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Is Internet Porn Killing Your Sex Drive?

Just checking Gmail? Almost half of Internet users say they look at porn online, and the habit may be taking a negative toll on their personal lives.
Is Internet Porn Killing Your Sex Drive?
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Facebook’s popular, and so is Wikipedia. But there are other websites attracting people's attention: In the USA, 12 percent of Internet websites feature pornography and roughly 43 percent of Internet users say they look at pornographic material online. For many, cyberporn is causing problems beyond finding ways to erase that browser history. Online pornography habits can cause problems in people’s personal life, sex drive, and romantic relationships.

(Check It: Sex and Sports: Refrain Before the Big Game?)

Perusing Porn - Why It Matters

Researchers think the Internet makes people much more vulnerable to sex addictions because it gives them instant access to pornographic material. One study found that, among people who said they’d ever used their computer for sexual purposes, one percent were cybersex addicts, meaning they spent about 11 hours weekly engaged in cybersex activity (which includes visiting pornographic websites and having online sex with another person). The problem applies more frequently to men, since women are more likely to view pornography with a romantic partner.

Some porn addicts say they spend as many as eight hours watching pornography every night — but it’s not clear how much time someone has to spend with Girls Gone Wild before the habit becomes “excessive.” Experts say the problem is less about the amount of time someone spends viewing porn and more about how the habit affects their relationships and daily functioning.

Research on the effects of looking at cyberporn is pretty limited, but a recent study of Italian men suggests excessive porn consumption can cause sexual anorexia — anxieties about sex or a fear of sex that limits intimacy. And the findings may also be important in the USA, since recent research suggests increasing numbers of American men are checking out cyberporn. Looking at porn regularly can hurt sexual performance because people may start needing stronger visual signals to become aroused. For some people who look at porn regularly, having sex may no longer even produce a physiological sense of reward. The habit causes problems in a relationship when one partner starts sneaking into the bathroom with the laptop, and when pornography viewing becomes a secret, isolating habit. And it’s not just about who took out the trash last time — one survey found Internet porn is a growing factor in American divorce cases.

While most porn viewers are guys, about one third of visitors to pornographic websites are women, and psychologists say women struggle with cyberporn addictions, too. But research suggests men and women tend to treat porn differently. Men often use pornography on their own and for more immediate sexual pleasures. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use porn to enhance sexual experiences with a partner or explore their curiosity [1] [2]. But for both genders, pornography can be part of a healthy sex life.

Long Live the Libido - The Answer/Debate

Looking at porn doesn't always have negative effects. The effects of looking at cyberporn depend on individual factors, like how arousing someone finds the pornographic material and his/her sexual background [3] [4]. For couples, some research suggests online sexual activity can actually improve intimate sexual relationships. People who engage in a moderate amount of online sexual activity say they have sex more often and enjoy it more [5]. Plus, some couples enjoy sharing O-Town-type fantasies and viewing erotic images together. “Couples porn,” pornographic videos designed for couples to watch together, can also put some spice back in that sex life. Most importantly, couples should be honest about their online pornography habits.

If looking at porn is taking a negative toll on someone’s personal life, there are a few ways to manage the issue. Some experts suggest stopping the porn habit cold turkey. Another option is to visit a sex therapist to discuss the problem. Self-help groups that meet in-person and (perhaps ironically) online can be helpful. Successful treatment programs usually help patients learn skills to cope with the problem and prevent a relapse [6]. Or perhaps just try viewing a different kind of stimulating photographs.

The Takeaway

 Constant access to pornographic material online can sometimes cause problems in personal relationships. But, for people who enjoy viewing pornography, there are ways to make the habit part of a healthy sex life.

Experts' Takes

We asked some Greatist Experts, sex therapist Dr. Ian Kerner and addiction specialist Dr. Dessa Bergen-Cico, for their thoughts on cyberporn habits.

Ian Kerner: "What’s different now compared to years ago is that pornography is both free and easily accessible, so more masturbation occurs than normal. Sometimes this leads to difficulties getting mentally aroused. So while the body can be physically stimulated, the visual novelty that pornography users accustom themselves to may make it harder to get mentally aroused.

While these things can interfere with sexual intimacy, don’t panic. Masturbation isn’t wrong. If you’re experiencing a decreased libido and you suspect the origin to be over-masturbation, take two weeks off from both masturbation and porn. The following two weeks, continue avoiding pornography.”
Dessa Bergen-Cico: "From a young age men have access to all types of porn images, videos, etc, online. They become oriented to think this experience is normal, expected, anticipated behavior. … It’s not reality.

[A pornography addiction] can affect [a relationship] in a lot of ways. It can be part and parcel of a larger sex addiction, or just a straight pornography addiction. If it’s a pornography addiction then there is a lack of intimacy between people, and it makes the relationship more fragile."

Photo by Daniel Zimmer

Works Cited +

  1. Gender differences in pornography consumption among young heterosexual Danish adults. Hald, G.M. Department of Psychology, University of Aarhus, Denmark. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2006 Oct;35(5):577-85.
  2. Young people, pornography, and sexuality: sources and attitudes. Wallmyr, G., Welin, C. Alingsås Hospital, Alingsås, Sweden. The Journal of School Nursing, 2006 Oct;22(5):290- 5.
  3. Watching pornographic pictures on the Internet: role of sexual arousal ratings and psychological-psychiatric symptoms for using Internet sex sites excessively. Brand, M., Laier, C., Pawlikowski, M., et al. General Psychology: Cognition, University of Duisburg-Essen, Forsthausweg 2, Duisburg, Germany. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 2011 Jun;14(6):371-7.
  4. Self-perceived effects of pornography consumption. Hald, G.M., Malamuth, N.M. The Clinic of Sexology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2008 Aug;37(4):614-25.
  5. Perceived consequences of casual online sexual activities on heterosexual relationships: a u.s. Online survey. Grov, C., Gillespie, B.J., Royce, T., et al. Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY 11210, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Arch Sex Behav. 2011 Apr;40(2):429-39.
  6. Treatment of Compulsive Cybersex Behavior. Southern, S. Department of Psychology, Mississippi College, Mississippi. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America 2008;31(4):697-712.

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