There seems to be a lot of online debate about whether porn addiction, or indeed sex addiction, is a genuine condition or not. As far as the UK’s NHS is concerned, though, these are looked at in the same light as other potentially addictive behaviours. The explosion of access to pornography has played a larger and larger part in the workload of sexual health practitioners – and, due to the health issues that can be symptomatic of it, it’s now treated with the same seriousness as any other addiction.
Indeed, relationship Charity Relate reckons that its counsellors are “increasingly seeing problems with relationships and sexual functioning that are associated with the use of internet porn.”
So, when does porn viewing, an activity that has become immeasurably easier in the last decade or so, potentially become harmful behaviour? Well, there’s no definitive line to cross – and no one here is seeking to judge what you watch, who you chat to or hook up with (as long as it’s legal). However, these red flags should set off alarm bells…
- Are you spending longer than you intended watching pornography?
- Do you spend time viewing pornography when you have work or other productive activities to undertake?
- Have you ever viewed pornography on a device that’s not your own?
- Do you ever change social plans to undertake sexual activity online or view sexual material?
- Are you deliberately hiding your pornography viewing from someone?
- Have you attempted, and failed, to limit your use of pornography?
- Are you viewing potentially illegal or violent content?
If any of these apply to you or someone you know, then it’s definitely useful to be aware of other markers of a potential issue.
Firstly, there’s ‘Escalation’; the pursuit of increasingly extreme forms of pornography, and an increased interest in more niche sexual activities.
This matters because heightening the desire for an activity that cannot be, or is not, fulfilled within a relationship could potentially have psychological and physical consequences. It can also cause desensitisation, or a numbed pleasure response. Indeed, speaking off the record with sexual health practitioners about this has revealed stories of relationship breakdown and impotence linked to escalation and desensitisation brought on by the ease with which porn is now available. The truth is that if extreme tastes are formed, the real world can seem mundane and pedestrian by comparison to what’s online.
The next stage is finding yourself drawn to acting out preferences established in pornography viewing. With this come genuine physical, emotional and health risks, especially if it involves sado-masochistic, illegal and extra-relationship activity and/or interaction with workers in the sex trade. With those factor comes a risk of STIs, physical harm or becoming a victim of crime, falling foul of the law or the breakdown of a relationship.
Even if none of this applies, it still pays to be wary of the effect our porn-saturated world has on us.
For a start, it seems that – certainly among younger generations – internet porn has shifted the goalposts with regard to what can be expected from a sexual liaison. This makes it all the more essential that anything that happens between people be consensual, and not forced upon one party by the other – either physically, psychologically, due to incapacity or through deception.
Bottom line here: it’s better to over-discuss than end up harming another person… It’s certainly true in UK law that the capacity of the parties is now central to consent, and that known fetishes for a given activity do not imply consent. As such, consent is an ongoing discussion, and just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean it is consented to in perpetuity or with another individual.
Think of it like this, maybe: when you’re travelling on a motorway, you may not sense how fast you are going until the the car in front slams on its brakes. In the same way, what seems ‘normal’ to someone who sees a lot of pornography, or has experienced a steady escalation in the material they’re viewing, may be far from normal (and even abhorrent) to someone who doesn’t – or has, but decided it wasn’t for them.
The take-home, though, is that pornography is not in-and-of-itself, the problem. How pornography use affects your life, self-image and your relationships, can be.
These effects can be very subtle in how they affect a partner or a wider circle of friends, and cumulative over time. It could lead to you feeling dissatisfied with your behaviour or how you look, attempts to introduce sexual practices that your partner is not comfortable with, a compulsion to act out fantasies that put you at risk, financial outlays that put you under pressure or eschewing real life experiences in order to live out fantasies online.
If you’re not sharing an aspect of your sexuality (i.e. your porn preferences) with a partner, it’s harder for them to be on the same page as you, and increases the chances of a rift forming over time. If you are not in a relationship, then addiction to porn can conceivably cause low-self esteem and have a detrimental effect on or your ability to form relationships or even your career.
Only you can really know if this means anything to you, but if you feel like it is something that is having an effect, perhaps it’s time to try to talk to someone.
If you’re in a relationship, and believe that porn addiction is affecting you or your partner, then this page from Relate’s website is a good place to start reading, or you can call them on 0300 100 1234 to begin the process of talking to someone either together or on your own.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
One note: given the subject matter, we will inevitably be policing comments quite heavily for this piece. Hope you understand.