What happens when you drop a male rat into a cage with a receptive female rat? First, you see a frenzy of copulation. Then, progressively, the male tires of that particular female. Even if she wants more, he has had enough. However, replace the original female with a fresh one, and the male immediately revives and gallantly struggles to fertilise her. You can repeat this process with fresh females until he is completely wiped out.

This is called the Coolidge effect—the automatic response to novel mates. It’s what might have started you down the road to getting hooked on Internet porn.

In the last couple of years studies have been showing an increase in sexual problems among young males. While the numbers vary, a 2007 study of the American Journal of Medicine showed that this affects more than 18 million men in the United States over the age of 20. One of the factors has been attributed to the widespread exposure to internet porn.

The specific numbers are unknown since it has been difficult to do proper research.

Researches could not find any college aged males who were not using internet porn. This created a blindspot. Imagine if all guys started smoking at age 10 and there were no groups that didn’t, we would think that lung cancer is normal for all guys.

This article will deconstruct porn addiction in males. Since conclusive scientific data is unavailable I will extrapolate what we know from other addictions and compare this with first person data obtained from different ‘I stopped watching porn groups’. I will then explain why watching porn can be bad for you and why it is primarily a male problem by showing how attraction works in both sexes.

Why we get addicted to porn

Very simply put, addiction is the repetition of specific behavior that causes us to feel good. We feel good because we release certain hormones like dopamine. The more dopamine we release, the better we feel and chances of us wanting to repeat the same behavior. Dopamine feeds off novelty, meaning that novel and pleasurable experiences will cause our brains to release more dopamine than consecutive similar ones, to the point where we reach the Coolidge effect.

(Please note that other and new research suggests that (drug) addiction is caused by a lack in our social environment rather than the addictive nature of the drug, this might explain why some individuals get addicted while others don’t).

Internet porn is especially enticing to the reward circuitry because novelty is always just a click away.

A variety of symptoms manifest themselves among males who regularly watch pornographic material. Do any of these symptoms apply to you?

  • You have problems getting or keeping an erection.
  • You experience delayed ejaculation.
  • You masturbate more with porn than without.
  • You don’t get as excited masturbating without porn than with.
  • You find yourself developing fetishes and sexual thoughts regarding matters you would not have encountered without internet porn.
  • You have a decreased libido, you are depressed, fatigue, experience low energy levels and have no satisfaction in life.
  • Real women do not arouse you as much as the ones you see on the internet.
  • You experience irrational anxieties when you think about sex.
  • You find porn more exciting than having sex with another human being 

So what happens?

The World Wide Web is like an infinite stream of boobs, a place where we can see more ‘super hot’ women in a time span of 10 minutes than our ancestors could in multiple lifetimes. The Coolidge Effect is no longer the exception but the rule.

When you first start watching porn it easily sufficed to watch one non-moving nipple-slip to be able to reach an orgasm. But due to the novelty effect, after years of consistent consumption, this won’t cut it anymore. The same pornographic material won’t excite you and you feel compelled to explore novel endeavors.

Behavioral addictions (food addiction, pathological gambling, video gaming and Internet addiction) involve the same fundamental mechanisms leading to a collection of shared alterations in brain anatomy and chemistry.

All addictions share the same constellation of brain changes

  1. Desensitization — > the more porn you watch, the more you need to reach the same amounts of dopamine release.
  2. Sensitization — > the more porn you watch, the more associations with porn you are going to make when facing stimuli which can induce these thoughts. The incognito browsing function in Google Chrome’s browser is invented to surf the web anonymously without leaving visible trace on your computer. If you are used to watching porn on a computer and are afraid of leaving traces, this is a perfect solution for that. While the initial idea is to surf anonymously, you will start making associations with watching porn. Due to the rewired nerve connections in the brain the reward circuitry gets stimulated with cues related to the addiction.
  3. Hypofrontality — > Reduced impulse control and weakened ability to foresee consequences. The more porn you watch, the more difficult it will be to refrain from watching it and the less you will care about the consequences.
  4. Dysfunctional stress circuits — > Chances of a relapse increase.  Dopamine works through the brains main stress area in a way that it increases the activity of the brain involved in addiction relapse. That is why often time’s addicts relapse during stressful periods in life.

These are just a few of the many brain changes the brain undergoes under the influence of an addiction. Research in this field is yet limited, as it is a quite new phenomenon. However, there is research which suggests that compulsive pornography users show the same brain activity as alcohol and drugs addicts (watch the documentary on this here).

What about women?

The reason why most of this does not apply to women in the same way as to men is because of the difference in female and male perception of sexuality. Men and women have different sexual cues. Simply put, men are primarily visually and externally focused and women are primarily psychologically and internally focused. Among men psychological and physical arousal is intertwined together and porn is seen as an individual thing. They watch a porn-video, masturbate, get an orgasm and are done. Among women psychological and physical arousal is not necessarily linked. For women porn is more of a social thing. They prefer to read erotic novels or discuss the subject on forums, and the meaning of sex often transcends having sex and getting an orgasm. Therefore women are less prone to getting addicted to internet porn.

So what? Why should I stop watching porn?

“Don Jon: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.” –Even Hollywood has caught up on the news

While the numbers vary, a 2007 study of the American Journal of Medicine showed that more than 18 million men in the United States over age 20 are affected with an Erectile Dysfunction Disorder”Erectile dysfunction (ED) or impotence is sexual dysfunction characterised by the inability to develop or maintain an erection of the penis during sexual performance. The numbers may even be greater, since not many people like to share this information, yet strong correlations between watching porn and having an erectile dysfunction disorder have been found.

When the brain gets re-wired, it takes a higher arousal threshold in order to get an erection, up to a point where such a state of arousal becomes impossible. Unfortunately there is not enough research yet to draw the line of how much porn one can watch to prevent this.

Delayed ejaculation is a problem often followed by erectile dysfunctions. Masturbating without porn becomes difficult or unsatisfying, earlier genres of porn are not as exciting anymore and losing erection while attempting penetration are just a few widespread symptoms. Shame and a decrease of ones self-worth are often the psychological results.

In 2003 a study on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone levels in men showed an increase of 145,7% on the 7th day of abstinence. Testosterone is known to fuel a healthy libido (more sex), build muscle mass (more adventurous sex) and help maintain energy levels (longer sex).

Over the past one and a half year we have had our own ongoing conversation on our 30 days of No Porn and No Masturbation challenge. While it is not scientific, I believe testimonials and personal stories can indicate the first signs of a porn epidemic. The huge enthusiasm in one of our biggest forum topics has been a great motivator for me to write this article.

Here is a short selection of what our members said:

“4 days in, feel way more conscious on all levels, real, meditation is way more amazing its like you can channelize that powerful sexual energy to energize some cells in the body which need more energy to have that equilibrium balance effect.”

&

“4 weeks in. 30 day challenge complete. Not stopping though, I’m gonna keep it up for as long as it seems right. The world is a beautiful place. Abstaining from masturbating put a fire under my ass to go out there and find something real. The human body doesn’t know the difference between masturbation and actual sex, therefore when you masturbate your body no longer needs to go out and find a mate for a while. It thinks it has done its job and planted its seed. Without Masturbation I have been able to go out into the real world and meet real women and as a result I met an amazing girl that I plan on reserving all this sexual energy for.”

&

“I’m excited to see that this thread has got a recent rejuvenation. Today is my 80th day of quitting porn and it’s really been amazing. At first, I was doing no porn, no masturbation, but the real problem I think revolves around the overstimulation your brain receives from watching porn all the time. I used to jerk it to porn twice a day and realized it was becoming a problem based mainly on the amount of time I’ve wasted.

Since I’ve quit porn and have considerably cut down on the amount of masturbation, I’ve noticed a lot of amazing results. I think the number one best improvement on my life is I use my free time so much better. Twice a day of watching porn adds up to 30 to 45 minutes wasted. I now spend that time on other activities that I just started since I quit like running, hiking, brewing beer, and reading a lot more. Sex has been a lot better. I’m able to get much more involved in the moment and have little to no worry about the “expectations” of performance.”

I hope I have made it clear that this article is not about quitting masturbation or sex, it is about quitting (or limiting) porn. Try it out and experience it yourself and please leave your thoughts in the comments.

How to start:

  • First 7 to 10 days are most difficult, if you can manage to get through them, the remaining days will be much easier.
  • Install an anti porn extension.
  • Whenever you feel the urge to watch porn, do as many push ups as you can or take a cold shower.
  • Notice that such an urge is more likely in moments where we feel anxious or have to complete a task we don’t enjoy. Porn is often a form of procrastination and ‘giving in to feel good’. However, in the long run, watching porn can be bad for you.
  • Remove all pornographic material (even bikini posters) from your room/house.
  • Avoid places you normally surf on the internet which are likely to induce thoughts about sex/porn.
  • Develop self-love and inquire within if watching porn is a healthy relationship with yourself.
  • Be aware that porn can be bad for you, A negative self-relation can cause guilt and motivation problems.

For more and more detailed information have a look at this TED talk by Gary Wilson.