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Coronavirus, Porn, and Anxiety: When Three Pandemics Converge

porn and anxiety

Times of uncertainty like the one we’re in naturally intensify anxiety and powerlessness, and with it, the spread of pornography use. We turn to behaviors that provide relief from the difficulties we face, but as we all know, many of the solutions we find only end up intensifying our original distress.

What’s unfolding today is the confluence of three pandemics: COVID-19, porn and anxiety. One country that is experiencing this toxic convergence of three pandemics is Italy. The Italian government has taken extensive measures to quarantine the entire country to prevent hospitals from being further overwhelmed. In response, one of the most popular porn sites in the world offered everyone in Italy free premium porn subscriptions throughout the month of March.

When Italian Pornhub users opened the website, they saw this message:

“To keep you company at home during these weeks, you’ll be able to access Pornhub Premium for free for the whole month, with no need for a credit card.”

Yes, to “to help keep you company” during a health pandemic, a country is invited to escape an anxiety pandemic by turning to a porn pandemic. While it’s concerning that a company would promote using human beings for sexual gain, they do so because porn offers two experiences we haven’t been able to find in the coronavirus pandemic: relief and power. The relief and power porn offers however is not only temporary, it’s deeply problematic for two reasons:

      1. Porn damages sex and mental health
      2. Porn is a violation against women.

PORN DAMAGES SEX AND MENTAL HEALTH

One of the clients I spoke to this week said he felt more triggered to use porn now than in the last two years combined. “I’m not sleeping well and my mind starts racing by 5AM. We’re in a recession, but should we really be talking about a depression? And if that’s not enough, my dad has the flu and can’t get tested. My mind just can’t rest.”

As you can see with my client, when we’re anxious, our brains naturally seek out behaviors that provide us with an opportunity to find relief. What we actually need however is to develop an inner life capable of tolerating anxiety. Instead, porn offers us a shortcut to  experience temporary calm and control. As a consequence of outsourcing a solution, we never develop the internal resources for growth.

When you pursue porn as a shortcut to reduce anxiety, your brain forms new neuropathways to connect what you’re doing to the pleasure you’re feeling.[i] A map of these experiences is formed in your brain, complete with powerful neurotransmitters like dopamine. These neurotransmitters change our brain by essentially saying, “Remember this! This feels amazing. Way easier than anything else.”

Porn = Less Sex
The more you use porn, the more it adversely effects your sexual life. Research has actually shown that the best way to have less sex and less satisfying sex is to watch porn. [ii] Porn simultaneously overloads you with sexual stimulation while also teaching you to only consider your own sexual desires. Porn is so appealing not merely because it’s ‘erotic’ or ‘erotica’, but also because it lets you create a world where nothing is required of you. Real sex asks you to know and develop your desires while also learning to study, delight, and call forth the desires of another. Therefore, if you want to limit your sexual potential, porn is the fastest route to do so.

Porn = Less Purpose
In the research I completed for my book Unwanted, I found that when a person lacked a clear  sense of purpose, they were seven times more likely to increase the amount of porn they watched. It’s crucial to understand that a lack of purpose drives us to porn. Many people attempt to stop using porn but do little to transform what drives them to it.

If it were not for pornography, how else would you address your fear of the economy crashing? If not for porn, how else would you address the conflict you’re facing as you spend more time with your spouse? Porn invites you to escape the crucibles of your life. But when you take its bait, you find yourself hooked into an even greater experience of futility.

This is the madness of porn use. The very thing we choose to assuage personal and relational problems ends up intensifying them. At this juncture, many people try to fight against their desire for porn through contempt or self-mastery. The problem is that this fight does nothing to transform the key drivers that bring you to porn. Therefore, if you want to fight, don’t fight do eliminate porn, fight to create daily rhythms to find calm and greater purpose (more on that at the end of this article). When you have integrity with your anxiety, your clarity and confidence will grow in your capacity to face the uncertainty ahead.

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Jay Stringer is a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister. Jay’s award-winning book Unwanted is based on research on nearly 4,000 people struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors like the use of pornography, extra-marital affairs, and buying sex. Stringer holds a Masters of Divinity and Masters in Counseling Psychology from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and received post-graduate training under Dr. Dan Allender while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Allender Center. Jay lives in Seattle, WA with his wife and two children. To learn more about Jay visit his website at www.jay-stringer.com.