Do you remember how old you were when you saw pornography for the first time? Growing up in the ‘90s, I remember turning to the X-rated pay-per-view channels on television, trying to see what I could make out on the distorted screen. Other times, I laughed as my friends shared stories of finding their parents’ secret stash of porn on VHS tapes. Even just 20 years ago, porn was not as easily accessible as it is today. Now, with the invention of the Internet and smartphones, pornographic content is literally in the palm of one’s hand.
With this move toward on-demand access, pornography use has increased over time. But can a person actually become addicted to porn?
Porn addiction is not listed in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual alongside other recognized addiction disorders. However, psychologists have varying opinions on the subject; some believe pornography is truly addictive, while others believe it causes more of a compulsion than an addiction. Either way, it’s undeniable that many people feel pornography can have be harmful.
I spoke with four men about how porn has affected their lives negatively.
The age factor
Matt* revealed to me that he first accessed porn around the age of 13, finding it on TV late at night. Matt’s early age is common — The American College of Pediatrics released a survey in June 2016 that found around one-third of teens between the ages of 14 and 16 said they first saw porn online at age 10 or younger. The study also suggests that kids being exposed this early are more likely to engage in negative behaviors, including promiscuity and violence. It also can distort their view of relationships between men and women.
How much is too much?
“I usually watch once, sometimes two or three times a day — more if you count non-hardcore content on Instagram,” Trevor* told HealthCentral. Trevor said he is convinced he is addicted to pornography and has a problem. He watches so much pornography that he has memorized adult star names, production companies, and scenes.
According to an article published in the Monitor on Psychology, psychologists don’t yet agree on how to classify “too much” porn use. However, several studies have looked into the potential negative effects of watching porn.
“Porn is very corrosive,” said Justin*, who calls himself a recovering porn addict. “I can't tell you how bad I felt with a Saturday night binge and then singing in the church choir the next morning… You can only look so long before it's not enough.”
Some, like Justin, believe porn can become like a drug.
“Like any drug, the more you stay with it, the stronger it needs to be,” he said. “The frequency definitely increased. You think about it all the time.”
Watching excessive amounts of porn also may cause a negative shift in a relationship, studies say. For example, women who feel their male partner’s porn use is a problem made have lower self-esteem and sexual and romantic satisfaction. But many hide or downplay their relationship with porn from their partners. For example, Gregory* told HealthCentral, “I always tell [my partner about watching porn]... but not the whole extent of it because it’s very embarrassing,”
Most of the men I interviewed said they eventually found the power to stop watching porn on their own, although the urges still occur from time to time. One man said the love of his life is what made him stop after she stated she would refuse to marry him if the problem continued. Another man said, “I didn’t get help. I just got older and have less time.” Actor and celebrity Terry Crews revealed on the Wendy Williams Show how porn addiction almost ruined his marriage, but said he was able to change things around through counseling and learning the mechanics of self-discipline.
Is your porn use a problem?
Many people argue that porn can be a good thing. For example, proponents say it can be educational and a harmless outlet for fantasies. So when does porn use become problematic?
Sexologist and sex addiction specialist Paula Hall designed a list of questions, published in Men’s Fitness, to help men assess their porn habits. The assessment asks questions like:
- “Do you spend more than 11 hours a week viewing porn?”
- “Do you ever have problems getting hard or ejaculating with your partner?”
- “Have you found that you need more and more porn, or that you have to visit increasingly hardcore sites to get the same buzz?”
At the end of the assessment, you can calculate your score to see if you may have a pornography problem, Hall tells Men’s Fitness.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.