Sexual and erotic imagery has been around for thousands of years, but never before has porn been as easily accessible as it has become in the last 15 years. Many websites can lure one into a maze of sex clips with a small but effective advertisement, intended to titillate and entice. Statistics indicate that up to 85 per cent of males and 15 per cent of females access internet porn on a regular basis, and among those, many feel powerless to control their viewing of porn.

Science shows that the excitement of the easily accessible images combined with sexual arousal and orgasm trains the brain quite quickly to associate sexual excitement with porn. Neuroscience has shown us that our brains tend to create neural pathways based on our most common activities, so if one is watching porn on a daily basis, it is highly likely that when it comes to sex in real time they will notice decreased arousal. This is because their arousal has become wired to co-ordinate with pornographic images.

As a sex therapist I see this often in my rooms. Men who are struggling to become aroused with their partners, and often, presenting with low libido. Upon further investigation it emerges that porn plays a significant role in their masturbatory habits. They have taught their brains, and their penises, that the only way to achieve sexual arousal is through the sequence of fast moving and explicit sexual images. Real life women can seldom emulate porn, therefore, he starts to become less aroused when being intimate with her.

As our brains are so powerful, it is possible that even if one could access in real life the images that they see in porn, it would be less satisfying than sex. A great part of the enjoyment of porn is being removed from the actual scenario. Having the stance of the onlooker engages a voyeuristic element, which then becomes part of the fantasy. Being once removed from the scene can enhance arousal in watching porn, as does the lack of necessary involvement and connection.

In addition to this, porn also offers a plethora of sexual scenarios that may never normally be considered. Often people describe a process of surfing through porn and suddenly discovering a fetishistic interest in a particular scene. The realisation that these latent internal fantasies exist can very often fuel one to obsessively scour the internet for more. It might be likened to discovering a favourite author and reading all their books fanatically.

The recent scientific understanding of neuroplasticity is vital in offering some relief for those who are unable to become aroused without porn. Just as the brain was trained to associate sexual arousal with porn, so the brain can be trained to associate sexual arousal with real time sex once again. It does take some time, and of course, commitment and desire for responding to sex in an different manner.

Those who understand how the brain becomes impacted by porn are slowly able to retrain their brain without much difficulty. Having a propensity towards addiction in general may make it a little more difficult, but with the correct interventions and treatment, it is possible to bring one’s sexuality back into the real world. More concerning for me, as a sex therapist, are young people, whose initiation into sex is usually porn. They never get the chance to understand what it means to retrain the brain back into real world sex, and may struggle the most with porn addiction.