Are you in danger of becoming a porn addict?

Tom Fontaine
Experts believe porn releases large doses of the 'happy hormone' dopamine // Man sitting at glowing computer screen in darkness(Dimitri Vervitsiotis-Photographer's Choice-Getty Images)
Experts believe porn releases large doses of the 'happy hormone' dopamine
Research suggests that watching too much pornography can inflict considerable damage on both our health and relationships.
Why are so many men falling prey to this modern health hazard, and how can this 'addiction' be reversed?
These days, pornography isn't just found on the top shelf at the newsagent or stashed away at the back of your dad's wardrobe. Porn is everywhere. It's available via a touch of the button on your remote control or on the move through your mobile phone or tablet computer. Primarily, of course, it's online.
Consider the following - according to statistics compiled by onlineschools.org , there are currently 420 million pornographic web pages. That would suggest 12% of websites are pornographic. Every kind of fetish and desire (not all of them legal) is catered for, and if you don't like what your search engine throws up, more porn is only a click away. The reason there is so much pornography out there is because men (and, increasingly, women, but that's a story for another day) love it so much. One major study, carried out by University of Sydney researchers, found that 43% of 800 people surveyed started to view porn between the ages of 11 and 13, while 47% said they spend between 30 minutes and three hours a day watching porn. Of these porn users, 85% were male. Professor Raj Sitharthan, who led the study, said: "The reality is that porn is here to stay. What we need is a balanced view of the potential dangers of porn addiction, supported by good evidence."
As it becomes ever more accessible, porn is becoming something which more and more men just can't live without, and this 'addiction' is having a massive impact on our health.
A hidden health hazard
Is porn something we can really become addicted to? Yes, according to health experts. For starters, research suggests that viewing pornography results in the release of large amounts of dopamine, a feel-good chemical that overloads the pleasure centre of the brain - similar to when users take illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Surprised? Don't be. An addiction doesn't have to mean drugs, alcohol or other substances, says psychologist Dr Felix Economakis . "If my clients are engaging in some kind of persistent, compulsive dependence on a behaviour or substance and it is stopping them from getting on with their lives, then I treat this as an unwanted 'addiction'," he says. "An addiction does not have to be physiological, such as heroin, but it can be psychologically addictive or habit forming.
"With porn, some people are able to keep it to a contained level, just as some smokers can stick to five a day and not want to smoke more. Many couples will put on a porn DVD to initiate sex, but the healthy couples will soon forget about it and focus on their own sexual experience.
"Too much pornography is when innocent titillation at looking at free pornographic images on the net takes over and becomes more persistent and compulsive, and begins to intrude on other values and aspects of our health."
And as far as our sexual health is concerned, industrial levels of porn can be ruinous. Dr Economakis says: "Because of the sheer quantity of freely available content on the net, the temptation is free and easily accessible. Looking at porn can tend to stoke up the excitement centres in the limbic pathways. Once excitement is activated, a closure is needed to complete the circuit. For many, this is masturbation." The fact that porn and masturbation go, ahem, hand in hand, is perfectly harmless. However, too much can make you behave in ways you would have otherwise thought unthinkable. Economakis says: "Some people will become quickly desensitised to the original stimulus and seek 'bigger, better, more', in order to get the same hit. This can even inadvertently drive them down a road they would never have taken in the beginning, such as investigating the more extreme fetish side of porn, or possibly even child pornography. When the brain is fixated on getting a hit, it can overlook the bigger picture and forget its values in the pursuit of closure."
Another unfortunate knock-on effect of our growing dependence on pornography is a rapid increase in incidences of erectile dysfunction in otherwise healthy men. A 2011 study carried out by Italian urologist Carlo Foresta uncovered a strong link between pornography and erectile dysfunction; 70% of the male participants who suffered from the condition said they were regular porn users.
Not surprisingly, this dependence - like any 'addiction' or bad habit - can also lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness. A study carried out at Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology found that, of men who spent an average of 12 hours a week looking at internet porn, more than a quarter were moderately to severely depressed, while 30% had high levels of anxiety.
Click here to destroy your relationship
Porn addiction is a wrecking ball to a healthy relationship. More than half the porn users surveyed by the University of Sydney were married or have a partner, and the researchers noted that excessive users often had severe social and relationship problems.
Dr Economakis says: "Porn becomes a substitute for real relationships and real needs. The brain thinks it has found an easier, cheaper short cut to getting its needs met, not realising it has lost sight of the real thing. Porn appeals to the immediate gratification aspect of the mind. With porn you don't have to seduce, coax, or stimulate your partner. You can just get what you need then switch off."
Ironically, more porn often means less sex, especially to those in a relationship. Siski Green, author of Tweetable Sex Tips (Smashwords, 2012), says: "One of the most worrying aspects of a porn addiction is that it can make you less inclined to have sex with your partner. Not because they're necessarily less attractive but because it's quicker and easier to masturbate to porn. When faced with a choice between doing something that requires a bit of effort and something that's easy, a lot of people will choose the easy option - and that can lead to a lack of desire for real sex."
Green also stresses that, like any addiction, a reliance on porn will only put distance between you and your partner. "Porn addiction is likely to interfere with normal behaviour," she says. "Perhaps you sneak out of bed for secret porn sessions or you lie to your partner about it because you feel ashamed. This kind of secret keeping can only do harm. It makes you nervous, creates a feeling of disconnect with your partner, and breaks down trust."
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