Caroline Cranshaw: How porn is hazardous to sexual and psychological health

Warning: Content contains explicit subject matter that may offend 

Pornography has been around since we started drawing on cave walls. Since the invention of the internet, it has never been more easily accessible. It’s well known that pornography has been the single most influential economic factor that drove the growth of the internet.

Because of the internet, people no longer need to buy pornographic material or get it from friends. Anyone with an internet connection can access a variety of the most deviant sex acts you could imagine, and worse, for free and in total privacy. We are now able to watch more sexually explicit content in a few hours than the most fanatical porn connoisseur a few decades ago could have been able to collect over a lifetime.

New Zealand ranks 125th in the world for population, and according to Pornhub, it places an impressive 27th for traffic to its website. New Zealand ranked 13th for annual page views per capita. The scary thing is, it’s not just adults that are watching it.  

How pornography is affecting children and teenagers

It’s estimated that 11 years old is the average age when children first encounter porn. Kids of that age are simply unprepared to differentiate between what really goes on in their parents' bedrooms and what they see on adult websites. Reality versus fiction. Without the understanding and knowledge of what a mutually agreeable, respectful, intimate relationship is, pornography then becomes the dominant source for adolescence to learn about sex.

Exposure to pornography forms unrealistic expectations of what sex is, for both men and women. The majority of pornography is consumed by boys and young men and it’s naïve to assume that these young, sexually uneducated viewers, with little, or no sexual experience won’t be influenced by this sexual information.

Research has shown a correlation between the consumption pornography at a young age and sexual violence. In fact, five years ago, a group of researchers looked at 50 of the most popular porn films (the most often rented or purchased.) Those movies contained 304 sexual scenes and of those, 88 per cent contained physical violence and 49 per cent contained verbal aggression. Another study found that people with higher exposure to violent porn were six times more likely to have raped someone than those who had a low history of exposure.

Before the internet, men had to become socially capable and adept, in order to see a woman naked. Now, with the invention of the internet, naked women, and the viewing sexual encounters of others, is just a click of a button away. Another unfortunate symptom of watching pornography is that you don’t need to approach women in real life when thousands of naked women are free to view on pornographic websites.

Evolution has not hardwired the human brain to understand the false reality of pornography. Our brains have mirror neurons, which are brain cells that share the emotion of other people’s experiences, as we watch. Just like we cry when we view a happy or sad scene in a movie. So when a person views a pornographic scene and becomes aroused, that person’s brain wires those feelings of arousal as if he or she was actually having the experience. If those pornographic scenes have violence, abuse or degradation of women, then that individual’s brain learns to associate sexual arousal with violence.

This upcoming generation’s minds are being hardwired against loving, nurturing relationships leaving both men and women disconnected, and struggling to communicate effectively in relationships about what they like, dislike and what they need for the relationship to be successful.

Porn addiction and how porn is ruining your sex life

Porn addiction is also known as "arousal addiction". Unlike drug addiction where you need more of the same thing, when you watch porn on a regular basis, to become aroused you crave an array of varied stimulation.

Watching a single session of pornography online enables you to view hundreds of sexually active women, videoed from perfect angles with fantastic lighting, playing out your every sexual fantasy. Then, when it comes time to be intimate with your partner, your frequently overstimulated brain may experience difficulty reaching arousal.

Your brain cannot permit you to experience sexual satisfaction with your partner, simply because it doesn’t offer enough variety. In men, complete erectile dysfunction or E.D. affects about 5 per cent of men that are in their 40’s and about 15 per cent of men at age 70. Mild and moderate E.D. affects 50 per cent of men in the 50’s and 60 per cent of men in the 60’s.

Porn is like junk food for your brain. No nutritional value and overstimulating. When you are with a partner in real life after watching a lot of porn, your brain perceives the experience as boring and bland. Your brain either tries to get the experience over quickly or doesn’t find it stimulating enough to maintain or even create an erection.

When you get sexually excited, one of the first reactions your brain has is to release the chemical dopamine. When you watch porn, which is very visually stimulating, your brain releases large amounts of dopamine. Dopamine is a reward neurotransmitter and is the same chemical that’s released when you eat sugar or use cocaine, making it highly addictive.

If you watch porn every day over a period of time, your body does what it can to cope with the large amounts of dopamine that’s being released by killing off the dopamine receptors. Your body doesn’t perceive the dopamine that’s being released, so it’s like sending a very weak amount of electrical energy that’s not going to charge you up.

This situation is as if you took an appliance that was meant to run on 240 volts and plugged it into an outlet with 120 volts. It isn’t exactly going to power up … I have seen men as young as 18 with porn-induced erectile dysfunction and every man I see with erectile dysfunction watches porn regularly.

So how do you know if you or someone else is addicted to porn? Questions to ask are: "Can you stop looking at porn for 30 days?" If you’re actually addicted, your brain will set off an alarm within seven to fourteen days. Do you need to watch porn when you are stressed, depressed or anxious to make yourself feel better?

Porn is hazardous to your sexual and psychological health

Research shows the following common issues associated with Porn Addiction:

  • Damages the intimacy in your relationships
  • Decreases the sexual attraction you experience for your partner
  • Reduces your desire to approach real women
  • Creates unrealistic expectations of your current or future sexual partners
  • Affects the strength and duration of your erections

How do you progress away from pornography?

Here are a few tips on how to transition from being addicted to porn to cutting back, and eventually eliminating your pornography consumption.

1. Reduce the amount of time spent watching porn

Commit to reducing the number of times per week you watch porn to only once or twice, rather than daily. Schedule it, if you have to, and stick to it. Set a timer, so you don’t binge-watch, for say 10 or 20 minutes.

2. Experiment – Go cold turkey for 3 months.

The most compelling way to eliminate porn from your life is to go cold turkey and do not watch porn for 3 months. Get a friend or partner to hold you accountable if necessary. Get them to put a restriction on all devices (iPhones, iPads etc) and TV’s where only they know the code so you literally cannot be tempted to watch porn.

Benefits of reducing your porn consumption

There are many benefits to reducing the amount of pornography you are currently watching. These include:

  • An increased sex drive
  • More gratitude for your sexual partner
  • More mental and emotional presence with women
  • More appreciation for women in general
  • Less judgement of "real" women’s bodies
  • Increased sexual attraction to partners
  • A greater overall sex drive from a balanced place

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz. Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.