Whether or not you think you might be addicted to pornography, it can be a very harmful presence in your life. If you are currently in a relationship, you may have noticed the emotional damage that your porn-viewing does to your partner and the conflict it causes in your relationship. Along with the emotional damage, pornography can cause also cause some practical problems that you should take into account when you think about your habit. Porn is bad for your brain, your sex life, and your finances; these are three practical reasons to quit pornography today.
- That porn habit is physically changing your brain. When you view pornographic images, you probably feel a sense of enjoyment, or you wouldn’t bother. That feeling is caused partly by a chemical called dopamine. Your brain evolved dopamine as part of a system to reward you for certain actions, like feeding, reproducing, and bonding with others, which increase your chances of surviving and passing on your DNA. In response to certain experiences, like a good meal, praise from a friend, or sexual stimulation, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a kind of chemical called a neurotransmitter, which gives your body an instruction when it comes into contact with a structure in the brain called a synapse. In the case of dopamine, that instruction is basically “feel happy.” The problem with porn and other addictions is that too much artificial stimulation of dopamine release- too much porn or drugs or alcohol- changes the chemical balance in your brain so that you need more dopamine to get the same feeling, and stronger triggers to release that dopamine. Scientists call this tolerance. If you already suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, this is an even bigger risk, because the chemical balance in your brain is already disrupted; if you don’t already suffer from depression, remember that this disrupting of your brain chemistry can actually cause it.
- Porn can wreck your real sex life. One of the mental side effects of porn is something that some researchers have called the “Centerfold Syndrome.” Being presented with airbrushed, perfect, idealized- and mostly fake- images of the opposite sex tends to change your expectations. If you see enough slender, big-busted, flawlessly perfect actresses, for instance, that becomes your standard of beauty no matter how unrealistic it is (and it is unrealistic), s0 you start judging real people’s appearance more harshly. That’s not unique to porn; the same problem has been pointed out with ordinary Hollywood movies, magazine ads, and commercials; the media we consume is setting unattainable standards that almost no one can achieve without plastic surgery. Pornography just takes it to extremes. The end result can be less physical intimacy with your real-life partner; a 2008 study in the Journal of Sex Research discovered that men who viewed a lot of porn were likely to say that they became more critical of their partner’s appearance and lost interest in sex with their partner as a result. If you think you’re not one of those guys, bear in mind that twice as many women reported that their porn-watching spouses became more critical, and that this criticism made the women less interested in sex. Porn skews your expectations in ways that can push your partner away.
- One way or another, porn is expensive. At one point during the height of my husband’s last “episode,” we were paying more in a month for porn than we were paying for electricity. Think about that for a minute. Think about the things you could buy, the bills you could pay, the fun and exciting things you could do, with the money you may be spending on porn (which we’ve already shown is really hurting you anyway). You may think that buying one twenty-dollar-a-month subscription to one site is no big deal, but that’s the danger of porn; remember that as you view more porn, you change your brain chemistry so that it needs even more porn to get the same result. That means that your one site subscription can turn into three or four or more before you even realize it. That adds up to a lot of money. If you think you can avoid this by sticking to free sites, think again; that tolerance your brain is building will eventually mean that your habit is going to force you to seek more than you can find on free sites. Besides, even free sits come with expensive risks, like adware, spyware, and viruses that can cause expensive damage to your computer (think of them as digital STDs).