The growth in pornography is linked to the ease of access to the Internet and the sheer volume of online pornography available. Most users are accessing free online pornographic material [80-90%], and 24% of smartphone users look at pornography on their handsets.
The effect upon couple relationships can be devastating and up to 50% of divorce cases cite obsessive interest in pornographic websites as part of the reason for relationship breakdown.
Use of pornography per se is not necessarily the problem; some couples and individuals enjoy the use of pornography and maintain healthy and loving relationships. [The ethics of pornography is beyond the scope of this short article]. However, some individuals are more at risk of developing an addictive and compulsive use of Internet pornography, perhaps as a defence against depression or anxiety, or experience of childhood trauma.
Spiral of Addiction
Unfortunately the guilt and shame that addiction to pornography arouses, leads to further withdrawal, depression and isolation and the couple relationship is neglected and avoided. Partners can feel angry and resentful towards the addict. They may feel rejected and unattractive, humiliated and shamed. For both parties these problems are difficult to talk about with anyone and often such a couple struggles even to seek professional help, so great is their hurt and distress. However, once lines of communication are opened up and help and support enlisted, then positive change can begin.
Once the underlying factors that might lead to an individual becoming addicted to pornography are addressed and understood better then an appropriate and individualised treatment model can be constructed. Often the experience of being supported by a compassionate and non-judgemental therapist is the catalyst for change.
Young People and Pornography Addiction
Young people are exposed to pornography in an unprecedented way. Research shows a significant drop in the current rate of teen pregnancies, suggesting young people are having less sex but engaging in online sexual activity more. The ‘sexual templates’ of young children, laid down before the age of 10, can be distorted by exposure to on screen pornography. Boys that may become fixated on pornography can develop unrealistic ideas of human sexual behaviour and then find that this impairs their experience of ‘real’ sex with partners. Equally girls are growing up with pressures to look and perform like the young women they see in pornography. Again, some adolescents are mature enough to realise that intimate sexual relationships require love, respect and communication on both sides. They may be fortunate enough to have come from an environment that models this way of relating. Other young people are less fortunate.
How Can Therapy Help?
Therapy can help the individual or the couple work out what the underlying causes of addictive use of pornography might be and then think about how positive change might be managed. Unravelling the unconscious aspects of the compulsion can be essential if this change is to be lasting. Addressing any addiction takes courage and perseverance. Working with a trusted and supportive therapist can be the difference between success and failure.