THE BLOG
01/31/2013 12:57 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2013

Sexual and Relationship Dysfunction Is the True Cost of Porn

Over the past several years, I've written extensively on the nature and effects of pornography abuse. (Visit here and here for some basic information.) I am pleased to see that with Ricky Camilleri's recent HuffPostLive interview of Isaac Abel and others that this issue is finally hitting the cultural zeitgeist. The points made in the interview are very much on target, although the discussion barely scratches the surface.

The simple, undeniable fact is young people -- digital natives -- are texting, tweeting, chatting, blogging, posting and otherwise communicating and being entertained by and through digital technology on an almost constant basis. For instance, a recent Pew Internet & American Life survey revealed that texting is now the primary mode of communication between teens and their friends and family, far surpassing phone calls, face-to-face interactions and emailing. Boys and young men in particular are susceptible to the lure of digital technology, burying themselves for hours on end in ultra-violent video games and, more importantly, online porn.

Internet-driven, pervasive porn use among boys and young men is an issue of concern on several levels (unrelated to traditional morality or religion). Among these issues is the effect that consistent porn use can have on a young person's evolving ability to develop and maintain sexual and emotional focus on any single individual, as this is not the stuff of most online porn. Consider too that if a young man's sexual experiences have exclusively involved using online porn as his primary vehicle to learn about sex and relationships, this young man may well struggle to develop the required skill-set to maintain healthy romantic and sexual partnerships. After all, most male-focused Internet porn has no storyline, no emotional connection and no preliminary warm-up to the sexual encounter, and as such it does not encourage a focus on relatedness or connection to a person as a primary source of satisfaction. In porn, there's little talking, less seduction, no romancing and minimal -- if any -- tenderness displayed. Usually there is little kissing or foreplay. There is, however, an ever-changing stream of highly-arousing objectified body parts and sexual images. Because of this, boys and young men appear to have expectations (and why wouldn't they?) that sex with another person will also provide a consistent source of new, mind-blowing stimulation, which is not the case in a most relationship-oriented sex. For a lot of boys, porn is increasingly more exciting, available and desirable (not to mention a whole lot easier) than in-the-flesh romantic/sexual interaction.

A question to those men reading this article: If you were 15 years old today, would you rather spend three hours masturbating to incredibly mind-blowing image after image of people having sex -- all-the-while burning those images into your fantasy life -- followed by an amazing orgasm, or would you prefer to call around for a date, risk multiple rejections before you get someone to agree, spend money on someone else's meal and entertainment, all for a quick feel and maybe something more? That is the challenge facing teen boys today.

The problematic effects of a young man's long-term involvement with porn are in fact a more general cultural concern than one might expect. According to a 2012 article in the Japan Times looking at two 1500-person surveys on male-female relationships -- one survey conducted in 2008, the other in 2010 -- 36.1 percent of Japanese males aged 16-19 stated, in 2010, that they had either no interest in or an outright aversion to having sex with another person. This figure was more than double that of the 2008 survey (17.5 percent). For males aged 20-24 the percentage increase was similar, up from 11.8 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2010. These findings fly in the face of traditional wisdom that suggests young men are obsessed with having sex. According to the article:

One young man said he has a sex drive but that having sex with someone is 'just too much of a bother.' Others claim that they prefer girls as anime (animated) characters or as virtual dolls rather than the real thing... Others explain that watching too much sex on Internet sites has left them with a bad taste in their mouth for human sexual contact. Many admit to extremely frequent masturbation, thereby satisfying all their sexual needs themselves.

This stated and actual decreasing interest in real-world sexual and romantic encounters directly correlates to our tech-connect boom of the past two decades (and especially the last half-dozen years), which has greatly increased the availability, intensity and accessibility of pornography to young people. It is increasingly clear that the recent tsunami of highly graphic Internet pornography is causing at least some sexual disinterest and even sexual dysfunction (either erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation) in many otherwise healthy young males. This confirms what many in the sexual addiction treatment field have known for quite some time -- that among the many symptoms and consequences of pornography abuse is reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical and emotional connections with real-world partners. This problem is not simply due to the porn user's frequency of masturbation and orgasm; it is more related to the fact that males in general are both visually stimulated and turned-on by new stimuli. The guy who spends 75 percent of his sexual life masturbating to porn (endless images of young, exciting, new, different partners and sexual experiences) is, over time, likely to find real-world partners and experiences less interesting and less stimulating than the ongoing torrent of sexual imagery zooming around his screen, pad or phone. So while porn may initially engage young men's interest in sex, for some, over time, it can have the opposite effect.

Obviously, the future of relationships and sexual behavior for at least some digital natives is going to look a lot different than the relationships and sexual behavior of older generations. As a client recently recalled in treatment, "I'm 25 now, I've been looking at hardcore porn since I was 15. For 10 years, online images were my sole exposure to adult sexuality. Today, I feel an emotional pull to have a "real" relationship, but I find myself easily bored by sex with women I know -- even for a few weeks -- and I keep getting feedback that I am not a 'good dater,' whatever that means." The simple fact is when some adolescents are repeatedly exposed to hardcore images and videos, their social, emotional and psychological growth can be stunted -- sometimes severely. In other words, many boys are unknowingly missing out on what are generally considered to be important adolescent growth milestones and, as a result, they later struggle with dating, relationship development and partner sexual satisfaction, not to mention long-term engagement in emotional and physical intimacy.

Subscribe to the In(formation) email.
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers.