Is Porn Affecting Our Sex Lives?

June 29, 2019

Sexual Health

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The explosion of internet porn has made access to it incredibly easy. Many school-aged kids are computer savvy enough to make their way to pornography sites or bypass parental blocks. For the rest of the population, the pornography path is even easier to travel. But the issue here isn’t access; it’s impact. Specifically, is porn affecting our sex lives?

Research on this question is all over the map and so are the opinions from experts. When reading across the spectrum of thoughts about porn and its impact, one might boil it down to a generality. That is, in moderation it can be positive, in excess it’s usually harmful, and it definitely is not for everyone.

Here’s some of the research and how it applies to these three scenarios.

Your brain on porn

Science has indicated that pornography is a supranormal stimulus, which means exposure to it activates the normal reward areas of the brain, but it does so at a much higher level, leaving us to perceive it as significantly more pleasurable than an average stimulus.

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Basically, porn may change how the brain reacts to arousal. Over time, the brain becomes desensitized to porn and we need something more exciting or novel to reach the same level of arousal. If there is the addition of sex toys, they could desensitize nerves in the penis, which would then make it more difficult to achieve an erection.

For some men (and women), this increasing need for more stimulation can be the beginning of a downward spiral into hardcore porn and a psychological addiction. During this descent, porn can interfere with the person’s sex life, family dynamics, social life, finances, and employment. For the rare few, it takes complete control of their lives.

When we swing to the other end of the spectrum, there are people for whom porn is taboo or is an activity they don’t care to indulge in because it makes them uncomfortable. Others engage in “porn light,” dabbling with behaviors that may or may not have a positive effect on their sex lives and how they perceive themselves and their relationships.

Is porn affecting our sex lives?

Using porn can have a positive impact on a person’s sex life if it is something a couple shares with each other in an open and loving way. Some partners find that it spices up their sex life. They use it as an accessory—an occasional or even frequently shared activity. Good communication between partners is key to this arrangement.

For some couples, however, one partner is unwilling or uncomfortable with the idea of porn and refuses to participate or does so reluctantly. This can lead to frustration by the asking partner and also place a strain on the relationship and future sexual activity.

Porn can be what one therapist has called “the sexual version of a gateway drug,” which can draw individuals into compulsive or addictive cyber-sex behavior. For some, watching porn can make it impossible for them to have sex with their partner.

People who watch porn regularly may grow to expect the intense excitement that it can create and then want that in their real-life sexual encounters. Porn also can cultivate unrealistic expectations about what sexual partners should look like.

If individuals can only get off when beautiful people are involved in sexual acts, then real-life sex may not make the grade and the real-life relationship suffers.

Porn kills romance

Sexual encounters typically involve courtship rituals. There is anticipation, flirting, teasing, intimacy, and communication. Porn, however, is about penetration and control. It desensitizes the human bonding experience. Even among couples who have been together for many years, there can still be a courtship ritual. Porn kills courtship and romance.

When individuals use porn in secret from their partners, the participant usually feels he or she is not engaging in sex. Yet watching porn is a form of voyeurism, and it can damage a relationship. It is a type of sexual betrayal and can make the partner feel disrespected and unvalued. This is an aspect of porn that few people realize, yet it can have a devastating impact on a relationship because it shatters romance, trust, and respect.

Individuals in a relationship who use porn should talk to their partners about it. Using porn behind your partner’s back is like sneaking drug use. If you find it difficult to talk to your partner about porn, it is a sign that you may lack a sufficient level of intimacy and sharing with your partner. Communicating about the use of porn could bring that issue to a head and allow you to strengthen your sexual bond.

Pornography and erectile dysfunction

Numerous studies have explored a possible association between porn and erectile dysfunction and the results are mixed: some claim porn causes or contributes to ED while others say porn can help some men with ED. In a 2016 study published in Behavioral Sciences, for example, the authors found that more young men are seeking help for erectile dysfunction, which could be a result of them being desensitized by hardcore porn. In fact, the study notes that “terminating Internet pornography use is sometimes sufficient to reverse negative effects, underscoring the need for extensive investigation using methodologies that have subjects remove the variable of Internet pornography use.”

A brand new study (April 2019) from the Naval Medical Center San Diego looked at the use of porn among both men and women and the effect on sexual function. The authors found that men used pornography significantly more than women (81.1% vs 39%). Here’s what else they found:

  • Erectile dysfunction rates were lowest among those who preferred partnered sex without porn (22.3%)
  • Erectile dysfunction was significantly greater (78%) when porn was preferred over partnered sex
  • A preference for porn with masturbation was significantly associated with erectile dysfunction
  • Experts suspect that use of porn may change how the brain reacts to arousal

Some other research suggests porn could help men who are experiencing erectile dysfunction associated to a psychological or relationship issue. A study published in Sexual Medicine involved 280 men who were evaluated for whether their time spent viewing visually sexually stimuli had more sexual responsiveness to a partner or to the porn.

Overall, men who spent more time viewing porn had more sexual responsiveness to a partner in a lab setting. This finding suggests that porn may help ready the brain or body for sexual activity, which in turn could improve the sexual experience with a partner.

One other possible link between porn and erectile dysfunction is the guilt factor. Men who use porn may be distressed about their inability to maintain an erection and their use of porn. If they believe porn is wrong or is causing their erectile difficulties, it may become a vicious cycle of guilt and failure.

Bottom line

Overall experts believe porn can have a significant effect on our sex lives. Exactly what that impact is, is a matter of debate and a highly individual matter. Anyone who engages in porn use should evaluate their relationship with the behavior and also their relationship with their sexual partner. Communication is a key factor in such situations and can greatly benefit both individuals and their sexual relationship. Anyone who feels an obsessive need to view porn should seek professional guidance.

References

Berger JH et al. Survey of sexual function and pornography. Military Medicine 2019 Apr 24

Hilton DL. Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 2013; 3(1)

Koukounas E, Over R. Habituation of male sexual arousal: effects of attentional focus. Biological Psychology 2001 Sep; 58(1): 49-64

McGhee S. How pornography can hurt your sex life. PsychCentral 2018 Jul 8

Park BY et al. Is internet pornography causing sexual dysfunctions? A review with clinical reports. Behavioral Sciences 2016; 6(3): 17

Villenes Z. How can porn induce erectile dysfunction? MedicalNewsToday 2018 Jul 30

 

 

 

 

 

 

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