THE dark side of the internet is pornography. “Pornography has become very much an epidemic in our society,” says Nuala Deering, relationship and psychosexual therapist with Relationships Ireland. “We are not addressing it as we should. It is unregulated and freely available to any age group who has internet access. We cannot stem the tide of pornography, but we can educate and help families prepare their children to deal with a world of unprecedented change.”
Cyber-sex addiction is predicted to be the next tsunami in mental health. Men in their late teens and early twenties have scant recollection, if any, of plastic-covered lad mags on the top shelves of newsagents. The erotic world is seconds away with the touch of a button.
These young men are presenting with what once was the older man’s affliction: erectile dysfunction. These are physically healthy young men, with no medical issues, but their use of pornography, which sometimes becomes an addiction, is having a debilitating effect on their sexual relationships.
Dr June Clyne, psychosexual and relationship therapist (www.sextherapyireland.com), sees an increasing number of men in her practice reporting difficulties getting, and keeping, an erection, when intimate with their partners.
“Men in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on, present with problems in erectile functioning. For some, they do not have a problem getting an erection, but have difficulty with keeping one.”
Dr Clyne says many relationships have ended because of porn. “Internet pornography use is becoming increasingly socially acceptable, so, maybe, this is one of the reasons why people are slow to connect their pornography viewing with their sexual difficulties. After all, ‘isn’t everyone watching it’?” She says that online pornography offers short-term pleasure, but results in long term problems, including erectile dysfunction, which may necessitate the early use of Viagra.
Nuala Deering says men of 19 and 20 who are experiencing erectile problems are often aware their use of porn has desensitised them and many of them want Viagra. “They may, initially, get a prescription from their GP, but often obtain it online, which is not safe practice. Erectile dysfunction is very distressing at such a young age and Viagra can be seen as a quick-fix and give confidence in the short-term. However, long-term dependency on Viagra is not sustainable and it is advisable to seek professional help to deal with any underlying issues.”
Dr Clyne agrees. “We need to look at the reasons why people are viewing porn. Is it boredom, low confidence, easy availability/accessibility, suppressing emotions? Is it that we have become so used to connecting to screens, and so isolated, that we don’t know how, or where, to approach a ‘real’ person? And for those already in relationships, a disconnect? The good news is that research is showing dopamine levels in the brain can return to normal levels in as little as three months, after abstaining from viewing online porn. I would suggest that if anyone is having difficulty in quitting porn, that they look for professional support from someone knowledgeable in this area.”
Can pornography in moderation be educational for young people?
June Clyne doesn’t think so. “Really, this is not the education they need. There are other sex educational sites online that are not pornographic. I am not ‘anti’ porn, but the more I see of the damage it causes the more it leaves me questioning if there is any value in it, outside of financial income for a select number.”
Nuala Deering says: “With young people, their script around sexuality, pleasure, and what a relationship is about is developed at an early age. This is difficult to change. Without appropriate and adequate public information for safe sexuality, young people can blindly stumble into sexual dysfunctions, relationship problems, and sex addiction.”
How do we educate our youth about the dangers of pornography and its potential for addiction?
Deirdre Seery, CEO of The Sexual Health Centre, Peters Street, Cork, says their drop-in clinic offers sexual education to young people. They can ask questions and have them answered by professionals. She says talking to young teens isn’t rocket science. “They have a natural curiosity about sex and many 13- and 14-year-olds use the internet in complete innocence.”
This is why parents should talk to their teenagers about sex.
Teenagers are harder to influence than younger children. It’s impossible to chaperone their every movement, hence their access to pornography. An older teen should be able to hear, and know, about the dark underbelly of pornography. How can a parent impart this information in a productive way?
Who can the parents reach out to when all else fails and their teen continues to use, and be fascinated by, pornography?
Catherine Hallissey, education and child psychologist, says if teens really want to view pornography, they will find a way. She says it is a mammoth task and that, even with limits in place, parents cannot hold sway over what might be seen outside the home. She has outlined an action plan for parents and teens alike.
Sex and sexuality is not a one-time talk. Be open, and start a conversation early, with ‘a little and often’ time-frame, rather than a deluge of information in one session and at a later age.
It is wise to have limits. However, the primary focus should be on building your relationship with your child, so they have the emotional skills and resilience to cope with their developing sexuality as they get older.
Remember, sexual curiosity is normal and healthy and porn is one, albeit troublesome, way to satisfy that curiosity. Teens can often be overwhelmed by what they come across. When this happens, you want them to feel they can come to you.
Your conversations should not be focused on ‘porn is bad’. Explore what your teen thinks and feels about porn. Let them know the dangers in a non-judgemental way.
When talking about these issues, use a calm, neutral voice. No lectures, no blame, no shame. Do not engage in power struggles. Practice your talk in advance! Do your best to never be visibly shocked. This will increase the likelihood that your child will continue to talk to you.