Though there is still some debate among researchers about the effects of pornography use on individuals, research has consistently shown that regularly viewing pornography can have negative effects on relationships—particularly if one’s partner disapproves of said pornography use. Sometimes, negative effects sneak up on a user and shape the way he or she views the world, without them even realizing it. Many of the following experiences hold true for both men and women who regularly view pornography, but for simplicity, we will focus mainly on the effects on men:
Since pornography is most frequently a solo sexual experience, when it comes time to engage in relational sexual experiences many men struggle to perform optimally due to the desensitization pornography has caused. There are many reports of pornography-induced sexual dysfunction which often leads to emotional problems and tension in relationships.
Since the majority of pornography portrays men as dominant or sexually coercive and shows that women enjoy this dynamic, pornography users tend to believe that this is realistically what they can expect sex to be like with their partner. Unfortunately, this sends the message to women that they should act like objects who aren’t supposed to feel pain, whose desires don’t matter, and who should have strong positive emotional responses whenever a man wants them to—regardless of how they really feel.
Much like the progression of a substance abuse addiction, after time, the brain of a frequent pornography user adjusts to the extreme dopamine release (dopamine is a natural chemical that signals to our brain that something is pleasurable or enjoyable) that comes from watching porn. This means that the user begins needing stronger and more exciting stimulation to feel the same amount of pleasure they used to. Of course, when their real partner doesn’t want to engage in these intense sexual behaviors, the pornography user is left disappointed and unsatisfied with sexual encounters.
Pornography is not usually about the sex. It’s often a coping strategy used when things are tough. So chances are, if someone is struggling with a pornography addiction, they’re using it as an escape from something. Typically, they’re running away from some overwhelming negative feeling, such as stress, anxiety, or insecurity. For example, if a man feels insecure about himself and worries about rejection, he can escape that feeling (temporarily) by fantasizing about women who will never reject him. Unfortunately, each time he gives in to this behavior, he reinforces his process of running away from the real problem instead of solving it, making himself increasingly dependent on pornography as a way to deal with difficult feelings.
Because a heavy pornography user’s brain gets flooded with dopamine on a regular basis, even non-sexual things that were once enjoyable become dull. When life is no longer exciting or fun, the pornography user experiences constant disappointment with the world around him. This disappointment often leads to a feeling of numbness, where the pornography user has turned off his emotions altogether in an attempt to escape the pain he feels at the overall loss of pleasure.
If you feel that you or your partner may need help with a pornography addiction, reach out today to a therapist in your community! And stay tuned for our next two articles in this series—“How to Heal in the Face of a Pornography Addiction” and “What to Do When My Partner is Addicted to Porn”
Erin Rackham is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Provo Center for Couples and Families. She believes in the healing power of love and connection in safe and secure relationships—whether these relationships are with parents, spouses, others, or even one's own self.