccustomed brain fog, social anxiety or lack of motivation

Is it becoming more difficult to remember things? Have your grades or job performance slipped as your porn use has increased? Do you feel like you have to watch porn in order to focus even for a little while? Prior to your internet porn use were you less tongue-tied around people? Did you have more friends and enjoy their company?

Not surprisingly, multiple studies link porn use to shyness, poorer mental-emotional health and poorer cognitive outcomes. On the flipside, leaving porn behind often leads to surprising improvements, as this guy reported:

“Recently (11 days now), I’ve stopped…looking at porn (I was the 1 or 2 a day type), and have noticed that the brain fog is gone. Not faded out, not just thinner, but GONE. …. I can stay focused for much longer periods of time and feel motivated to do tons of things at once.”

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

And this one:

“This journey allowed me to become myself again. I’ve been dull, all up in my thoughts, shy, quiet, emotionless, lazy, frustrated, depressed. I had low self-esteem and my personality was gone. 4 years I was like that… Almost 3 months [without porn] and it’s night and day. Like seriously, deepest/ darkest/ night and clearest day-type of difference ;)”

4. Withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use

Have you ever abstained from internet porn use for days and experienced debilitating symptoms, such as intense mood swings, uncontrollable urges to view porn, or unaccustomed irritability, insomnia, headaches, depression, anxiety, paranoia, emptiness or lethargy? (More self-reports)

Why does this happen? As you overuse internet porn, the brain’s reward system and stress circuits can grow dysregulated. A cascade of addiction-related neurochemical alterations can impact your mood, physical state, and perception.

Related: How Porn Can Negatively Impact Love And Intimacy

The good news is that withdrawal symptoms pass as your brain heals. Things that often help are regular exercise, support, meditation, time in nature, beneficial stressors, and socializing.

So there you have 4 of the most common warning signs that porn use is becoming problematic.

If you’re wondering how porn is affecting you, the best way to assess its effects is to give it up for a few months. Pro tip: Your ancestors were able to be aroused, have fantasies, and have sex without viewing internet porn. Why increase the ad revenue of the porn tube sites with every page-load?

Discover your hidden potential and restore your sexual health.

Related: How Porn Can Change The Brain

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Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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About the Author

Gary Wilson is the presenter of the highly viewed TEDx talk ‘The Great Porn Experiment.” He is also the author of a popular book, Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction, 2nd ed. He hosts the website YourBrainonPorn.com. In 2016, Wilson co-authored an academic paper with 7 US Navy doctors entitled, “Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports.” In May 2021, Gary Wilson passed away after battling chronic illness.

Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.