"Rebecca was eight years old when she went looking for porn" (ABC - Australia)

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Young womanShe'd seen a movie where a little girl had been kidnapped. She was confused about how the movie made her feel. She went looking for that feeling. "It was a really kind of deep feeling and I just wanted to find out more about that," she told Hack.

Raised online, she says porn was easy to find.

This was the beginning of a self-described porn addiction that has hijacked more than half Rebecca's life and which she's still trying to shake 11 years later.

It's an extreme example of the way watching lots of porn - like any other repeated activity - can change the brain.

At the same time, porn use is booming. It is conservatively estimated about two-thirds of Australian men and a fifth of Australian women have watched porn. Australia ranks seventh worldwide in per-capita use on Porn Hub.

As part of the upcoming Australians on Porn TV special, Hack spoke with psychologists, counsellors and those who are suffering from self-described porn addictions.

They include Matt, who would masturbate until he bled during a lonely period, before joining an online support group where he met other porn addicts.

"I felt like I couldn't stop"

The first porn Rebecca watched was "vanilla porn, just heterosexual, run of the mill" stuff. She'd do it secretly. Her parents never knew.

"I felt really guilty about it, and there was a lot of shame that I felt about watching - like, it wasn't alright, or wasn't allowed." As puberty hit and she started having sex she went from weekly porn sessions to watching it multiple times a day.

"I felt like I couldn't stop, I felt like I couldn't turn it off, or I couldn't just cut it out of my life," she said.

The vanilla porn of her childhood was replaced with hardcore porn.

She was 16 and sexually charged. She asked her partners to try the things she'd seen on screen.

"I would bring up the fact that I wanted to try the things I had seen in pornography like choking, and rough sex - violent stuff like that.

"My partners were always more than willing to do that for me."

She was also sexually assaulted "several times" within her relationships but felt at the time it was normal because of what she'd seen.

"Looking back now, a 16 year old shouldn't have been engaging in really violent sex where there wasn't a huge amount of respect or love involved," she told Hack.

"It invades your mind"

According to forensic psychologist Dr Russell Pratt, when people watch porn, dopamine is released along with a protein called DeltaFosB.

He says DeltaFosB accumulates in certain neurons when people engage in regular addictive behaviour.

When the protein accumulates to a certain point, there is a "genetic switch" which means that even when people stop engaging in the addictive behaviour, their brain remains changed.

"The majority of people handle their porn use reasonably well," he told Hack.

But for those who watch porn regularly and consistently, Dr Pratt says there is growing evidence that it can change your brain and impact the way you enjoy sex.

"Porn has the potential to be addictive in the same way that some people become addicted to alcohol or drugs."

"What we see in addicts... is even when they're not watching porn anymore the changes to the brain continue."

Changing your brain through repeated activity is certainly not limited to porn.

But in the book The Brain That Changes Itself, psychiatrist Norman Doidge says it "satisfies every one of the prerequisites for neuroplastic change".

He writes that some of his clients who use porn regularly and compulsively reported finding it hard to be aroused by their partners. Other researchers report correlations between porn use and risky sexual behaviours.

There is however, not consensus in the scientific community about whether compulsive porn use is an 'addiction'.

Lifeline counsellor David Hollier, who specialises in treating people struggling with their porn use, says the jury is out on what the full impact of our online porn use will be.

"We have an experiment that is going on right now, we have the first generation ever who are growing up with internet porn and this is a brand new thing.

"We have no idea exactly what that's going to do with their brains - exactly how that's going to play out in terms of their more mature sexuality, their tastes - that is just something we don't know yet."

Porn is more likely to become addictive if you have experienced trauma and are feeling isolated.

For Matt, this came when he was living alone after a breakup.

He'd been watching porn since his early teens - first sneaking glances at adult magazine centrefolds, then over the internet on a dial-up connection. He would lug the family computer over to the phone line and wait impatiently for the pictures to load.

"The waiting... probably restricted (me) a little, fortunately," he told Hack.

"I think the correlation between Internet speeds and availability and watching pornography goes hand in hand.

"I think when it got out of hand was when I was living by myself in South Korea; the fastest Internet in the world, and that was when I was like, it was mad."

He'd tell himself he'd stop. But then there'd be a voice urging him back for more.

"There is a voice, there is a voice in my head that just says 'do it, c'mon'... this lingering thought... it invades your mind in a way."

"Quitting porn can be really, really challenging"

According to Lifeline counsellor David Hollier, porn is about escapism, and the key to breaking a porn addiction is working out what a person is running away from.

"If we can start to understand that... it becomes much more possible for the porn user to start to introduce other activities and start to see that they have agency, they have a choice in whether they use the porn or not.

"But for some people depending on the kind of trauma or the depth of the pain that they are avoiding that can be really really challenging to get them... to stop what has been a very successful way to stop pain," he told Hack.

One of Matt's friends put him onto the Reddit support group NoFap, where he was able to read other people's experiences of trying to quit porn.

He hasn't stopped watching porn but says he's been able to cut down by recognising why porn is a problem for him.

"I think I watch porn, sometimes because I'm lonely.

"I think there is a level of anxiety in the last two years that I haven't felt before and I think that is somehow attributed to watching porn and the reward centres in my brain screaming out for something that they are really used to."

He says it helps to keep busy - look for work or call a friend - when the urge hits.

He wants to stop all together.

"I think I can imagine a future without porn," he said.

Dr Pratt says the NoFap community could be incredibly helpful for people who feel they need to quit masturbating to porn all together in order to get a hold of their behaviour.

He also recommends seeking professional help for people whose porn use is causing problems in other parts of their life.

For Rebecca, professional help has meant she's now recognising the impact porn has had on her.

She's still struggling too - it's hard for her to be aroused without violent imagery - but says she's looking forward to a future "without porn, without rough sex".

"I just would like to have a respectful, equal relationship... and a life where I feel good about myself and my sexuality and I can engage in sex in a really healthy respectful way."

Australians on Porn with Tom Tilley airs on Monday December 7 on ABC 2 at 9:30 pm.

If this is bringing up issues for you, there's always someone you can talk to at Lifeline on 13 11 14. Or if you don't feel like picking up the phone, they also have an online chat service or check out ReachOut.