The first time I ever saw a sex video was at University as part of a psychology experiment. In the questionnaire that followed, I described my experience as “akin to stumbling across the nocturnal shenanigans of a troop of overexcited, onanistic badgers” and chose the “not at all sexually pleasurable” drop-down option in the “overall rating of experience” column. Perhaps owing to a keen desire to see the funny side of weird situations, my strong preference for real sex with real men and my doubts about the morality of the industry that supplies Universities with raunchy videos for science experiments, I don’t rate porn as a pastime or as a concept. Call me weird if you like.

But, guess what? More than half of all college students use pornography once a week and not just during psychology experiments. Most scientists worth their salt consider this to be an addiction and a potentially harmful one, but it’s still a hotly contended issue. On paper, addiction to pornography looks fairly similar to ‘sex addiction’ – which a lot of celebrities seem to believe is just a good excuse for a string of extra-marital affairs – although, at least with too much sex, there’s a chance the person is being intimate with a real partner, offering pleasure as well as receiving it. So, where do we draw the line between innocent fun and something more problematic?

Enter The Dark Spiral

Addiction to porn is one of a range of compulsive addictions which fall into the same category as a gaming or gambling addict, although the consequences can, of course, differ dramatically. A porn addict may start out as an occasional user, logging on to view a few pictures of people they find attractive, browsing a few top-shelf magazines in the local store. Their interest may stop there, or it can escalate – sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly. Perhaps they begin to think about visiting the local shop more often, planning to see images they enjoy rather than it being secondary to their main reason for going there. They might log on to the home computer more frequently and increasingly secretly, seeking out a larger selection of photographs and videos. In serious cases, their interest turns into an intense pursuit of gratification that ruins their real relationships and cuts them off from the outside world or, worse still, leads to the collecting and sharing of increasingly disturbing imagery that could result in serious harm being done to others and a criminal conviction.

boy-1986107_960_720

Thankfully, the vast majority of porn users fall into a central band that is easily treated. These are people who’s addictions are not classed as severe, have no direct criminal consequences and who exhibit behaviours that are not considered a danger to others. They are people who started with a mild interest in online sexual imagery that escalated into a habit that affects their self-esteem, social life and confidence. They are people who struggle to curb fantasies, who seek out risky sexual behaviours – like unprotected sex or sex with too many partners – or they are people with very unusual sex habits, such as fetishists; people who are only aroused by different body parts. (A fascinating subject for another article, fetishes number in the hundreds and include a sexual interest in feet: “podophilia”, muscle worship, “sthenolagnia”, naval fetishism: “alvinophilia” and even attraction to farting: “eproctophilia”.)

So, the question is, how can a person recognise when they have a problem?

Well, it seems enjoyment becomes addiction when several criteria are met: difficulty stopping the habit; intense guilt and shame after a behaviour; planning when next to participate; and problems in other areas of life such as relationship failure or financial concerns that can be attributed in some way to the addiction. Sometimes, however, it’s not the porn addiction itself that is hard to break, it’s the person’s self-affirming beliefs about their habit that cause them the main problem – like “it’s ok if no one knows” or “everyone does it, so why not me?”

The Answer Lies Within

It’s a good idea to ask a few questions of ourselves to discover some of our deep, unfounded beliefs – beliefs that could be channelling us to do things that go against our core values. Do you believe sex and porn can become an addiction? Should such an addiction be recognised as a medical problem? Is addiction to sexual pleasure any different to the addiction to the pleasure a person gets from smoking or drinking their favourite alcohol? Is an addiction to something fun or enjoyable also potentially bad for us?

I personally believe the entire issue boils down to harm. But what constitutes ‘harm’? A better question we can ask is, what are the consequences for the addict and, even more importantly, those around them? If a woman with young children has an addiction to using online sexual imagery, how are her children being affected? Are they ever in the same room when she surfs the net? Are they neglected elsewhere in the building? If a husband is addicted to sex videos, how often does he ignore his wife in the bedroom? How much of their hard-earned money does he spend accessing different paid websites? If a teenager has developed a taste for the screen, how many real girls does he talk to? Is he developing properly as a social being? If a convicted rapist watches a lot of porn, is he more or less likely to attack a real person again?

apple-691798_960_720.jpg

During my own research into the damaging effects of sexual abuse, addiction and unusual perversions, I felt compelled to consider the issue from the third perspective: what about those involved in making pornographic imagery and videos? Are they safe, free from drugs and paid properly? Are they on the receiving end of any kind of coercion or violence? Crucially, are they over the age of consent? The ‘stereotype’ that drug use amongst porn actors is higher than the national average is true. So, it’s never possible to know for sure that porn actors are really enjoying themselves or benefiting in healthy ways from their experiences. Part of their job is to display intense, guilt-free excitement and convince viewers that sex is the best pastime on the planet, but they are just actors and actresses after all. Even those who seem happy, confident and fully able to make their own decisions can be under duress. In the worst cases, porn stars need drugs to counteract the disturbing emotions they feel during a performance, usually stemming from unresolved personal problems, but again, there’s always a flip-side to be argued. Some women say they work in porn because they enjoy sex, because they are risk-takers (and are therefore more likely to take drugs anyway) and because it pays well, for a short time – the average length of a porn career is twelve months.

When Sex Turns Global

There is a proven link between internet pornography, prostitute use and illegal trafficking between countries of adults who resemble children, or of children themselves. In general, overseas sex workers will be less able to cope financially and are more likely to accept poor conditions. Perhaps out of desperation, they may be keen to please those in charge and may offer to perform the more degrading services requested by paying customers – and this links right back to internet pornography. Watching degrading activities online makes some porn users want to experience them in reality.

artificial-intelligence-2167835_960_720.jpg

So, whether addiction to pornography is merely a decision or an illness resulting from a person’s inability to control their urges and compulsions, one part of the process is certain: as any addict knows, when a person enters the downward spiral of dependence, in this case a dependence on sexual imagery, X-rated videos or real-life prostitutes, they will feel a very similar range of emotions and feelings to any other addict, both pleasure and pain, enjoyment and shame, desire and desperation.

It is my opinion that we should not consider a person beyond help or label them automatically bad for becoming porn addicts, but realise that they have developed a form of mental illness and should be treated as such. They should be given time, compassion, understanding and respect and, as difficult as it might be at the time, we should try to listen – all essential factors in helping a person overcome the life-sapping mixture of low self-esteem, shame, loneliness and depression that results from any addiction. It’s even more important to help those with a reliance on sexual imagery to understand that they could be directly or indirectly harming others because of their deeply-held, erroneous belief that their behaviours are nothing but harmless fun.

And it’s also worth noting that, however much enjoyment a sex video can produce at the time, online imagery, imaginary sexual partners and fantasies about love can and will never be a truly satisfying substitute for real human intimacy.


I’d be most interested to hear your comments and views on this deeply fascinating, but controversial subject. Either leave your comment here or tweet me @carlahkrueger to get the discussion started.End of post

Advertisements