Before You Go Incognito

If asked if you have watched porn, most of us can’t deny we have watched it at least once — it is now more accessible than ever with a click of a button thanks to the Internet. But despite its ability to provide pleasure, it has also been attributed to negative behaviours such as propagating unhealthy expectations.

[Photo: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash]

By Keith Lim

I remember telling my friends the negative effects of watching porn, only to face rebuttals, accusations of religious brainwashing, and jokes to change the topic. 

This uptight, almost instantaneous need to jump to porn’s defence suggests that porn has become a large part of some people’s lives.

Considering how easy it is to consume porn in our digital age, it is unsurprising that porn addiction — an inability to stop yourself from consuming porn even when faced with negative repercussions — is on the rise.

Hence, consuming porn poses a few questions — is it really that addictive? And, is our relationship with porn good, bad, or somewhere in between?

Is porn really that addictive?

The answer is that it depends on the person.

In his article, ‘Why is Pornography so Powerfully Addictive’, clinical director Dr. Thomas G. Kimball states, “It is reasonable to declare that not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes addicted to alcohol. The same can also be said for internet pornography. Not everyone who views pornography will become addicted.” 

But for those who do become addicted, Dr. Thomas says that this occurs because porn acts like a drug for the brain and can become very powerful for certain individuals.

Psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge adds to this in his book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’, where he explains that the dopamine produced during our porn-watching experience activates the brain’s pleasure centres, hence giving porn an addictive power.

Indeed, porn can be addictive, but not always.

It goes back to how our brains are wired — some people are simply not as sensitive to pornographic stimuli while others are extremely receptive to it.

Are there benefits to watching porn?

The Singapore government, in a symbolic move in 2010 to show that porn does not align with its conservative values, banned 100 websites, most of them pornographic in nature.

This, however, may be an unfair demonisation of porn. 

Porn has its benefits — one 2007 study showed that porn increases sex positivity and sexual knowledge. 

This means that porn may help people to be more open to their sexual identities and behaviours. These pornographic preferences can be a guide towards accepting who they are, hence preventing sexual repressement.

Furthermore, porn provides sexual knowledge, acting as a tool for couples to spice things up in the bedroom. With more sexual knowledge, this leads to new ways of connecting with a partner, thus improving one’s intimate relationship.

Additionally, a 2015 study concluded that porn allows for greater sexual responsiveness, i.e., a stronger desire for sex with a partner, allowing for a better sex life and a stronger intimate relationship.

Besides, ask any of your more candid friends and they would probably say porn is simply an enjoyable pastime.

Porn is stimulating and, if used in moderation, may be no different than gambling or eating junk food — it simply functions as a feel-good shortcut. Considering how hectic our lives are, porn may be a nice reward after a long day.

Is watching porn bad?

Reddit’s NoFap — an online forum with over 854,000 members that helps people cut their porn habits — frequently discusses porn’s disadvantages. 

On the subreddit, many talk about the negative effects of watching porn and a common drawback is often cited — feeling shame. 

Countless stories mention amassing porn collections instead of socialising and pursuing their life goals. Porn, hence, becomes the ultimate productivity-killer for some, and the act of throwing away precious time for momentary pleasure causes guilt.

Others on the subreddit also mention that porn warps their views on sex, making them have overly-high and warped expectations on their sexual performance and on their partners’ bodies. As a result, they feel that they are lacking when compared to the unrealistic standards propagated in porn.

Furthermore, many male reddit users discuss how porn makes them lust excessively — they begin seeing women as mere sexual objects instead of human beings. Hence, such destructive thoughts eventually lead to shame as people are horrified by their own selfish, indecent thoughts. 

Another common ill-effect mentioned is porn interfering with one’s focus.

Many Redditors report growing over-dependent on it to the point where they cannot function normally, growing restless and agitated if they have not had their daily (or even hourly) dose of porn. 

They also report finding it difficult to concentrate on normal, daily tasks as they keep thinking of porn scenes — with some admitting to practising risky behaviours like watching porn on their work computers to feed their addiction.

Another con is that porn can deter people from starting relationships out of fear or indifference, causing feelings of singleness and loneliness according to addictions psychotherapist Dr. Andew da Roza on The Straits Times’ Health Check Podcast

This suggests that people can become so fixated on porn that they view it as a replacement for real-life relationships. 

After all, when ‘intimacy’ is a click away, there may be little incentive for people to put in the effort in forging real-life relationships.

No one answer to porn

With categories such as ‘rape’, ‘upskirt’, ‘blackmail’ prominently displayed on porn sites, many associate sex crimes with porn viewership — especially in light of a rise in criminal deviant behaviour.

In Singapore, the Singapore Police Force saw an increase in reported rape cases from 162 in 2015 to 348 in 2020 and cases involving the distribution of obscene materials surged from 118 in 2015 to 255 in 2019. The Association of Women for Action and Research also reported that technology-facilitated sexual violence cases — such as revenge porn and using technology to send explicit messages — tripled from 47 in 2016 to 140 in 2019

However, the scientific community has yet to reach a consensus on the relationship between porn and crime. A 2012 study found that male participants showed greater aggression toward women when exposed to violent pornography, but a later 2020 research paper found such results to be inconclusive. 

Considering how sensitive we are towards porn, alongside cultural and religious stigmatisation, research into porn and its effects faces a tough challenge in discerning truth from bias. 

Porn-related articles from religious or conservative groups tend to be outrightly against porn, while liberal crowds usually take a more positive stance towards it. 

Porn touches upon the powerful emotion of lust and (partially) meets the near-universal desire for sexual intimacy. If one looks at porn from this angle, then porn is in a league of its own when compared to other forms of stimuli.

Hence, criticising or supporting porn may hit close to home for some people, making research into porn a bias-laden topic. 

So, whether porn is good or bad depends entirely on you. This dopamine-explosion of an activity negatively affects some more than others. 

If, however, you find your porn-use to be problematic, please seek proper help from a licensed professional

However, you may also consider porn-blocking programs such as ‘Qustodio’, using a mobile application tracker to encourage good habits or joining a recovery group such as ‘Sexaholics Anonymous’. Online, you may also find resources such as Matt Dobschuetz’s ‘Porn Free Radio’ or Reddit’s ‘NoFap’ to be useful.

Ultimately, the endless supply of porn is matched by an insatiable demand for it. Porn will never die; it thrives on the internet, an accessible pill for everybody.

Although porn’s effects vary, it is always good to know about porn’s pros, cons, addictive power, as well as the resources available to combat it (should you ever feel the need to do so) as it will only continue to grow in our digital age.

Its power as a ‘forbidden fruit’ — one that fulfils our wildest desires yet hooks us in a voyeuristic manner — is a double-edged sword.

Whether it is positive or negative depends entirely on you.