Porn has a bad reputation and is often seen as somebody’s dirty little secret. The stereotype of the typical porn viewer is a single white male who watches late at night giving the impression that people view porn alone and as a substitute for having a partner. It is seen as a solitary, anti-social secretive activity that not many will own up to. However, the facts are that porn addiction can affect both genders and increasingly teenagers as well. Of course, couples also freely watch porn and some use it to spice up their sex life and to learn new things that may bring variety to their relationship. In this case, when the couple have made that choice together, it is fine and might be productive. It is their choice to view it or not.
However, one trend I have seen over the last few years in my work is many more people seemingly becoming addicted to watching porn. This may be because it has become freely available anywhere on the internet and is easier to access. There is still debate about whether pornography can be associated with the word addiction. There are a lot of misunderstandings concerning this subject and some go as far as saying pornography addiction is just an excuse for the sexually deprived to justify their behaviour. Sex addiction or hyper-sexuality, that is the constant need for sexual activity despite the negative consequences, is included as a mental disorder in the DSM and pornography is often seen in the same way. As both actions (sex addiction and porn addiction) release the same pleasure chemicals into the brain, many are quick to lump pornography addiction and sex addiction into the same mix. However, the two are differentiated by the fact that sex addiction requires a predilection towards intercourse while pornography merely implies the need to view explicit material. So in other words, many sex addicts overuse porn but porn addicts often don’t crave sex per se.
According to a sex research journal, pornography is often seen as a substitute for men or women engaging in sex with multiple partners and they often fantasise about being dominated, dominating themselves, taking part in sex acts that are not done in their relationship or toying with the idea of a threesome or using sex toys. This is the fundamental difference to a sex addiction where sex is the ultimate goal. Viewing pornography is mostly fantasy and stays that way. However, for their partner, this can have a devastating effect and subsequently puts pressure on the relationship. Often those who view pornography have intimacy issues and find the fantasy much more fulfilling than the reality. This in turn makes them emotionally withdraw.
(Medical News Today) Some indications that pornography may be causing a problem include:
- A person’s sex life becomes less satisfying.
- Pornography causes relationship issues or makes a person feel less satisfied with their partner.
- A person engages in risky behaviour to view pornography, such as doing so at work.
(Medical News Today) Some other signs that a person may be developing an unhealthy relationship with porn include:
- They ignore other responsibilities to view pornography.
- They view progressively more extreme pornography to get the same release that less extreme porn once offered.
- They feel frustrated or ashamed after viewing porn but continue to do so.
- They want to stop using pornography but feel unable to do so.
- They spend large sums of money on pornography, possibly at the expense of daily or family necessities.
At this point we have to mention the impact of the internet in the apparent rise of pornography addiction. Our brains were never designed to self control around the many temptations found in today’s digital world. Similar to eating disorders around the mass of sugar and sweetened products available today, our brain is overloaded by the amount of content available. In fact, in brain imaging tests carried out in Cambridge on 19 porn addicts, the same reward and pleasure areas of the brain lit up as those with drug, alcohol and eating addictions. That said, there is still much to learn about the long term effects of watching porn.
What we do know is that it desensitises the porn user and most will continue to need more and more detailed stimuli as time goes on. This can lead on a basic level to how someone sees their partner. They may compare what they see on screen to their reality and become more critical and demanding. Time spent online increases and that is often time spent away from the partner and family. Addicts may even reorder their lives to spend more time viewing making them possibly anti-social and emotionally withdrawn. There is also the increased risk of masturbation addiction. Also, someone who starts out with just little erotic and soft content begins to crave something more hard-core and this can actually degenerate into a desire to play out these fantasies in real life with unwilling partners which can sometimes have a violent outcome. Statistics concerning rapists and child molesters use of porn have drawn a direct correlation between viewing hardcore porn and crossing that threshold to acting it out.
Experts and advocates who endorse the existence of pornography addiction argue that, like other addictions, this is a complex issue with a range of possible causes. Some of these causes may include: (Medical News Today)
- Underlying mental health conditions: A person might use pornography to escape psychological distress.
- Relationship problems: Pornography can be an outlet for sexual dissatisfaction.
- Unhealthy cultural norms: Ideas about how people should look and behave during sex, the types of sex that a person should enjoy, and similar norms may draw some people to pornography.
- Biological causes: Certain biological factors, including changes in brain chemistry when a person views porn, may increase the risk of addiction.
In a relationship, the partner of a porn addict will have to deal with a number of negative issues and porn addiction can devastate the family as a whole. Any children in the relationship are likely to have to cope with the same and also likely to be exposed to pornography at a later stage. The rise in teenage porn addicts supports this view. The spouse of an addict is likely to feel rejection, betrayal, suspicion, isolation, insecurity around sexual performance, self-esteem issues and depression. It can also be a lonely, frustrating life where affection and intimacy is at a bare minimum. Many spouses blame themselves when in reality, it can be said that the addiction has very little to do with them. Much research is pointing towards the idea that the addiction may be a symptom of a much deeper issue around self-esteem and intimacy.
As a partner of a porn addict, one can take steps to help break the addiction. After recognizing the problem exists, it is important to seek treatment for the addiction from an experienced therapist. As with most addictions, withdrawal symptoms can be hard for the addict to cope with. For this reason, it would be wiser to discuss the addiction openly with your partner and support him or her through recovery rather than trying to force a stop in the behaviour. You cannot be a counsellor or only source of guidance or make yourself responsible for “fixing” the issue. However, your support will be invaluable and it is important to realise that as a partner, you will need support and education too. Only then, can you hope to be able to cope with the transparency, setting of boundaries and accountability that goes with the process. This means open communication and regular discussion, working together on setbacks, dealing with the emotions that come up and making sure to practice self-care. There are many support groups and forums for partners of porn addicts and it helps to be able to talk to others in the same situation.
There is clear evidence that this will become a major issue as time goes on as more and more opportunities present themselves in the digital world we live in. If your partner appears to be addicted to pornography, do not ignore the issue. It will only get worse.