I need porn to calm me or put me to sleep.

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Porn addiction is fueled by the discomfort of withdrawal symptomsComments from two men:

  • More stress=more masturbation. Frequency goes way up nearing finals and before a paper is due. It's a stress reliever and clears the brain so you can focus.
  • Not long after orgasm (sometimes even ten minutes later) I am cloudy-minded, lightheaded, disoriented, and anxious, although the duration and intensity of the different symptoms varies. Orgasm was not only the cause of these problems but also seemed like the CURE. Sometimes I would do it twice if the first one didn’t work. But after a while, I found I needed to do it more and more often to relieve the symptoms. Eventually I was up to five times a day. This was exhausting, and cutting back had strong withdrawal effects.

Orgasm initially relaxes—probably because at climax the brain releases opiates, prolactin, serotonin and sometimes a spritz of oxytocin. At the same time dopamine, the "Gotta get it!" neurochemical, drops off. As an evolutionary matter, these good feelings are nature's way of saying, "Good job! for engaging in fertilization behavior." Ahhhh... (Interestingly, there's evidence that the neurochemical effects of intercourse are different from those of solo sex.)

The more you scratch the more you itch?

But what happens when you decide to use climax as "mood medicine" each time you feel stressed? The answer depends on various factors, such as: the sensitivity of your brain, the intensity of the stimulation you use (Internet porn being on the high end), how isolated you are from the other natural rewards that helped keep your ancestors' brains in balance (close, trusted companionship, affectionate touch, vigorous exercise, normal food, etc.).

Let's say you don't have a lot of those other rewards and you have lots of work to do. So you want to get off as fast as possible to improve your focus and get back to work. Naturally, you click to Internet porn and find something hot enough to get instant results.

Unfortunately, as time goes on, your brain may need more and more stimulation to get relief. Or your brain may need porn even when you're not under stress, or it may need it to fall asleep almost every night. In addiction-speak, you are "building up tolerance" for the neurochemicals your brain is producing, as explained by psychiatrist Norman Doidge. In other words, always reaching for the Internet's "instant cure" can actually increase your symptoms.

We say this with confidence because as porn users stop using porn for some weeks, many report dramatic improvements in mood, productivity, sleep, and even more amazingly, a decrease in overall sexual frustration.

The cycle of orgasm is more complex than generally acknowledged. It doesn't end with those good feelings that relieve tension. After the intensity of climax, it takes time for your brain to return to homeostasis—perhaps as long as a week. Meanwhile, the neurochemistry of your brain is fluctuating. The lows can show up as increased feelings of restlessness, anxiety, frustration and so forth—independently of what's going on in your life. This can make you feel edgy, antisocial, and like something's wrong with you.

How annoying! You've now increased your stressful feelings just by trying to feel better. Inadvertently, you activated your evolutionary "binge trigger" with too much stimulation. When this happens, your brain adapts as best it can to the constant flood of stimulation. However, one typical result is that it becomes less sensitive to pleasure. This, in turn, fuels the escalation phenomenon (tolerance) explained above.

So what to do?

Masturbation is likely to remain part of your life, at least until you have a partner. But there are things that help.

  • Avoid extreme stimuli. Internet porn may be the quickest way to get off, but it's also one of the most extreme, simply because it's video; it's novel; it's kinky, etc. So the high-low cycle it kicks in is also more pronounced. Masturbate without Internet porn, and see if you notice benefits.
  • Try rebooting. Men find that the less they masturbate, the less they need to masturbate...at least to a point. Find that balance point where your needs don't escalate. It will take time to find it if your brain is currently out of balance. Amazingly, your ideal interval could be as long as a week or two.
  • Experiment to figure out which other natural "mood medicine" produces feelings of wellbeing. That way you won't be dependent upon Internet porn to relieve stress.