Quality relationships and close social connections are associated with decreased mortality risk for all causes.1 Yet among teens, loneliness, isolation, despair, and depression appear to be increasing,2 along with rates of teen suicide.3 Concerns over these trends have led many to ask, “What’s changed?” Some factors seem to be tied to how technology has changed our world. Teen access to mobile devices is approaching 100%, and near constant connectivity is a reality of teen development.4 For at least some teens, disappearing into their devices may be linked to negative emotional, identity, and relationship health.5

Much has been said about how social media and gaming may contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness among teens and young adults. For some teens, a significant amount of screen time is also spent accessing pornography, which may also be a significant contributor to teen loneliness, isolation, and relationship void.6

Here, I describe recent research conducted with my colleagues.7 Our study suggests a close and painful partnership between pornography and loneliness for some users. From our survey of over 1,000 individuals around the world, we developed a statistical model that suggests an association between pornography use and loneliness, each increasing in tandem with the other. 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. Interlocking partnerships like this are worrisome since they represent an entrapment template associated with addiction—where the consequences of coping with loneliness through pornography use only increase loneliness, potentially locking the two in a self-fueling cycle.

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