A random benefit of the two inpatient rehab facilities I attended as an alcoholic and pornography addict was the opportunity to get to know, and better understand, addicts of various other substances and behaviors. I’ve never used heroin, had an eating disorder, or couldn’t walk away from the casino. Still, I learned just how much those people had in common with me.
I didn’t realize that I was already collating data for when I’d be talking about addiction a half-decade later. While it wasn’t one of the top-of-mind issues we faced, I can look back and recognize when we talked about sex – ironically even the people who were intercourse addicts – we all seemed to identify with a much-reduced sex drive vs. the non-addict. This was regardless of our individual drugs or behaviors of choice.
Addicts Are a Lot More Alike Than Different
I spend most of my time in the addiction realm now either educating through my books, pre-COVID presentations and interviews or dealing one-on-one with pornography addicts and the partners of porn addicts. Nothing against alcoholics, and I still deal with those cravings, but there is plenty of research and literature out there. Those shelves at the bookstore are filled, but they are devoid of resources for the pornography addicts and their partners.
I know, by having discussions with probably between 150 and 200 non-porn addicts that a person’s sex drive and libido drops as their addiction increases. Yes, there are some drugs that will speed up libido early in their use. There are “recreational” abusers who will use certain stimulant and hallucinogenic drugs as aids for intercourse, but even people seriously addicted to those drugs report a drop in their mental and physical urge to have sex.
If you’re a partner of a gambling, meth or food addict, you probably don’t ask yourself, “Are they addicted because I am not enough in bed?” nearly as much as the partners of porn addicts do. Conversely, if you’re the partner of one of those addicts, you probably don’t have the addict gaslighting you with imaginary complaints that you’re not living up to expectations in the bedroom the way a porn addict’s partner does.
Recreational vs. Addicted Use
It’s very difficult for the partners of pornography addicts to understand how the addict can masturbate themselves into a coma hours every day, but don’t want to engage in the bedroom. I understand the confusion. Most pornography depicts naked people engaged in the sex act. Masturbating to that pornography also generally involves an orgasm.
Further complicating things are those who utilize pornography but don’t have an addiction. The “recreational users” are, in fact, using it as a substitute for sex. They can’t, or choose not to get laid that day, so pornography and their hand suffice.
The big difference between the recreational user and pornography addicts is not what is happening between their legs. The difference is between their ears. Addiction in a brain disease. Being horny is not.
Again, I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs of how addiction works. I’m not going to re-tell my personal story of why I was a porn addict. It was’t an inability to find/get sex, nor was it a rejection of any partner, including my wife. There’s way more than enough of that in the articles section. I do hope you’ll read about it, but it isn’t the key to understanding this article. In short, it was about handling unresolved trauma lurking just below the surface in an unhealthy way.
I’m hoping, with the data I’m about to show, that the connection between addiction and a lack of sexual drive becomes obvious. Or at least that it’s a scientific trend. We know that when it comes to addiction, regardless of substance or behavior, that almost the exact same brain chemistry is happening in the mind of the addict.
The pleasure center chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc., flood those areas of the brain, whether you’re doing a line of cocaine, sitting through your 14th consecutive hour of Fortnite or having sex with someone you just met next to a dumpster in an alley. Yes, individual addictions come with their unique side effects, but the chemistry is largely identical. So, my hope is by showing a reduced sex drive in other addictions, partners can come to understand low libido is not a side effect of porn addiction, but a side effect of addiction in general.
In a 2007 study released in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 72% of men had at least one form of sexual dysfunction lasting for more than a year before they sought treatment. Those dysfunctions included: low sex drive, sexual aversion disorder, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
The Centers for Disease Control has said “excessive alcohol use can interfere with testicular function and male hormone production resulting in impotence…”
A 2015 study by a Ball State University professor found that erectile dysfunction was three times more likely in daily marijuana smokers than those that don’t use at all.
A 2020 study by an Irish organization found that gambling addiction will lead to decreased sex drive and fatigue.
Researchers in Arizona listed eight side effects of gambling addiction in a 2019 study. They included “noticeable changes in sex drive and performance.”
A 2017 study released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, conducted by a slate of Spanish researchers, found that prescription opiods, even when not abused, cause decreased libido in 25% of patients.
In 2016, the FDA issued a warning that opiods lead to decreased production of sex hormones, therefore a lower libido.
Among those who abuse heroin, a 2017 study by Chinese researchers found that there is “dramatic” rates of sexual dysfunction, including lack of desire, intercourse dissatisfaction, and orgasmic and erectile dysfunction.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine, in a 2009 study, reported that 38.6% of drug addicts reported a lowered sex drive associated with drug abuse. That statistic was much higher among those who abused heroin.
Video Game Addiction
Italian researchers, in 2017, found video game addicts have low sex drive caused by the stress of the games.
A study from 2016 by Iranian researchers found that while users reported an early rise in sexual desire, those who regularly abused methamphetamine suffered from premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and decreased libido.
Objective vs. Emotional
In doing this research, I was shocked how easy it is to connect addiction and loss of desire. Study after study proves that there is an undisputable connection between an addicted mind and a disinterest in intercourse.
None of the addicts listed above wanted to have their sexual desire drop, nor experience sexual dysfunction. That’s also true of pornography addicts.
Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is a fascinating condition that doctors are still learning about, but essentially, a man suffering from it cannot achieve an erection and/or orgasm because they have watched and/or masturbated to too much porn in their lives. Even more fascinating is that in many of these men, these sexual dysfunction seems to disappear when pornography is utilized. I have a story I’ll be sharing about this in my upcoming TED Talk.
I’m not trying to discount the pain, anger, sadness and feelings of rejection a partner has when their porn-addicted mate does not initiate sex with them. I think all of those feelings are normal. However, if one can momentarily set aside the emotional component, all of the scientific data points to not a rejection of the partner, but of side effects associated with the pornography addiction.
My Final Two Cents
The reasons I used pornography was not the reasons I would engage in sex with my wife. As my addiction continued, and especially toward the end, there was far less masturbation with pornography. It was mostly just looking. I don’t necessarily think that makes it any better or worse. But, I’ve heard similar stories with men who have reached critical phases of the addiction. Chasing the orgasm almost made looking at porn an acceptable and normal activity and not one of satisfying an addiction. That was, at least, my rationalization. It was impossible to rationalize looking when I didn’t care if it ended with an orgasm. In fact, sometimes the orgasm was disappointing. It meant the end of looking under the pretense of sexual release.
Obviously, I can’t describe every porn addict’s unique situation. I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of porn addicts and, as mentioned, probably around 200 other addicts. Those conversations, and my personal experience, prove to me that loss of sexual interest is not a pornography addiction issue. It’s a side effect of addiction overall.
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