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Posted July 18, Reviewed by Jessica Schrader. Roberto, a year-old college student, was nervous. This was his first therapy session and he had no idea what to expect. Sexually, I mean. After further gentle questioning, Roberto admitted that he was watching porn two to three hours per day. He was drunk all the time and yelling at my mom, so I would go in my room and lock the door and lose myself in porn for a few hours as a way to not hear or feel what was happening. Certainly there were other issues to deal with, particularly the unresolved childhood trauma surrounding his father.
But his escapist compulsivity with online pornography needed to be addressed first, as it was clearly and directly linked to his most pressing issues.
Physically healthy young men like Roberto appear in therapy offices more and more frequently, and clinical experience suggests that their extensive use of pornography—especially the unending, constantly changing array on the Internet—may be a primary cause of their presenting issues. We now see research that confirms this. The most recent study, looking at French men age 18 and older, examines usage patterns, motivations for use, and possible effects of online sexual activity, and reaches three important conclusions:.
The first finding, that the men use porn, should not surprise anyone— research tells us that 13 percent of all internet searches seek some form of erotic content.
The third finding, that heavy porn use can lead to sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, is also no surprise—at least not to clinicians who work with compulsive porn users on a regular basis. for more on that issue. But it is the second conclusion, on the surface is the least "sexy" of the three findings, that is by far the most meaningful from a diagnostic and treatment perspective.
In addition to the three findings listed above, the study found that the most common reasons for engaging in online sexual behaviors involve sexual pleasure—with However, a desire to regulate uncomfortable emotions was not far behind, with Obviously, most porn users have multiple motivations, such as feeling stressed out or bored while also wanting sexual satisfaction and orgasm. This information gets really useful, from a clinician's perspective, when the research team links the reasons for going online to other factors, such as time spent online, activities engaged in online, and, most important, negative life consequences.
What they found was a powerful link between escapist motivations and negative consequences. They concluded that men like Roberto who use online porn to escape emotional discomfort are far more likely to experience related problems than men who go online primarily for sexual pleasure.
This indicates that porn use and other online sexual activities are, for some users, a maladaptive coping strategy rather than a pleasure-seeking strategy.
This result is very much in line with what we know about other compulsive and addictive behaviors, including substance use disorders and gambling disorder. In fact, almost any addict of any type can tell you that the biggest trigger for use, regardless of the substance or behavior, is emotional discomfort—stress, anxiety, depression, fearboredom, lonelinessshameetc.
In short, these individuals use not to feel pleasure but to escape emotional discomfort. Self-Soothing and Compulsive Behaviors. Usually when people think about the use of external experience as a way to numb their feelings and dissociatethey think about the use of substances like cigarettes, alcoholprescription medicationand illicit drugs.
And without question, these are used by millions of people as a temporary escape. But self-soothing and self-regulating behaviors can be used in exactly the same fashion. In fact, this occurs rather often.
When this occurs, all sorts of problems may ensue—damaged relationships, trouble at work or in school, financial woes, declining physical health, anxiety, depression, shame, legal issues, and more. As this recent study shows, with porn there is a clear link between repeated attempts at mood regulation and problematic usage. As such, the most effective way to treat problematic porn use—usage that in negative life problems—initially involves not prescription medications and extensive psychodynamic psychotherapybut a behavioral approach focused, in part, on the development of healthier coping mechanisms.
Robert Weiss, Ph. Robert Weiss Ph. This Is Why. About the Author. Read Next. Back Psychology Today. Back Find a Therapist. Back Get Help. Personality Passive Aggression Personality Shyness.
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