The theme of Men’s Health Week this year (June 12-18) is ‘Men and the Internet.’ This broad topic looks at the various ways that the internet has affected men’s health for better or for worse. The current generation of 18-21 year olds have grown up with smartphones that enable them to access adult material at the touch of a button.
What implication does this have for both mental and physical health? At one time, accessing pornography or gambling for example took effort and there were far fewer opportunities and options available. Now, the internet has opened up a whole new world where there are millions of websites offering free and easy access to all kinds of material.
While the majority of men are able to deal with these temptations and do not allow themselves to become overly influenced by what they see online, some researchers believe that a significant minority are overusing porn, and may even be addicted to it. This can affect their quality of life, making it harder for them to form real relationships.
The science behind addiction centres on dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is triggered by pleasurable experiences, or even just the anticipation of pleasure. The human brain is naturally hardwired to seek out dopamine kicks, but unfortunately, the high is always followed by a corresponding low, which drives some people to greater lengths.
In the era when the intense dopamine hit of porn is available at the touch of a button, the impact becomes weaker over time because the brain is only geared to cope with a limited amount of stimulation. Therefore the individual seeks out greater highs to gratify their cravings, but the returns keep on diminishing.
Scientists believe that this ultimately changes the brain chemistry, and this can damage how men are able to form real relationships and how they behave with partners because porn tends to objectify women in particular. It can also normalise behaviour that most people find unpleasant, and lead to blurred boundaries around consent and power.
Porn can also distort the way men feel about their own bodies, setting up unrealistic expectations around size, shape, and muscle tone. Another serious effect of misuse of porn is that it can lead to erection problems, or erectile dysfunction (ED) as it is referred to in medical terms.
This is because men who overuse porn tend to need more intense levels of stimulation to feel aroused, and may have unrealistic expectations about a partner’s body. They may also feel inadequate and ashamed of their own body because they have been overexposed to the unrealistic standards portrayed in porn.
While there is nothing wrong with using porn in itself, misuse can damage the whole quality of life and make it much more difficult for men to form a genuine sexual connection with a real-life partner.
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