According to research and personal accounts, instead of increasing sexual enjoyment, porn often leads to less satisfying sex in the long run and, for many users, no sex at all.

Porn promises a virtual world filled with sex—more sex and better sex. What it doesn’t mention, however, is that the further a porn consumer goes into that fantasy world, the more likely their reality is to become just the opposite. [1] Porn often leads to less sex and less satisfying sex. [2] And for many consumers, porn eventually means no sex at all. [3]

How? Well, it starts in your brain.

You see, your brain is full of nerve pathways that make up what scientists call your “brain map.” [4] It’s kind of like a hiking map in your head, with billions of tiny overlapping trails. These pathways connect different parts of your brain together, helping you make sense of your experiences and control your life.

When you have a sexual experience that feels good, your brain starts creating new pathways to connect what you’re doing to the pleasure you’re feeling. [5] Essentially, your brain is redrawing the sexual part of your map so you’ll be able to come back later and repeat the experience. [6] (See How Porn Affects The Brain Like a Drug ). The same thing happens the first time you watch porn. Your brain starts building new pathways in response to this very powerful new experience. [7] It’s saying, “This feels great! Let’s do this again.”

But here’s the catch: your brain map operates on a “use it or lose it” principle. [8] Just like a hiking trail will start to grow over if it’s not getting walked on, brain pathways that don’t get traffic become weaker and can even be completely replaced by stronger pathways that get more use.

As you might expect, consuming porn is a very powerful experience that leaves a strong and lasting impression in the brain. (See How Porn Changes the Brain.) Every time you watch porn—especially if you heighten the experience by masturbating—you are strengthening the part of your brain map that connects arousal to porn. [9] Meanwhile, the pathways connecting arousal to things like seeing, touching, or cuddling with a partner aren’t getting used. Pretty soon, natural turn-ons aren’t enough, and many porn users find they can’t get aroused by anything but porn. [10]

How bad is the problem? Put it this way: doctors are seeing an epidemic of young men who, because of their porn use, can’t get it up with a real, live partner. [11]

Thirty years ago, when a man developed erectile dysfunction (ED), it was almost always because he was getting older, usually past 40. As his body aged it became more difficult to maintain an erection. [12] Chronic ED in anyone under 35 was nearly unheard of. [13] But those were the days before internet porn. These days, online message boards are flooded with complaints from porn users in their teens and 20s complaining that they can’t stay hard. [14] They want to know what’s wrong with their body, but the problem isn’t in the penis—it’s in the brain. [15]

Study after study has shown that porn is directly related to problems with arousal, attraction, and sexual performance. [16]. Porn leads to less sex and to less sexual satisfaction within a relationship. [17] Researchers have shown a strong connection between porn use and low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and trouble reaching orgasm. [18] Many frequent porn users reach a point where they have an easier time getting aroused by internet porn than by having actual sex with a real partner. [19] One recent study even concluded that porn use was likely the reason for low sexual desire among a random sample of high school seniors. [20] Who ever heard of that? Low sexual desire among high school seniors!

This trend of sex problems is especially serious for teens and young adults. Their brains are particularly vulnerable to being rewired by porn, [21] and they are in a period where they are forming crucial attitudes, preferences, and expectations for their future. [22]

Young people imitate what they see in porn, and when teens learn about sexuality from porn, they are in danger of adopting the misleading, harmful biases embedded there. [23] Many teens never have the chance to learn what a healthy relationship is like before porn starts teaching them its version—which is typically filled with domination, infidelity, abuse and violence. [24] Since most people aren’t too excited about entering a relationship with someone who has attitudes like that, teens who get their sex ed from porn often find that they struggle to connect with real romantic partners. [25]

Fortunately, the brain is a resilient organ. The sexual dysfunction caused by porn can be reversed, [26] and a brain map can be rewired to work well again once porn is out of the picture. [27]

Citations
[1] Cole, G. (2011). A Stange Invitation: On the Ordinary Problem of Pornography. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 12, 254-267. doi:10.1080/15240657.2011.610240 (“Porn tells us it is about sex, but the effect of porn often leads away from actually having sex with another person.”); Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[2] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 153; Zillmann, D. (2004). Pornografie. In R. Mangold, P. Vorderer, and G. Bente (Eds.) Lehrbuch der Medienpsychologie (pp.565–85). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Verlag;
[3] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419; Kalman, T. P., (2008). Clinical Encounters with Internet Pornography, Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4), 593-618. doi:10.1521/jaap.2008.36.4.593; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 105..
[4] Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi:10.3390/bs5030388; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[5] Berridge, K. C., & Robinson, T. E. (2016). Liking, Wanting, and the Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction. American Psychologist, 71(8), 670-679. doi:10.1037/amp0000059; Berridge, K.C., & Kringelbach, M. L. (2015). Pleasure Systems in the Brain. Neuron, 86, 646-664. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2015.02.018; Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767. doi:10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767; Pitchers, K. K., et al. (2013). Natural and Drug Rewards Act on Common Neural Plasticity Mechanisms with DeltaFosB as a Key Mediator. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(8), 3434-3442. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[6] Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi:10.3390/bs5030388; Hilton, D.L, & Watts, C. (2011). Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective, Surgical Neurology International 2, 19. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.76977; Miner, M. H., Raymond, N., Mueller, B. A., Lloyd, M., Lim, K. O. (2009). Preliminary Investigation of the Impulsive and Neuroanatomical Characteristics of Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Psychiatry Research 174: 146–51. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.04.008; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. (75) New York: Henry Hold and Co.
[7] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Berridge, K. C., & Robinson, T. E. (2016). Liking, Wanting, and the Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction. American Psychologist, 71(8), 670-679. doi:10.1037/amp0000059; Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767. doi:10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767; Nestler, E. J., (2008) Transcriptional mechanisms of addiction: role of DeltaFosB, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363(1507) 3245-3255. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0067
[8] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
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[11] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi:10.3390/bs5030388; Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419; Kalman, T. P., (2008). Clinical Encounters with Internet Pornography, Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4), 593-618. doi:10.1521/jaap.2008.36.4.593
[12] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Robinson, M. and Wilson, G. (2011). Porn-Induced Sexual Dysfunction: A Growing Problem. Psychology Today, July 11.
[13] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Prins, J., Blanker, M. H., Bohnen, A. M., Thomas, S., & Bosch, J. L. H. R. (2002). Prevalence of erectile dysfunction: a systematic review of population-based studies. International Journal of Impotence Research, 14(6), 422-432. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3900905; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
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[15] Capogrosso, P., et al. (2013). One Patient Out of Four with Newly Diagnosed Erectile Dysfunction Is a Young Man—Worrisome Picture from the Everyday Clinical Practice. Journal of Sexual Medicine 10(7), 1833–41. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12179; Cera, N., et al. (2012). Macrostructural Alterations of Subcortical Grey Matter in Psychogenic Erectile Dysfunction. PLoS ONE 7(6), e39118. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039118; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
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[22] Olmstead, S. B., Negash, S., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). Emerging Adults’ Expectations for Pornography Use in the Context of Future Committed Romantic Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 625-635. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9986-7; Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between young adults’ use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48,(6), 520-530. 8(6):520-30. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960
[23] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Pfaus, J. G., et al. (2012). Who, what, where, when (and maybe even why)? How the experience of sexual reward connects sexual desire, preference, and performance. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 31-62. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9935-5
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[25] Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnason, J., & Ezzell, M. (2014). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(4), 1-12. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0391-2; Wilson, G. (2013). Adolescent Brain Meets Highspeed Internet Porn; Retrieved from http://yourbrainonporn.com/adolescent-brain-meets-highspeed-internet-porn; Woods, J. (2012). Jamie Is 13 and Hasn’t Even Kissed a Girl. But He’s Now on the Sex Offender Register After Online Porn Warped His Mind. Daily Mail (U.K.), April 25. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135203/Jamie-13-kissed-girl-But-hes-Sex-Offender-Register-online-porn-warped-mind-.html; Robinson, M. and Wilson, G. (2011). Porn-Induced Sexual Dysfunction: A Growing Problem. Psychology Today, July 11; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
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[27] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.

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