Porn: Masking Pain With ‘Harmless’ Distractions

Here are things you can do to recognise and escape the porn trap

Terry Crews did a very brave, great deed when in a series of youTube videos he openly discussed his struggle with ‘porn addiction’. In these videos, Terry descries how porn became all encompassing in his life. After intensive rehab and self reflection, he became aware that he was using porn to mask the pain he was experiencing, and he set on a mission to overcome those life obstacles.

You might be thinking: me/my child or my partner are not addicted, it just consumes way too much of their/our life and is ruining their/our sex lives. Certainly, whether you call it an addiction, or a coping mechanism may be up for debate . Indeed research is unclear whether excessively using pornography can be considered pathological, and Psychologists are not in agreement that pornography addiction is a legitimate mental health condition .With that in mind lets for now just say stick to the term ‘excessive porn use’.

Excessive is most certainly something Terry was struggling with in his life:

“Some people say you can’t be addicted to porn, But when day turns into night, and you’re still watching porn, then you probably got a problem. I literally had to go to rehab for it, it changed me, it messed up my life, my wife was going to check out.” Dirty Little Secret part one

It might sound extreme- literally watching so much porn you lose track of time. But think of it this way; Imagine having your brain bombarded with imagery that is sexually stimulating, exciting, and taps into one of most innate, biological drives a human being has, then link that to the pleasure of an orgasm, and you have yourself a very, very strong positive feedback loop. If you can picture someone missing school/work, or staying in instead of socialising to play video games, then maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine someone doing it for porn. Think of it this way, if you can imagine someone doing all of the above with video games, simply add a strong biological urge to procreate on top of that, and you have porn.

The brain is designed to reward you with massive dumps of dopamine when you engage in acts like sex and eating, which explains why McDonalds and Porn is so prevalent in all corners of the earth. There is a reason we have an obesity epidemic in the modern world, sugary high fat, refined carb products are basically on tap, and your brain rewards you heavily for eating them. Its why you begin to salivate when you see the McDonalds golden arches, and why they put playground and toy stores near fast food chains, its all designed to create this positive feedback loop in the brain of continuous chemical and behavioural reinforcement.

But How Does Porn Fit Into This?

For animals, reproducing is a higher priority than eating, drinking, finding shelter and even defending their lives. Animals will literally kill each other and risk being killed, for a chance to reproduce. Scientists have discovered that if you place a male rat in a cage with a receptive female, he will only mate with her once, even if she is receptive to further sexual engagement. But if you add a second receptive female, the male rat will attempt to mate again. The male rat will continue to do this until he nearly dies. This is found across the animal kingdom and is called the Coolidge effect.

Pornographies power comes in the way it tricks the brain into thinking that the images on the screen are multiple sexual partners. The brain is not that great at distinguishing between reality and images on a screen, especially if those screen images are leading to a massive release of dopamine. Think of what it’s like to convince a teenager to play a game of chess over the latest massive multiplayer online game. There is no way something that is ‘real’ can compete with a video game, because the intensity of the game floods the brain with dopamine, whereas something like chess may produce a ‘drip feed’ of the happy hormone.

Dopamine is a powerful drug that floods the brain with desire, it promotes behaviour that is enjoyable, exciting and meaningful. When you click on porn you get a massive injection of dopamine, which overwhelms the brain and leads to a dulling of our receptivity to dopamine. This is where Psychiatrist Dr. Majeres proposes excessive porn use begins:

“What would you do if you are talking with someone on the phone, and he starts screaming at you, so that your ears hurt? You will turn down your phone’s speaker volume to cope. But if the person goes back to speaking in a normal volume, all you will now hear is silence.

It’s exactly the same in the brain. If a person keeps up the dopamine scream by overstimulating himself with porn, his brain will turn the volume way down — the brain’s synapses do not like being overstimulated with dopamine, so they respond by down-regulating some dopamine receptors (which means that receptors are withdrawn from the neuronal surface and then destroyed within the neuron). Down-regulation is how the brain turns down the dopamine volume. But once the dopamine binge is done, it is left feeling a vacuum of silence, and so it feels depleted.”

A vicious cycle emerges in which the viewer will now need to continue to click on porn to get the dopamine kick, all the while their brain is becoming numb to the effects, thus requiring more porn to try and get their kick. Unfortunately this leads to seeking another drug to add into the mix: adrenaline. Adrenaline, when mixed with dopamine is intoxicating and actually leads to the brain ‘rewiring itself’. When the brain rewires itself it is actively learning what activity it is that you did which led to such a pleasurable response. This will lead one to craving and seeking out the porn that led to the rush of adrenaline and dopamine. As you might imagine, to get an adrenaline rush, one needs to add something risky, kinkier then you would normally indulge in, or to shock, scare or disgust you. The implications for this, whilst outside the scope of this article, are obvious and concerning. Not least of all, is how porn becomes more extreme, more bizarre, and more ‘shock value’ to meet customer demand. What you click on determines what makes money, and therefore what you see on the internet.

Unfortunately, this dopamine dulling effect results in less dopamine for ‘normal’ life. People begin to feel bored, restless, depressed and unmotivated. As mentioned by Terry Crews, it consumed his life to the point he was not making time for others, because real life does not give you the same enjoyment as it once did. Imagine for a moment what this might do to ones sex life or interactions with loved ones?

Hiding Pain

“What I was told, was that I needed to become more aware about how you feel, where you are in a particular moment I had to realise when I was sad, lonely, depressed, those were the times I was more likely to use pornography. It’s just like eating, when you feel sad or lonely you grab food, for me it was pornography”- Dirty Little Secret, part two

Porn, like Alcohol, Cocaine, sex or video games can be used to mask pain. It may start as a distraction, a harmless desire to just ‘relax’ and ‘get away from the thoughts’, but quickly can escalate into an unhelpful coping mechanism which begins to ruin your life. As Terry Crews points out in his Dirty Little Secret series, he realised that he was using porn to cope, or rather not cope, with some underlying issues he was unable to face. Anyone who has suffered from Depression or Anxiety will know from reading this that it can be all too easy to pick up that bottle of wine, or to phone that ex, in order to deal with feelings of loneliness, poor self esteem, or anxiety. Anything the brain can do to chemically get away from the pain will be rewarding, and so it becomes convenient to rely on these mechanisms, instead of facing the real issues in ones life.

Is There A Way Out?

In recognising and dealing with difficulties in ones life, one has to begin with accepting something is wrong, and taking the very scary step of taking ownership of that issue. Whether depressed, anxious, suffering from trauma, terrible self esteem or whatever else, individuals have a great deal of power over how they navigate these issues. By facing up to these issues, and being open and honest with yourself, one can begin to move away from covering it up and hiding it away with these unhelpful coping strategies (such as porn) and really begin to address the issue head on. This is not easy, this is challenging, and may require guidance and support from a professional.

One helpful step, that is often discussed in therapy and rehab, is understanding that you are not a bad person for watching porn. You may do things you don’t like, you may have some bad habits, you may treat people you love badly when you hurt, but this does not make you inherently ‘faulty’. Another way to look at is (as described eloquently by Terry Crews), is the difference between guilt, and shame:

Guilt says you did a bad things, guilt can be a good thing, but shame says you ARE bad, when you think and believe that, there is no way out. I might as well use porn, or over eat, because if you believe that you are bad, you act accordingly. You have to change that paradigm, you have to believe you are good” Dirty Little Secret, part two

Guilt and Shame, and the important distinctions between them are well studied in Psychology. Guilt can prompt an individual to take action, to recognise a mistake, an error, or a conflict with their value, and to do something about it. Guilt can be a helpful feeling and thought in order to right a wrong. Shame however, is a very different, all encompassing, often parlaying thought and feeling. Shame makes an individual hide away from what they have done, to withdrawal, to be a bad person. Shame may actively prevent from taking those steps needed to move Beyond the pain.

What You Can Do

The excessive use of porn can lead to isolation, depression, less interest in spending time with loved ones, and less interest in sex. The excessive use of porn, or porn addiction, can mask a mental health issue or difficulties one is facing in their lives. Porn is a biologically powerful and unhelpful coping mechanism, no different to gambling, drinking or excessive video game playing. Viewed in this way, people can begin to look for help by coming to terms with the underlying issue and being honest with themselves about what is going on with them, and what they can do to begin tackling these issues.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store