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2020 might be the year that all of us want to escape from and/or forget for so many reasons. This means we should not be surprised to learn that many of us are looking for ways to escape the pain and the fear. One of the escapes that has seen a dramatic increase in use is pornography.

According to a variety of sources, since March there has been a 16% to 30% increase in use of pornography in the U.S. India reports a 95% increase. Pornhub, the world's largest pornography website, reported seeing an 18% increase in users after making its premium content free for 30 days.

To give you some perspective, here are some porn usage statistics from 2018 tabulated by Webroot Cybersecurity:

* Every second, 28,258 users are watching pornography.

* $3,075.64 is spent on porn every second on the internet.

* 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites.

Let those stats sink in for a second. Staggering to say the least.

In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Justin Lehmiller explains that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting not just the amount and type of porn being produced, but also how much porn people are consuming and what they're searching for on major sites. According to Lehmiller, people are not just searching for porn in general either. In one month's time, there were more than 9 million searches for coronavirus-related or pandemic porn, as in people wearing masks, surgical gloves and gowns engaging in sex.

He explains that porn searches are up, in part, because a lot of people are at home with more time on their hands than usual. But he and other experts explain that there are other potential reasons for increased visits to porn sites. Some of those reasons include people using sex as a coping mechanism for dealing with fear of disease and death, plus loneliness and the dramatic increase in experiencing anxiety, stress and negative emotions.

So what about this "gift" that Pornhub has given to people, married, single or even teens, in the midst of COVID-19? The truth about porn is, most people don't realize how pornography reaches out and grabs people. Research has shown that the endorphins released in the brain when a person is looking at pornography are 200 times more potent than morphine and they are more addictive than cocaine. They also give you an enormous false sense of well-being. Fight the New Drug equates it to eating junk food. It seems like it is really good and satisfies you in the moment, but it actually leaves you wanting more and never feeling full.

Additionally, research consistently indicates the effects of pornography use, especially when one person is frequently viewing pornographic images online, can hurt a couple's relationship. In an open letter discussing the dangers of porn, Drs. Julie and John Gottman make several arguments that intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to getting pleasure from porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction.

Second, when watching pornography, the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person's control. Third, the porn user may expect that their partner will always be immediately ready for intercourse. Pornography can also lead to a decrease in relationship trust and a higher likelihood of affairs outside the relationship.

 

Red Flags

Here are some red flags that may indicate your spouse is involved in this highly addictive activity.

* Is their body language open and does he/she respond appropriately when you ask questions? Does your spouse look you in the eyes when he/she talks to you? One lie often leads to another. You may ask a simple question and get a very complicated answer or an answer that was different than the day before.

* Does your spouse have appropriate boundaries? They seem to live in drama and chaos all the time. They may ask you to do strange things like videotape or take pictures of you getting out of the shower or at intimate moments.

* Does your spouse use lots of sexual humor and innuendos, even when the conversation has nothing to do with that subject?

* Is your spouse preoccupied with sexual behaviors? Is he/she constantly wanting to push the boundaries and experiment sexually in ways that make you wonder where they got the idea from?

* Does he/she exhibit inappropriate anger? This anger appears to come from nowhere. For example, if you ask about household cash flow or what time they will be home, he/she explodes.

* Have they lost interest in you sexually or has their demand for sexual activity increased, although they seem to be "elsewhere" in the midst of sex? If so, sex at this point is not about intimacy, but about control and power and what he/she can get you to do.

* Do you seem to constantly have money problems? No matter how much money you have coming in, there just is never enough to cover the expenses.

As a result of the pandemic and people being quarantined, many have commented on how they really didn't realize how much they really needed in-person, face-to-face experiences for their emotional well-being. The research is clear: While a person may be using porn as a coping mechanism, the thirst for it is insatiable and it still leaves them feeling empty, unfulfilled and needing more.

If you or someone you love is struggling with porn addiction, you may find the Fight the New Drug and Addiction Center websites helpful to determine best next steps.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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Julie Baumgardner

 

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