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Is pornography light entertainment, a nice addition to one's sex life (along with lingerie, sex toys, and the like), educational, harmful, addictive, or morally deplorable? This is the subject of much discussion among laypeople and behavioral scientists alike. 

While we cannot say that a consensus has been reached, what we do know is this — pornography has existed in numerous cultures since ancient times, in the form of paintings, sculptures, carvings, and figurines. The long history of pornography appears to indicate that the human tendency to depict graphic sexual acts is inherent. Considering that sex represents an important part of the human experience, that is not surprising. 

Though men are the main consumers of porn, women, too, access it — and in their case, more frequently together with a partner. 

What are the potential dangers of consuming pornography? What should young people know about graphic adult materials?

Is Pornography Addictive?

When the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, was being written, consideration was given to the idea of including a new diagnostic category, hypersexual disorder, which would have included a subcategory characterized by addiction to porn. As not enough evidence was available, the new disorder didn't make it into the DSM-5.

However, there are indications that the brains of compulsive porn users react to graphic adult images in the same way an alcoholic's brain reacts to watching an ad for alcohol. 

Because of a lack of data, it is not yet clear how a porn addiction, or excessive porn use, should be defined. From a common-sense point of view, however, it seems fair to say that, if your porn habit negatively impacts your daily functioning, if you find it hard to stop consuming porn even though you think you ought to, or if you cannot achieve sexual arousal without consuming pornography, you may have a problem. 

Since no clear treatment protocol currently exists, it appears to be wisest to advise anyone who believes they have a problem with porn to seek cognitive behavioral therapy. "Treatment" for porn viewing may also be offered by religious organizations. While this may help those who adhere to specific worldviews, we would add that it is always good to be weary of counselors who are not in fact licensed therapists or other mental health professionals. 

Does Pornography Harm Relationships?

Where partners disagree about pornography, one partner's use of graphic materials can certainly have a negative impact on a relationship. (If this is you, you may wish to tackle the issue like you would any other disagreement about something you consider important — don't forget to communicate openly and honestly.)

There are also indications that the viewing of pornography in men reduces the sexual satisfaction for both partners in a relationship. Curiously, female porn watching appeared to have the opposite effect. 

We also have to note that watching violent adult movies may translate into changed attitudes towards sexual violence in some men. Research suggests that these men started off with an aggressive predisposition, however. 

While one might assume that adults are perfectly able to tell the fantasy they see in pornography apart from the real-life sex people engage in for love and pleasure, we'd still like to point out that at the point you are expecting your sex life to be like an adult movie, the danger of losing a mutually satisfying experience between you and your partner exists. Most porn is, after all, still rather male-centered, not focusing on mutual pleasure but on the male climax. 

Pornography As Sex Ed: The Dangers

Young people with an internet connection are almost bound to come across pornography at some point or another, and may well actively seek it out. While some may even see adult movies as a way to learn more about sex, it is important to note that adult actors perform on camera using specific angles and positions that are most likely to satisfy viewers. Adult actors are, primarily, actors. They perform for the cameras, for the pleasure of their viewers rather than their own. 

Young people whose first encounters with sexual acts came through porn may come to see what they have viewed as "what sex is like", something that is very far from the truth. Sex, inside a loving relationship or even during an exciting hook-up sought out for pleasure, should consist of mutual exploration and pleasure — it's a connection between real people, not people doing a job, and it's about mutual enjoyment rather than ticking acts off a list. 

We would like to encourage young SteadyHealth readers to keep this in mind. 

If you have been using pornography for arousal during masturbation, also watch out if you notice that you find it difficult or even impossible to become aroused without it.

This could point to a dependence on porn that could take away from pleasure inside a relationship, and even to a possible addiction. You certainly want to be able to be aroused by your partner without the presence of graphic materials, and the ability to arouse yourself through thinking about sexual fantasies alone is also valuable. 

A Final Note About Pornography And Sexual Orientation

Research shows that 21 percent of straight males who consume porn have watched adult movies featuring gay interactions, while 55 percent of gay porn consumers have watched materials featuring heterosexual interactions. 

Watching materials depicting acts involving people of different sexual orientations to yourself does not mean you have changed your sexual orientation. The question of why straight people watch gay adult movies and vice versa has not completely been answered yet, but the practice may be related to curiosity, or simply finding the actors in the materials you are watching more attractive.

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