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Since the advent of the internet, pornography has proliferated. Instead of visiting an adult movie theater or grabbing a copy of Hustler or Playboy, anyone with an internet connection can now access billions of hours of pornographic content with just the click of a mouse. As porn use has skyrocketed, so has research regarding its effects on viewers and their romantic relationships.
What sort of impact could pornography be having on your life and your relationships? Recent research has offered up the following preliminary conclusions.
Porn addiction is a real problem for many.
Viewing pornography on a regular basis may lead to addiction for some users. While watching porn, the brain is overwhelmed by massive rushes of dopamine. Gradually, the brain becomes desensitized, requiring greater levels of stimulation to recreate the same sense of excitement and pleasure. Over time, the frontal lobes of the brain may undergo structural changes, leading to reduced impulse control and poor decision-making.
In a survey of men over the age of 50, 24% admitted that their porn use could be classified as an addiction. 40% said that they watched porn compulsively, whereas just 36% claimed to be casual viewers. 33% likened their habit to drug use, and a whopping 42% said that they couldn’t have an orgasm without it. More than half of those surveyed feared that their porn usage could damage their romantic relationships. In short, many of the men surveyed appeared to be suffering as a result of watching porn.
Like any unhealthy dependency, porn addiction has the potential to destroy healthy relationships. The good news, however, is that the addiction can be broken. By quitting porn, the brain can recover, forming new neural routes that strengthen healthier sexual impulses. If you feel that your use of pornography is becoming compulsive, taking a break from it just might change your life.
The age at which one first views pornographic content may contribute to sexist attitudes and beliefs.
A recent survey of primarily college-aged, white, heterosexual men suggests that those exposed to pornography at a younger age are more likely to seek power and control over women. Those who first viewed porn at an older age are more likely to want to engage in “playboy behavior.” All in all, porn appears to reinforce misogynistic views of women. These skewed beliefs likely affect our ability to form healthy bonds with our romantic partners.
Watching porn may weaken romantic bonds.
According to research presented in the Journal of Adolescent Health, long-term exposure to pornographic content may lead to a number of detrimental beliefs regarding relationships and long-term commitment. Viewers often become more cynical about love and affection and begin to feel confined by the concepts of marriage and monogamy. Trust may be diminished and family ties may be weakened.
In 2002, a study of American divorces suggested that more than half of all legal cases involved one party’s “obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” Another study showed that men and women who viewed more pornography tended to be less happy in their relationships both at the time and six years later. This research tends to indicate that long-term, heavy porn use is correlated with less satisfying romantic relationships.
The cause and effect between unhappy relationships and porn usage, however, remains difficult to untangle. Perhaps unhappy relationships lead to greater porn consumption. Likewise, an addictive personality may be the cause of failed relationships, rather than porn itself. Openly discussing porn with your partner may combat the potentially negative influences of secret or excessive porn consumption. If an addiction arises, treatment may become necessary.
Is porn all bad?
Research regarding porn hasn’t yielded entirely negative results. Multiple studies have shown, for instance, that decriminalizing access to pornography decreases rates of rape and other forms of sexual assault. A world with less sexual violence is certainly worth fighting for.
A self-reporting survey organized by a Canadian university revealed that most participants didn’t feel as though porn had had a negative impact on their lives. Many respondents stated that they had learned new things about sex from porn. Respondents also noted that they felt more easily able to talk to their partners about sex as a result of their porn consumption. Many of the respondents in this survey also reported viewing porn with their partners. Perhaps viewing porn together led to healthier outcomes for these couples.
Though it is clear that viewing pornography has an effect on our psyches, it is difficult to conclude whether or not regular consumption has a negative impact on our lives. It is likely that porn affects everyone in different ways. If you feel that your porn usage is spiraling out of control, consider engaging in a “porn detox” for a number of weeks to see if you notice a change in how you feel. Consider discussing your use of pornography with your partner, too. By removing the shroud of shame and secrecy surrounding porn use, you can build a stronger, healthier, and more trusting relationship.
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