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3 Reasons Why a Porn Habit Can Hurt Your Friendships

Main issues with porn are that it can lead to isolation, objectification, and shame. None of these are great things for friendships.

By January 13, 2022No Comments

As humans, we are hard-wired to be social beings—to interact with others, to be in relationships.

Friendship is one of those needed relationships that studies show can be critical for a healthier mind and overall wellbeing. Real friends are irreplaceable, as we all likely know from personal experience.

So what’s porn got to do with friendship?

It turns out, a lot. While we often talk about how porn can affect romantic relationships, and how it can be harmful to couples, we also want to shed a spotlight on porn’s harms to those people we hang out with all the time, those we can count on no matter what—our friends.

Some main issues with porn are that it can lead to isolation, objectification, and shame. Unfortunately, porn naturally fuels or causes feelings of loneliness and depression. It can cause the consumer to emotionally withdraw into a fantasy world, and disconnect from their real one.

But that’s not all—here are a few things porn fuels that can sometimes (not always) end up harming friendships.

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1. Isolation

Psychologists have demonstrated that porn produces more loneliness as more is consumed.

Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with people struggling with unwanted porn habits for the last 30 years, explains that, “Anytime [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.”Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.COPY 

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 difficult times—a partner, friend, or family member. But many porn consumers 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.

As some porn consumers find themselves further down this cycle, an isolating porn habit can lead them to skip out on interacting with friends, participating in hobbies, or connecting with the people in their lives.Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & Mclellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiological Advances From The Brain Disease Model Of Addiction. New England Journal Of Medicine, 374, 363-371. doi:10.1056/Nejmra1511480COPY Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017COPY  Some consumers can become so emotionally and physically reliant on porn that they may start to prefer watching porn to participating in real-life sexual experiences, which can understandably seriously harm their relationships.Sun, C., Miezan, E., Lee, N., & Shim, J. W. (2015). Korean Men’s pornography use, their interest in extreme pornography, and dyadic sexual relationships.27(1), 16-35. doi:10.1080/19317611.2014.927048COPY Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141COPY 

One consumer phrased it like this:

“Pornography is a super lonely endeavor. I ran to porn whenever I was lonely, yet it only breeds loneliness. It also became a crutch if I ever was bored, disappointed, or angry at myself.”

Connecting the dots, it’s pretty obvious how the withdrawal from real relationships, healthy sources of comfort can cause a major strain on those people closest to porn consumers—including friends.

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2. Objectification

Studies continue to show that porn warps the idea of consumers so that they begin to see sexual objects and body parts instead of people.

Not long ago, Princeton and Stanford psychologists performed a study showing a group of men two sets of pictures, some of fully-clothed women and others of women who had been sexualized and were barely clothed. The psychologists monitored their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is the part of the brain involved in recognizing human faces and distinguishing one person from another. For the most part, the mPFC part of the brain was activated with each picture. However, when the subjects of the study were shown the pictures of sexualized women, this part of the brain was not activated. Basically, the automatic reaction in their brains suggested that they didn’t perceive the sexualized women as fully human, rather they saw them as objects, focusing on their bodies and body parts. The researchers concluded, “sexualized women were perceived as having the least control over their own lives” and “this suggests that sexualized women are more closely associated with being the objects, not the agents, of action as compared to clothed women.Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 23(3), 540–551. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2010.21497COPY 

Check out what this consumer said that illustrates this concept:

“I find that these images I’ve seen stay with me. When I walk across campus and see so many beautiful girls, all I see are body parts. Literally, my eyes can’t help but fixate. I subconsciously rank potential girls by their physical appearance and the potential of hooking up with them. Porn has stopped me from being able to see girls for who they are.”

The people in pornography are often explicitly presented as objects, and porn videos are listed and labeled with the specific acts they perform or physical attributes they possess so the observer can “order” porn that fits their exact expectations. With so many people consuming pornography, is it any wonder that many are developing attitudes of sexual entitlement and objectification? Reducing people to physical terms and self-serving labels is the exact type of sexual objectification that sets the stage for sexual violence.Gervais, S. J., & Eagan, S. (2017). Sexual objectification: The common thread connecting myriad forms of sexual violence against women. The American journal of orthopsychiatry, 87(3), 226–232. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000257COPY 

In fact, research routinely shows that frequent porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others.Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.COPY Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598COPY 

It’s important to note as well that objectification doesn’t just happen toward women. Both men and women can be dehumanized and objectified in the wake of continual porn consumption.

There may be a lot of mutual love, interests, or hobbies in a good friendship, but objectification is not usually on the list, and with good reason. For any healthy relationship, our motto holds true: people are not products.

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3. Shame

Like we said earlier, shame is often a common result of porn consumption. It is increasingly problematic and it closes consumers in on themselves, prevents them from reaching out to seek help in their relationships. Why?

Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher of shame and its effects, explains:

“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Shame—rather than feelings of guilt, which can positively motivate change—produces this deeply ingrained feeling of unworthiness that makes consumers think they can’t reach out to their loved ones; it drives a higher compulsion to porn consumption as well as higher levels of depression and distress, with less motivation to change behavior. What does all this mean?

Basically, porn fueling shame in consumers is like the lab rat on the wheel, only the faster it runs, the more stuck it is in its situation. It only spirals further out of control, leaving the consumer feeling worse and worse, and drawing in from connections and friendships he or she no longer feels worthy of having.

If you have been struggling to quit an unwanted porn habit, please know that you’re not alone. It can feel really lonely and frustrating, but there is hope. While research shows that consuming porn can fuel the cycle of loneliness, research also shows that it is possible to overcome a porn habit and its negative effects.Young K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.4.3COPY Nathanson, A. (2021). Psychotherapy with young people addicted to internet pornography. Psychoanal.Study Child, 74(1), 160-173. doi:10.1080/00797308.2020.1859286COPY  According to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. 18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182COPY  So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress. Like anything, it takes time for the brain to recover, but daily efforts make a big difference in the long run.

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Breaking the cycle

While isolation, objectification, and shame aren’t exactly the most positive things to talk about, they are key ingredients in porn’s methods of hurting real relationships, including friendships.

Still, there’s always hope. Always. And as personal accounts reveal, oftentimes what saves those friendships is openness and honesty, the exact opposite of what porn pushes consumers to do.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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