Man at His Best

Why Are Some Millennials Swearing Off Porn?

Not everyone is a fan of the Internet's most ubiquitous staple.​

BY KATHERINE SCHREIBER | Jul 8, 2016 | Culture

Getty

It's no question that porn is one of the most popular forms of media. According to a paper published in the Journal of Internet Law's July 2005 edition, the sales revenue generated by on and offline X-rated material topped USD30 billion dollars, and well over 15 million websites qualify as pornographic.

But while traffic to porn sites continues to grow, so too do the number of millennials who are directing their clicks (and attention) elsewhere. Cosmopolitan.com spoke with four of them to understand why some 20-and-30-somethings are shunning X-rated material.

Tangled in the Web

Alexander Rhodes, 27, had his first exposure to porn around age 11, when an Internet advertisement depicting a simulated rape scene popped up on a computer his father had built for him. Rhodes wasn't sure what, exactly, was happening. But he recalled being instantly hooked by the bare breasts and torso of the woman in the grainy image.

This was the early 2000s, when the Internet's rapid growth welcomed a flood of X-rated images and video clips that few parental controls could keep up with. Rhodes just so happened to hit puberty during this time. And he believed a combination of raging teenage hormones coupled with limitless access to virtual sex gave rise to what he considers a full-blown addiction to porn—well before he had the chance to have actual sex with a real human being.

"By 14 I was doing it over ten times a day, easily," Rhodes told Cosmopolitan.com, recalling how often he'd masturbate to porn, in between breaks from the video games that filled what remained of his free time.

He even developed chafing on his penis, he said, and, at one point, a scab.
 

Rhodes said his porn and masturbation habits interfered with his social life and repressed his self-esteem. "I had friends," he recalls, "but generally had low self confidence, especially with talking to women. I missed out on many opportunities to have a fulfilling adolescence." He even developed chafing on his penis, he said, and, at one point, a scab. He tried to stop numerous times but recalls feeling powerless over his behaviour, unable to control himself.

By 19, he said he'd become so dependent on porn that he was unable to maintain an erection during his first sexual encounters with women—unless he fantasised about his favourite X-rated videos. As he entered his early twenties, Rhodes grew increasingly concerned with his habits. "I started to question how healthy it was to masturbate to Internet porn so regularly. I thought there's no way this could be healthy," he said.

Through reddit.com Rhodes connected with hundreds of other men struggling to curtail their dependence on porn and excessive masturbation. With their support, Rhodes said he gradually regained control over his behaviour, learned to authentically connect with other human beings IRL, and, as a result, became a much better lover. From this, he founded NoFap.com, an online platform designed to educate people about porn's purported effects on the brain and offer blueprints for weaning oneself off of compulsive self-pleasuring and nonstop porn consumption.

But the struggle to renounce all things X-rated isn't solely a man's issue. Some women, like Sara L*, a twenty-two year old housekeeper from California, who feels that the only way to control her desire to masturbate to porn was to forswear the two altogether.

Raised as a Christian, Sara never considered searching for X-rated material until her husband explained to her he struggled to control his viewing habits. Curious to see what he meant—and confused as to why, if he knew it upset her, he still did it anyway—she plugged a few key terms into her search engine and began to realise why this stuff held such appeal. Once she began consuming porn on a daily basis, she recalls feeling the emotional and physical intimacy between her and her husband strain.

"I felt like it was keeping me from being a good person," Sara admitted, considering her habits as an affliction. "I didn't feel like I could be in any position of leadership in my community until I healed this."

By joining NoFap and making an effort to keep porn out of her life Sara said she's been able to get past these feelings. Though she admits the struggle to tune out entirely is still sometimes an uphill battle.

I know that when I don't watch porn, I have more sex with my husband. 
 

"It's a really scary reality when you try to stop doing something and you can't. I want to have control over my body and say I don't need to do that right now," Sara said. "But I know that when I don't watch porn, I have more sex with my husband. I just feel better about myself and stronger, in general. And I feel like I can do other things with my time—like I'm not wasting my life."

Is Porn Really to Blame?

The inability to control one's behaviour despite numerous attempts to cut back or quit is a hallmark of addiction. So, too, is needing more and more of a particular behaviour or substance to achieve its initial effects—i.e., euphoria, calmness, exhilaration, or numbness. Hence why Rhodes is convinced porn and masturbation are equivalent to drugs and alcohol in their ability to hijack the brain and steer anyone who overdoses on either towards emotional, social, and possibly even physical rock bottom.

That porn (and sex, in general) can affect people like substances has been argued by many. Some research, like that of psychiatrist James Plaud, suggested that the rush of pleasure we feel during an orgasm coupled with the anticipation of viewing of X-rated material stimulates the same neural pathways in our brains as addictive drugs do.

But just because porn excites the same brain centres as addictive substances do—and that some people get bored with one or two videos and need more or different visual stimuli to get off—doesn't automatically render porn a dangerous substance.

David J. Ley, Ph.D., author of The Myth of Sex Addiction and the forthcoming Ethical Porn For Dicks: A Man's Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure, cautioned against considering porn an addictive substance—or even endorsing the concept of porn addiction to begin with.

But it's not that the porn made them that way. Their brain was already that way.
 

"Some people's brains dispose them to higher libidos and push them to seek higher levels of sensation to feel satisfied," Ley told Cosmopolitan.com. "These are the kinds of people who jump out of airplanes. Those same people end up being the people who use a lot of porn. But it's not that the porn made them that way. Their brain was already that way and they gravitated towards a high level of porn use. Not the other way around."

Contrary to the anti-porn camp's contention that watching porn blunts your desire for your partner, research by psychologists Nicole Prause and James Pfaus suggests that ogling sexy images increases men's desire to take their partners to bed and sensitises them to less explicit material.

It also isn't clear that abstaining from porn solves the underlying issues some people have with consuming it. Despite Utah's recent ban on pornography, for instance, that state still has the highest rate of porn subscriptions and traffic to X-rated websites than any other state in America.

Not only does Ley consider porn addiction a myth; he also believes that considering oneself a "porn addict" risks deepening negative feelings or further marring a damaged self-image that may be driving someone's excessive porn consumption in the first place.

It Isn't Just About Addiction

The fear that watching porn can breed some type of dependency isn't the only reason a growing number of millennials are abstaining from the stuff. Many young men and women are choosing to tune out in the interest of avoiding being lambasted by unrealistic standards of beauty and sexuality.

22-year-old Michelle Hoskins, an aspiring advertising professional from Michigan, told Cosmopolitan.com that, although she didn't exactly feel guilty watching porn or at risk of getting hooked on it, it never left her feeling all that great about herself. After ending a relationship with a man whose porn use often got in the way of intimacy Hoskins hoped to share with him—like the time he secreted himself away in another room on Valentine's Day to watch porn, leaving Hoskins alone in the living room—she began to see more clearly just how porn was affecting her self-image: "I started to get very angry about the way women were objectified in pornography and I decided to not consume porn as a stance." Breaking up with the man who preferred pixelated images over her and eschewing those videos, Hoskins said, helped her "feel a lot more confident with who I am."

Dan Nainan, a 35-year-old comedian from New York, shared with Cosmopolitan.com that he doesn't watch porn for similar reasons: "I think porn objectifies and degrades women, and I think that it consciously and subconsciously encourages men to mistreat them. I feel it's exploitative towards women," he explains, adding that this reason also undergirds his abstention from strip clubs. "Like most guys, I was exposed to porn when my friends showed it to me when I was a teenager. Of course I liked looking at it but after a while something about it struck me as wrong.”

A lot of guys waste a lot of time and energy on porn that would better be spent with real, live women. 
 

Less from a place of fear that his own psyche would be twisted by the images or that watching porn would morph into a compulsion, Nainan just didn't see the point of consuming all that eye candy: "It seems like a lot of guys waste a lot of time and energy on porn that would better be spent with real, live women," he said.

Queuing Up Another View

One has to wonder if a more nuanced appreciation of porn might lessen the shame and secrecy self-proclaimed porn addicts feel in response to their habits. Exploring its role as a source of entertainment, stimulation, or even solace, for instance, could offer viewers insight into what makes them (or their partners) tick—insight they may be deprived of by writing all porn off, all the time.

Some evidence gathered by sexologists Marley N. Resch & Kevin G. Alderson even suggests that consuming porn with a romantic partner may boost communication and lower significant others' mutual distress.

Talking more openly about porn, Ley argued, can also help people realise it isn't a barometer for what's expected of them in bed nor what's "normal." With awareness that it's just another form of media, rather than an accurate representation of reality, porn may lose the power some people give it to dictate their own standards about sex.

Of course, what we choose to do with porn and whether we choose to do without it all together is an entirely personal matter. Though porn addiction may not be validated by science, that doesn't make the empowerment some people derive from giving it up any less real.

If abstaining from porn helps some people feel better, who is anyone to judge? So long as abstainers grant folks who have no qualms enjoying X-rated material the same respect, both camps should be able to get along (and get off) in peace.

From: Cosmopolitan.