Porn often leads to less sex and less satisfying sex. And for many users, porn can eventually mean no sex at all.

Porn promises a virtual world filled with sex—more sex, better sex. What it doesn’t mention, however, is that the further a user 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 users, porn eventually means no sex at all. [3]

It doesn’t take much porn for things to start heading downhill. In one of the most comprehensive studies on porn use ever conducted, researchers found that after being exposed to softcore sexual material, both men and women were significantly less happy with their partner’s looks, willingness to try new sex acts, and sexual performance. [4] Even being exposed to porn just once can make people feel less in love with their significant other. [5]

Why? Because when a person is watching porn, the sexual roadmaps in their brain are being redrawn. [6] When a person has a sexual experience that feels good, their brain creates a map to get them back there (See Porn Changes the Brain). And since our brains like novelty, brain maps that lead to something new and exciting are rewarded with an extra dose of brain chemicals that make us feel good while strengthening those brain pathways. [7]

Here’s the catch: our brain maps are either use it or lose it. [8] Just like a hiking trail will start to grow over if its not getting walked on, brain pathways that don’t get traffic start to get weaker. So when a person starts looking at porn, they first create and then strengthen brain pathways linking feeling aroused with images of porn. [9] Meanwhile the pathways connecting arousal with things like seeing, touching, or cuddling with their 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]

For teens, it gets even scarier. 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 violence, domination, infidelity, and abuse. [11] Since most people aren’t too excited about the idea of being in an abusive relationship, teens that have gotten their sex ed from porn often find that they struggle to connect with real romantic partners and that they don’t know how to be turned on by anything other than images on a screen. [12] As biologist Gary Wilson said, “Using porn is more than just training for the wrong sport. It’s replacing these guys’ ability to play the sport they really want to learn.” [13]

Beliefs and feelings aren’t the only things that change, either. For a skyrocketing number of male porn users, it becomes blindingly clear that there’s a problem when they realize they can no longer have real sex at all. [14]

Thirty years ago, when a man developed erectile dysfunction (ED), it was almost always because he was getting older, usually past 40, and as his body aged, his blood vessels would get blocked, making it harder to maintain an erection. Chronic ED in anyone under 35 was nearly unheard of. [15]

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 maintain an erection. [16] But for this kind of ED, the problem isn’t in the penis—it’s in the brain. [17]

Erections are powered by chemicals in the brain’s reward center (See Porn Is Like a Drug] that are released when a guy sees, hears, smells, or feels something that turns him on. [18] The problem for porn users is that they’ve hijacked their reward center by using porn to get it to overload on these chemicals. [19] As a result, the user’s brain responds by cutting down on the amount of pleasure chemicals it produces and stops responding as well to the chemicals that are being released. [20] It’s like when you’re standing next to a fire alarm that goes off; it’s too much noise so you cover your ears. That’s what porn user’s brains are doing. When chemical levels are too high, the brain fights back by blocking some of the flood of chemicals released.

On top of that, porn users have wired their brain to get aroused by sitting alone in a room looking at virtual images rather than connecting arousal to being with a real person. [21]

Due to their lowered sexual response and altered brain pathways, many porn users find they just can’t get excited enough to maintain an erection without porn; and for many users, over time, even porn isn’t enough. [22]

Click For Citations

[1] 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.
[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] Robinson, M. and Wilson, G. (2011). Porn-Induced Sexual Dysfunction: A Growing Problem. Psychology Today, July 11.
[4] Zillmann, D. and Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography’s Impact on Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18, 5: 438–53.
[5] 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.
[6] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 103.
[7] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 116.
[8] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 59.
[9] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 101.
[10] Robinson, M. and Wilson, G. (2011). Porn-Induced Sexual Dysfunction: A Growing Problem. Psychology Today, July 11; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 153.
[11] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085; 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.
[12] Wilson, G. (2013). Adolescent Brain Meets Highspeed Internet Porn; 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. 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, 104.
[13] Wilson, G. (2013). Adolescent Brain Meets Highspeed Internet Porn. http://yourbrainonporn.com/adolescent-brain-meets-highspeed-internet-porn
[14] Wilson, G. (2013). Adolescent Brain Meets Highspeed Internet Porn; http://yourbrainonporn.com/adolescent-brain-meets-highspeed-internet-porn 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, 105.
[15] 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, 105.105.
[16] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 105.
[17] Capogrosso, P., Colicchia, M., Ventimiglia, E., Castagna, G., Clementi, M. C., Suardi, N., Castiglione, F., Briganti, A., Cantiello, F., Damiano, R., Montorsi, F., Salonia, A. (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; Cera, N., Delli Pizzi, S., Di Pierro, E. D., Gambi, F., Tartaro, A., et al. (2012). Macrostructural Alterations of Subcortical Grey Matter in Psychogenic Erectile Dysfunction. PLoS ONE 7, 6: e39118; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 105.
[18] Pfaus, J. G., Kippin, T. E., Coria-Avila, G. A., Gelez, H., Afonso, V. M., Ismail, N., and Parada, M. (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: 31–62; Pfaus, J. G., Kippin, T. E., and Centeno, S. (2001). Conditioning and Sexual Behavior: A Review. Hormones and Behavior 40: 291–321.
[19] Nestler, E. J. (2005). Is There a Common Molecular Pathway for Addiction? Nature Neuroscience 9, 11: 1445–1449.
[20] Hilton, D. L., and Watts, C. (2011). Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2: 19.
[21] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767; Robinson, M. and Wilson, G. (2012). Are Sexual Tastes Immutable? Psychology Today, November 8. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cupids-poisoned-arrow/201211/are-sexual-tastes-immutable
[22] Cera, N., Delli Pizzi, S., Di Pierro, E. D., Gambi, F., Tartaro, A., et al. (2012). Macrostructural Alterations of Subcortical Grey Matter in Psychogenic Erectile Dysfunction. PLoS ONE 7, 6: e39118.
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