The link between loneliness and pornography use

Andy*, a devout Catholic and recently married man in his twenties, encountered a vicious cycle of pornography in high school and some college – a cycle of porn and loneliness.

“[Porn] would create this whole loneliness, but then, [because of] that loneliness itself, I was seeking for some sort of connection and I was seeking that through the use of pornography, like this reciprocating cycle,” he told EWTN News.

Starting sophomore year of high school and ending sometime in college, Andy’s porn use would also make him feel shame about interacting with people. It would lead him to be more anti-social, then to loneliness, and ultimately to more porn use. He said it was real, human connection which broke that cycle.

“I found that one of the things that actually helped me break that cycle was actually more interaction with people that were really good friends and people that were there for me.”

Andy’s experience is not unlike that of other men, and is mirrored in and follow a recent study from the Institute of Family Studies.

IFS linked greater porn use to increased loneliness and higher levels of loneliness to more porn use, pointing to a vicious and unhealthy cycle. One of the men behind the study, Mark Butler, wrote an article describing the research.

“If loneliness can lead to pornography use, and pornography use may bring about or intensify loneliness, these circular linkages may create a vicious cycle, pulling the user even further from health-promoting relationship connections,” he wrote July 3.

The study surveyed more than 1,000 people from around the world, and a statistical model was developed to analyze the potential reasons behind this cycle of loneliness and porn use.

Butler wrote that “each incremental increase in loneliness was associated with an increase in pornography use (by a factor of 0.16), and each incremental increase in pornography use predicted a significant increase in loneliness (by a factor of 0.20).”

“While the magnitude of effects was small, they were statistically significant,” Butler wrote. “Interlocking partnerships like this are worrisome since they represent an entrapment template associated with addiction.”

The model highlights the biological experience and results of the sexual system that ought to produce greater relational connection through pleasure and comfort.

“First, there’s the physical pleasure of arousal, intercourse, and climax – the engine designed to ensure offspring. Then, after climax, partners experience the brain’s ‘love’ plan for pair bonding, when oxytocin … is released, producing feelings of comfort, connection, and closeness.”

However, without a partner with whom to bond, the sexual activity produces a false relationship experience, “offering temporary ‘relief’ from lonely feeling, but soon enough, the user again faces a real-world relationship void,” he said.

The mental fantasy of a relationship experience invited by pornography “only tricks the brain for a while,” Butler said.

“The user can’t escape the fact that when the experience is over, they’re still alone in an empty room. So, when sexual intoxication wears off, the experience may only end up excavating a deeper emptiness – a setup for a vicious cycle.”

The temporary escape from the long term loneliness creates a false-belief that porn is a “fix” for loneliness, he said, noting that it is similar to drug addictions.

“The sexual system’s combination of two very different rewards – intense sensual gratification during arousal and climax, followed by oxytocin’s relief and comfort during the resolution period – could be thought of like a combined cocaine-valium experience and ‘hook.’”

“We hypothesize that this experience could create the potential for getting trapped in the short-term, feel-good escape of pornography joined with long-term loneliness.”

Butler also pointed to other studies that show a decrease in porn use after marriage, suggesting that human connection contrasts with this vicious cycle.

“Married persons use pornography less than single persons. The fact that pornography use decreases after marriage may hint at a link between pornography, relational success, and loneliness.”