While pornography and erotica have been around for tens of thousands of years — originally in the form of pottery figures and cave paintings — its evolution is now having a significant impact on sexual health.
A quick refresher on how we got here — soon after the invention of the printing press, pornographers began publishing images and stories to satisfy an obvious demand. Eight-millimetre film in the 50s, video cassettes in the 80s and DVDs in the 90s allowed production by virtually anyone and distribution to growing audiences. When the internet arrived, pornography rapidly filled its servers and led the way in generating revenue from website traffic1.
Pornography is now more accessible and affordable than ever before, with a prolific range of free options just a scroll away.
So, how does porn affect sexual function?
We should think of pornography like we do alcohol. Both have the potential to be harmful but for most people, occasional use isn't a cause for concern. However, just like with alcohol, pornography can be used as a coping mechanism or lead to addiction. Pornography use can also contribute to problems with sexual function, including erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation.
When I’m working with men experiencing these concerns, I need to understand their relationship with pornography. I ask all new clients three questions:
- Do you watch pornography?
- How often do you watch pornography?
- How long do you usually watch pornography for?
Identifying why men use pornography is not as straightforward. Is it because they are aroused or simply bored? Is it a form of escape from stress, anxiety or depression? Is it a way to explore aspects of their sexuality without any pressure or stigma? These answers can help determine the best course of action for dealing with the most common porn-related problems. Here are some of the harmful effects of porn misuse.
1. Performance anxiety
‘I watch these vids on Pornhub and I know it’s not real, but why can’t I be like that?’
I hear this a lot, particularly from younger men who feel that they are inadequate compared to the actors in pornographic movies. This can lead to anxiety when they have real-life sexual experiences. Porn is highly scripted, edited, airbrushed and unrealistic, and shouldn’t be the basis of sexual education or a point of comparison.
Edging is the deliberate drawing out of the time before orgasm to relish stimulation. Edging can result in delayed ejaculation, leading to frustration for both the client and their sexual partners.
3. Needing more
‘I can’t blow with my partner unless we have porn on.’
Often when men watch pornography, they don’t just watch one video. They might jump from one movie to another, or not focus on the video that’s on the screen because they’re thinking about finding a ‘better’ one. This can translate into the bedroom, so they aren’t stimulated enough by their sexual partner and need extra stimulation. This isn’t about attraction or love, but the level of stimulation needed to become aroused and reach orgasm.
4. Masturbation mismatch
From hundreds of conversations with men about their masturbation style, I’ve learnt that there are many ways to masturbate. Some techniques can cause problems because they don’t simulate a sexual act. Again, the conflict between the fantasy world of pornography and reality causes problems.
5. Death grip
This is the problem I see most often. If a man watches hours of porn and masturbates frequently, his penis can become less sensitive. Rather than go without, he may start to grip his penis harder to achieve sufficient stimulation. This has the contradictory effect of further reducing sensitivity, making it gradually ever more difficult to reach orgasm.
How to get help
If porn is impacting your sexual health and wellbeing, there are a range of ways you can get help. Effective treatment for these problems includes using a combination of cognitive and behaviour-based therapies, such as cognitive-, dialectical- and activity-based therapies (CBT, DBT and ABT, respectively). Experiential activities, which may include the use of sex toys such as a masturbation sleeve, are also effective.