What is the relationship between porn and sexual fetishes?

One of the most distressing features of porn addiction can be if it leads to an escalation in the types of material you are using. For many guys this means a progression from watching ‘regular’ porn to watching far more niche porn, especially when it comes to fetishes.

For some people, fetishes are part and parcel of what they consider to be their innate sexual tastes. For many others, however, becoming interested in fetish and unusual or ever more extreme porn can be an indication of porn addiction, rather than an organic interest in this type of activity.

While there are some people who will argue that ‘discovering’ a fetish via seeing it on the internet simply reveals a taste a person wasn’t previously aware of, for a lot of other people seeking out fetish porn is a result of an overstimulated brain and porn desensitization. For many porn users the element of novelty and even shock or disgust can work to increase sexual arousal if their usual responses have been blunted due to their porn use (YPOB, Are Fetishes Innate?).

Why is novelty such an important factor when considering fetishes and porn us in particular? Well, researchers have discovered an effect known as the “Coolidge effect” which has relevance for porn users who find their porn use begins to escalate. The study that produced the term “Coolidge Effect” found that when a willing female rat is dropped into a cage with a male rat, the male will mate with her until he becomes bored and eventually loses the desire to mate. However, if a different female is dropped into the cage the male rat will respond sexually once more.

If this process is repeated again and again with new female rats the male will carry on mating until he becomes exhausted. The reason why the male will continue to mate with different females but not one single female appears to be related to dopamine. With the same female the brain will excrete less and less dopamine, but with a new female  a surge of dopamine is released  (Centre).

It’s likely that similar mechanisms are at play for men who are addicted to porn and begin to access fetish as a way of gaining more novelty and excitement – even if the fetish is not one which used to be on their radar. Because so much porn, especially fetish, show situations which are unusual, graphic and also taboo, when you watch this kind of material your expectations are becoming constantly violated, adding to the addictive mechanisms in play.

If you are regularly watching porn that involves elements of shock, surprise, or even disgust and anxiety then your brain will release “stress” neurotransmitters and hormones such as norephinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol. These hormones increase excitement and amplify the effects of dopamine. (Centre)

For many men, escalating porn use that starts to involve fetish or other types of shocking, and degrading material, or even porn which the user find disgusting, can be disturbing and a source of a lot of anxiety. If this is the case for you – you are not alone. In a survey of Reddit/NoFap users, 36% of respondents said that “my tastes became increasingly extreme or deviant and this caused me to feel shame or stress” (YBOP, Studies Find Escalation and Habituation in Porn Users (Tolerance))

Of course, sexual tastes and preferences can vary widely from person to person, and so if you have had a longstanding interest in more unusual sexual practices, then porn may not have ‘caused’ these tastes to develop. A good way to reflect and see if fetish has become a source of escalating porn addiction is to honestly self-evaluate how you feel about this kind of material, both before, but also after, you use it.

If you find that you continually seek out newer and more extreme fetish porn and feel compelled to watch it, but either during or after masturbating you feel mentally repelled by the material, then it could be that this is another sign of a deepening porn dependency. Watching material that you find disturbing, and that others in your life are likely to also find disturbing can also feed into your addiction by increasing anxiety, shame and your need to keep your addiction secret.  

Another area to consider, especially if you have an intimate partner, is whether fetish porn has affected the quality of your real sex life. For many guys, real sex begins to feel unexciting compared to using porn. This can be even truer if you have developed fetish-related porn tastes and feel compelled to add them to sex with your partner. While fetishes between consenting adults are enjoyed by many couples, if you have developed these tastes over time it’s important to ask what sort of impact this has had on real sex. Have your expectations about how your partner should look or behave when you’re having sex changed? If so, has it impacted them and you negatively? (McDougal, 2012)

Can I reverse a fetish?

There are many reports from recovering porn addicts that say that after rebooting, many of the fetishes they had developed no longer held the same interest to them. This is probably due to their innate sexual tastes re-emerging once overstimulation and novelty seeking behavior has been eliminated. This is one reason why during your reboot it’s important not to masturbate to porn or fetish-related fantasies.

It’s important to remember that rebooting and giving yourself time to allow your innate sexual tastes reemerge is not the same thing as reconditioning innate sexual orientation. Your sexual orientation is a much different thing to developing sexual tastes based on novelty-seeking addictive behavior. (YBOP, Are Sexual Tastes Immutable?)

As you continue your reboot take time to use the tools you are developing to get to know yourself better – like mindfulness and self-reflection - as well as apps like brainbuddy to keep you on track. Allow yourself to remain open-minded about what constitutes your innate sexual preferences and tastes. It’s worth noting that one of the reasons you are quitting porn is to rediscover a healthy sexuality, and a healthy sexuality rarely includes one that causes you shock, shame or deep pain and guilt. If you do discover that some fetishes form a core part of your healthy sexuality then you can still embrace this once you have tackled your porn addiction – as long as it is between consenting adults. 

  

Centre, O. R. (n.d.). The Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Porn Addiction. Retrieved 05 06, 2018, from Ocean Recovery Centre: https://oceanrecoverycentre.com/2016/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-

McDougal, B. (2012). Porned Out: Erectile Dysfunction, Depression, and 7 More (Selfish) Resons to Quit Porn. 

YBOP. (n.d.). Are Sexual Tastes Immutable? Retrieved 05 07, 2018, from Your Brain on Porn: https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/are-sexual-tastes-immutable

YBOP. (n.d.). Studies Find Escalation and Habituation in Porn Users (Tolerance). Retrieved 05 06, 2018, from Your Brain on Porn: https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/studies-find-escalation-porn-users