“Porn gives you what you want, but also makes you want things you didn’t start out wanting.” These are words we hear often in our counsel­ing with porn users. Sometimes people are referring to the extreme types of pornography they became interested in, and other times they are talk­ing about sexual interests they act out in real life.

By watching porn that features activities such as sex between strang­ers, violent sex, and unprotected sex, we run a risk of inadvertently training ourselves to feel more comfortable with the idea of engaging in these behaviors ourselves. It’s common to want to imitate some of the behaviors we see others do, especially if they look like they are enjoying themselves and “getting away with it.” But if we masturbate to images of certain risky and dangerous activities, we may train ourselves to focus on how exciting and pleasurable they seem and ignore how disruptive and hurtful they really are. As one man said, “As my porn habit progressed, I gravitated to more and more twisted and violent pornographic images. Material that once nauseated me became my favorite sexual fantasy.”

The sexual arousal high that goes on when doing porn can contribute to impairing judgments and lowering inhibitions in real life. As another man said, “My ability to reason took a vacation whenever I had an op­portunity to get high on porn.” Being engaged in any type of risky sexu­ally arousing behavior increases chemicals in the body such as dopamine and adrenaline that further enhance sexual arousal, as well as create a powerful feeling of invulnerability. And porn users who combine porn with ingesting mood-altering substances such as alcohol, methamphet – amine, or cocaine can also increase the likelihood of acting in sexually abusive and destructive ways.

The slide into becoming interested in risky sexual practices can begin without a strong conscious intention to get into the more extreme varieties of porn. As Len explains, it can be just a matter of following your natural curiosities about sex. He told us, “Out of curiosity and for a change of pace I’d read most anything—stories of bondage, incest, gang rape, torture, and all of those sorts of bizarre things that you don’t normally find in standard suck-and-screw porn. It’s a matter of becom­ing accustomed. I’ll find anything new and interesting at first. Then it becomes familiar and isn’t as exciting. If you have free chocolate cookies all day, they’re still chocolate cookies and they’re pretty good, but you start to feel that something else would be nice. So I look for some other type of sex that’s new and interesting, and on I go.”

After a while, seeing one type of porn loses its effectiveness as a sexual stimulant and is replaced by a desire to explore more extreme types of porn. The porn user realizes that in order to get the same “high” off the porn, he or she has to raise the shock and shame factor of the porn. James, a college student, said, “I need things that are a little more perverse, a little more dangerous to get the good feeling I’m after. Even just thinking: This is bad or This is really bad, can pump me up. And nowadays it’s not hard to find hard-core with people slapping, choking, cutting, urinating, and even vomiting on someone. I know it’s not a good idea to watch that stuff, but I keep getting pulled in for the high.”

Looking at a lot of extreme porn can fool us into thinking that degrad­ing, dangerous, and violent kinds of sexual behaviors are more common and tolerated than they really are. Some porn users feel they will be miss­ing out on something exciting if they don’t try acting out the behaviors that they see in porn. And because the potential problems and painful outcomes of certain sexual behaviors are not shown in porn, porn users may get a false impression of risk and conclude that some of the extreme behaviors would not be that bad to actually do in real life.

Using porn as a regular sexual outlet can desensitize a person to violence. It teaches us to regard people as objects, not as human beings with feelings, needs, and essential rights. Studies show that people with histories of violence and impulse-control problems who regularly mas­turbate to porn demonstrate an increased potential for being sexually violent in real life.

Having certain types of porn in your house or on your computer can be very risky, as we all know from newspaper headlines. We spoke with a number of men who ended up in jail for having child pornography on their computers. Some of them were “pedophiles”: they desired to engage, or had at some time in their lives engaged in, sex with minors. Pedophiles use images of children as a source of sexual arousal. But some people who are caught and prosecuted for child pornography were accessing it out of curiosity or because other porn had become boring. A few received child porn accidentally. Though it’s rare, child porn can sometimes enter a computer without the owner’s knowledge. E-mails, Web sites, newsgroups, Web chats, peer-to-peer networks, and file-shar­ing programs are all potential sources of child pornography showing up on one’s personal computer.

Experts say that as much as 20-25 percent of the pornography on Internet Web sites contains child pornography. Pictures of nude children, sexualized children, and children engaged in sex (under the age of eigh­teen) are photographic records of children being sexually abused. If you have child porn in your possession or on your computer, it is a serious crime regardless of whether or not you consider yourself to be a pedo­phile. Law enforcement officials do not interpret the meaning of a per­son’s sexual fantasies. Rather, they make their decisions according to the evidence they find.

The location where a person accesses porn is also of importance. Re­gardless of the nature of the content, it is risky and dangerous to look at porn on a computer at work. The sense of online anonymity and privacy is actually an illusion. Much of what occurs online is traceable and re­cordable through corporate network systems. Nancy Flynn, author of The ePolicy Handbook, writes, “If you work in an office, you should assume you are being monitored.” A number of people we talked with lost their jobs because they were watching porn at work, thinking it was “safer” than watching it at home. They became so caught up in it they lost track of the fact that accessing porn at work could cost them their jobs.