It is of little surprise to most individuals that one of the preeminent concerns leading many parents and adult clients to enter into therapy involves the poor impulse control related to online pornography viewing. Parents, understandably concerned, often focus on the active pursuit and eager viewing of these materials. Adults, often as a result of undesirable conflicts around these behaviors, often indicate challenges moving past pornographic use. However, for many individuals, pornography use holds a more complicated and possibly comprehensive place in their lives.
Viewing pornography is often much more complex than viewing other media. Sexual desire and impulse are often inherent in many individuals. This is then compounded by seemingly countless variations in videos ranging from differences in participants, locations, physical appearance, age, fetish, and activities performed. The unique combination of inherent interest, the thrill of novelty, and accompanied anonymity create an often difficult to resist cycle as the reward circuit in our brain associates this activity with pleasurable ends.
Consequently, the use of pornography does not discriminate based on a particular gender, age, or life-stage period. Below are numerous statistics pertaining to current trends in pornography use.
1. Currently, the average age of first exposure to pornography is age 11. (1)
2. Of sexual content produced by individuals under age 15. (1)
a. 85% used a webcam. (1)
b. 93% featured young girls. (1)
c. 90% of images and videos were distributed on third-party websites. (1)
3. 32% of teens admit to intentionally accessing nude or pornographic content online with 43% of
these individuals doing so weekly. (1)
4. Among 12-14 year-old-children, 88% of them used the internet to view content. (1)
5. 93% of boys and 62% of girls have seen online pornography before age 18. (1)
6. Projecting forward – Weekly pornography use was associated with inconsistent condom use,
sexting, and experimental sexual behavior. (1)
7. 55% or married men and 70% of non-married men view pornography at least once a month.
However, numerous male groups have stipulated viewing pornography multiple times a week:
a. 8-30 year-olds = 63%. (1)
b. 31-49 year-olds = 38%. (1)
c. 50-68 year-olds = 25%. (1)
8. Lastly, faith communities are not inoculated to the influence of pornography. Incidence rates for Christian men and women are virtually identical to that of non-faith communities. (1)
These trends in use are alarming and have many implications. Often, the conversation focuses on using a means of physical gratification. While this is a rationale for many, pornography is far more nuanced and we risk missing the forest because we are too focused on the individual trees. Some research has indicated numerous facets of pornography use often overlooked. For example, men who engage in this activity for temporary emotional escapes endorsed significantly increased risk for negative consequences. In this design, researches identified numerous reasons for pornography use:
1. 94% for sexual gratification. (2)
2. 87.2% for arousal. (2)
3. 86% for orgasm. (2)
4. 74% for stress relief. (2)
5. 71% for boredom. (2)
6. 53% wanting to forget daily problems. (2)
These results indicate that many men may be using pornography not as simple a gratification event but for coping with emotional or psychological pain/discomfort. Utilizing this viewpoint, pornography is seen as more than a potentially harmful activity and instead as a maladaptive coping skill that serves a deeper purpose for the person. This may help explain why removing this activity can be so hard for many people– it serves a purpose. In this model, pornography use can be conceptualized similarly to many substances that are difficult to avoid. Individuals stuck in this cycle may pursue pornography for emotional relief, not address the root problem, be exposed by their loved ones, create additional distress which results in
seeking out coping skills to help relieve stress (which may be pornography). (2)
So how do we help?
1. Continuing to challenge our ingrained masculine culture which has often discouraged emotional expression and healthy intimate connection. This includes father’s role modeling healthy communication and genuine emotional expressions that your young men can implement.
2. Adopting a behaviorist approach to understanding these behaviors. What drives my child toward these behaviors? How can I steer them into something else? Why do they keep coming back to these videos? What are they viewing? Is the content of two age-peers or is the content perhaps highly violent or of alarming themes?
3. Engage in healthy sexual conversations with children and teens and help them channel their interests into healthy methods of expression.
4. Couples may benefit from couple’s therapy and perhaps sexual therapy to help address the maladaptive presence of pornography in their marriage. Some of these techniques may include sensate focus, mindfulness training, and developing healthy sexual expectation in session.
5. If the negative coping skill is removed, something of commensurate comfort will need to be implemented.
6. Separating the person from the behavior. Instead of, “I am disappointed in you,” use, “I am disappointed in that choice.”
7. Differentiating inherent interest from associated behaviors. Many men and women are created as sexual beings. Sexual interest is a natural impulse. What can be problematic is how we express and process these impulses. Care should be given to not create a negative impression of sexual interest which may negatively hinder healthy sexual activity in appropriate contexts.
8. Opening communication. Letting those around know that they can approach you without judgment and be constructive in communication.
9. Create an internet safe home. This may include filters, increased familiarity with parental controls, placing computers and tablets as strictly in family spaces, pre-screening movies before viewing them at home, and limiting applications that may increase anonymity and encourage impulsive choices (e.g. anonymous browsers or picture apps such as snapchat). For adults, this may include using programs which send alerts to accountability partners when inappropriate viewing is occurring or allowing a partner to view browser history on occasion.