The prevalence of porn on the internet – and a tribute to the late Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson, co-founder of the website Your Brain on Porn passed away recently. He was a pioneer in the field of porn addiction harms advocacy and was one of the first to sound the alarm on the potential effects and associated harms of internet porn. Gary was an honest, authentic and true champion of truth and science. His website, http://www.yourbrainonporn.com served as both a clearing house for the rapidly growing research and as a source of support for the growing numbers of, mostly but not all, young men struggling with issues which they suspect are related to their use of porn. His legacy will live on and his name will be remembered long after some of his critics’ are forgotten and relegated to the wrong side of history.


How much porn is there on the internet? The answer depends on your source, but It is estimated that between 4 and 37% of all internet traffic is pornography related, depending on where you look.[1] One intriguing source of statistical data relating to pornography is Pornhub’s annual year in review. Porn Hub, while not the site with the most traffic on the net, is the only site that publishes annual “year in review” statistics, which includes the year’s top search terms, site visit stats and most popular categories. In December 2019, Pornhub published its seventh annual year in review statistics for the previous 12 months. It triumphantly boasted of its’ continued growth:

            Pornhub keeps on growing and it doesn’t show signs of letting up. In 2019 there were over 42 Billion visits to Pornhub, which means there was an average of 115 million visits per day. One-Hundred-Fifteen Million – that’s the equivalent of the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands all visiting in one day![2]

            The equivalent of the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands. Given the population of the world is currently estimated at 7.5 billion, 42 billion visits for the year of 2019 equals 5.6 visits per person on the planet. Let that sink in for a moment before we move on.

            Other sources relating to the internet, numbers and porn show a variety of, depending on your perspective, disturbing statistics. According to a 2006 study of Google searches[3], “adult” was the biggest search category for mobile device searches, counting for 20% of all searches. Other popular search terms included “sex”, “porn” and “free porn”. A 2014 study estimated that 4% of all websites on the internet are dedicated to porn, which may not seem like a lot, but when one looks at the traffic on Pornhub as a guide to how many visitors porn sites may be serving, the numbers start to add up.

            Here are some more, numbers that is.

Every Second:

  • 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet.
  • $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography on the internet.
  • 372 people are typing the word “adult” into a search engine.

Every Day:

  • 37 pornographic videos are created in the United States.
  • 2.5 billion emails containing porn are sent or received.
  • 68 million search queries related to pornography- 25% of total searches- are generated. 
  • 116,000 queries related to child pornography [sic] are received.

According to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, (2010) 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home, pornography increases the rate of marital infidelity by more than 300%, and 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an “obsessive interest” in pornography.[4]

Another way of estimating porn’s prevalence and rising popularity is to take a look at the global ranking of websites with the most traffic. Every year, Similar Web ranks the worlds’ 300 most popular websites. In 2016, it ranked both mobile and desktop data statistics together for the first time and noted a rise in the popularity of ‘adult’ sites. In 2016, the world’s most popular website was Facebook however for the first time, adult websites featured heavily in the top ranked websites, including 11 porn sites in the top 300 most popular sites globally for that year. Pornhub, attracting 1.1 billion visits a month in 2016 globally, saw 54% of its visits from mobile phones, with an average user session lasting about 8 ½ minutes. It rose from 38th place to 23rd, a higher position than online stalwarts such as eBay, MSN and Netflix.[5] However, then as now, Pornhub was not the worlds’ biggest porn site, Xvideos was. It ranked number 18 in 2016 with 1.5 billion monthly visitors.

The popularity of adult content website traffic has risen steadily since. In July 2020 the most recent rankings show adult websites now account for 4 out of the top 20 websites visited, with 3 of those being in the top 10. Xvideos.com is still the world’s biggest adult website coming in at number 7 in Similar Web’s list of the world’s most visited websites. Not far behind is Pornhub at number 9 and xnxx.com at number 10. To give you an appreciation of context, Xvideos’ popularity in 2020 is usurped only by Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Baidu.com – China’s version of Google. Or, in other words, Xvideos is more popular than Amazon, Netflix, Reddit, Ebay and Microsoft.

Given the prevalence of pornographic content on the net, is it any wonder that more and more users would find themselves becoming “addicted” to “fapping” (internet slang meaning to masturbate to online porn). Or that more and more of these users would find each other on internet forums and chat rooms where the problems related to too much of a good thing first started to appear.

In Gary Wilson’s famous TED Talk, “The Great Porn Experiment” from May 2012, which now has over 14 million views, he mentioned that researchers were struggling to find a ‘control group’ with which to conduct comparison studies, simply because they could not find enough non porn viewing male participants, with which to conduct their studies. This and the numbers mentioned above should indicate that whatever one thinks of internet pornography itself, its impact on a generation of young men cannot be underestimated. I recently re-visited his Ted Talk on the topic and was absolutely appalled by the “Note from TED under the talk stating, “This talk contains several assertions that are not supported by academically respected studies in medicine and psychology. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful, please do not look to this talk for medical advice.” This is absolutely not accurate. There were, at the time of this talk, and certainly since, a multitude of studies on the effects of internet porn and its associated harms. For TED to place such a statement under this talk is a form of disinformation and does not reflect what the actual research shows. But more on this later….


[1] Web Porn: Just How Much is There? https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-23030090

[2] Porn Hub, 2019 The Year in Review. https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2019-year-in-review

[3] A Large Scale Study of Internet Web Search, 2006. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221514705_A_large_scale_study_of_wireless_search_behavior_Google_mobile_search

[4] Internet Pornography by the Numbers. https://www.webroot.com/au/en/resources/tips-articles/internet-pornography-by-the-numbers

[5] Top 300 Biggest Websites. https://www.similarweb.com/corp/blog/new-website-ranking/

Porn addiction – it’s not just you. Truth, reality and hope for addicts and partners.

In 2014 I wrote a serious article with a slightly tongue in cheek heading called  Is internet porn the beginning of the end for the human race?  Now while I admit, I may have been exaggerating slightly, the premise of the article was clearly not entirely without justification. It may seem a little far fetched but if, as I saw tonight while out at dinner, parents are using screens to placate/regulate a child’s behaviour out in public then what does that really mean for that child and their ability to engage with other humans later in life? What happens when, as a society, we are more comfortable relating to a screen or to another human being through the medium of a screen, than we are when faced with a flesh and blood human. One that you can’t simply swipe away when convenient?

How does this relate to porn addiction? Well for many years the debate on porn was centered around the notion that succumbing to the temptation of porn signified some kind of moral failing. From a religious/Christian point of view, it was a question of sinfulness.  A sign that one has allowed oneself to become infected with one or more of the seven supposed deadliest of sins, lust and/or gluttony. Or, from a feminist point of view, porn is seen as the vile exploitation of women as sexual, one dimensional objects with no humanity other than form. Exposure to pornography was seen as something that was detrimental to our morality and incremental to men’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for all things sexual. Yet as Naomi Wolf ironically points out in her article, The Porn Myth in actuality, the end result of too much exposure to pornography has had the effect, not of turning men into sexually ravenous beasts, but the complete opposite; sexual and emotional anorexics who can no longer relate authentically to a real life woman or get aroused by one. As it turns out, excessive viewing of pornography in this digital age turns men off, not on.

As numerous studies now show, repetitive and compulsive viewing of internet porn by men, (and a growing number of women) induces the opposite effect than one might expect, and just like a person who is addicted to a substance grows increasingly desensitized to the drug whilst continuing to crave it more and more, a person who is addicted to pornography finds he/she ends up on pretty much the same, well trodden treadmill. Intensely wanting something that can no longer provide the temporary relief and stimulation it once did.

Recent research implies that internet pornography is as addictive as certain drugs and affects the brain the same way. But, porn’s special hook is that it taps into that human need for attachment by adding into the mix hormones that are normally associated with bonding, love and connection. In effect, a porn addict becomes more attached to porn than anything or anyone else in their life. As a consequence, relationships, marriages, work and soon enough, the relationship with the self begins to suffer.

Porn addiction, like any addiction goes through stages – however, unlike most other addictions, the physical effects of porn addiction are virtually invisible, and the psychological and emotional effects are quite subtle, at first. In-fact, many porn addicts may seek treatment of a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, as well as physical ailments, stress, other addictions and finally sexual performance before anyone “thinks to ask about their porn viewing habits”.

But more and more studies clearly link issues related to sexual performance, including as I mention in my previous post, erectile dysfunction in men in their late teens and early twenties, (something that was almost unheard of 10 – 15 years ago) back to extensive viewing of internet porn. It is only when they can no longer get an erection, or ejaculate even with porn that some men start to make the connection between their excessive viewing of porn and other issues in their life. Often this is the only thing that eventually get’s their attention. (Their partners, if they have partners, may have known for some time that something was happening, or rather…not happening!)

This sorry state of affairs is bad news for both porn addicts and partners of porn/sex addicts, many who spend night after night lying in bed next to a partner that never seems to be ‘in the mood’ for sex. The result can be devastating to marriages, relationships and the self-esteem to both parties. The secretive nature of most men’s porn addiction may also mean that some partners may not know that they are in a relationship with a porn addict or even if they are aware of their partner’s porn habit, they may not make the connection at first either. Or they may not know the extent of their partner’s porn viewing. The damage this causes relationships is thus far unmeasurable.  One site states that 56% of divorces in the U.S. involve one party having an obsessive interest in pornography among other staggering statistics.

So, is the news all bad? Well, no. Latest brain research shows that the brain is actually very flexible, and  malleable, kind of like plasticine. In-fact the term for the way the brain can change itself, based on what is experienced is called neuroplasticity. This is good news. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the same way you get yourself into a sticky situation is largely the same way to get yourself out of it. While the allure of internet porn may have lost its charm many clicks ago, the habit that it has created will be hard to break. Hard, but not impossible. For men who have lost the ability to relate to women, emotionally and physically, and for partners of addicts there seems little alternative, other than to dissolve the relationship, which let’s face it, is fairly likely. It can’t be much fun to be in a relationship with a porn addict. However, chances are that if you leave a relationship with one porn addict, you are more than likely to run into another just as addicted, or on his way to being so, seeing as in America at least, sex addiction (which porn addiction is a form of) has reached epidemic status, according to this 2011 News Week article.

So, how do you beat a porn addiction and reverse its affects on the brain? Well the answer is simple, if not easy and this is simply to stop it. Stop all contact with porn and masturbating to porn and give your brain a chance to rewire itself and re-learn, or rediscover what comes naturally.

That is the only solution. I did say it was simple, but not easy. Recovering from porn addiction (for addicts and/or partners) takes time, courage and commitment and it is not easy to do without support. There are some very good websites now that can assist, (which I shall list below in the resources) but the assistance of a therapist who is aware of the nature of porn and sex addiction, one who will take it seriously can be fundamental to long lasting recovery. At least, having a close friend or understanding partner (if that is possible) that you know and trust is also important. The reason being that porn and sex addiction most likely mask other issues. Issues such as fear of intimacy, abandonment fears, attachment disorders, and perhaps even trauma. Once the defence of porn has left the building, then there is nothing to protect your unconscious and chances are some deeply buried emotional wounds may re-open.

It’s important to be aware of this possibility as many who try to ‘re-boot’ as it is called on websites such as Your Brain on Porn and Fight the New Drug often try many times and fail because they are inadequately prepared or lack support.

If you are experiencing porn addiction or are the partner of a porn addict, seek help from a qualified therapist and/or see some of the websites listed below for more information.

SOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/
http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/#sthash.ubb4Ty3m.dpbs
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/
http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/05/the-prevalence-of-porn/
http://yourbrainonporn.com/cambridge-university-brain-scans-find-porn-addiction
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125382361
http://newsok.com/the-five-stages-of-pornography-addiction/article/5407775/?page=2
http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/index1.html
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/13/a-letter-to-my-ex-husband-who-preferred-pornography-to-me
http://www.newsweek.com/sex-addiction-epidemic-66289
http://globalchristiancenter.com/mens/overcoming-temptations/16765-pornography-in-the-church-a-new-epidemic
https://www.lds.org/tools/print/article/narrow/?lang=eng&url=/topics/pornography/audiences/youth/teenagers-and-pornography-addiction-treating-the-silent-epidemic
RESOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/ (Internet filtering service)
http://yourbrainonporn.com/
http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/
http://www.posarc.com/ (Partners of sex addicts resource center)

Is internet porn the beginning of the end for the human race?

After a particularly robust discussion on the topic of internet porn addiction involving a frank and open exchange of views I took it upon myself to do some ‘research’ into the subject out of interest.

To be honest, pornography has never really phased me. Nor have I ever really worried about whether or not my partner looked at porn. I just thought it was something that ‘all guys do’ whether they admit to it or not so why bother getting upset about it. Each to their own was my attitude. But more than that, I also considered myself a pretty ‘open minded’ individual when it came to sex and sexuality. To be honest, I guess I had a pretty naive idea about what porn actually meant and what it actually entailed. It did occur to me that an industry which trades on the subjectification of one human being over another was in essence problematic. However, two adults engaging in mutually satisfying sexual communication is one thing, but pornography has nothing to do with that. Pornography, and internet pornography at that is an entirely other animal.

However, putting all morality and feminist discourse aside what I discovered about the very recent phenomenon that is high-speed internet pornography and the effect it is having on men and in particular very young men, is actually pretty terrifying to say the least.

In my research, which existed of Googling the words “brain porn” I came across this site: www.yourbrainonporn.com which I highly recommend for anyone who is worried about excessive porn use and if it could be affecting other areas of their life. Well, chances are it is, according to the most recent research on the neurology of the brain and how it responds in particular to excessive porn use. Some of the findings may be of surprising interest to some of you. I won’t go into all of them here but the one issue which I think is of alarming importance is the link between increasing instances of erectile dysfunction in men (some as young as 21) which is linked to over use of internet porn.

For some of these young men internet porn has become a way of life, so by the time they hit their early 20s some of them have been accessing and masturbating to internet porn since they were in early adolescence. The problem with that being thus, because the adolescent brain is still forming, a dysfunctional relationship between internet porn and sexuality has become hard wired into their brains, so much so, that they can no longer be aroused by a real life person. Their brains have come to associate sexual satisfaction with internet porn. After a while, some of them report that they have no interest  in actually having sex with another person, they would rather watch porn and get off. How absolutely whack is that?!

According to one recent (2014) Canadian study, 54% of young men aged 16 -21 reported some kind of sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction and inability to orgasm. Frequency and length of use can also contribute to problems with RL (real life) sex. That is, years of use and frequency of use can wear out the brain’s natural reward system, hijacking it so that it no longer associates sex with real life women as a reward. It associates sexual reward with sitting alone in your room, in front of a computer with one hand on your penis and the other on the mouse.

There has been some recent debate as to whether sexual addiction is a ‘real’ addiction or not. Well, according to the most recent (2013) DSM-V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) it is, as the brain responds in much the same way and the psycho-social behaviours that sex or porn addicts engage in are much the same.  Avoidance of real life situations, inability to connect intimately with another human being, isolation, shame, increasing instances of depression and anxiety have all been attributed to excessive porn use.

My question is this, if left unchecked and our young men of today are forgoing sex with real girls for the thrill of masturbating to porn alone then what does that mean for the future of humanity and relationships in general? The internet has made it easier to connect at a distance, social media makes it easier to ‘connect’ with others by simply ‘liking’ their post or photos. But, as a species, are we in danger of losing our ability to meaningfully connect in other ways? And if young men in particular are choosing to connect with the image of a porn actress (who will never reject them) on a computer screen rather than risk engagement with a girl (who may reject them) then what about the future of the human race? What about real sex, you know that ol’ chestnut, yeah reproduction of the species? Well that takes real engagement with another human being. And yes, human interaction can get messy. (The sort of messy that you can’t always wipe up with a tissue!) And if half the species are losing their motivation to engage in sexual behaviour with potential mates, then is it only a matter of time until the machines take over all together….?

For more information and links to actual studies check out http://www.yourbrainonporn.com