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    What could happen to your sex life if you watch porn?

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      If you are one of those people who can choose to ‘take it or leave it’ when it comes to porn, or if it is something you could share with your partner, then porn probably isn't causing you problems. However, porn can become problematic if you have to rely on it in order to get sexually aroused or if you find that you're 'craving' porn. For some people it can become hard to differentiate between porn and real life sex. 

      It is now thought that  pornography can be addictive. If you find that your porn use increases to several times a day or that you are drawn to more extreme or disturbing content or that you find that your continuing to use pornography even though you have some problems because of it, this might be the sign of a porn  addiction.

      A 2014 Guardian study revealed that it’s men aged 25-34 who are most likely to watch internet porn regularly and when it comes to suffering from a fully-fledged porn addiction, teenage males are the ones most likely to suffer. It probably comes as no surprise then, that studies have also linked over-exposure to highly sexualised video and imagery to poor bedroom performance, specifically erectile dysfunction (ED). Science shows that a man’s brain gradually becomes desensitised to sexual images, the more he consumes, and frequent masturbation to on-screen sex makes it much harder for guys to get hard when it comes to having to sex in real life. Porn addiction and ED therefore go hand-in-hand and we’ve explained the science below.

      Porn addiction can affect women and transgender people too, this is even less talked about than porn addiction in men, but the mechanisms and symptoms are the same. 

      Porn and relationships

      Porn is free from the intricacies and complications that accompany a real-life relationship, which can make it all the more appealing. But it’s not real life. Porn isn't about relating to another person and enjoying all that comes from the unique bond and closeness relationships can bring.

      For many young people, masturbating to the unlimited porn on offer today has been their first introduction to sex. Their only blueprint for sexual interaction has come from watching porn stars, who are performers. This is a hard act to live up to; muscle men hung like donkeys, women with perfectly aligned labia, big pert breasts and small waists. The reality is that most people aren’t like that. These blueprints can lead to poor body image and performance anxiety and such preoccupation can interfere with your enjoyment of sex.

      Porn may influence how you behave or think you should behave with sexual partners, for example, expecting women to not have pubic hair or thinking that it’s acceptable not to use a condom because that’s what you see on screen. Condoms protect you from most STIs including HIV and shouldn’t be disregarded. 

      Healthy relationships need communication and although it might not be necessary to tell your partner everything, if you find that you are reliant on porn and feel you have to keep this a secret from your partner and it is affecting your ability to become sexually aroused with your partner, you might need to address the issue. Your partner might discover your heavy use of porn and be quite shocked and think they don’t know this side of you. If this is the case, then it’s probably time to talk things through.

      Porn and erectile dysfunction

      Studies have suggested that since porn has become so widely available, with anonymous and free high-definition streaming, there has been an increase in men experiencing ED. Porn can be a highly stimulating medium that provides viewers with new and exciting imagery at the click of a mouse. Therefore, when it comes to sex with a real person, it may not seem anywhere near as exciting.

      These trends aren’t limited to the UK, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, one out of every four new ED patients is now under 40. And extensive research from Holland has noted a sharp increase in the level of erectile dysfunction rates amongst young men. Back in 2001-2002 ED rates for men were almost negligible, but by 2011, ED rates in young Europeans aged 18-40 ranged from 14-28%. This coincides with the advent of high speed internet. Up until the early 2000s porn was only accessible if you actively sought it out, whereas now it is only a click away.

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      Porn addiction and ED

      So can we blame rising ED rates on porn? And what effect does it have on the human body? Well, when we look at the steady rise of ED rates over the past two decades and chart this against internet usage and the increasing number of porn videos online, there looks to be a direct correlation. The increasing availability of free porn streaming  and the wide-spread use of smartphones, may help explain why “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” (PIED) is now a medically recognised term.

      The Institute of Human Development in Berlin undertook a study which goes some way in explaining the link between porn addiction and ED, by examining the effect porn has on desensitising the human brain. The 2014 study of 65 healthy men proved that watching internet pornography for just four hours each week decreases the amount of grey matter in your brain (the part involved in sensory perception, such as seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, speech etc). They found less neurons and neuro-connectivity in the pleasure centre of the brain after monitoring male porn habits, compared to the brains of those who didn’t watch it at all. Too much porn therefore leaves the brain craving more explicit material while making it harder for the same images (and also sex) to provide the same stimulation. Porn addicts are then more likely to seek out more deviant sexual images to satisfy their cravings, and to become sex addicts. 

      Porn and delayed ejaculation (DE)

      Men also complain of ejaculatory difficulties associated with porn use. Delayed or absent ejaculation can be very frustrating, and physically uncomfortable for men and their partners. Many men hold off their ejaculation when masturbating to porn for as long as possible, known as ‘edging’, holding out for the ‘perfect scene’ to orgasm to. When it comes to sex with a real partner, they may find themselves unable to come because they are not faced with the high levels of visual stimulation that they are used to ejaculating to.

      Some men find that they only masturbate to porn with a hard handgrip, known as the ‘death grip’, and vigorous movement in a way that a partner can’t replicate.

      Again, such a fixed route to ejaculation differs to sex with a partner, which isn’t as predictable and they may find themselves unable to orgasm in this situation.

      Effect of dopamine

      Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that is responsible for feelings of anticipation, craving novelty and seeking pleasure & reward. It is easy to see how dopamine is linked to sex and porn. Watching porn can offer viewers a hit of dopamine just by clicking on their mouse. The trouble is that to achieve this, the human brain continually seeks newness – something online porn has endless amounts of. Images that might have once given you a dopamine rush and got you horny, can start to lose their effect. Then you might find yourself seeking more shocking images to achieve this. This is because levels of dopamine drop with over use of porn, which interferes with messages from the brain to the genitals and can lead to loss of interest in real sex (low libido), decreased penile sensitivity and erectile and ejaculatory difficulties.

      Porn varies in nature from fairly ‘vanilla’ sex, to ‘kink’, to full on shocking and violent. You may find yourself seeking out images that you never imagined might turn you on, with a need for it to be increasingly extreme. This might not fit with how you see yourself or how your partner sees you, leading to confusion and distrust.

      So what to do?

      If you think you have a sexual dysfunction such as ED brought about from conditioning yourself to respond sexually to porn rather than real life sex, then you might want to do something about it.
      All is not lost. Fortunately, the brain has plasticity to it and is changeable, but it may take time to recondition your sexual responses.

      Simply put, don’t rely on porn to get turned on or to ejaculate. Learn to masturbate without it. Use your imagination and use all your physical senses – something you might not be used to doing. Start experimenting by touching your whole body or your partner’s, first excluding breasts, buttocks and genitals, and notice the temperatures, textures and pressure. Don’t just aim to get genitally aroused. Gradually include breasts, buttocks and genitals when touching and you may notice your sensitivity and arousal increasing.

      Vary your sexual practises so they are not so fixed and prescribed
      Go on a ‘porn diet’, which will give you the chance to open up your sexual imagination, rather than passively relying on porn. Giving up porn permanently or temporarily might seem like you’ve been driving a Ferrari and then swapped it for a bicycle, but now you will get the chance to take your time exploring your surroundings, to really tune into subtle physical sensations and be intimate with your real life partner.

      Some men may find it helpful to join a self-help groups and forums such as Reboot Nation or NoFap; these organisations also have apps that help you. 

      If you are someone who enjoys learning more about the science behind pornography and how it affects your brain check out the website Your Brain on Porn

      Benefits of porn

      It’s not all bad when it comes to porn, and it is worth bearing in mind there are some benefits to porn and to combining porn and your sex life. Not only can porn help to boost desire for sex and increase arousal, it can give you ideas for varying and experimenting with different sexual activities. Watching porn could help both of you get creative and comfortable. When porn is used responsibly and with joint consent, it could also help to bring partners closer together.

      If you are finding that you can’t improve sexual and relationship difficulties on your own, you may wish to consult your GP, LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor or an accredited psychosexual therapist. For more information visit The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.

      If you think that you might have an addiction issue, whereby you have an out of control dependency on porn, then you should seek specialist help. Visit your GP or the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity.

      Charlotte Simpson is an Accredited Psychosexual Therapist and Relationship Counsellor in Private Practice in North West London.

      VideoGP by LloydsPharmacy

      References

      https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/28/british-sex-survey-2014-nation-lost-sexual-swagger
      https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/top-five-warning-signs-of-internet-pornography-addiction-280653822.html
      https://pornstudycritiques.com/research-confirms-sharp-rise-in-youthful-sexual-dysfunctions/
      https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/porn-induced-sexual-dysfunctions/experts-who-recognize-porn-induced-sexual-dysfunctions-along-with-relevant-studies/the-real-reason-young-men-suffer-from-erectile-dysfunction-by-anand-patel-md-2016/
      https://www.rt.com/news/162856-porn-less-grey-matter/
      https://nofap.com/porn-addiction/
      https://nofap.com/articles/porn-addiction-women-struggle-too/
      https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/mar/11/young-men-porn-induced-erectile-dysfunction

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