Sex is one of the most expressive forms of intimacy between two people. You strip yourself naked, both physically and emotionally, and expose your deepest parts. Yet, when the bond with a partner breaks, you're left vulnerable in bed, and may turn to porn — not for love, but for pure sexual gratification.

Using porn to replace sex in real life is like using a drug that numbs the desire to be intimate, or have any deep connection. If pornography is used long enough, it may become the only way a person can get aroused, and an orgasm becomes nothing more than a biological urge to fulfill.

Other people who have grown up with the internet and who have had access to pornorgraphy since a young age remain virgins, and have never experienced sexuality or arousal outside of their computers or phones. Of course, it’s a lot easier to relate to a video on a computer than a real human being with needs and desires. On the other hand, the people in the video can’t respond to a viewer, either emotionally or physically.

An emerging phenomenon known as "pornosexuality" describes a person whose sexual orientation is linked solely to porn. Is pornosexuality really a new way to express sexuality, or is it just a label used to mask a fear of intimacy?

The Rise Of The Pornosexual: A Brief History Of Online Porn

In the digital age, it's no surprise the accessibility of free online porn has made it easier for people to get their fix. For example, in Pornhub's 2016 Year in Review, the site got 23 billion visits; that's 729 people a second, or 64 million a day. Compare that to 1991 before the birth of the Internet; there were fewer than 90 porn magazines in the U.S., and now there are more than 2.5 million porn sites blocked by CYBERsitter, the original internet filter.

We all know more men than women watch porn. A 2014 study in JAMA found 66 percent of all men and 41 percent of all women watch porn at least once a month. This gender gap exists because U.S. mainstream culture appears to make it more normalized and acceptable for men to consume porn, and this increases the chances they’ll disclose use.

Several researchers have posited a theory: men are evolutionarily hardwired to watch porn.  

Men's brains are programmed for easy arousal, meaning whenever they see the opportunity for sex, they're ready. In the book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, authors Oi Ogas and Sai Gaddam report most male species are wired to become aroused by novelty. This helps explain why amateur porn is so popular; it includes authenticity cues and novelty ones as well. Hence, free online porn provides the ideal outlet for vicarious opportunities for men via visual stimuli.

It is this perceived anonymity offered by free online porn that has contributed to the rise of more people identifying as pornosexual.

"The convenience of getting off online without the potential work, vulnerability, intimacy, and connection with others can be appealing to some," Christene Lozano, a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified sex addiction therapist, and founder of Meraki Counseling in Glendora, California, told Medical Daily.

Considering men are generally more likely to use porn, this increases their likelihood of identifying as pornosexuals than women.

Pornosexuality differs from other sexual orientations because it's a learned behavior that is void of human-to-human attachment bonding and connection. Frequently viewing porn can increase susceptibility to becoming a pornosexual, says Lozano, as the viewer desensitizes their brain and body to respond to the over-stimulating nature of porn. Anything that is overdone, overused, and abused, can create an addiction.

For about five to eight percent of the adult population, porn use can evolve into an addictive behavior.

Your Brain On Porn: How Much Is Too Much?

Several studies have shown porn consumption can rewire the brain, alter its structure and functioning, and increase the likelihood addictive behavior will emerge. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, becomes the most active when you watch porn, producing a dopaminergic response. This is the neurotransmitter that gives you the desire for self-pleasure, as dopamine levels surge in response to anticipation and expectation.

Habitually using porn as the only source of sexual pleasure can desensitize the brain's reward center. In a 2014 study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, German researchers conducted brain scans on porn watchers. They found the level of changes in the brain correlated with the amount of porn a person watched. This means the more they watched, the lower the activity was in their brain's reward centers after sexual images were flashed on a screen.

The brain begins to require more dopamine each subsequent time it watches porn in order to feel its effects. Sometimes, the brain can get "worn out", which halts the production of dopamine, and leaves the viewer wanting more without the ability to reach it. This can lead the person to watch more porn to replicate the same “high” they had the first time.

This is way the brain of a porn addict is often compared to that of a drug addict or alcoholic. A 2014 Cambridge University study published in the journal PLOS ONE found the ventral striatum — a brain structure that plays a role in the brain’s reward center, aka its pleasure pathways — lit up when an alcoholic saw a photo of a drink. In porn addicts, the study found similar brain activity: viewers wanted porn more, but they didn’t enjoy it more.

Amanda Pasciucco, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified sex therapist, and author of Playtime: Not Just for Children, admits self-proclaimed pornosexuals are at risk of addiction to porn.

"[P]ornsexuals experience all of their sexual pleasure in isolation instead of shared," she told Medical Daily.

However, this does not mean all people who enjoy porn are pornosexuals.

Pasciucco advises you should make sure that porn is not the only sexual outlet. Instead, you can channel your focus on fantasizing and masturbation by calling up fantasies through your imagination without watching any type of porn.

Porn can be helpful in exploring sexual desires, but unhealthy use can have a negative consequence on the brain.

The problem isn't porn, it's the way you choose to use it.

Choosing Porn Over Sex IRL: Masking Insecurities

Pornosexuals will admit they get off from watching porn rather than having sex with someone. A recent study presented at the 112th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association found watching X-rated content can leave men unable to get an erection with real life partners. Moreover, about four percent of men admitted they preferred masturbating to porn to sex with another person.

Graphic porn has never been more easily available than now, and many men see the appeal of just "clicking a mouse" to instantly turn themselves on — no foreplay required. X-rated sites like PornHub allow you to tailor porn to your taste, giving you the option to change viewing preferences, such as height, hair color, race, age, and their likes and dislikes in bed. Pornosexuals see sex as effort, whereas solo sex in front of a screen takes no effort, with the exception of taking off your pants.

However, it's more than just the convenience that lures in some men and women. Porn users will purposely avoid dealing with the anxiety of talking to a partner and the rejection of being denied. They prefer to mask their insecurities by being sexually active in their bedrooms — alone.

"Unfortunately, in my years of practicing sex therapy, anxiety and fear of rejection has led to people identifying as pornosexuals," said Pasciucco.

In a 2013 article for Thought Catalog, Marcus Jackson, a self-declared pornosexual, wrote:

"If I had to choose to have one or the other for the rest of my life, I would choose porn over real sex any day."

Jackson acknowledged the popular belief that real life sex can lead to romance, connection, intimacy, and love. But, for him, he boldly claimed he's been fine without love — although he was once in love a few years ago. Jackson explains he's dated around, but they all ended up leaving, not by his choice.

"At some point, they all want to leave me. And that point always comes at the same time; roughly 37 seconds after I start to think that we could have something 'real.’”

Pornosexuals mask their fear of intimacy by choosing isolated sex over partnered sex. Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

He admits with porn, it's just easier, because it takes away the pressure that comes with dating — worrying whether someone likes you or not; if you're coming off too strong or not strong enough; or waiting and hoping the person will text or call you, or if they will return your text or call. Jackson's pornosexuality is driven by a fear of being vulnerable and intimate again. Like in his case, porn's accessibility has made it so pornosexuals do not have to go out of their way to meet other people and connect intimately.

Pasciucco adds: "They do not have to put themselves in the uncomfortable situation of building their confidence to go out and ask others to connect intimately with them. It makes them more self-conscious, anxious, fearful, and rejected."

Overall, if someone has experienced feeling hurt, judged, or rejected in sexual relationships, this can act as a trigger to use online porn rather than put themselves out there again.

This is better defined as intimacy avoidance, and could also be triggered due to a lack of intimacy in childhood.

Childhood Triggers In Pornosexuality

Identifying as a pornosexual could be a symptom of masking your own insecurities that could stem from early childhood. There is a diagnosis in the DSM-V called "reactive attachment disorder", a condition where a child receives negligent care, and does not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caretakers — usually mothers — before age five.

Psychotherapists, like Dr. Fran Walfish, believe this could trigger pornosexuality, masked behind intimacy phobia.

"Some of these people, not all, who do not experience a collective, reparative relationship over time, may self-identify as pornosexuals, because they cannot bear or tolerate emotional intimacy with a loved one since they never had it," Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and co-star, Sex Box on WE TV, told Medical Daily.

A pornosexual who jumps into the bathroom to relieve himself sees it as a sexual urge, and trains his body to react to unpleasant emotions by avoiding intimacy, and jerking off.

"They are deprived of a warmly, attuned maternal response; they're lacking attachment," Walfish said.

So, what about those in relationships, who once wanted to have sex with their partners, but now prefer porn?

Pornosexuality In Relationships

There are couples who have struggled with pornosexuality in their relationships. Several women will admit their boyfriend or husband has lost interest in having sex, but still has the desire to masturbate to porn. In the book, The Sex-Starved Wife, author Michele Weiner Davis provides an interesting look into the growing problem in society: Internet sex and self-sex as a replacement for marital sex, or IRL sex.

In chapter five, Davis explains the ways in which pornography and masturbation can cause sexual distance between couples. Men may be infatuated with porn both online and offline, while many women cannot fathom why their husbands would rather masturbate than have sex with them. Where there is a couple with a desire gap, there is a couple with relationship issues.

The rise of pornosexuals in relationships is often due to a breakdown in communication, according to Walfish.

"[T]hen quickly sex goes and disappears, and that's all the more reason to explain why emotional connection is more important for intimate, sexual activities," she said.

Without intimacy, each partner can get very lonely in the experience, hence the book title The Sex-Starved Wife.

A 2016 study presented at the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association found watching porn can negatively affect happily married couples. Sociologists from the University of Oklahoma noted the consumption of adult videos doubled the risk of divorce for couples who were not very religious, newly married, or happy in their marriage. These odds were higher among younger adults.

Unsurprisingly, younger Americans tend to view porn more often than older Americans. Moreover, older Americans tend to have more stable marriages since they tend to be more mature, financially established, and likely to have more time invested in the relationship, according to the researchers.

“So, we thought it made perfect sense that the effect of pornography use on divorce would grow weaker with age," they said.

But, this doesn't mean watching porn is bad for relationships — in moderation. An earlier study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior found moderate porn watching led both men and women to report having more satisfying sex lives and healthier attitudes towards sex and the opposite gender. Furthermore, the researchers found the more hardcore the videos were, the more positive their view on sex tended to be.

Couples who find themselves unhappy with their porn habits may benefit from seeking therapy if they want to make it work.

Pornosexual Therapy: Does It Work?

On the surface, intimacy avoidance does not seem like a serious mental health condition, but yet, it has a significant impact on your quality of life, productivity, and overall happiness. Treating this void of intimacy could help individuals lead happy, satisfying lives both in and outside the bedroom. However, therapy is only useful with people who want to change their sexual desires, not those who are happy with their sexual preferences.

Pasciucco, who says she’s had a 100 percent success rate of individuals or couples who want to overcome this problem, admits it's all contingent on the patient's willingness to succeed.

"I have been fortunate that everyone that has come through my door wanted something other than continuing being a pornosexual," she said.

If one partner came in, and wanted their spouse to to “stop being a pornosexual,” Pasciucco admits she'd have a lower success rate.

Pornosexual therapy only works if an individual, or a couple is willing to succeed. Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

In therapy, Pasciucco shares what they go over is the difference in desire levels between both partners. They talk about the ways in which both needs have to be met and how hurtful it is for the partner who feels rejected because they are "losing" to a pornstar.

"If the two want to stay together, we have to find a way for them to express both love and sexual desire in some way that is mutually agreeable," she said.

Therapy can be successful when there's an urge to make it work.

Pornosexual: Is It The 'Next' Sexual Orientation?

Pornosexuality is not a sexual orientation that can be comparable to identifying as straight, gay, or bisexual. In this case, sexual pleasure is not derived from a "real" face-to-face person, but rather through a virtual reality. Pornosexuals may still feel they are connected to others, platonically, but there can be a barrier to this connection if they choose porn as their primary sexual relationship.

Watching porn is a useful way to explore and learn about sexual desires, but moderation is key. Too much of anything can skew balance, and desensitize your body and brain, making you crave more. The idea of replacing sex IRL with porn represents a lack of intimacy and an abundance of fear.

Lawrence Siegel, a clinical sexologist and sexuality education consultant at Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, believes pornosexuals are not displaying a real preference. He suggests they’re just unwilling to leave the safety and familiarity of their own comfort zone to seek human interaction.

“Since all their sexual gratification is self gratification, they have never learned the kinds of social skills to form healthy and intimate relationships,” he told Medical Daily.

There are intimacy-related issues that are caused by early trauma, whether in childhood, or previous romantic relationships, which surface later when the emotional threat of intimacy appears. Yet, every day, people get together, form friendships and partnerships to bond with one another in life.

Getting naked in bed, both physically and emotionally, can be frightening, especially since you’re at your most vulnerable, but this doesn't mean you should stop doing it.

Walfish explains this "new" label breeds confusion in public.

"Maybe pornosexual has a less negative connotation to the individual than saying, 'I'm an intimacy phobe.'"