How watching porn is ruining real-life sex for young men

It's something of an irony that online porn is causing an epidemic of erectile dysfunction in young men.

Who knew the dire warnings that if you "played with it too much, it'll drop off" would turn out to be science-based truth. Well, maybe not drop off but definitely stop working.

Here's the rub. The hard facts. The brains of young men, many of whom have spent more than half their lives watching online porn, are being literally re-wired.

A 15-year-old in his bedroom will see more sexual variety, in an enthusiastic 10-minute click-frenzy, than his grandfather did in his whole lifetime.

A lack of moderation

Biology makes us binge. It's all Mother Nature's fault. Behaviours that keep us alive and ensure the survival of the species – like eating and having sex – are rewarded with a rush of dopamine to the frontal cortex. The problem is that Mother Nature, being a bit of a hippy, hasn't yet worked out we no longer have to forage for dinner, we can get it delivered by a surly Brazilian student on a bike.

And she'd be horrified to learn that her carefully-balanced sex-reward system is being ruined by a multibillion-dollar global industry which is growing at about 40 per cent a year. What she planned as rare and special pleasures have been co-opted by a pornucopia of cam-flesh.

The Boris effect

The suggests that in higher mammals, males in particular will show "renewed sexual interest" if new partners are introduced to the mix, even though current partners are still sexually available. It's simply about the best possible propagation of the species.

This would play out hilariously on the farm I grew up on. If we "put the ram out" in one paddock full of hot lady-sheep, he'd go nuts for a day or two, then give up, bored, huffing around and nibbling grass.

So we'd open the gate to the next paddock and he'd be in like a shot, sometimes going until he actually dropped from exhaustion. We'd have hours of fun watching from the ute. "That's nine – go Boris!" High-five. It's also, I believe, the inspiration for the lyric "I know I'll never find another ewe."

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Weathering the deluge

As the brain becomes used to the deluge of dopamine, the click-quest for more variety, more naughty novelty, shock and surprise, arousal becomes less and less strong.

After a few years enjoying his virtual harem, a young man will find it harder and harder to get a thrill, things getting softer and softer as he desperately seeks sexy.

Add a real partner to the mix, who talks back, doesn't cater directly to his very specific desires, may even have a bewildering thatch of pubic hair and might not be in a constant state of arousal, well that's a total buzz-kill.

Going cold turkey

His porn journey has taken him from a sex-obsessed and curious pre-teen (most boys are accessing porn by the age of 10), as we all were, to a young man who can't get it up in real-world conditions because of his physical addiction to porn.

It's the horror of erectile dysfunction – not the associated ADHD, anxiety, depression and isolation – that is finally driving young men to seek help.

The good news is it takes about 120 days of going cold turkey for the brain to rewire itself and start sending party signals south without requiring the same stimulus.

Faking until you can't make it

A side-effect of the insatiable desire for variety online also means the content is becoming more and more extreme. Our poor grandfathers, if confronted by a surf through PornHub, would probably be utterly bewildered.

"Your Nan wouldn't put up with that, mate!"

The damage online porn is doing isn't just psychological, it's actually physical. All the fake sex means you won't be able to do real sex.

Or, leave it alone. It might not drop off, but you can definitely break it.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher New Holland. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

Experienced the negative side-effects of too much porn? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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