4 surprising things you need to know about men and pornography

The great availability of porn online is ruining the lives of a generation of men and boys.

Mar 1, 2020, 3:35 pm*

Internet Culture

I was scared almost to death the day I electrocuted my penis. I had discovered my mother’s electric vibrator and found that playing with it around my genitals gave both an interesting humming sound and an increasingly heightened feeling of pleasure. When that continued through an explosive orgasm—my first one ever, at age 11—I went from being erect and excited to becoming limp and drained.

My 11-year old brain tried to figure out what happened and became frightened when the only possible solution came to mind. I had been warned about the dangers of an electrical appliance falling into the bathtub and killing a person, and I was told never to use an appliance if my feet were wet. I was sure that this had led to the electrocution of my penis. It was clearly limp and, I was sure, dead. I prayed to God that if my penis were restored to life I’d never to that again.

My penis and the rest of me survived and true to my word, I never again used an electric vibrator to masturbate. I graduated from the vibrator to a nature magazine I found one day, and then to borrowed copies of Playboy magazine, and then to a girlfriend, and finally a wife. Like most men, when the possibilities of sexual stimulation on the Internet became available, I tried it. Very stimulating, I’ll have to admit, but it never captured my attention like it has many men and women today, particularly boys and young men who have grown up with computers and the Internet.

As a psychotherapist specializing in male health, I’ve seen an increasing number of young men between the ages of 14 and 24 (and many outside that age group) who are using online sex in ways that are causing problems in their lives. A number of them are suffering from erectile dysfunction, anxiety, and depression. They tell me that they are having difficulty getting aroused by “real, live females,” which makes them ashamed and causes them to turn even more to Internet stimulation.

Since opportunities for online sexual stimulation will continue to increase, here are some things you need to know.

1) Many boys and men are having a difficult time having healthy sexual relationships with women.

In 2011, Philip Zimbardo, PhD., one of the icons in social science research for more than four decades, presented a short TED talk called The Demise of Guys. Zimbardo said, “In record numbers, guys are flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls, and failing sexually with women.” This is a tragedy for men and women alike.

2) Online sexual stimulation can become addictive.

I’ve worked with people who have become addicted to everything from alcohol and marijuana to cocaine and heroin. But people can become addicted to behaviors as well as substances, including gambling and sex. When asked what was causing the difficulties men and boys are having developing healthy sexual relationships with women, Zimbardo says that a good deal of the problem can be traced to unintended consequences of the Internet:

I think it’s excessive Internet use in general, excessive video gaming, and excessive new access to pornography. The problem is these are arousal addictions. Drug addiction, you simply want more. Arousal addiction, you want different.

3) Symptoms of addiction may not be recognized.

Most doctors and therapists have not been aware of the dangers of online sexual stimulation and may not ask about symptoms that may be related to the use of erotica online. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Unexplained erectile dysfunction (ED).
  • Delayed ejaculation.
  • Declining interest in real partners.
  • Escalation of use of online erotica that match original tastes.
  • Continued use of online sexual stimulation in spite of problems.
  • Males have a biological draw towards sex with different partners.

One of the biological realties of male vs. female sexuality is that sex for a woman can result in a pregnancy and a baby. Men, however, don’t get pregnant, and there is an evolutionary advantage to having many offspring. Since it’s biologically less dangerous for him to spread his seed than it is for a woman to receive it, men are biologically conditioned to be more interested in a variety of partners. I’m not saying this is true of all men or even most men in practice. I’m saying it’s a biological tendency that we have to be aware exists.

When men find it difficult to relate to a variety of women, they may choose variety in make-believe sexual partners.

Online sex with its infinite variety can draw males to an endless search for “more” and “different.”

In real life, there are only so many women available to a particular male and he has to work to make a connection, develop a relationship, and interest a partner in the joys of sex with him. With online sex, a guy doesn’t have to work very hard to find an attractive woman who will interest him. There are an infinite number of imaginary partners and they can all bring him to orgasm. It’s easy to become addicted.

One of my clients said, “My drug of choice is more. Too much is never enough.” In the case of online sexual stimulation, there’s always more and more and more. As I said in a book I wrote a number of years ago, we become hooked on “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

4) There is help for people who feel that online sexual stimulation is becoming a problem.

My colleague, Andrew Smiler, PhD, has written an excellent article that offers three simple, yet effective, practices that can help. Anatomy and physiology teacher Gary Wilson has written an excellent book, Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction. On his website he also offers articles, videos, and information about breaking free from Internet addictions. He has a newly updated video, Porn-induced Erectile Dysfunction, which I highly recommend.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project and has been reprinted with permission.

Photo via Môsieur J./Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Dec 4, 2014, 10:00 am