Is it a high sex drive or a porn addiction?

In this video coaching newsletter I address the crucial difference between natural sex drive and addictive sexual compulsions. I was recently sent¬†this post from the NoFap subreddit¬†that is copied below. His experiences during recovery are common and make for a good example of what I’m writing about. The full text of his message to me is below in italics. My comments are in bold.

Before anyone points it out, yes…I know that some people have a naturally high sex drive and some people have a naturally low drive. But my relationship with porn actually manipulated me into making conclusions about my sex drive.

It is common for compulsive porn users to think that they have a high sex drive. After all, they probably spend more time and energy thinking about sex, looking at sexual content, and pursuing orgasm than they believe is normal. Having a high sex drive is an easy explanation for their behavior, but often it’s not true, at least not to the extent that they believe. I, too, always thought that I had a high sex drive, as I would spend hours each evening enraptured by erotic content online. I believed I had a high sex drive right up until I realized I couldn’t get aroused enough by a real woman to have actual sex.

The endless variety and the element of sheer novelty that free internet pornography provides used to be irresistible to me. I used masturbate to porn almost every single day and sometimes multiple times during the same day. Since I was doing it everyday, I started to justify my obsessive usage by telling myself that maybe, I have a very high sex drive. This self justification only worsened things and led to more increased use. My sports team lost? – let’s watch some porn, my academic exams didn’t go as well as I’d have liked them to? – let’s watch porn, something made me angry? – let’s watch porn.

When you start turning to porn or other vices for escape and soothing when distressed, anxious, or otherwise disturbed, see it as a red flag.

So, even though the relationship started due to my curiosity about sex and the variety offered by porn, it ended up becoming nothing but a coping mechanism for my real life frustrations and disappointments(this is why I’ve a problem with people who equate porn with sexuality because sexuality should be about positivity while many porn viewers use it to deal with negativity), but I didn’t realise it at the time as I thought this is due to my high sex drive.

I like very much what he says there at the end. Sexual expression employed healthfully should be about adding pleasure, joy, love, and bonding to life. Our romantic urges serve to drive us outside of ourselves, to take risks, to explore, to meet others, and to find love and connection. The joy of physical and emotional intimacy is a gift to be appreciated and cherished when it comes. However, Internet porn is extremely well suited to enticing sexual desire and pleasure, while being empty of the lasting joy that can come from real connection–and worse, robbing us of the ability to enjoy real sex and love when the opportunity for it comes.

Because porn is always immediately available and provides easy pleasure, it is easily abused. At first, one may seek out porn because they are curious or horny, but when it starts to be relied upon as a solution to boredom, loneliness, rejection, pain, etc., then porn use can become a compulsion. A compulsion is a repetitive soothing behavior that is very difficult to resist engaging in despite the apparent negative consequences, and it is not so much about seeking pleasure as it is about escaping pain.

Now that I’ve spent about 5 months(I don’t keep a track of the exact number of days) without porn(I relapsed hard twice within 2 weeks on two previous attempts to go pornfree), I have come to realise that this idea that I had about me having a high sex drive was just rubbish. That was what my porn use made me think. The first 2-3 weeks are tough, but once the you go a month or two without porn, those raging urges start to balance out and get normalised(at least that’s my experience). I no longer constantly think about the next orgasm I’m going to have or the next porn video I’m going to watch. Even if I come across a picture somewhere or something else that might have earlier been a trigger, it really doesn’t have any effect on me anymore. Now I’ve not become asexual. I still masturbate (without porn of course) occasionally (once a week or once in 2 weeks) and as a straight man, I can still acknowledge when I find myself sexually attracted to a woman, but I no longer have the mentality that I have to always immediately quench my sexual urge whenever I feel one by using porn like I used to do by using the idea of a high sex drive as an excuse.

Porn presents images of sexual opportunity that feel real to the parts of our brains responsible for processing sexual arousal. Thus, porn can easily stimulate arousal even when we wouldn’t otherwise be horny. This instant access to sexual excitement can be addictive, to the point where our sexual urges are not actual libido but rather cravings for the dopamine stimulation that we have become emotionally and neurologically reliant upon. Thus, guys can find themselves using porn far more often than they would masturbate if they did not have access to porn.

Just as there is a difference between true hunger and the craving for sweet, salty, or fatty junk food, so too is there a divide between true libido and a craving for porn.

How do we discern between compulsive urges for porn and true libido, then? One way is to attempt masturbation to sensation alone, without any erotic imagery or even fantasy. If you are truly horny and “need” sexual release, then simple physical stimulation with lubrication will be enough to get you going and across the finish line. If this type of masturbation just doesn’t do it for you, however, then it’s far more likely that you have overworked your sexual response system and are not actually craving sexual release but rather pornographic stimulation. Give it time. When I began my journey of porn recovery, I thought that I would never be able to masturbate successfully just to sensation, but nearly a year later I tried it as an experiment, and it worked. Most guys make the same discovery, and it is a good benchmark for recovery from porn-induced erectile dysfunction.

So along with many many negatives like PIED, destructive fetishes, astronomical wastage of precious time, viewing of women as sex objects, etc., another negative effect that porn might have on you is to give you a warped idea of your own sex drive.

Truly, people who have been consistently using porn throughout their adult lives to the point of developing escalated tastes/fetishes, sexual desensitization, sexual dysfunctions, and/or addiction have no idea what their true sex drive and sexuality feel like. Porn is absolutely capable of molding our sexual preferences and level of desire, and a pornfree life will hold many surprises of self-discovery.