Porn: How Much is Too Much?

porn

Porn. It is the second most popular thing on the internet behind social media and just ahead of video games. When people use the internet, they seek an easy place to fulfil a need or produce pleasant stimuli. Porn meets both these goals, as the use of porn and the usual concurrent act of masturbation can be a way of efficiently fulfilling a base desire. Recent information from Pornhub, X-Videos, and other major porn sites indicated that usage is up. This surge in online access is unsurprising, considering our current isolation.2 There are parallel increases in both the number of people accessing porn and the average time people spend on porn sites. Unfortunately, this increased exposure has led to a rise in the issue of porn addiction.

Porn addiction is often treated as a joke, but you just need to look at the medical definition of porn addiction to know it can be dangerous. The US National Medical Journal describes symptoms such as, “impaired control (e.g., craving, unsuccessful attempts to reduce the behaviour), impairment (e.g., narrowing of interests, neglect of other areas of life), and risky use (persisting intake despite awareness of damaging psychological effects).”1 Just like gambling, sex, and alcohol addictions, an addiction to pornography can be deeply damaging if left untreated. Some find the problem difficult to understand, and the general taboo and legal and moral questions around pornography add additional barriers to providing solutions. The biggest challenges for those trying to treat addictions to pornography are the types of sexual relationships portrayed, the accessibility of pornography, and the massive marketing of pornography to the public.

The first part of the problem is how pornography portrays the act of sex. For a healthy person, sex should be viewed as a consenting act between adults. However, porn sites constantly push out content that portrays unrealistic or unhealthy relationships. Most “realistic” pornography is now marketed towards women, with more realistic depictions of sex and sexual relations with videos like “intimate sex between husband and wife” or “intense sex after romantic evening.” This may be why we see lower rates of porn use and porn addiction amongst women, because the content made for them is more realistic and the more problematic content is usually based around abuse of women, rather than the abuse of men, with categories such as humiliation, blackmail and forced. While we shouldn’t ban this type of content, we also should not allow porn sites to portray abusive behaviour as normal sexual behaviour. While this extreme type of content does come with warnings, it is often the top content on Porn site home pages, meaning it is often the first thing new users click on.

Men are more often addicted to porn. More and more often, young boys (10 and even younger) are seeing porn and using it to learn about sex. Since most pornography perpetuates unhealthy and unrealistic ideas of sex and sexual relationships, it’s an inadequate place to get a sex education. While most men can move past the fantasy as they grow older, some people’s sexual maturation can get lost in the fantasy, meaning they struggle to embrace what would be considered normal healthy relationships, and stunt their ability to grow into thoughtful, sexually mature adults. Anyone prone to addiction can become a victim.

Porn quite literally changes how our brains think about sex.3 The most popular category on Porn Hub right now is Stepmom and Stepsister, (an already disturbing implication that Sigmund Freud would love). The popularity of taboo sexual relationships as pornography themes indicates that there is little incentive for its producers to make ethical and healthy changes to content. Addiction is not an undesirable outcome for porn producers, in fact it can only encourage them to continue promoting unrealistic and unhealthy content. As people continue to consume the unhealthy content, they often go further and further into sexual extremes, making it harder for them to escape the addiction.

The next challenge to providing help for porn addiction is the ease of access to the internet’s endless collection of pornography. To find the biggest porn site in the whole world, all you have to do is enter “porn” into Google and click enter. There is no “Are you 18 or older” page preventing access, nor are you required to register for an account on many sites. Even premium and paid content eventually gets pirated for public access.

In addition to pornography’s accessibility, society is bombarded by multi-million-dollar porn marketing programs. We are exposed to pornography everywhere. Society has a massive appetite for celebrity porn, and celebrity news and magazines are always searching for sex videos and naked photos that expose celebrities.  The marketing of porn aims to reach the broadest market and infiltrates television, movies, magazines, and the internet.  What you can access is limitless for a price. Every time a porn addict uses the internet there is a threat of relapse.

This challenge becomes worse when your digital history and the online algorithms built around your habits try to feed your addictions. The best way to fight the addiction is treatment and counselling, but when you are trapped in the addiction it is hard to see the problem. As with other addictions, we need to treat people’s struggles with porn as a disease and support them in their process of healing. That doesn’t mean making excuses, but it means not dismissing the problem out of hand because you view it as weird or confusing. What that person needs is emotional support. You can guide them to resources such as counsellors, support groups, and other therapeutic programs.

Connected to the accessibility issue is the problem of marketing. The porn industry is a multi-billion-dollar market with millions of users. The content is uploaded and created in every part of the world. To effectively regulate porn, there needs to be worldwide standards. For example, depictions of rape in pornography are against the law in the UK and can result in criminal charges for producing, uploading, or viewing. However, there have been ongoing court challenges to this law as it limits freedom of expression. Even laws banning or controlling porn are ineffective as proven by Saudi Arabia and Iran which boast the most restrictive anti-pornography laws in the world but also have higher per capita porn consumption than the rest of the world. To battle the dangers of porn addiction, there should be an international effort in both education and governance around porn creation and distribution. While parents can partially protect their kids from these images with content blockers and other WIFI tools, the reality is they can find access to other parts of the internet that provide porn including Reddit and Twitter.

The lack of basic regulation allows for basically any fantasy to be fulfilled. But not every fantasy should be fulfilled. We need to normalize our relationship with sex and de-scandalize the idea of sex. People enjoy sex for various reasons, and it is part of the reproduction process (for the most part). Porn has contributed to the mystification of sex. Rather than providing easy access to accurate depictions of healthy sexual relations, it takes you straight to the most unrealistic and unhealthy fantasies. Porn sites need to limit their content in the same way that YouTube does by making everyone have an account so that there is some ability to make sure people are old enough to consume the content.

Parents also need to take responsibility and have conversations about healthy porn as part of the sex talk. Schools should include the healthy use of porn, sex addiction and porn addiction in the Sex Ed curriculum. It is only by talking about these issues openly that better solutions can emerge.

It is normal and even healthy to indulge in sexual fantasy, real or digital. However, it is essential not to get trapped in that fantasy. The first step of tackling the problem is admitting there is one. Porn addiction is real, and it is a problem that is growing. People need to encourage porn producers, governments, and porn entertainers to set standards for healthier, realistic pornography that is harder for young people to access. Sexual education should come from parents and sexual education professionals, not Porn Hub.

Some ideas to address porn addiction are banning porn companies from marketing, having “realism” standards, adding warnings to videos that could be considered unhealthy, requiring the home page of every porn site to have links to porn addiction treatment, and to require users have a verified account to access content.

These ideas are hard to enforce and may even be unconstitutional, but this is a modern addiction, and as Dave Chapelle would say, “Modern problems require modern solutions.”

1 de Alarcón, Ruben, Javier de la Iglesia, Nerea M. Casado, and Angel Montejo. 2019. Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don’t—A Systematic Review. 18 January. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6352245/.

2 Grubbs, Joshua. 2020. Porn use is up, thanks to the pandemic. 8 April. https://theconversation.com/porn-use-is-up-thanks-to-the-pandemic-134972.

3 Hess, Peter. 2017. THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON PORN. 11 July. https://www.inverse.com/article/31799-brain-on-porn-erotica-neuroscience.