Meet the New Generation of Porn Users

Is today’s Internet porn creating a new type of addicted user? Although most emotionally healthy users of pornography sites can take a look and move on, for some susceptible youth and adults the rapid-fire flow of intensely graphic imagery at the click of a mouse can be profoundly distracting as well as soothing, at a level far exceeding old-school porn. In fact, some sex addiction therapists have noted a curious trend: the possible emergence of a new type of compulsive user, one initiated and driven by early, intensive abuse of pornography.

In the past, chronically addicted porn users often reported a history of childhood trauma, such as emotional abandonment or physical or emotional abuse. That appears to be changing, says Stefanie Carnes, PhD, a certified sex addiction therapist and president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. “We are now seeing young people seeking treatment for porn addiction who appear to have less significant trauma histories or even none at all, but who have had heavy, early exposure to hard-core pornography in varying forms. Some appear to have experienced significant sexual conditioning to aggressive, violent pornography and have potentially developed an addictive or fetishistic relationship with such images.” Some therapists treating this population are theorizing that today’s easily available hard-core content has created a new type of “rapid onset” addiction.

Who Is at Risk for Pornography Addiction?

Meet The New Generation of Porn Users“Most healthy people are able to use porn, hookup apps and the like in non-compulsive and life-affirming ways,” says Rob Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, an international expert on sex and technology addiction and founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute. “This group will not become addicted and they do not experience negative consequences.” However, he says, individuals who are predisposed to addiction, impulsivity, compulsivity, depression or anxiety – usually thanks to a combination of genetic and environmental influences – have added risk and need to be extremely careful. “They may struggle with online porn use just as they might struggle with alcohol, drugs, gambling or any other potential addiction,” says Weiss.

Todd Love, PsyD, JD, LPC, an Athens, Georgia-based psychotherapist specializing in pornography addiction, agrees that while some are able to use Internet porn casually, it can be almost immediately addictive for others, and he urges caution. “When academic studies come out and say that porn is not bad, that it helps your sex life, it’s like saying that red wine isn’t bad, it helps prevent heart attacks,” he says. “It’s a fair statement, but you wouldn’t recommend that someone who is predisposed to alcoholism have a glass of red wine every day.  At some point, the benefit will be lost and the addiction will take over.” Thus, individuals who perhaps in the past would have used drugs, alcohol or gambling as a form of escape, are now potentially turning to the intensity of online porn.

Some therapists who work with this new generation of compulsive porn users are seeing a hidden toll: a desensitization to real-life sexual contact. In fact, some heavy consumers of hard-core Internet porn report having to conjure up images of pornography during sex to maintain arousal as well as having trouble maintaining intimate relationships with flesh-and-blood partners. “We’re seeing people in their early 20s who have been abusing porn for up to 30 hours a week and then can’t have intimate relationships,” says Dr. Carnes. “When it comes to having sex with a real partner they’re experiencing sexual dysfunction.” This problem has been pervasive enough among therapists to have gained its own label: porn-induced erectile dysfunction.

Internet Porn Is Everywhere

One thing is certain: We’re in the midst of an unprecedented proliferation of all kinds of pornography. Over the last two decades, access to online porn has exploded. For example, in 1997, there were approximately 1,000 known porn-focused websites, but in 2015 there are millions, serving untold numbers of users; the filtering software CYBERsitter, for example, currently blocks about 2.5 million porn sites. In a 2013 report, “Mobile Adult Content: Monetization, Technologies & Legislation 2013-2018,” investigators at Juniper Research estimated that by 2017, 250 million people will use their mobile phone or tablets to access adult sites.

“As digital technology has increased our highly affordable, mostly anonymous, nearly instant access to potentially addictive sexual imagery,” says Weiss, “porn addiction has become more problematic and widespread.” Today, he says, it would be difficult to find even a single porn addict who doesn’t act out most of his or her problem, at least initially, online. “And it’s not just adult males and teens who are struggling,” Weiss adds. “Women are more frequently presenting with interpersonal relationship and sexual problems related to their online sexual and romantic pursuits, many acting them out in the exact same ways as their male counterparts. It is also not unusual to see the person struggle with a simultaneous problem with overeating or drug abuse in order to tolerate the pain of living a double life.”

This article is the first in a three-part series on a new generation of porn user. Here is the second article: Part 2: What Happens When Children Watch Porn.

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