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Who is Vulnerable to Compulsive/Addictive Porn Use?


Once upon a time, accessing pornography was difficult, expensive, and potentially embarrassing. And until very recently, nearly all of the porn produced was geared toward heterosexual men. Because of these limitations, compulsive/addictive porn use was a relatively rare concern in the spectrum of sexual problems. And when those issues did occur, they primarily afflicted adult males. Minors had a tough time accessing porn and females were not the target audience, so porn compulsivity/addiction for those groups was highly unlikely.

Not so today.

In today’s world, porn is accessible to and viewed by just about every demographic. And this accessibility explosion happened in what feels like the blink of an eye. One day porn was taboo and hard to find; the next day it was everywhere. First, we got softcore on cable TV. Then we got hardcore on VHS tapes rented from the local video store. Then we got the internet. Now, pretty much anyone who wants to look at porn can do so – anytime, anywhere, free of charge. We’ve got porn sites with an endless supply of images and videos, plus sexting, virtual reality sexual encounters, sexy social media, participatory avatar sex games, and more. Much more. All of which can be easily and anonymously accessed by anyone who’s interested. And it seems that people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, and cultural backgrounds are indeed interested.

The era when pornography was the sole purview of adult males is long gone. Today, sexual imagery of every ilk imaginable can be easily and instantly accessed. Whatever you’re into, it’s out there and available. All you need to do is find the right online porn site, click a button, and you’re in. You don’t have to flash an ID to prove your age, and you don’t need to provide a credit card because most online porn is now available free of charge.

Younger people in particular are taking advantage of this ever-expanding pornographic wonderland. And at least a few of them are falling through the looking glass into compulsivity/addiction. Boys seem to be especially susceptible to the allure of online porn, with potentially negative consequences down the line.

If you don’t believe me, consider the tribulations of Canadian researcher Simon Lajeunesse. When Lajeunesse tried to conduct research on the effects of porn use on adolescent males, he was unable to do so because he couldn’t find any male adolescents who weren’t already using porn. Lacking a control group of non-porn using boys, there was no way to compare and contrast. Admittedly, Lajeunesse was searching for older adolescents who hadn’t used porn, and we do hope that there are at least a few prepubescent boys who have not yet typed “sex” or “nude” into a search engine, but it’s nonetheless clear that nearly all boys (whether mom and dad know it or not) will get there sooner or later. And usually sooner. In fact, research estimates that the average age of first porn use in boys is now eleven years old.

Please note that I’ve used the word “estimates” when talking about the age of first porn use. In truth, questions about when children start using porn, how often they use it, and the ways in which it impacts them are incredibly difficult to answer. There are countless legal and ethical reasons why researchers cannot directly study pornography use among minors, so the best we can do is to survey them after the fact, as young adults. And since most young people aren’t exactly forthright about their sexual selves, even that research must be deemed at least moderately unreliable.

That said, it is abundantly clear that many young people are viewing porn, and some of them are experiencing negative consequences. Online forums such as RebootNation.org, YourBrainRebalanced.com, and NoFap.com are built for the discussion of porn addiction and porn-induced sexual problems, and collectively they host many thousands of active members who are trying to overcome compulsive/addictive porn use and related consequences. Users routinely post comments like:

  • I started watching porn at ten and masturbating soon after, several times a day for the last four years until I decided to quit.
  • I have weird fetishes and can’t stay hard during sex.
  • I have tons of reasons for wanting to quit: girls, anxiety, depression, and just feeling dead inside.
  • What’s worse than the erectile dysfunction is the desensitization to the world. I find it hard to enjoy anything at all.
  • I stopped going to swim practice after school to find time to view porn without my folks around. Then I got kicked off the team for missing practices. Now I just go home and watch porn every day. No homework, no hanging out with other kids, just me and the porn.

Based on nothing more than the extensive anecdotal evidence on these and similar sites, it is relatively easy to conclude that a meaningful percentage of adolescent boys and young male adults (we have no idea how many) are currently dealing with a variety of negative consequences related to porn use – relationship issues, trouble in school (or at work), loss of interest in real-world romance, social isolation, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, and more.

Unsurprisingly, the research that exists on adolescent male porn use rather strongly supports the conclusions drawn from postings on the sites mentioned above. In one study of 16-year-old Swedish boys, 96% admitted they were porn users, with 10% saying they looked at porn every day. The boys who used porn daily self-reported higher levels of risky sexual behaviors, relationship problems, truancy, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use. Furthermore, approximately one-third of the daily users said they sometimes watched more porn than they wanted – a sign that they’ve lost (or are starting to lose) control over their use of porn.

Females are also susceptible to pornography’s allure, though females are generally more likely to become hooked on romance and intense love experiences than on purely sexual activities like hardcore porn. This is indicative of male/female sexuality in general. Whereas males are primarily interested in highly objectified sexual imagery and acts, females typically seek out sexual content with at least a hint of emotional connection (like the book/movie Fifty Shades of Grey). That said, plenty of females also look at the same hardcore stuff that males access.

Recognizing the desire for romance-driven porn for females, porn producers are actively creating stories, imagery, and videos that appeal to this market. But as increasing numbers of girls and women seek “romanticized” porn, they can easily be exposed to and end up viewing the highly sexualized porn that is generated primarily for males.

I will write more extensively about female porn use in a future post to this site. For now, let’s just say that more and more females are viewing porn, and a certain percentage are becoming compulsive/addictive and experiencing negative consequences.

At the end of the day, it is clear to me that porn use in our increasingly digital world can impact any person – male or female or anything in between, regardless of age, race, religion, ethnicity, or any other factor. Because pornography of every ilk imaginable is now freely available to any person, porn compulsivity/addiction is also available to any person.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with compulsive/addictive porn use or other forms of sexual compulsivity/addiction, contact Seeking Integrity or visit the free resources website SexandRelationshipHealing.com.

Who is Vulnerable to Compulsive/Addictive Porn Use?


Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW

Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW is Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity Treatment Centers. He is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex/porn/relationship addictions along with co-occurring drug/sex addiction. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, Dr. Rob frequently serves as a subject matter expert for major media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others.Dr. Rob is the author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Out of the Doghouse, Sex Addiction 101, and Cruise Control, among other books. He blogs regularly for Psychology Today and Psych Central. His podcast, Sex, Love, & Addiction, is rated as a Top 10 Addiction Podcast for 2019. He also hosts a weekly live no-cost Webinar with Q&A on SexandRelationshipHealing.com. A skilled clinical educator, Dr. Rob routinely provides training to therapists, hospitals, psychiatric organizations, and even the US military. Over the years, he has created and overseen nearly a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities across the globe. For more information or to reach Dr. Rob, visit SeekingIntegrity.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).


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APA Reference
Weiss PhD, R. (2020). Who is Vulnerable to Compulsive/Addictive Porn Use?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2020/08/who-is-vulnerable-to-compulsive-addictive-porn-use/

 

Last updated: 3 Aug 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.