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How do you protect your family from one of the greatest epidemics in the 21st century?

Pornography, once relegated to the limitations of the pages of magazines and VHS tapes, has become available at our fingertips on any device. In the past, adolescent boys might accidentally be exposed to porn through a dad’s magazine, maybe seeing 8 to 10 pictures and hopefully moving on to the park after the giggles to play a round of baseball with neighborhood friends. Today, in a matter of days or weeks a young man can be exposed to literally thousands of nude pictures and videos, including any conceivable fetish with the twitch of his finger on any device. Statistics indicate that 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography online before the age of 18. The first exposure to pornography among boys is 12 years old, on average. I have families with 13-year-old boys come to me for help with full-fledged pornography addictions. For adult men, statistics indicate 60 to 70% of men view porn, and 45% of men view it at least weekly.

Why is porn addictive and so dangerous to the individual and the family?

Seeking and viewing pornography images activates a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine which brings about a heightened state of arousal. Over time, the reward center in the brain will become habituated to this dopamine infusion and a person will continue to seek out the same high. Further reinforcing the potential addiction, the self-stimulation that goes along with the pornography and ejaculation create a secondary brain drug response which is like an opiate. This combination of neurochemicals creates a poly drug response in the brain which is incredibly powerful and addictive. Over time, the brain will become habituated to certain levels of stimulation and need new and different types of stimulation to obtain the same dopamine high. In turn, this can lead to the user seeking more unique and even sadomasochistic types of video stimulation. Many of the adolescent porn addictions that I treat involve some kind of picture or video fetish beyond the norm due to the need for increased stimulation. For both fathers and sons, this pattern of brain stimulation can result in a loss of interest in other experiences in daily life that used to bring pleasure. This progression eventually leads to depression, difficulties with concentration, and strong feelings of shame about a habit which is often kept in secret. For fathers, the brain can become so habituated to this activity that it becomes difficult to respond to ordinary sexual activities with a real person. Even very young men are experiencing erectile dysfunction due to porn use.

How do we protect families and treat those that become ensnared by pornography addiction?

There are three crucial steps to protecting your family. First, it is crucial to educate your sons about the dangers of pornography, including walking them through the brain science so that they understand that you're not simply being "old-fashioned" in your cautions. Have the important conversations about the role of sexuality and its appropriate development and expression. Second, have your adolescents use computers in open well-traveled areas in the home so that others can see what they're doing on their screens. Adolescents on devices in their bedrooms with a closed door can be a danger zone. Third, invest in filters on all devices, or at the router level, in your home. There are many options online which can provide you with a straightforward way to prevent pornography use and other inappropriate online activity in your home. If parents knew the material that was entering their son’s minds through the unfiltered internet, they would be mortified. It's crucial not to assume, "this couldn’t be my child." I see many porn addiction scenarios in otherwise healthy teens that go undetected for months before parents discover the full-blown problem.

What if we discover that our son is using porn addictively?

First, gently discuss the situation with him and your concerns. Talk with him about how much you love him and would like to offer him some professional support to assist him with the situation. Connect him with a psychologist or counselor, like myself, who has expertise in both pornography addiction and adolescent boys to assist him. Often, in addition to working on discontinuing the porn use, the young man often needs assistance with finding other ways to cope with the pressures of adolescence. For the fathers and other adult men who find themselves in the chains of pornography addiction, seeking help with a professional, like myself, with specific expertise in this area can also lead to a path of healing. The first step for any individual or family is asking the right questions and acknowledging the problem. I’d be glad to offer my expertise to any individual, adolescent, family, or organization seeking more information about how to identify and address pornography addiction