Porn promises immediate satisfaction, endless excitement, and easy intimacy, but in the end it robs you of all three. The more pornography you consume, the more you tend to withdraw emotionally from real people and rely on porn. Eventually it becomes more difficult to be aroused by a real person or to form a real relationship, and the resulting isolation and loneliness fuels the need for more porn.

Author and political activist Naomi Wolf has traveled all over the country talking with college students about relationships. “When I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike,” she says. “They know they are lonely together … and that [porn] is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out.” [1]

But what does porn have to do with loneliness?

“The more one uses pornography, the more lonely one becomes,” says Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with porn addicts for the last 30 years. [2] “Any time [a person] spends much time with the usual pornography usage cycle, it can’t help but be a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing kind of experience.” [3] The worse people feel about themselves, the more they seek comfort wherever they can get it. Normally, they would be able to rely on the people closest to them to help them through their hard times—a partner, friend, or family member. But most porn users aren’t exactly excited to tell anyone about their porn habits, least of all their partner. So they turn to the easiest source of “comfort” available: more porn.

“When one partner uses porn at a high frequency,” explains researcher Dr. Ana Bridges, “there can be a tendency to withdraw emotionally from the relationship.” [4] That’s partly because porn use causes the brain to rewire itself to connect sexual arousal with porn’s fantasies, [5] (See How Porn Changes the Brain.) making it harder for the user to become aroused by a real person in a real relationship. [6] (See How Porn Damages Your Sex Life.)

According to Bridges, as a porn consumer withdraws from his or her relationships, they experience “increased secrecy, less intimacy and also more depression.” [7] Studies have found that when people engage in an ongoing pattern of “self-concealment,”—which is when they do things they’re not proud of and keep them a secret—it not only hurts their relationships and leaves them feeling lonely, but also makes them more vulnerable to serious psychological issues. [8] For both male and female porn consumers, their habit is often accompanied by problems with anxiety, body-image issues, poor self-image, relationship problems, insecurity, and depression. [9]

That may be one reason why porn consumers struggle so much in their closest relationships. Studies have consistently shown that porn consumers tend to feel less love and trust in their marriages. [10] They also experience more negative communication with their partners, feel less dedicated to their relationship, have a harder time making adjustments to their partner, enjoy less sexual satisfaction, and commit more infidelity. [11] Meanwhile, spouses of porn consumers report decreased intimacy in their marriages and a feeling of being less understood by their porn-consuming partners. [12] Relationship experts, Drs John and Julie Gottman explain, “there are many factors about porn use that can threaten a relationship’s intimacy [which] for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction.”

A second reason porn consumers struggle with relationships is because of the nature of porn itself. Porn portrays both men and women as little more than bodies with a single purpose, to give and receive sexual pleasure. [13] Whether porn consumers like it or not, those perceptions often start creeping into how they see themselves and other people in real life. [14] The harder it becomes for users to see themselves and others as anything more than sexual objects, the harder it is to develop and nurture real relationships. [15]

“There’s a certain way of experiencing sexual arousal that is the opposite of closeness,” Brooks says. “At best, it can be managed somewhat by some people, but most of the time it creates a barrier that poisons relationships.” [16] The Gottmans go on to explain, “when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control… the relationship goal of intimate connection is confounded and ultimately lost.”

Porn promises immediate satisfaction, endless excitement, and easy intimacy, but in the end it robs a person of all three.

The kind of intimacy porn offers is nothing more than sexual titillation. Real intimacy offers so much more. Real intimacy is a world of satisfaction and excitement that doesn’t disappear when the screen goes off. It’s the breathtaking risk of being vulnerable to another human being. It’s inviting them not just into your bedroom, but into your heart and life. Real intimacy is about what we give, not just what we get. It’s other-centered, not self-centered. Intimacy is understanding someone at a level porn never attempts, and having the life-altering experience of having them listen—really listen—to you in return. It’s seeing yourself through other eyes, and caring about others as much as you care about yourself. It’s the astonishing, baffling, wonderful experience that artists and philosophers have been trying to describe ever since our lonely human tribe began.

It’s the opposite of loneliness. It’s love.

Citations
[1] Wolf, N. (2003). The Porn Myth. New York Magazine, Oct. 20.
[2] Brooks, G. R., (1995). The centerfold syndrome: How men can overcome objectification and achieve intimacy with women. San Francisco: Bass. Cited in Yoder, V. C., Virden, T. B., & Amin, K. (2005). Internet Pornography and Loneliness: An Association? Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 12, 19-44. doi:10.1080/10720160590933653
[3] Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.
[4] Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? Monitor on Psychology. 45(4) 46. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography.aspx
[5] 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; 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; Hilton, D. L. (2013) Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience and Technology 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; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. (208-209) New York: Penguin Books.
[6] 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. (104) 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.
[7] Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? Monitor on Psychology. 45(4) 46. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography.aspx
[8] Laird, R. D., Marrero, M. D., Melching, J. A., and Kuhn, E. S. (2013). Information Management Strategies in Early Adolescence: Developmental Change in Use and Transactional Associations with Psychological Adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 49(5), 928–937. doi:10.1037/a0028845; Luoma, J. B., et. al. (2013). Self-Stigma in Substance Abuse: Development of a New Measure. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 35, 223–234. doi:10.1007/s10862-012-9323-4; Rotenberg, K. J., Bharathi, C., Davies, H., and Finch, T. (2013). Bulimic Symptoms and the Social Withdrawal Syndrome. Eating Behaviors, 14, 281–284. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.05.003; Frijns, T. and Finkenauer, C. (2009). Longitudinal Associations Between Keeping a Secret and Psychosocial Adjustment in Adolescence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 33(2), 145–154. doi:10.1177/0165025408098020
[9] Flisher, C. (2010). Getting Plugged In: An Overview of Internet Addiction. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 46: 557–559. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1754.2010.01879.x; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In Stoner, J., & Hughes, D. (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Kafka, M. P. (2000). The Paraphilia-Related Disorders: Nonparaphilic Hypersexuality and Sexual Compulsivity/Addiction. In Leiblum, S. R., & Rosen, R. C. (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Ed. (pp. 471–503). New York: Guilford Press.
[10] Henline, B. H., Lamke, L. K., & Howard, M. D. (2007). Exploring perceptions of online infidelity. Personal Relationships, 14, 113-128. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2006.00144.x; Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004). Adult social bonds and the use of Internet pornography. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 75-88. doi:10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.08501006.x; Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 31-58. doi:10.1080/10720160008400206
[11] Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4
[12] Bergner, R., & Bridges, A. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: Research and clinical implications. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 193-206. doi:10.1080/009262302760328235
[13] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 80; Mosher, D. L., & MacIan, P. (1994). College Men and Women Respond to X-Rated Videos Intended for Male or Female Audiences: Gender and Sexual Scripts. Journal of Sex Research 31, 2: 99–112. doi:10.1080/00224499409551736
[14] Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013. Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M., (2016) Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441; 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
[15] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 79; Lyons, J. S., Anderson, R. L., & Larsen, D. (1993). A Systematic Review of the Effects of Aggressive and Nonaggressive Pornography. In Zillmann, D., Bryant, J. & Huston, A. C. (Eds.) Media, Children and the Family: Social Scientific, Psychodynamic, and Clinical Perspectives (p. 305). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates.
[16] Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.

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