When Porn Makes Your Decisions

Hooked on porn

Hooked on porn

Pornographic images seem to activate a man’s visual system in a manner that goes beyond just looking at trees or even people. It’s almost like a high-definition signal compared with a standard signal.

That’s from William Struthers, Ph.D., a biopsychologist who wrote Wired for Intimacy.

He says the signal feels a lot like a drug. Some men call porn a “drug” and say it gives them a “rush” and makes them “high.” One man called it, “More mind altering than alcohol or any drug I’ve used.”

Struthers, adds:

Guys freak out when they think porn might be ‘rewiring’ their brains. The reality is, our brains are regularly being ‘rewired’—we wouldn’t learn anything otherwise.

So rewiring isn’t the problem. Instead, he says, the trouble come when men become hypnotized so that porn ends up making their decisions for them. These men lose interest in their flesh and blood wives and children. Or their jobs suffer because porn demands their attention and chooses their focus.

This is how one woman remembers her dad:

“He would stay up most of the night in his office,” my mother recalls. “At the time, you had to pay for Internet according to the time you used. Our bills were huge.” I distinctly remember the Christmas he installed dial-up as the “family gift.” Ironic, given the effect it had.

Porn addiction

Porn addiction

Or, problems come when porn creates cravings for physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or when men press partners for pornified sex that women don’t like. Many visit sites where someone is being harmed. As one man in recovery recalled,

I would see some young girl in porn and then read a horror story in the newspaper about sex trafficking in Eastern Europe, but I just mentally discarded the connection. I couldn’t let myself feel anything toward these women other than the means to satisfying my desires.

Not every guy who watches pornography will be overtaken by it. Usually, it’s guys who are depressed or lonely. They can make “eye contact” with the starlet and feel like the women want them. One guy put it this way:

I was able to feel wanted by all these women at a time when that feeling was not being presented in my marriage. I felt desired and needed.

Luckily, porn will not influence every man’s desires. Most often the guys who are affected initially felt neutral about an act, or were young when they first found porn and lacked a long history of relationships or other role models for sexuality.

Some porn-challenged guys manage to limit themselves to fewer hours per week. Others must come off it entirely to get back to normal. Some need therapy while others struggle on their own.

The road to recovery has ups and downs, but there is hope.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 26, 2015, in feminism, men, pornography, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. Porn is not addictive. Sex is not addictive. The ideas of porn and sex addiction are pop psychology concepts that seem to make sense, but have no legitimate scientific basis. For decades, these concepts have flourished in America, but have consistently been rejected by medicine and mental health.

    • I never used the term, or concept, “addiction” in this post.

      I’m talking here about something that is harming and controlling, so that you feel you have no choice over an obsessive behavior. As many — but not all — men describe themselves as feeling when it comes to porn.

      • My mother is a doctor and she was reading over your post. My comments was on a higher standards of a doctoral perspective and psychological. In United States Porn has a different approach comparing to Middle East and Europe!

      • Okay. I’m just saying that I wasn’t talking about addiction here, Certainly not in any clinical sense. Just about the problems that it causes many men — and why — and what they can do about it.

      • But, the responsibility is on you to identify why and how you make bad decisions, and take steps to make better decisions in the future. When you blame the problems on porn, you’re telling yourself “porn is more powerful than I am.” And I’m here to tell you, that’s not true – you CAN take responsibility for your life, your sex, for your good decisions and your bad ones, and have the life you want. Porn’s not the problem – you are. But you know what? You’re also the solution.

        This is a class at the Hebrew University years ago!!

      • There’s a complicated complex mix of factors, of which pornography is one. You don’t find people having the same problem with comic books. But not everyone is affected in the same way. And of course a person has some control over this problem. That’s what this blog post is about. On the one hand, you can feel like you have no control. On the other hand, there are actions you can take, like the ones that have been shown to work (which this post describes).

    • @mihrank,

      I agree with you 100%!!!!!

      The problem in America is “why” do so many men become obsessed with porn. I think it is primarily, though not exclusively, because of their lack of access (for whatever reasons) to sex. Pure and simple. These men are looking for sexual stimuli and or sexual gratification that cannot get elsewhere.

      Asking why men indulge in porn is like asking why do men use prostitutes. I think the answer is pretty obvious.

      As for married men and porn….it is not like their wives are readily available for sex. Usually, the exact opposite is the case. She is UN-available or if available, the sex is totally unenthusiastic. So, these men seek out pleasure and stimulation elsewhere.

      The big picture issue here in America is: just why is sexuality so dysfunctional? We are the only nation on earth where nearly 10% of men are involuntarily celibate.

      I went through all these phases except I never found porn interesting enough to indulge in it on a regular basis. When I was married (and sexless), I still never watched porn. It was not morally appropriate in my mind to do so. Today, I still do not find it appealing. Nor strip clubs etc.

  2. “Usually, it’s guys who are depressed or lonely. They can make “eye contact” with the starlet and feel like the women want them. One guy put it this way:

    I was able to feel wanted by all these women at a time when that feeling was not being presented in my marriage. I felt desired and needed.”

    Seeing this makes this porn problem some men have, be a multi-layered issue, not caused simply by high quantities of porn, but various things in our society. What I mean by this is, like you’ve talked about with how men and women are conditioned in society and not simply women being sex objects but a combination of things. Women being sexualized and bodies fetishsized perhaps brings the strong porn craving. But it’s not just that as this sentence says it’s more often guy’s who are depressed and lonely. A society when men are told to be assertive and approach women, yet doing so can make a man seem creepy if not in the right context and all these mixed messages.

    Many men or not every man is socially adept and assertive to do that and some can be shy or eccentric or socially akward, which in case, especially if average in looks or below, a man will get very little dates or sex if any unless he’s brave and learns the steps to talk to women, etc. Then you have the men who have a woman, gf or married but like you said where things fizzle and women wanting to have sex or do kinky things fades with time which leads to many frustrated men in their marriage. And as we’ve talked about men not always feeling desired or their bodies ignored whether be their partner, wife, gf over time or just from women in general.

    So to basically put it. Society where women are assertive and men not having to do so all the time, could lead to less depressed, lonely, sexually starved men. Which would lead to less porn usage. Women less repressed and more lustful for sex with their husbands and desiring their mans body more and keeping an open mind for kink, even as the marriage goes by will most likely cause less men to be addicted to porn. And society obsessing less on sex and women’s bodies would help men to not be so crazy into porn. It’s all these things put together. I think for many men, porn is the “outlet” from what they aren’t getting in real life, which if they were getting some, there’d be less of a need for porn. Of course men being visual, porn will always be watched, but there would probably be less porn addiction for men. Like it said about being desired, even though it’s not toward them, some men can fantasize that it’s for them and men don’t usually get that direct desire for their bodies. So them seeimg a porn star get all hot and horny supposedly toward them is what can get men going.

    • What you say makes a lot of sense. There do seem to be a lot of different strands involved, Which will mix in different ways for different men, but which includes a cultural overlay, such as issues you bring up. In a lot of ways we are not a very healthy society.

  3. Haomeijie Liang

    This article is pretty interesting, but it is ALL about men. I’m very curious about what are women’s feelings and reactions to porn. Personally, I do not have many feelings when I watch Porn. But my boyfriend has so much comment on it. He was hooked to the porn when he first saw porn as a teenager. He experienced expansion of blood vessels at that time, and he loved it. He used to watch porn everyday when he was in high school, so he agrees opinions in this article that porn dominates his decision making during specific time period (when he was new to porn). As he grew up, faced porn more critically by learned more knowledge about sex and had intimate contacts with girls, then slowly lost the interest in porn. So this article is not tenable for all situations that it states. He said that when people do not know about porn, they would have interests and desires of porn, but as they watch more they will be able to get rid of the fetter of porn.

  4. You talked only about men. I read another of your posts that you said it’s different for women. But why is it different for women?

    • I think this is the post you are referring to:

      Do Women Objectify Men?
      https://broadblogs.com/2014/05/05/do-women-objectify-men/

      Here are some experts:

      We simply don’t live in a culture where the male body is fetishized. No part is selectively hidden and revealed and obsessed over. Cameras rarely focus on men’s butts or linger on their chests.

      (And because we are so unaccustomed to seeing highly sexualized images of men, we often feel uncomfortable looking them. At least if they are nude or semi-nude. And because women are so accustomed to sexual objects being meant for the male gaze, a sexy man in a speedo plastered on a billboard may seem “gay” to her.)

      Just like men, women can be drawn to the beauty of the opposite sex and linger on it. But since the male body isn’t fetishized — doesn’t create the same level of titillation that so often grabs and compels men, making them feel they have no choice in the matter — there’s less push to see a man as a sex-thing that exists for our gratification. And it’s easier for us to make different choices.

      Some women might manage to objectify men, anyway. But it’s rarer.

  5. I wonder if porn is the problem itself or a symptom in many cases and whether these lonely men would have been hooked if they weren’t lonely. I reckon it’s an easy way out for some considering todays high availability. 20 years ago people had to face their social challenges (if any), today it’s just so much easier to indulge in digital fantasies online with content just clicks away. Our digital society where everything and everyone are online all the time requrie everyone to be more disciplined in terms of these things, porn included.

    • Since porn affects some men this way, but not all men, porn seems to be necessary but not sufficient with regard to the phenomena I’m talking about. Certainly necessary (in this case): Lonely men probably won’t get hooked on comic books, for instance. Though some people might get involved with drugs or alcohol as an alternate escape. But since porn has the effect described here, for some men, here are some thoughts on what might help.

      Interesting thoughts on the digital society.

  6. Young people sometimes do get ‘addicted’ to porn. Most of them, I guess, come out of it naturally as they grow up, but there are some cases they find it irresistible. The problem of that father spending time in the office is one of the kinds. Sometimes people do have problems in their sex lives, for they take those virtual, exaggerated things as real. Though men are more prone to these things but with the advent of digital technology and the internet, women have joined the league, though less in number.

  7. I have heard that porn as sex addiction can really affect intimacy. I personally am not open to being in relationship with someone who watches porn-which definitely narrowed my dating field :). I often think that if only the sex in porn came from a more authentic, empowered place between everyone involved- witnessing that could be healing rather than distorting – for both men and women.

  8. Absolutely interesting!~ Also it reminds me of some cases In Hollywood in which ones addiction to sex became a sort of drug too…
    The problems that might arrive like come cravings for physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or the fact that some men might press partners for pornified sex that women don’t like are surely accurate… I wonder which are the effects of porn on women when those women watch porn movies…. I guess it basically stimulates fantasies related to submission and homosexuality. Are those ones common effect?…
    Best wishes!! Aquileana 😀

    • Most women are far less interested important than men. But you are right that women who watch porn increasingly have BDSM tinged fantasies and are more interested in sexual experiences with women.

  9. Addiction can be controlled by will power. Some have this capability of self-control, while others need professional help. When life gives tough situations, weak people find solace in such momentarily pleasures. Regarding porn addiction in young generation, I think parents have a role to let their wards know about these things in the correct way. Curiosity is the mother of such habits. No habit is good or bad, just the intensity of it matters.

    • And how much it controls you.

      I don’t know that I would call these people weak. It’s a matter of learning to deal with issues in more productive ways.

      But thanks for your thoughts.

  10. Years ago, I used to subscribe to ‘Playboy’, a soft porn magazine with some decent literary value. My fiancee objected to the magazine because she felt it was disrespectful to women. I threw all my old issues away, let the subscription lapse, and have never bought a ‘Playboy’ since. That was 20 years ago…

  11. I agree with the fact that porn is like an addiction for men- like smoking addiction. As the author says that some guys find it a big challenge in their life, which is hard to control and some may even need therapy and psychological treatment. Unlike what author mentions that depressed guys or lonely guys mostly affected by porn, I think that all men who have enough-average testosterone in their blood will be influenced by porn, at least in some part of their life, which does not have specific correlation to their age;{The author talked about a girl whose dad was obsessed with porn and bought dial-up internet as a gift for family to watch porn by himself}. The important aspect that I think we should learn is that porn by itself is not a taboo. It is exactly similar to walking to a night club, which I confess almost all men attending to this forum have already been there once in their life. The aspect that is important is, in fact the limit or the threshold point that each of us should consider for ourselves in that regard. As long as we are under the threshold point, I think the society accepts us; but if we override this limit, then we are sick and addicted with porn.

    • I do think that all men are affected by porn, But as you say at the end of your comment, some are adversely affected and some aren’t so much. And while I mentioned the girl’s dad, I didn’t mean that to be interpreted as suggesting an age factor. Although there actually is an age factor: older men tend to be less adversely affected because they grew up during a time when porn wasn’t as prolific, and were more likely to have established more healthy sexual patterns before becoming enmeshed in the onslaught of Internet porn.

  12. I wouldn’t be in a relationship with a woman who told me to not look at something like playboy because it was disrespectful to women. It’s playboy, it’s porn, but it’s tasteful if that makes sense. It’s like erotic photography and you can argue some erotic, artistic elements. Now hustler, I can see to argued as more objectifying as the shots are more graphic. See playboy is women who are nude, but they are sensual poses and not legs spread close up vagina, anus pics, etc like hustler.

  13. The great porn experiment

  14. Many times guys think porn movies are 100% real. What they don’t understand is that the girls in the porn are actors and get paid to act. Guys think girls may like certain things because they see them in the porn videos but in reality it’s all set up. In the porn videos they make sex look as good and nice as they can when in reality it may not be exactly like that. Guys like that because watching porn is like seeing everything they want to and not the bad.

    • Yes. The women in porn are enacting men’s sexuality — On steroids.

      (I don’t know that men’s sexuality is much different than women’s on a pure biological level, But we socialize and punish males and females differently so that our sexuality ends up different by the time we are adults.)

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