June 7, 2013 | by Michael Radkowsky
To fap or not to fap?
Fap, Masturbation, Gay News, Washington Blade, Porn

If you find yourself turning more often to the computer than another human for sex, it may be time to re-wire your brain. (Image by GenX; via Creative Commons)

Dear Michael,

What do you think about the No Fap movement? It’s started me thinking that I spend way too much time beating off in front of my computer screen and that I’ve been making less of an effort to actually have sex. I actually get off easier to online stuff, which I think is usually hotter than the real thing, but something seems troubling about this.

Michael replies:

Masturbating to internet porn is leading many guys, including you, to lose interest in sex with real people and to have erectile dysfunction or difficulty reaching orgasm when trying to have sex with another person.

How is this happening? Our brains’ wiring pushes us to continually seek opportunities for sex and to keep seeking out new partners to increase the likelihood of our genes getting passed down. Internet porn, unlike the porn of yore, is always available, often free and offers immediate stimulation of every imaginable variety at the click of a mouse. These attributes enable it to plug right into the brain’s innate desire to have frequent and varied sexual experiences. Addiction is almost unavoidable: The easy access and unlimited options can make internet porn way more alluring than real-life sex. And our brains, which don’t know the difference between virtual and real sex, want to keep getting off with what seems like an endless stream of hot partners.

As we rapidly access the next image, scene or story that is even more exciting than the one we just viewed, we are re-wiring our brains to have a higher and higher arousal threshold, making it hard to get hard when we’re simply with another guy. We’re also wiring our brains to get turned on by what’s on a screen rather than by what’s really in front of us, by voyeurism rather than by participatory sex and by an unending array of increasingly stimulating images rather than by an ongoing connection to another person. The result of all this: we lose interest in the real thing and get hooked on chasing ever more exciting porn, sitting at our computers or holding our smartphones in isolation.

There are some additional twists to this for gay men. Straight guys usually have opportunities to develop their sexuality with other people as they’re growing up and dating. Gay men usually have been closeted in their teens and often learn about their own sexual feelings and responses through images and fantasy, including lots of PMO (porn-masturbation-orgasm). As a result, we may have a tendency from the get-go to be more turned on by the virtual than by the real and this is worrisome. Studies find that the earlier men start fapping to internet porn, the longer it will take for them, if they do stop, to function successfully when having sex with a real person. Their brains have simply not developed robust pathways for non-porn arousal.

In addition, gay male culture is ever more saturated with sexualized hook-up websites and apps featuring headless torso shots. This emphasis on sex over any other kind of human connection synchs up with fapping to make it even more difficult for you to be aroused by a real person with whom you might relate in some way other than through sex.

Bottom line: You should be very concerned about your fapping to porn. The good news is that you can re-set your brain so that you are aroused by reality. But doing so isn’t easy, and requires time and a great deal of willpower. The key to change? Stop fapping to porn and other fantasy stimulation, in order to give your brain the opportunity to lower the arousal threshold you’ve jacked up through porn. Yes, you read this right: if fapping has left you unable to get turned on by an actual man in bed next to you, then you must give up porn, and the fantasies that porn has burned into your brain, if you want to enjoy and relate to what actually exists.

Given the highly addictive qualities of PMO, and given that people fap not just for sexual release but also for all sorts of self-soothing, walking away from it can be extremely difficult. Therefore, if you decide to make this move, be sure to have good support and perhaps a great therapist to help you manage the anxiety and stress that you will likely experience as you start to live without internet porn.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

1 Comment
  • With all due respect, Dr. Radkowski, your advice is simply not a viable option for gay and bisexual men — especially those who live in rural areas far away from the gay urban centers (as I do) — when the only alternative to fapping to internet porn is celibacy, if not total sexual abstinence.

    Sexual energy cannot be totally suppressed and must have an outlet — and if fapping to internet porn is the only outlet available to gay and bisexual men living in rural areas without a visible LGBT community, then so be it.

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