The Clinic | 4 minutes

How much porn is too much porn?

By Joe Barnes

• We asked psychotherapist Paula Hall how to tell if your pornography use is a problem

• “It gets to the point where a mere human being, who can’t keep changing their own image at the click of a button, is not sufficient”

It’s no understatement to say there is a lot of pornography on the internet. It’s thought adult sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

Clearly, the vast majority of men and women who access this content do so without any ill effect, but there are a growing number of experts who believe the ease of access to porn, and its sheer abundance online, is leading to a dramatic rise in erectile dysfunction amongst young men.

Expert Paula Hall, a sexual and relationship psychotherapist and co-founder of the Laurel Centre, is a leading voice on pornography addiction and its treatment.

We asked her how you can tell if your porn use may be problematic, the connection with porn and ED, and how to begin tackling it when you want to cut back but struggle.

What are the early signs that your use of pornography may be an issue?


Early signs are that you’re spending more time than you intended to spend.


You’re neglecting important things in your life such as meeting friends, having sex with a partner, or getting on with your work or homework. You tell yourself you’re only going to look at porn for half an hour and suddenly it’s three hours later. You’re looking at material that you know ordinarily would not appeal to you.

These are all signs that you have an issue.

Is porn as addictive as alcohol and other drugs?

We know that sexual behaviours act on the dopamine pathway in exactly the same way as addictive drugs. The same is true of gambling and with most behavioural addictions.

You can alter the chemicals in your brain by ingesting a chemical or you can do it by changing your behaviour and altering your brain chemistry that way.

Porn addiction is definitely biological, not purely psychological, and there’s stacks of research on that.

How can pornography affect the ability to get and maintain an erection?

It’s commonly referred to as porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED). If you keep elevating the arousal threshold then your body starts needing more and more stimuli in order to get the same reaction.

When once upon a time you might have got an erection by seeing somebody’s thigh, now that you’ve started seeing tits and bums constantly, the familiarity creeps in and you need more and more to get you aroused.

It gets to the point where a mere human being, who can’t keep flicking and changing their own image at a click of a button, is not sufficient.

It starts taking a long time to ejaculate, then it takes a long time to get an erection, then you can’t get an erection at all.

We’ve seen the rates of ED rising in young men. Is there a direct connection between that and porn use?

This is not performance anxiety — that would just be ridiculous. The rates of ED are growing significantly, and the explanation for that is pretty clear.

If you suspect you may have a problem, how do you begin to deal with it?

The first thing is recognising that it’s an issue. In therapy terms, we call that breaking through the denial.

Then you need to say to yourself, “I’m going to give up for at least the next 30 days” — and if you can’t, you know you’ve got a problem. The other key thing is knowing there’s a difference in giving up porn and giving up masturbation. If you can’t masturbate without pornography, you already have an issue.

So what’s the solution?

If you struggle to give up by yourself, that’s when you might start thinking about reaching out for help. Obviously there’s the Laurel Centre, and my book Understanding and Treating Sex and Pornography Addiction.

But it is important to recognise that millions of people who stop drinking, for example, get it under control without going to The Priory. I’m sure the same is true of porn.

Is the shame and embarrassment around porn part of the reason men don’t seek help?

Often the shame isn’t actually about the pornography, it’s because they’ve become dependent on it. They’ve started to prefer porn to spending time with mates or having sex with a partner. That’s when the shame kicks in and it’s difficult.

There’s some comfort in recognising that this is a growing problem and at the moment, we live in a society that doesn’t have warnings on the bottle, as it were. We don’t have good sex education in this country, and certainly not around pornography use, so it’s kind of not your fault. You are not alone.

And to answer the question, how much porn is too much porn?

There was a tiny piece of research done years ago that said if it was over 11 hours a week then you’ve got a problem, but that’s never really been backed up.

The other key thing is that if you’re looking at pornography purely for sexual arousal and it's not getting in the way of the rest of your life, it’s probably not an issue.

If you’re using it when you know you should be doing something else, if you’re postponing ejaculation for ages or you’re looking at porn for more than half an hour at a time, you’re not looking at it for sexual arousal. You’re looking at it to escape other things in your life and you may need help to deal with it.

The bottom line

The majority of men use porn without any negative consequences but if it begins to impact your quality of life and your erectile function, it’s advisable to cut back. Try cutting out porn for 30 days. If that’s a struggle, it may be time to seek help. You can find out more about the solutions and support available at the Laurel Centre site.

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