There's so much shame around sex addiction and intimacy disorders such as porn reliance or porn addiction. It's important that we stop thinking that porn addiction should be 'easy to get over.' For anyone struggling with recovery, self-compassion, kindness, and understanding are so important. I want you to know that you are not alone. But it's essential to recognize how addictions form and how we can use external substances and things like porn as a way of self-soothing a dysregulated nervous system. This helps us to discern why we can end up in cycles of behavior that we can't seem to break free from.
We live in a very stressful world. A recent study found that 73.8 percent of men who view porn hope to alleviate stress. To some, it's comparable to picking up a glass of wine at the end of a long day or having a pizza on a Friday night after a hard week. It's another form of emotional regulation. Studies show that people also watch porn because of a desire to regulate uncomfortable emotions, alleviate boredom, and forget their daily problems.
The stats on porn consumption are telling. Recent studies have shown that 12% of all internet websites are pornographic, 25% of all online searches are related to sex (68 million a day!), and 35% of all downloads from the internet are sex-related. Porn is literally everywhere and it impacts our neural pathways the same way that any other addiction can.
Like anything, balance is important. But too much of certain things isn’t always good, especially when it comes to porn. So why is porn so addictive? It makes sense when we understand that our brains are wired to respond to sexual stimulation with surges of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter released from the brain. Dopamine is associated with pleasure, bonding, and libido. It plays a big role in reward-motivated behavior.
That said, dopamine is also highest in times of uncertainty and before we receive the ultimate ‘reward’ which explains why there can be such a rush in the lead-up to watching porn, thinking about watching it, planning to watch it, or even searching for the right video to view. Dopamine is also involved with programming memories into the brain so the body remembers pleasure from a specific interaction and remembers it can return to re-experience it. Sexual encounters impact us on a neurological level, too, and when something feels good and calms our nervous system, we end up going back to that experience to feel a bit better, even if its only momentarily.
Signs of being addicted vary and include not imagining a day or week without porn. You might be unable to relax or sleep without it or feel compelled to watch porn even when you don’t want or need to. You might expose yourself to more extreme forms of porn over time as your body starts to search for the ultimate dopamine hit. Pornography can show up in the bedroom with your partner (even if they aren’t aware of your porn usage). You might feel shame or guilt around watching porn and your relationship with it is kept secret. And worst of all? You might feel the desire to engage in more intense pornography, acts in the bedroom, or with people you love.
Understanding the neurocircuitry of addiction can help you understand why porn can feel addictive. Reducing our porn consumption will also prevent our body and brain from becoming less responsive to porn. It means that we will be able to generate healthy dopamine hits from other areas in our life rather than having to shift into more aggressive roleplays and fantasies.
Recent studies also show that marital quality and commitment to a partner are likely to be compromised by frequent porn usage. Brain health can be impacted and so being honest and open about the coping mechanisms you are using in your life, rather than feeling guilty and shameful, may actually work to bring you and your partner closer together.
In addition to potentially impacting your relationship or marriage, porn can also affect male testosterone levels. This is because multiple ejaculations have been shown to reduce androgen receptors and increase estrogen as a bi-product, replacing testosterone in the body. The depletion of dopamine and testosterone can cause sexual and erectile dysfunction, and a high masturbation frequency can have a negative effect on sperm concentration and total sperm count too!
I’ve written before about how today’s males are in the middle of a testosterone crisis, with levels being 60% less than they were in the 1980s. Testosterone decrease is a real silent issue. It can impact your fertility, sexual function, motivation, weight, and even your mental health. Semen is also full of zinc and other minerals that are needed for testosterone production as well as great health and vitality.
Like with any addiction, an over-reliance on pornography can be treated once you acknowledge the connection between the act and the escape. For some people, it might just be a nervous system soothing practice that relieves stress and helps with sleep, but for others, pornography can help with a chemical imbalance in the brain because it makes you feel better in the moment and for a short time after.
There are instances where you could be chemically depressed or struggling with a personality disorder like manic depression, bipolar disorder, or cyclothymic disorder. In these situations, the chemical release of an orgasm may make you or your partner feel balanced or sleep better. Whatever the cause and effect, solutions to porn addiction exist and a combination of root cause testing for depression, psychotherapy and love, kindness, and compassion from those around you can really help.
I’ve written an article on my favorite supplements for depression, which you can find here, as well as nine nutritional deficiencies and imbalances that might be silently contributing to depression and/or anxiety, here. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are said to be the best types of therapy for porn addiction. Also, support groups have been shown to be incredibly effective because porn addiction is still an addiction that is not discussed as openly as other types.
Whatever you are going through when it comes to pornography, I hope this article can help you understand that you are not alone and that there are so many routes to unraveling how porn is showing up in your life, no shame, no judgment.
I’ve learned a lot from Zayne Francis’s Instagram account about how porn consumption can influence our day-to-day and our brain and if you relate to this article, he will be a great resource for you. Seeking professional help, starting loving, compassionate conversations, and shifting towards healthier, more consistent dopamine hits and nervous system regulation is a great place to start.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST****