Odds are that you have viewed some form of pornography in your life.
Approximately 70% of men and 30% of women regularly watch porn. In fact, 25% of all internet searches are porn related—that’s 68 million a day, not including “sexts,” downloaded content, or emails.
Many people assert that pornography is a positive thing, a tool that can enhance a partner’s performance, release stress, teach sex education, provide a safe recreational outlet and perhaps prevent sexual assault. It can be seen in every form of media, and is widely accepted now as an acceptable alternative to physical intimacy.
But opponents of porn, as well as scientific studies on the subject, paint a very different picture. So how exactly is pornography harmful, and how do you break the habit if it has started to negatively impact your life and relationships?
Why is Porn Addictive?
According to Valerie Voon, MD, PhD, who researches the brains of addicts, “the brains of compulsive porn users resemble the brains of alcoholics watching ads for a drink.”
This is because pornography releases massive amounts of dopamine into your brain, the chemical that causes feelings of pleasure. However, after a period of time, a porn user’s brain adjusts to the heightened levels of dopamine and sheds some of its chemical receptors so as not to get overloaded, resulting in less of a “sexual high.”
“As a result, many porn users have to find more porn, find it more often, or find a more extreme version—or all three—to generate even more dopamine to feel excited … trying to cut back on the habit can lead to withdrawal symptoms, just like with drugs.”
Unfortunately, this means that you get less of a “high” from other things in your life that used to make you happy, such as friendship, sports, food, or love, resulting in many porn addicts suffering from anxiety and depression.
Porn Decreases Sexual Pleasure
Does this one seem paradoxical? Actually, it’s not.
The digital stimulation that pornography provides creates a totally different kind of sexual experience than the intimacy of sex between two living people. The more a porn user conditions their brain to respond to digital stimulus, the more that person begins to desire more and more of the fantasy sex portrayed on screen, and no longer gets as much sexual pleasure from a real woman who may not look or act like a XXX porn star.
Those who regularly watched pornography “reported being less satisfied with their partner’s physical appearance, sexual performance, and level of affection and express greater desire for sex without emotional involvement.” In fact, over 50% of porn addicts have lost interest in real sex.
Also, because porn users train their brains and bodies to respond to higher-than-normal dopamine levels, it becomes harder to get “turned on” by a real person, especially for men. It can negatively affect their ability to maintain erections in real life sexual encounters, causing widespread erectile dysfunction (ED) even for those in their teens and twenties, and decreasing a person’s enjoyment or even ability to engage in sex.
Porn Promotes Sexual Aggression and Abuse
Pornography is a multibillion dollar industry that is well acquainted with choking, hitting, and glamorizing rape-like actions towards others, especially women, teens, and even children.
Some porn users may assert that they only watch “soft porn,” and as such are not affected, or that their “harder” porn preferences do not affect their treatment of real sexual partners in the bedroom, but ongoing studies into pornography and its effects show otherwise.
The “Fight the New Drug” campaign has found that according to 33 studies, “exposure to either nonviolent or violent porn increased behavioral aggression, including both violent fantasies and actual violent assaults.”
“…Even if a partner doesn’t turn to sexual aggression or violence, they are still seeing twisted depictions of sex that will inevitably warp their understanding [of] love and relationships.”
Porn all too often introduces, portrays and glamorizes actions that are abusive, degrading, and even dangerous. It perpetuates the myth that women enjoy such behaviors and engrains these false sexual ideals, causing confusion or frustration later on when they attempt to replicate them. All of this makes porn users more prone to be aggressive in their own relationships, rather than engaging in mutually fulfilling intimacy.
Porn Damages Relationships and Families
Strong, healthy, romantic relationships are based on trust, genuine regard for another’s happiness, and emotional, mental, and physical intimacy. But according to the American Psychological Association’s publication, Monitor on Psychology, “When one partner uses porn at a high frequency … there can be a tendency to withdraw emotionally from the relationship. Those men report ‘increased secrecy, less intimacy and also more depression.’”
Along with porn’s effects on the user, their partner is also affected by the habit, due to unrealistic or even abusive demands of sexual frequency or behaviors. In one study, among those the psychologists surveyed, “female college students … who perceived their boyfriends’ porn use to be problematic experienced lower self-esteem, poorer relationship quality and lower sexual satisfaction.”
Porn use increases the likelihood of marital infidelity, because it weakens the bonds between husbands and wives, and encourages sexual activity, both independently and outside of the marriage. In short, pornography often brings with it increased secrecy, guilt, and deception in the lives of porn users, and feelings of pain, shame, rejection and betrayal of trust in the hearts of those that they love the most.
Breaking Free of Pornography
So how do you break free from porn use, after it has already become a part of your life? May we offer seven of the most effective tools to help you beat the habit and improve your life.
Admit the problem and the harm it is doing to you. Many porn users justify their habit by believing that it isn’t negatively affecting their life in any way. It is only when you realize the impact and have a genuine desire to stop that you will have the strength to beat it.
Tell someone you can trust. No one ever beats addictions on their own, and having a “safe” support system of people who love you can mean all the difference, whether it’s your spouse, girlfriend, bishop, friend, or a combination, you have people in your life who will love and help you when you’re feeling weak.
Replace it with a healthier activity. Quitting any negative habit leaves a hole in your life, and the best way to resist temptation, is to fill that time with something better. Develop healthier ways of dealing with life’s difficulties: pain, loneliness, stress, discouragement, or boredom. Play a sport. Take a run. Call a friend. Pick up a new hobby. Read your scriptures. Find something healthy that you can distract yourself with, and it will make recovery easier.
Resolve to quit completely, not just use it once in a while. Keeping porn in your life makes recovery next to impossible, and doesn’t fix any of the underlying problems. If you tell yourself it’s okay to use sometimes, then you will fall right back into old habits when you have a weak moment. Get off the computer. Go outside. Get an ad blocker. Avoid being up at night by yourself. Steer clear of it at all costs. Decide right now that you truly want to quit and that porn is not an option.
Pray. Willpower is not enough. Your “will” alone is not infallible; thankfully you can rely on a power that is greater than your own. You have a Heavenly Father who loves you and cares about your healing process more than you could ever imagine. The Savior died for you, for all of your imperfections and struggles, so that you can come back to Him and be fully healed and forgiven. He has not and will not abandon you. Through the power of prayer, you never need be alone, and you have the full help of Heaven to come to your aid in moments of weakness.
Find and register with an addiction recovery program. In addition to your own support system, it can make all the difference to have a support group of peers who know exactly how difficult it is to change, and to help you through the various steps of complete recovery. There are many good ones out there. We personally recommend addictionrecovery.lds.org that has helped many people overcome different kinds of addictions. The program is handled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is free.
Don’t ever give up. The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time to change your habits, and really, your entire brain. If you relapse, it is not the end of your recovery. Always try again, accepting your mistake and move forward from there with the help of your family and friends, your support system, and the Lord.
It is worth it. You don’t need to succumb any longer to the dictates of addictive need, depression, guilt, secrecy, or self-loathing. You can break free from the degrading, corrosive influence of pornography that weakens your resolve, your self-respect, and your relationships. Yes, you can feel clean, and free, and happy again.