Mark’s Story

Mark is a married, 35-year-old realtor. His wife, Janet, is a pharmaceutical sales rep who spends several days each week on the road. Both report that their sex life was great until just a few years ago, and Mark is not sure what happened. He used to look forward to the days Janet was home because he knew the first thing they were going to do was hop in bed and make passionate love. Even after the birth of their first child, the two always made time late evenings and weekend mornings for lovemaking. But no longer. These days when being sexual with Janet, Mark struggles to reach orgasm. He’s even started faking orgasms, just to get things over with. What Mark can’t understand is why he’s ready, willing, and able when he logs on to his favorite porn sites—something he does regularly when Janet is on the road—but he can’t function when he’s got the real thing right there in front of him. Mark is quite clear in saying he is not “bored” with his wife, and he continues to find her “sexy, exciting, and arousing.”

Is Porn Ruining Sex?

Mark is suffering from Delayed Ejaculation (DE), a problem that is more common than most people realize. Symptoms of DE include: taking longer than normal to reach orgasm; only being able to reach orgasm via masturbation; and not being able to reach orgasm at all. At first Mark didn’t mind because “lasting longer” is generally viewed as a sign of virility. He chalked it up to maturing as a lover, thinking he was now better at pleasing Janet. Unfortunately, as he and many others have discovered, there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

As with all sexual dysfunctions, there are numerous possible causes of DE, including: physical illness/impairment; the use of SSRI-based antidepressants, which are known to delay and in many cases eliminate orgasm; psychological factors with stressors like financial worries or family dysfunction—all of which can mentally distract men during intercourse. But one increasingly documented cause of both delayed ejaculation and erectile dysfunction is an over-involvement with—for some, addiction to—pornography and masturbation as a primary sexual outlet. This seems the most likely culprit for otherwise healthy men in the prime of life such as Mark.

It appears that the tsunami of accessible, affordable, and increasingly graphic Internet pornography accessed via home computers, laptops, smart-phones and other mobile devices we now carry in our pockets can, for some, cause not only emotional, relationship, and financial problems, but also sexual dysfunction. In a way, this confirms what many in the sexual addiction treatment field have known for quite some time—that among the many symptoms and consequences of sex and porn addiction is reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with spouses and/or longer-term sexual partners. This problem is not simply due to the frequency of masturbation and orgasm outside a primary relationship; it is more related to the fact that men in general are both visually stimulated and turned-on by new stimuli. The man who spends 75% of his sexual life masturbating and fantasizing to porn (endless images of young, exciting, different partners and sexual experiences) is, over time, likely to find his longer-term partner less interesting visually and less stimulating than the endless supply of new and exciting material in his head. What we are now seeing is an emotional disconnect with spouses and partners that is manifesting physically as sexual dysfunction, be it DE or its better known cousin, erectile dysfunction (ED). Common complaints by men experiencing porn-induced sexual dysfunction include:

  • They have no problem achieving erection or orgasm with pornography, but in person, with a willing spouse or sexual partner, they struggle with one or both.
  • They are able to have sex and achieve orgasm with their spouse or partner, but reaching orgasm takes a lot longer and their spouse or partner complains that they seem disengaged.
  • They can maintain an erection with a spouse or partner, but can only reach orgasm by replaying clips of Internet porn in their heads.
  • They invite spouses and partners to join them in watching porn—not as an occasional addendum to a healthy sexual life—but as a necessary tool toward erection and orgasm.
  • They increasingly prefer “porn sex” to real sex, finding it more intense and engaging.
  • They have increasing secrets from their spouse (amount of time looking at porn, images seen, etc.), which can lead to feelings of guilt and detachment.
  • Their spouse or partner reports that they are beginning to feel like “the other woman.”

When People Eat Too Much, They Diet; What about Too Much Porn?

It is unlikely that everyone who suffers from porn-induced DE is a full-blown porn addict. Nevertheless, porn-induced sexual dysfunction should at the very least be viewed as a precursor to porn addiction. Any man who uses porn and suffers from sexual dysfunction with a spouse or longer-term partner should consider a respite from porn and masturbation for 30 days to see if the problem clears up. If it does, that’s great. If that individual thereafter stays away from porn and masturbation, his sex life should be fine. If 30 days of porn and masturbation abstinence doesn’t clear things up, the individual may need to look deeper for the cause, which could be either physical or psychological in origin.

If it turns out the problem is porn addiction, the individual will need to understand that, like all addictions, porn addiction “rewires” the brain in ways that make it more difficult to experience “natural” pleasures, including pleasure from sex with a willing spouse or partner. As such, he should not expect the problem to remedy itself overnight. In fact, neuroscience tells us that it can take a year or more for the dopaminergic or pleasure pathways in the brain, when altered by addictive behaviors, to normalize.

Possible signs that porn use has escalated into addiction include:

  • Continued porn use despite consequences and/or promises made to self or others to stop
  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use
  • Hours, sometimes even days, lost to viewing pornography
  • Viewing progressively more arousing, intense, or bizarre sexual content
  • Lying, keeping secrets, and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if asked to stop
  • Reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with spouses or partners
  • Deeply rooted feelings of loneliness, and detachment from other people
  • Drug/alcohol use or drug/alcohol addiction relapse in conjunction with porn use
  • Increased objectification of strangers, viewing them as body parts rather than people
  • Escalation from viewing two-dimensional images to using the Internet for anonymous sexual hook-ups and to find prostitutes

Sadly, porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t view their solo sexual behaviors as an underlying source of their unhappiness and/or inability to perform sexually. Others simply feel too ashamed. And when these individuals do seek assistance, they often seek help with their addiction’s related symptoms and not the problem itself—visiting a doctor to ask about potential physical causes of sexual dysfunction, masturbation related penile irritation, or to seek counseling for “relationship problems.” Sadly, many porn addicts visit medical doctors and attend extensive psychotherapy without ever discussing (or even being asked about) their use of pornography and/or masturbation. Thus, their core problem can remain underground and untreated.

All professionals treating men with arousal/desire related concerns—in the psychotherapy, sex therapy, and medical fields—have to be ready to ask questions about porn use and masturbation. If porn addiction is uncovered, extensive counseling with a trained and licensed sex addiction treatment specialist is required, often in concert with couples therapy, group work, and, if useful, involvement with a 12-Step recovery program. It is important to note that porn addiction is most often a symptom of underlying emotional and relationship concerns that will require longer-term psychotherapy and support to overcome, but this psychotherapy and support can be successful only after the presenting behavioral issue has been identified and eliminated.

LCSW, CSAT-S is the author of three books on sexual addiction and an expert on the juxtaposition of human sexuality, intimacy, and technology. He is Founding Director of The Sexual Recovery Institute, www.sexualrecovery.com, in Los Angeles and Director of Intimacy and Sexual Disorders Services at The Ranch in Tennessee, www.recoveryranch.com, and Promises Treatment Centers in California, www.promises.com. Mr. Weiss is a clinical psychotherapist and educator. He has provided sexual addiction treatment training internationally for psychology professionals, addiction treatment centers, and the US military. A media expert for Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times, Mr. Weiss has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, Oprah, and ESPN among many others. Rob is the Sex and Intimacy blogger for Psych-Central, an online psychology site, and can also be found on Twitter at @RobWeissMSW.

 


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    Last reviewed: 21 Aug 2012

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). Sexual Dysfunction: The Escalating Price of Abusing Porn. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 29, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/05/abusing-porn/

 

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