Porn addiction can have longstanding effects, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
With one in three Irish people viewing porn before turning 16, addiction can become a serious and harmful issue.
In an age where sexually explicit images and videos are available at the push of a button, questions need to be raised about the negative effects of this type of consumption.
A recent Newstalk-commissioned RED C poll revealed that almost one in 10 adults admit to currently consuming pornography at least once a week, while 14% admit to doing so monthly. Despite this, the majority of adults (72%) believe that pornography gives false expectations in sexual relationships, with most women (75%) and those in younger age groups especially likely to feel this way. Although watching porn can elicit short-term pleasure, its negative consequences are much more longstanding and damaging.
Tony Monahan, accredited psychotherapist with Mind and Body Works, Dublin, tells The Irish Catholic: “Porn is a big problem in Ireland. Some people feel that by looking at porn on a daily or weekly basis they are addicted. That’s not necessarily the case. Addiction depends on what the driver is, what’s making them look at a particular form of porn.”
Tony adds that some people need porn to get aroused whereas others may view it out of curiosity – “it can be a way of finding out the whole mystique of sex”.
Despite the various reasons people have for consuming pornographic material, continuous exposure to it can have a detrimental impact on your mind, and subsequently your approach to sexual relationships. One way this happens is through the brain’s release of a chemical called vasopressin while watching porn, according to David Hunt, General Manager of Pure in Heart.
“In viewing pornography, a man is exposing himself to abnormal sex, sometimes even sexual violence, and then this chemical, vasopressin, creates a bond in a man’s brain to these scenarios. In a sense he is being programmed,” David explains.
“This can happen to such an extent that if exposure to pornography is prolonged over time then the man can only be aroused by these abnormal sexual situations.”
Through repeated consumption of pornographic material, addiction cycles are triggered in the brain which eventually lead to a dependency. In this sense, porn addiction is as real and serious as drug or alcohol addiction, and so may require a recovery process to break the habit. If untreated, this proclivity can continue to grow affecting work, hobbies and the relationships with those around you.
As a result of porn being normalised in our culture, the effects of its use in a relationship context are rarely discussed. Recent data analysis carried out by University of Oklahoma academics Samuel Perry and Joshua Davis revealed that increased porn use has a correlation with decreased marital satisfaction, and long-term consumption of it is significantly correlated with risk of romantic break-up. Viewing porn can create feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness especially if it pervades the sexual sphere of a relationship or replaces it altogether.
“Women feel betrayed by their husband or boyfriend’s pornography use. It is serious infidelity, but some men who are addicted to porn often don’t seem to realise this,” David says.
“They are used to popular culture telling them that porn is no big deal and doesn’t harm anyone. But this is a lie.”
One of the more incisive effects it has on relationships is the false expectations that it creates, particularly on impressionable men who attribute untenable ideals to their own sex lives and partners.
Tony explains that many men feel that when they meet someone for the first time they should have to do something sexually similar to what they have seen on the screen.
“The sexual act should be one of sensuality, love, non-dominance, a caring and sharing thing. It should be guided through with kissing and cuddling – you feel pleasure and your partner feels pleasure. In porn, it is never that way”, he says, adding that porn distorts reality as the male is made to feel that he needs to be dominant in the act.
Men are psychologically re-wired to feel that they have to control the situation, for the sexual act to be on their terms, rather than through a mutual interplay, which can lead to humiliation and subjugation of the receiving partner. The beauty and the sensuality of the sexual act becomes diminished in the face of this unrealistic dynamic.
Not only does this perceived notion of sex damage sexual relations but it can also often dehumanise the partner who is treated as a mere means to an end. This can create a snow-ball effect where consumers of pornography begin to look at the human as a purely sexual instrument.
“Men who view pornography, without realising it start to place a value on women based on their ability to incite lust in them, says David.
“The dignity and personhood of every woman is replaced by an evaluation of how physically attractive she is. So, it is concluded that the more physically attractive a woman is the more valuable she is.”
One of the main reasons why this view is so widely held is due in part to mainstream culture, which affords prominence to sexual objectification on television, in books, and through advertisements.
“Imagine our sexual desire as a fire. The culture says that pornography is a healthy way of keeping this fire under control, but in reality, watching pornography is like pouring petrol on the fire. The sexual desire rather than being controlled suddenly becomes all consuming.
“Suddenly men find themselves lusting after women automatically. So, when they encounter an attractive woman, their eyes begin to wander without their even realising it. This will continue to happen even after the man gets married and is trying to be faithful. It has become a habit and it’s difficult to stop.”
This type of consumption is not exclusive to just men, as women are becoming more increasingly susceptible to viewing porn. David explained that one in three women now watch it, with pornographic literature becoming more targeted to women.
Some studies have shown that 17-18% of women are addicted to porn, using it habitually. As a result, pornographic consumption and the concomitant recovery process equally apply to women who can struggle with addiction.
For those who experience it, Tony suggests seeking help, although this can be difficult because of the guilt and shame often attached to it. In his clinical situations, he has found that people would be more open to talking about alcohol or drug abuse, rather than porn consumption.
“It is actually very secretive. It happens in your bedroom, your office, your car”, he said.
“The shame and guilt attached to it is immense. Seek help, talk to somebody, a professional who has worked with this problem.”
For those who feel like spiritual support is also needed in combating porn addiction, David suggests frequenting the sacraments like Confession and the Eucharist as well as the Rosary.
“Frequent Confession is vital as it removes the sin, shame and hopelessness that can cripple addicts and thus keep them in their addiction.
“It is a powerful sacrament where we personally encounter God’s forgiveness and healing, and that essentially is what all addicts need: forgiveness and healing.”