A couple of years ago, I stumbled across some research and articles about pornography and the negative effects it could be having on men and their sex lives. I found it interesting, but never gave it too much thought after that. Then sometime last year I stumbled across this video:
It caught my attention because not only had I struggled with sexual anxiety and bouts of being unable to perform in the past, but I had also talked to a lot of men who struggled with the same issues, men often in their 20s and 30s, men who shouldn’t have been dealing with performance issues.
Then after some research, I found a survey by Esquire that showed that 43% of men reported difficulty getting or maintaining an erection at least some of the time, with 24% reporting that they had difficulty “more often than I’d like to admit.”
The Dangers of Porn
According to the science, porn is a “supranormal” stimulus—it activates the normal reward mechanisms in our brains, but it does so at such a high level that we perceive it to be way more pleasurable than the average arousing stimulus.1
But our brains become desensitized and develop a need for even more novel stimuli in order to reach the same level of arousal and excitement.2 Thus begins the spiral into more hardcore porn and higher quantities of it.
In some cases, men can develop a psychological addiction to pornography and it can begin to interfere with their sex and social lives. In rare cases, it can be debilitating in both.
Porn addiction has been found to result in anxiety,3 lower self-esteem and diminished identity,4 as well as feeling more isolated5 for the male addict. Not only this, it produces many of the same negative effects for their female partner and can lead to the latter suffering from feelings of shame and inadequacy.6,7
Apart from the impact on the individual, porn addiction can lead to sexual problems in a relationship, a deterioration of trust and safety, a perception of rejection as well as a fundamental change in how the women view their addicted partner, from “good” to “inherently bad.”8
Researchers debate whether or not porn addiction is a real addiction, but there is evidence suggesting porn addiction leads to structural changes in the brain9 and shares similar basic mechanisms with substance addiction.10,11
The debate remains unresolved, but the semantics don’t change the fact that many people experience real problems with porn. It’s been implicated in things like unhappy and unsatisfied partners,12 as well as depression, anxiety, and loneliness.13 It has even been shown to weaken commitment in a romantic relationship14 and lead to fooling around outside it.15
More alarming consequences include decreased sexual satisfaction in adolescents,16 the group you’d expect to be most ravished by the newfound joys of sex. Even more worrying is research has found a significant link between porn use and support for violence against women17 and sexually aggressive behaviors in men.18
Not to mention porn completely skews your perception of what beauty is and gives you unreasonable standards for sex with the women you meet. If you’ve ever gotten an otherwise beautiful girl naked in your bed and been unable to ignore the tiny blemishes or asymmetries to the point where you have trouble getting turned on, then you know what I mean.
Porn Diets—And Quitting Altogether
Chances are you’re not a porn addict, but if you’re a man under the age of 40, I imagine that the abundant access to porn has affected you more than you realize.
Think back to the first time you watched porn. The mere image of a beautiful naked woman was probably enough for you. But sadly, for many of us, over the years we devolve into darker and more twisted porn habits.
And worst of all, the younger you were when you began watching porn, the worse all of these effects generally are.
In my book on attracting women, I shared something I referred to as the “masturbation diet” in my chapter about motivation. It involved eliminating porn and limiting masturbation to 1-2 times per week.
The goal of the “diet” was to revitalize and motivate guys who had trouble being motivated enough to pursue women in the face of their anxiety. I had done it on and off in the past whenever I needed a kick in the ass and it worked for me. Often within a week or two. But I had never considered keeping it or making it a permanent habit in my life.
Then one year, the “no more porn” stuff really caught fire, and a number of men hopped on the bandwagon on my (now defunct) forum and agreed to not look at porn for 60 days. We all kept logs on the thread and it turned out to be a raging success. Most of us made it through the 60 days unscathed and became true believers. Porn had been negatively affecting our sex lives.
For some, it was a major shift and very difficult. For others, the changes were minor and simple. For everyone, the consensus seems to be we’re glad we did it.
Personally, I have been watching porn since I was 13, and had been watching it almost daily for 8-10 years when I began this challenge. This was my experience.
First two weeks
I had somewhat intense cravings to watch porn. The cravings would come and go, often along with my sex drive. Some mood swings. And a few nights where I dreamt about pornography—no, not dreams about having sex, dreams about pornography. Yeah, fucked up.
With my erratic sex drive, I’d go 4-5 days without masturbating, and then go nuts and do it 3-4 times in the span of 24 hours. Sometimes it felt like I was 16-years-old all over again. When I did masturbate, I made a point to only fantasize about girls I knew or had met, NOT about porn.
Week three to four
My sex drive was high and remained that way. My assertiveness around women increased, as well as my confidence being sexual around them.
I began to find normal, everyday girls to be more beautiful. Minor flaws and blemishes that used to bug me were now endearing and sometimes even sexy to me. Put simply: I became less of a scumbaggy “bro,” and more like a real, living, caring, empathic human being.
After one month
I was having better sex. I was performing better and enjoying it more and wanting it more often.
I had no temptation to watch porn and the benefits continued to increase throughout month two.
But then some time after the “no more porn” challenge, I was pulling 14-hour workdays and not getting out much, so I hit up the good old YouPorn to blow off some… err, steam.
Yeah, that’s it, blow off steam.
On my first return to porn post-challenge, a couple of things had changed:
- Porn I used to enjoy now felt excessive, dehumanizing, and honestly, not very attractive. There were a few videos I saw where I couldn’t believe I used to watch stuff like that.
- I couldn’t help but notice how unhappy and inauthentic the girls in the videos often were. Not to say I hadn’t noticed some of the actresses obviously faking their way through a scene in the past, but this was deeper. Like you could tell they just weren’t very happy people and didn’t have much self-respect. I know this both a) sounds weird to be thinking about while getting your fap on, and b) should not surprise anybody. But it actually became so apparent that it was hard for me to stay turned on in some cases.
So what does this mean? Is porn the devil? Should you never watch it? Is it ruining your sex life as we speak?
I can only answer for myself. For me, yes, porn had a noticeable impact on my sex life and I’m much better off not watching it. And I know there are a number of guys on the forum who had far more dramatic benefits than I did.
I will never go back to watching it regularly. I imagine I will watch it occasionally. But it’s clear that if I watch it on any consistent basis for more than a few days, it negatively affects my sex life. I honestly wish I had stopped watching it years ago, as it would have saved me a lot of struggle for motivation and embarrassment in the bedroom.
How to Quit Watching Porn
Some people, with a little intentional effort, find it pretty easy to quit watching porn. Others find it easy to quit at first and then struggle to stay off it. A few find it outright impossible.
If you believe you may suffer from porn addiction—you watch porn for up to an hour per session, you have trouble getting an erection without porn, or you watch porn which does not match your sexual orientation—then it’s time to do a full reboot.
The idea of the reboot comes from a site on quitting porn, YourBrainOnPorn.com. I highly recommend checking it out.
But the gist of the reboot is as follows:
1. Block All Porn Sites From Your Computer and Phone
This might sound a little extreme, and I know everyone thinks they should just be able to quit without using site blockers because, after all, we’re not children sneaking around our parents’ computer, right?
Look, I get it. But as I’ve written about before, your willpower is finite and your habits—and addictions—are ultimately products of your environment. So rather than using all your energy to resist temptation through brute willpower, take the time to set up an environment that primes you for success here.
Some people even block all images for a little while because it can be hard to not be assaulted with fleshy images on social media, ads, etc. These can be triggers for people that quickly lead to more intense cravings.
2. No Masturbation for at Least a Week
I didn’t do this with my porn diet, but this is apparently key for a lot of guys. Get your big head out of your little head so you can recharge and get a little perspective.
And if you’re so inclined, you might consider replacing your fap habit with a meditation habit. I’d stay away from tantric meditation though, at least at first…
3. Have Some Form of Support Where You Can Vent
I know that just made you squirm in your chair a little, but this is an incredibly common problem for guys. So 1) you’re not alone, and 2) it’s proven with basically any addictive type behavior that social support greatly increases your chances of success.19
The great thing about living in the internet age is you can do this anonymously on forums, take your pick.
4. Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over This
Again, a lot of guys have troubles with this. And by a lot, I mean like 80% of men have probably overdone it at least a few times when it comes to porn.
Also, I want to stress that I have no moral issues with porn and I don’t care what you do with your genitals in the privacy of your own home (this is also the philosophy at yourbrainonporn.com).
And if you relapse at any point, don’t sweat it too much. The point isn’t to be closer to perfection, it’s to live with more intention. Just because you have a few weak moments doesn’t make you a filthy pervert who has the self-control of an invalid nine-year-old.
It just means you’re human.
- Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction–a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767.↵
- Koukounas, E., & Over, R. (2000). Changes in the magnitude of the eyeblink startle response during habituation of sexual arousal. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(6), 573–584.↵
- Twohig, M. P., Crosby, J. M., & Cox, J. M. (2009). Viewing Internet Pornography: For Whom is it Problematic, How, and Why? Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 16(4), 253–266.↵
- Cavaglion, G. (2009). Cyber-porn Dependence: Voices of Distress in an Italian Internet Self-help Community. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7(2), 295–310.↵
- Duffy, A., Dawson, D. L., & das Nair, R. (2016). Pornography Addiction in Adults: A Systematic Review of Definitions and Reported Impact. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13(5), 760–777.↵
- Zitzman, S. T., & Butler, M. H. (2009). Wives’ Experience of Husbands’ Pornography Use and Concomitant Deception as an Attachment Threat in the Adult Pair-Bond Relationship. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 16(3), 210–240.↵
- Cavaglion, G., & Rashty, E. (2010). Narratives of Suffering among Italian Female Partners of Cybersex and Cyber-Porn Dependents. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 17(4), 270–287.↵
- Bergner, R. M., & Bridges, A. J. (2002). The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(3), 193–206.↵
- Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn. JAMA Psychiatry.↵
- Stark, R., & Klucken, T. (2017). Neuroscientific Approaches to (Online) Pornography Addiction. In C. Montag & M. Reuter (Eds.), Internet Addiction: Neuroscientific Approaches and Therapeutical Implications Including Smartphone Addiction (pp. 109–124). Springer International Publishing.↵
- Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388–433.↵
- Stewart, D. N., & Szymanski, D. M. (2012). Young Adult Women’s Reports of Their Male Romantic Partner’s Pornography Use as a Correlate of Their Self-Esteem, Relationship Quality, and Sexual Satisfaction. Sex Roles, 67(5-6), 257–271.↵
- Schneider, J. P. (2000). A Qualitative Study of Cybersex Participants: Gender Differences, Recovery Issues, and Implications for Therapists. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(4), 249–278.↵
- Lambert, N. M., Negash, S., Stillman, T. F., Olmstead, S. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A love that doesn’t last: Pornography consumption and weakened commitment to one’s romantic partner. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31(4), 410–438.↵
- Gwinn, A. M., Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Maner, J. K. (2013). Pornography, Relationship Alternatives, and Intimate Extradyadic Behavior. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(6), 699–704.↵
- Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2009). Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Satisfaction: A Longitudinal Study. Human Communication Research, 35(2), 171–194.↵
- Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., & Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women: Revisiting the relationship in nonexperimental studies. Aggressive Behavior, 36(1), 14–20.↵
- Malamuth, N. M., Addison, T., & Koss, M. (2000). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Are There Reliable Effects and Can We Understand Them? Annual Review of Sex Research, 11(1), 26–91.↵
- See for example this study on the preventive role of social support in gambling addiction, and this one on internet addiction.↵