Image for Beyond shame: tackling porn addiction

Beyond shame: tackling porn addiction

Porn is nothing new, but its prevalence is. Now, some men and women from the first generation with unlimited access are switching it off. When a choice becomes a compulsion, where can people turn?

Porn is nothing new, but its prevalence is. Now, some men and women from the first generation with unlimited access are switching it off. When a choice becomes a compulsion, where can people turn?

It’s a radical experiment that has never before been attempted in history. What happens when photos and videos of every sex act imaginable can be instantly accessed by anyone, anywhere? How does this impact our brains, minds and hearts? This experiment has just become possible – and the guinea pigs are you and I.

Whether you think pornography is harmless personal entertainment, an unambiguous evil or somewhere in between, its prevalence might shock you. One of the world’s biggest porn websites, Pornhub, attracted 28.5 billion visitors in 2017, around 81 million a day. (There are only 7.6 billion people in the world). Around a quarter of all internet searches are for pornographic content, and porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined each month.

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One UK survey found that 53 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds have seen explicit material online, and nearly all of these by the time they were 14. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism campaign, recently warned that some schoolboys think that making girls cry during sex is normal, due to the “misogyny and dehumanising” nature of online pornography.

Whether it’s the way porn can normalise sexual aggression, degrade women (but also men), its links with sex trafficking, or the way it distorts and desensitises people to real-life sex and relationships, the $97bn (£76bn) industry has always attracted criticism.

Pornhub attracted 28.5 billion visitors in 2017, around 81 million a day. There are only 7.6 billion people in the world

But some of those now speaking out against porn are from the very same demographic as its most avid consumers: modern men who grew up seeing porn as children and teens.

In the form of online community groups, apps, blogs, podcasts and educational videos, they are helping men and women leave porn behind and rewire their brains for what they believe is a healthier – real-life – alternative.

Pornography on the brain

The human brain has evolved to reward us for having sex by releasing dopamine at orgasm. So porn use over time can rewire the brain to ‘prefer’ pornography. This can happen even if the person experiences shame or disgust about it. Though medical and scientific communities disagree about whether ‘porn addiction’ is a genuine condition, addictive behaviour develops when someone seeks out porn in response to triggers like being bored, alone, stressed or anxious.

Some partners who find out that their loved one has been using porn feel lied to, and can experience ‘betrayal trauma’. In the UK, counsellors who are trained to treat sexual addictions can be found at atsac.co.uk

Suspect that your relationship with porn is problematic? These projects could help

NoFap

Online support community with 300,000 members that helps people abstain from pornography, masturbation and sometimes sex as a way of ‘rebooting’ the brain.

Image: Helena Lopes

Fortify

App and web platform that is designed to help teens and adults overcome porn addiction.

Image: Nik Shuliahin

Brainbuddy

App that offers porn-users alternatives to looking at it: from activities to inspiring videos. The brain needs to develop new pleasurable associations with technology, goes the thinking here.

Image: Jesse Orrico

Reboot Nation

Forum and online video channel offering advice for young people who believe they are addicted to pornography, have sexual dysfunction as a result and want to give porn up.

Image: Gift Habeshaw

Bloom

Digital community that provides therapy and online courses for women ‘who are healing from the trauma of infidelity’, including the partners of some porn users.

Image: Melissa Askew

Featured image: Grzegorz Walczak

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