Is Porn Bad for Your Health?

With the advent of the internet, use of pornography has exploded, especially among men.   The internet trifecta of accessibility, affordability, and anonymity creates a perfect storm supporting what has become an epidemic in our society. In the “olden days” it was far more difficult to view porn.  It meant driving to an out of the way store where it was sold, hoping no one saw you, and making your purchase, and then figuring out where to hide it. Today with one click of a button, you can find an endless stream of any type of pornagraphy.  One estimate says there are 420 million web pages dedicated to porn.

So is porn really bad for your health? Is that just a moralistic fear of the very conservative? Was your mother right that masturbation might make you blind? While pornography use won’t make you blind, there are actually a number of significant risks.

Humans are wired for intimacy and connection.  But porn creates significant problems in that regard. At Samaritan, we are seeing the very unfortunate result of pornography addiction on marriages, with partners growing more and more disconnected from each other as a result. “Whatever. I’m single. I’ll change when I find someone,” you might say. But porn use might be changing you in very detrimental ways right now, and preventing you from developing the very skills you will need to have a healthy relationship. Consider the following:

  • Arousal with a partner often begins to decline with increased porn use. This is known as the Coolidge Effect: One will eventually tire of a known partner, while novelty increases arousal. We can debate whether men are wired for monogamy, but porn makes the issue much more complicated since it so easy to find. Porn trains the viewer to expect constant newness. It provides an endless assortment of new women and new scenarios. Tired of the same old image? Let’s up the ante and find a new one, this time in an even kinkier situation! Not surprisingly, human partners find it hard to compete.  
  • Porn may be changing your brain.  Neuroscience has taught us that our brains are “neuroplastic”. That is, they are not fixed and can change depending on how we treat them. This is good news, when it comes to the hopeful outcomes of getting adequate sleep, exercising, or practicing meditation. But the brain can also change negatively too. Cambridge University neuropsychiatrist, Dr Valerie Voon, suggests that men who watch porn excessively develop the same changes in their brain as they would if they were addicted to a drug. A brain chemical called dopamine is released during porn or drug use which creates good feeling. Like any addiction, this triggers compulsion to seek more of the activity that triggers dopamine discharge.
  • Porn decreases your interest in healthier choices. Men who watch a lot of porn tend to have less volume and activity in regions of the brain linked to rewards and motivation.  Based on a study in Germany, researchers found that a part of the brain connected with  decision-making weakened with excessive porn watching. Many men find that they end up spending excessive time watching porn, decreasing their interest healthier activities. Like any addiction, as the brain changes, the capacity for rational objective mature behavior decreases, and impulsivity increases. Men with porn addiction report excessive time viewing porn, withdrawal from family activities, or even spend significant money on certain sites.  And of course, as with all addictions, porn use can escalate to high risk sexual behavior.
  • Porn decreases your capacity to connect with other human beings. And unfortunately the addiction might have started because you didn’t know how to connect in the first place! Men who have grown up in families where attachment and nurturing were not present often turned to porn and masturbation in early adolescence as a self-soothing behavior. Over time, this behavior becomes addictive, and becomes the primary means of calming yourself down when anxious.  When you attempt to break the habit/addiction, you can become highly anxious, since you have “trained” yourself to only relax with this self-soothing behavior.
  • Porn can result in a disorder of intimacy.  The more someone watches porn, the more their desire for sex with a partner decreases. Here neurochemical responses impact capacity for intimacy. It becomes far easier to turn on the computer and withdraw from partner contact. Healthy adult sexuality requires interpersonal negotiation, and builds on emotional intimacy. Porn on the other hand results in a withdrawal from interpersonal contact and becomes isolating. Over time, this may result in a preference for sex involving porn.
  • Finally, porn damages relationships. The concept of making love, or intimate sexual connection, begins to disappear. Your partner is often wondering who you are really visualizing, and what fantasies you are using, resulting in feeling very disconnected. Partners of men with sexual addiction often report their own sexual desire decreasing, since real connection feels absent. This is a long way from what sex therapist David Schnarch calls “eyes open orgasm” – the concept that in the moment of intimacy it feels like you can see deeply into the soul of your partner. Porn overrides our humanity and decreases our capacity for connection and intimacy, which is an essential part of being human.

So, is Porn bad for your health?  The answer is YES!   It can change your brain, decrease your capacity for intimacy, and impact healthy adult sexual functioning, and obviously create major relationship problems.   Health begins with admitting you have a problem. From there, you must take steps toward recovery. Find a therapist, find an addictions specialist, join a 12-step program. You must replace the self-soothing aspects of pornography with other forms of handling anxiety–exercise, meditation, positive hobbies and activities.

In the end, getting help with this problem is a spiritual step towards being more human, and moving towards healthy relationship intimacy.

Updated: November 9, 2016 — 10:49 am
Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region © 2015 • Site MapEmployee Portal• (518) 374-3514• Fax (518) 374-9193