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Why is pornography so addictive?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

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Every day, 25% of the internet's search engine requests is related to pornography

Thirty years ago, adult bookstores and porn movie theatres required a certain level of risk in order for one to achieve the sexual arousal they were looking for. The risk made was more exciting for some, but also prevented many from engaging in those behaviours, especially when done on a daily or weekly basis. With the advent of the internet, one can engage in hours of countless sexual images with anonymity, accessibility, and, in most cases, little or no money.

Approximately 35% of all internet downloads involve pornography. It is estimated that there are 2.4 million people on the top three porn sites every minute.

So why is pornography so addictive?

It is important to remember that arousal occurs in the brain. The brain contains a superhighway of neural pathways, and three of these pathways involve sex. The first neuropathway causes us to be sexually aroused by others. It is a basic survival mechanism that allows for us to mate and have offspring. The other two neuropathways involves the neurochemicals associated with romance and produces intensity, obsession, and arousal that allows us to bond with others.

With pornography, the neuropathways are often bombarded with dopamine and, over time, require more and more dopamine to achieve the same result, the orgasm. As a porn addiction intensifies and becomes more compulsive, the individual requires more dopamine and, in most cases, escalation, to achieve the desired result. Individuals who engage in porn compulsively tend to enter a trancelike, hypnotic state where there is a mix of both preoccupation and ritualization.

Those who struggle with porn also have many distorted thoughts that often prolongs or worsens the addictive behaviour. These distorted thoughts (denial) include:

  • rationalization - "I am stressed out from work...this is how I unwind" "I am single so it is okay"

  • minimization - "I only do it a little" "It was just porn and isn't cheating"

  • comparison - "I am not as bad as _____"

  • global thinking - "All guys watch porn" "Watching porn never hurt anyone"

  • blaming - "If only my wife did _____, I wouldn't need to watch porn"

Many times, individuals tell me that they have tried countless times to stop. They have tried everything from locking their phone in their car to deleting all apps or downloading software to block sites on their devices. Despite these measures, they still struggle with stopping.

Often, porn is a symptom and not the root cause.

Some examples of common root causes of porn addiction may include:

  • early exposure to pornography

  • difficulty regulating emotions (using porn to self-soothe)

  • rigid or disengaged families (being brought up in a family with rigid sexual attitudes or disengaged within the family)

  • loneliness or isolation as a child or adult

So how can one move past their compulsive porn use?

  • Define your boundaries: deciding what would be considered breaking your sobriety or rules around porn use is a helpful way to determine if actions you choose are within your boundaries or breaking those boundaries

  • Have a support team in place: people who struggle with this behaviour can form good supports as well as groups that offer support for compulsive porn use. Therapy can also be a good way to work through some of these issues

  • Recognize your triggers: when are you most likely to use? When stressed, angry, or alone? Or maybe before bed or in the morning?

  • Increase self-awareness: what thoughts or feelings accompany your porn use before, during, and after?

First Step Men's Therapy offers compulsive porn use and porn addiction therapy across Ontario. We have Certified Sex Addiction Therapists who can assist you on your journey to healing and freedom from pornography.

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Porn Addiction Therapy and Counselling in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Kingston, Ottawa, Windsor, Burlington, Oakville, Hamilton, Sarnia, Barrie, Peterborough, St. Catherines, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Sudbury, North Bay, and Thunder Bay - and across Ontario through our virtual telehealth platform.

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