I recently got a call from a colleague. He and his wife are both healthcare workers who have been busy, distracted, stressed, and burnout working in the pandemic. Their fifteen-year-old son, Jake, discovered girls in the last year but was unable to connect with them in real life. He turned to the internet to explore his curiosity and ended up highly addicted to online pornography. Jake withdrew from his friends, sports, and school to make more time for pornography. His grades, sleep, physical, and mental health suffered. Jake eventually became depressed. Filled with confusion and shame he took an overdose of vodka and painkillers he found at home.
I have been treating Jake for depression and online pornography addiction for about 2 months. Thankfully, he is doing better. I wonder how many more young people like Jake are out there?
What impact has COVID-19 had on porn consumption?
Pornography was an issue long before COVID-19. However, the global coronavirus outbreak has had a clear impact on the pornography industry. When we look at consumption, we see that traffic has steadily increased from the beginning of the pandemic. According to PornHub, they witnessed an 11.6% increase within the period of February to March 2020.
What are some of the harmful effects of pornography consumption?
Excessive porn use can have harmful effects on professional and interpersonal relationships, healthy physical intimacy, and physical and emotional health. Studies in 1968 were able to condition fetishes in their subjects 100% of the time. By showing subjects specific content in pornographic videos, these individuals grew to seek out these particular traits or fixated on these conditioned fetishes after the study. This could be anything from a sexual foot fetish to something far more harmful.
Not only is pornography highly addictive, thanks to the chemical reactions in our brains, but it also acts as a toxic, misguided, and unregulated tool that young people are using to understand human sexuality.
As more young people turn to pornography to learn about sex, we face a concerning outcome: more sexual aggression and a misunderstanding of consent.
Pornography has troubling negative impacts on children and youth, and it’s so prevalent in our online world that even the best child-safety locks don’t always stop everything.
What can we do?
Although there are many issues with online pornography, one, in particular, is the difficulty in policing the content. MasterCard is taking a stand by making it hard to use its payment methods on online porn sites. Moves like this from major companies are happening because research proves that 1 in 12 US citizens have been the victim of what’s known as nonconsensual pornographic recordings, or “revenge porn.” In addition, child pornography is a significant issue.
Whenever I discuss the harmful impacts of technology, I’m always thinking of something fundamental that many of us know, yet forget: you are what you consume. When you eat only junk, you’re going to get sick. When you over-consume harmful technology, you get harmful outcomes. The best thing we can do right now is to talk to kids, offer healthy and informative sexual education, push for more stringent restrictions on pornography, and educate ourselves.
This education and open discussion will prevent our children from turning to the internet to answer their questions about their bodies and sex. Understanding the negative impact of pornography on relationships and self-identity will benefit our children as well as ourselves. It can help us make healthier choices and avoid pornography as an educational tool or a source of misguided comfort.
As a psychiatrist and speaker, I look forward to working with teams to educate them on these topics. Many educators benefit from learning about the impact internet erotica has on teenagers and how they can provide better sexual health education. Organizations can also benefit from learning about the pandemic of pornography to better help employees who may be silently struggling with an addiction. I discuss all of this in my book, The Tech Solution: Creating Healthy Habits for Kids Growing Up in A Digital World. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch or check out my speaker’s page for more information.