Thursday 29 September 2016

Always turned on... in our porn saturated world

The ease with which we can access pornography online can have a devastating impact on relationships. Finally in 2015, it is becoming less taboo to seek help

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

Taboo: Michael Fassbender is a sex addict in 2011 film 'Shame', opposite Carey Mulligan
Taboo: Michael Fassbender is a sex addict in 2011 film 'Shame', opposite Carey Mulligan

So when is the last time you looked at porn? Last year? Last month? Last week? This morning? And, more importantly, were you able to switch off afterwards?

  • Go To

In today's porn-saturated world, with X-rated images just waiting to be accessed on every mobile phone and tablet throughout the land, it's a question everyone needs to ask themselves, according to one of Ireland's leading sex therapists.

"Porn is extremely readily available now," says Teresa Bergin, a sex therapist who works with people addicted to the medium. "Anybody can access it on their phone, on their tablet, at anytime during the day.

"A lot of people can manage their use of porn. They use it and then they turn it off until they feeling like using that again," she says.

"If one continues to use it and spend four or five hours every day [using it], and that impacts on being able to go to work or on their relationship, well, then that is a problem.

"Really it comes down to [asking yourself] 'Is my pornography use causing a problem in other areas of my life including study, work, family life or relationships?'"

For an increasing number of young Irish people, mostly men, it appears the answer is 'yes'.

Earlier this year, one of the world's biggest pornographic video-sharing websites claimed Ireland's porn habit has grown by 77pc since 2010, with 18- to 34-year-olds here now watching more porn than the global average.

As director of the Centre of Sexual Addictions in Dublin, therapist Eoin Stephens says he isn't surprised.

"I've been working in this area for a number of years," he tells me, "and every year that goes by I get busier.

"Quite a lot of the phonecalls I get during the week are just people saying, 'I think I might be addicted to porn or some other form of sex'. Not in every case does it turn out that they are [addicted], but a number of people turn out to be going down exactly that track, where it's becoming more and more [a] part of their life and yet giving less satisfaction," says Stephens.

"When I worked in this field 10 years ago, I would have been mostly seeing people in their 40s and 50s, maybe 30s. But now I see a number of people in their 20s."

Data collected by pornhub.com over the past five years reveals that Irish users spend an average of nine minutes and 12 seconds per session viewing explicit content and click on 8.49 pages, totalling 6.72 million visits to the website every month.

And each click is like a mini-orgasm, Dublin-based sexologist Emily Power Smith explains: "Most modern porn users now have high-speed broadband. They open multiple windows and click from one to another rapidly to keep their levels of stimulation high, releasing oxytocin, the hormone released when we orgasm, with each click.

"Compare this to being with a real human, where naturally there is a build-up to one, bigger release of this hormone, and men are going to run into performance difficulties.

"Once this cycle begins, men tend to avoid sexual situations with real people so as to avoid embarrassment. This can be the start of a life-long cycle of suffering and loneliness.

"Many people contact me telling me they are addicted to porn," she adds. "However, it will usually transpire that they are heavily ashamed of their porn use and feel the need to label themselves as something that perhaps makes them less responsible for their 'disgusting' and 'dirty' choices.

"Real porn addiction is very different to watching a bit of porn after work on the laptop every evening and feeling really bad about it."

At what point does 'use' become 'misuse', or even addiction then?

"Pornography is what we technically call a 'supernormal stimulus'," continues Eoin Stephens. "It's like a Mars bar in the world of food.

"It's not designed to be real - it's designed to be better than the real thing. It's designed to be uncomplicated and just give you the pleasurable parts, [whereas] the real world of sensuality is much more complex than that.

"For most people, their experience of real-world sex sets them straight. But some people can't let go of that exciting, sanitised, always available presentation of sex."

Mind and Body Works psychotherapist Teresa Bergin - who says she's yet to encounter a woman who's hooked on porn - elaborates: "Quite often pornography addiction is not really about sex at all. It's about trying to get away from another situation, and almost anaesthetise oneself from more emotional and psychological pain by getting lost in that activity.

"Gambling, alcohol, drugs - it's all along the same continuum. And there's a similar addictive process going on in each one.

"Frequently, when a man is addicted to online pornography, he can have intimacy issues. One of the things his partner will notice [is] that sexual activity is decreasing because he's spending a lot of time using pornography."

Stats show that Irish porn users are at their most active between 10pm at night and 1am the next morning.

It's logging on after that hour that could be a tell-tale sign it's time to get helps, warns Bergin: "The first step in managing any dependency or addiction is an acknowledgement that it's a problem.

"It's the three Cs: it's the level of consumption, it's the control, and it's the consequences.

"A lot of porn use that's problematic tends to happen from 1 o'clock in the morning until 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning, disrupting the ability to get up and go to work.

"The support of a partner or family member can be really helpful on that journey, but the first step needs to be an acceptance, 'This is now out of my control'."

It's a step that more and more young Irish men are starting to take, according to Stephens.

"More people are coming for help," he says, "and that may be partly because these problems are on the increase, which is the bad news, but also very much because people are more aware of these problems and that you can get help, which is the good news.

"People have developed a tendency to objectify women, or men as the case may be, and be quite uncaring about other people's needs, particularly sexual needs.

"When they see it, they don't like it, which is a good thing [because] it shows their values are still ultimately in tact.

"People are learning that you can put a name on these things, [and] maybe it's okay then to reach out and get help."

Although porn addiction is not yet recognised as an official disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - and therefore treatment is not covered - psychotherapist Stephens believes it's only a matter of time.

In the meantime, Irish addicts can now also sign up to a 12-step programme run by Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous Ireland to help kick the habit.

"There's no point thinking that people won't experiment with junk food or gambling or porn or anything else because these things are simply designed to be attractive," he adds. "What's more useful is an openness that these things exist, and a clear understanding about the limitations of them.

"People do need often to change their routines [to] decrease accessibility [and] increase accountability. You can avoid the pub if you're an alcoholic, but it's hard to avoid a computer if you're addicted to porn."

Irish Independent

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News