How to tell if you’re addicted to porn, according to a sex counsellor

Asking for a friend

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An estimated three per cent of the UK is addicted to porn that’s close to two million adults compulsively whacking off to the cold cathode glow of bouncing silicone.

Are you one of them? We spoke to professional sex and relationship counsellor Owen Redahan who explained how to tell if you’re a porn addict, and what to do about it.

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The signs you’re addicted

Owen says: “It’s all about compulsiveness. The question to ask is if you’re using the Internet for porn excessively, which is down to personal choice.

“For some people watching porn an hour each night is wrong: they might think, ‘I’ve got to have it’ or ‘I can’t do without it’. Other people might think two hours plus is too much. It really comes down to where you feel out of control. Are your studies affected? Are you going to the toilets, going out of lectures and missing work to look at porn?

“If you feel you have to look at porn and have a fix, there might be a problem.”

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The feelings you might have

Owen says: “Looking at porn can cause the person to feel it is taking over their life. They may feel shame, loss of control and feelings of ‘I’m not a good person, I’m not normal’. And they might think, ‘I’ve got to look at it when I get up in the morning, at lunchtime and when I get home from work’ and ‘the person I’m dating is boring’.

“Men see a difficulty in ejaculation with their partners, it might be delayed, premature or non-existent.”

The road to addiction

Owen explains the science behind addiction and how you can find yourself hooked on illegal material.

He says: “Porn addiction can be like any alcohol or drug addiction. The key chemical here is dopamine, which is released in anticipation of a sexual encounter. It’s a pleasure hormone to encourage you to have sex. The more you look at Internet porn the more you risk going down one road of constant pleasure. It can become more mundane and less exciting to have physical sex.”

He adds: “You can start off with vanilla tastes, like watching a man with a woman or a woman with a woman or a man with a man. Then you might start watching two women, groups, S&M, serious S&M, abuse, child pornography and animals as well. There’s a slide down as people looking for more excitement search for the hit of dopamine, which can lead to illegal stuff. That accounts for around a third of our clients.”

The future

Owen explains: “One of the concerns among [our] generation is porn addiction taking over, as 15 years ago there wasn’t porn on the Internet. The 12 and 13-year-olds who grew up with Internet porn are now 27 or 28 and might not be just habitual users but compulsive ones. We’re beginning to see people with physical relationship challenges. There’s also stronger evidence that 10 to 15 per cent of addicts are women but we’re still in the early stages of statistics so it’s a little vague. There is a growing group of women with a porn addiction.”

Owen Redahan is a sex and relationship counsellor for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity and works with the professional support group, Counselling Directory.