Is Porn a Problem for You?

Spread The Word

Do you make use of porn? Do you use porn as an aid to masturbation or as part of sexual activity with a partner?

If so, is there anything wrong with that? Could your usage of porn be creating problems for you (or those around you)?

It is important to highlight right from the start that there is nothing wrong with masturbation, the NHS website highlights this is an entirely normal activity that many, many people engage in (although some choose not to and that is normal too).

The TENGA 2018 Global Self-Pleasure Report found that 96% of British men masturbated.

There is also nothing wrong with engaging in sexual activity providing all parties are full consenting, and taking precautions to protect their wellbeing. The Public Health Agency website highlights that in 2017 in Northern Ireland, 64% of the new sexually transmitted diseases diagnosed where in men.

Indeed according to the MedicalNewsToday website men who ejaculate (either as part of a sexual act with another, or solo during masturbation) 21 times a month may have a lower risk of prostate cancer.

So if there is nothing wrong with solo masturbation or sexual activity (among consenting and responsible adults), is there anything wrong with utilising porn during either of these two experiences?

Using Porn

In general terms, it will not be illegal for anyone over the age of 18 years or age in the UK to watch or share pornography with someone else over that age.

Please note through, the Lawstuff website highlights that content that is violent, features a child and so called ‘revenge porn’ (posted without the person’s consent) is not legal. The Stuart Millar Solicitors website notes The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 criminalised the possession of an ‘extreme pornographic content’ in the UK.

The American Psychological Association website reports that levels of porn consumption are significantly higher among males than females.

Results of a survey carried out in 2014 BY Cosmopolitan published on their website (done in conjunction with Esquire magazine), showed that 32.5% of males accessed porn on a daily basis.

A 2019 survey commissioned by BBC Three showed 77% of male respondents in the 18-25 years age bracket reported viewing porn in the last month. Interestingly, that same survey reported that 55% of men, porn had been their main source of sex education.

A 2019 survey carried out by the Sun Online reported that 74% of male UK respondents admitted to watching porn at least 4 times a week.

It is also important to note that people in relationships also use porn (both alone and together).

The MindBodyGreen website highlights that porn does not have to be bad for relationships and that in many cases, porn can be utilised in a successful relationship by one or both partners. It notes that a 2013 study found 71% of men and 56% of women thought it was acceptable to watch porn in a relationship, including watching by yourself, in certain circumstances.

A man using porn whilst in a relationship should not be seen as a reflection on his partner’s attractiveness or his levels of sexual satisfaction in the relationship (they are many reasons why a man in a relationship might use porn). However, if that use of porn is causing his partner genuine distress, then the partner’s reactions should be considered valid.

Can Using Porn be a Problem?

The jury may still be ‘out’ as to whether or not there is such a thing as an official clinical diagnosis of ‘porn addiction’ as highlighted in a recent MedicalNewsToday website article. However, that same article does highlight that a 2017 study of males who sought treatment for Problematic Pornography Use (PPU) had changes in their brains that were consistent with addiction.

According to the Healthline website masturbation and sexual activity that involves a sexual release and/or ejaculation can cause the body to release the following hormones:

  • Dopamine. This is one of the 'happiness hormones' that’s related to your brain’s reward system.
  • Endorphins. The body’s natural pain reliever, endorphins also have de-stressing and mood-boosting effects.
  • Oxytocin. This hormone is often called the love hormone and is associated with social bonding.

Interestingly, as the above 3 hormones can be associated with stress reduction, bonding and relaxation, could a desire to have sexual release (with our without the use of porn) be driven to some extend to a man’s internal desire to feel destressed, bonded and relaxed?

If so, could using porn become a ‘maladaptive copying strategy’, an unhelpful or ineffectual way to seek this form of mood-boosting effect (i.e. not using porn to get aroused and reach sexual release, rather using it as a ‘means’ to feel less stressed and more bonded and relaxed).

Nobody is saying that using masturbation/sexual activity (with our without porn) as a means to boost your mood is ‘wrong’.  However, doing so continually may cause internal confusion/disruption in your own relationship with sexual activity (i.e. being unsure as to why you are engaging in sexual activity, or having complex mood-related factors at play driving that engagement) and/or inhibit the development of other means in your life to destress, bond and relax.

According to the Psychology Today website studies have shown that porn use may mis-wire reward circuits, causing sexual dysfunction and reinforcing dependence on porn. For some, internet porn use becomes persistent, leading to distress and dysfunction. For men, lower sexual satisfaction can sometimes correlate with a greater frequency of porn use.

The UK Rehab website highlights a potential ‘desensitisation effect’ to using porn, whereby: “The more porn a person watches, the less likely they are to experience the same ‘high’. This means that they begin to watch more and more porn to get the same effects. They may start to watch graphic porn and may be unable to get any pleasure from ordinary sexual activities.”

If we think of that individual utilising porn to get a dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin ‘hit’, they may fall into a pattern of ever increasing usage of porn to get that same level of hormonal reaction.

The Relate website highlights: “Porn addiction can have a detrimental effect on many areas of your life. You may become socially isolated, prioritising it over seeing friends, family and loved ones. It can have a pronounced effect on your sex and romantic life — very often coming to replace or interfere with your desire for intimacy in the ‘real world’. Some people start to engage in risky behaviours too — watching porn at work or in public.”

What to Look Our For?

The VeryWellMind website highlights that a key thing to look out for with porn to help evaluate if its use is problematic for you is to consider whether the behaviour is causing negative consequences.

The Recovery Village website indicates ‘symptoms’ of having developed a problematic relationship with the use of porn can include:

  • Using porn in greater amounts or over long periods of time.
  • Trying to stop using porn and not being able to.
  • Having difficulty controlling porn use.
  • Using porn in situations that impose physical risks.
  • Continuing to use porn despite negative effects on work or relationships

Remember using porn in itself is not ‘abnormal’ (this is not about moral or social judgements) providing the content is legal and accessed legally. When reflecting on whether your use of porn has become problematic, you might want to ask yourself the 4 ‘D’ questions:

Are you seeing Deviance in your use of porn: Compared to the ‘average’ (either for yourself or society more generally) are you seeing significant deviance in your use of porn. This could include using it a lot more than you used to, accessing more ‘extreme’ content than you used to, using it in ways you did not use before or using it in a way you generally believe is significantly different than most males do.

Is your use of porn causing Dysfunction: Is your use of porn causing impairment in your life and social functioning. This could include impacting on your employment, health, daily living and social and romantic relationships.

Is your use of porn causing Distress: Is your use of porn causing negative or unsettling feelings for you or someone close to you. This could include worrying about your use of porn, or feeling guilty after you do so, or upsetting your partner.

Is your use of porn putting creating Danger: This could be danger/risk for you or those close to you. You could be in danger of damaging your relationship if your partner finds out. In danger of losing your job if you boss finds out you are accessing porn in work. Or even in danger of losing your liberty if your habit had progressed to accessing ‘extreme porn’.

The Laurel Centre is a UK-based specialist organisation providing help for Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder (CSBD) and sexual addiction therapy . On their website there is a short questionnaire that indicators of compulsive sexual behaviour or sex or porn addiction.

Visit the Laurel Centre website and view the questions. If reading down the list, you are answering ‘yes’ to a lot of the questions posed or ‘often/most of the time’ this may be an indication that use of pornography has become problematic for you. Please note this is not a clinical tool.

What You Can Do?

Firstly, please do not rush to a self-diagnosis, or rush to judge, criticise and berate yourself.  Assigning a ‘label’ onto yourself (I am a porn addict), or piling embarrassment, guilt and shame onto yourself is not likely to be a positive motivational force to make constructive changes in your life.

Indeed when we think about the mood-boosting effects of porn use, all that is likely to happen is you mood will drop if you are self-punitive, which in turn would increase a ‘drive’ inside you to turn to something that lifts you mood (such as using porn).

Doing nothing and/or ignoring the issue does not tend to be constructive either. If you have started to recognise (or had it pointed out by others), that your use of porn is problematic, it is nearly impossible to ‘unknow’ that. Very rarely does a problematic behaviour rectify by itself and waiting for it to do so creates time and space for the problem to get worse instead of better.

Being non-judgemental may be more difficult if there is a partner involved in the issue. They could well have been adversely impacted by your use of porn and may find it harder not to criticise or judge you because of the harm done to them. As hard as it may be, try to get them to move past that to focus on understanding and a collaborative way forward out of the issue (your partner may need help to do this either in individual or couples therapy).

Try to take a proactive and responsible approach towards constructively developing insight and wisdom about your relationship with porn and it impact on you. From that, look at the options that are open to you to change your relationship with porn and from there come up with a plan of action to change your behaviours. If you have been using porn for a long time and/or prolifically, reducing or stopping your use will be a major lifestyle change, so part of your plan of action should include how you will need to build in supports whilst you make that adjustment.

In summary, possible steps to take to tackle your problematic use of porn could be:

  1. Get to understand why: Take time to understand your patterns of using porn, what is going on when you do, what do you honestly get from doing it, what impacts is it having on you (and those around you) and has your use of porn come to the point where you are seeing significant deviance and it is causing dysfunction, distress or danger.
  2. Consider your options: Do you have to stop using porn and do you want to. For you is it about trying to ‘re-engineer’ your relationship with porn to one that is less deviant, dysfunctional, distressing and dangerous, or is that a only a means to let the problem ‘drag on’ and for you it will be about abstaining.
  3. Come up with a considered plan of action: If you have been using porn for a long time and/or a heavy user, suddenly reducing/removing that activity from your life without a plan of action will feel like a huge ‘gap’ which could increase your feelings of psychological distress. Focus on developing a plan of action that will consider and find ways to deal with that ‘gap’.
  4. Take action with supports in place: Finally, going it alone can be the toughest way of all to make a major behavioural change if use of porn has become problematic for you. It may be that you would benefit from getting support from a counsellor, your partner or a trusted friend to help you adjust to your preferred way of being.

The Men’s Health website notes that if you decide to go ‘cold turkey’ with your use of porn you may enter a period of ‘flatlining’, whereby real life will feel less stimulating, arousing and satisfying compared to a fantasy sexual existence lived out through use of porn. That being the case, if you decide to take this route to tackle your problematic use of porn, be prepared for that ‘flatline’ impact, take proactive steps to protect and boost your moods in other more ‘healthy ways’ (exercise, therapy, a holiday etc.) and give yourself time to allow your internal systems and brain chemistry to ‘reset’.

In conclusion, if you have read this article and recognise that you may have a problem with porn use (or you are reading it because you suspect your partner has a problem with porn use) the first thing to grasp is that as hard as It may be, things can change for the better.

Who sets out to become a ‘porn addict’? If it is your partner, do you honestly think they are intentionally trying to hurt and distress you? Or is it more likely that your partner has got caught up in an ever escalating problematic behaviour that has gone well beyond their control?

Sometimes the circumstances we find ourselves in in our lives our not of our choosing. As with any ‘addiction’, the first steps to recovery will be recognising there is a problem (and it is out of your control) and then with help, seeking a pathway forward that can minimise or remove the risk of more damage, attempt to heal any damage caused and forge a new path for yourself that is more constructive and fulfilling.