Boys and Porn: It Ain’t Your Father’s ‘Playboy’

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About Marnia Robinson

Marnia Robinson, J.D. is the author of Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships. She blogs with the collaboration of her amazing husband Gary Wilson, who teaches human sciences.

Comments

  1. Well you all are going to hate me. I am a very conservative, religious female and I think pornography is disgusting. I would rather spend the rest of my entire life alone than put up with a man that has to watch other people getting freaky to feel something (I don’t care what the “something” is). Men already are such a burden (and I love my husband, but yes it’s like having an additional child) and one more notch of disrespect is a solid walk away point for me. After I read all of these comments I realized how alone I am in the world, and I told you; you are all gonna hate me. That’s okay. We’ll never meet and I won’t read your manipulative, pretentious comments anyway. To the author; very interesting. I agree with the science you offer and I personally know many couples that split because she got more and more uncomfortable, and his desires got more and more unrealistic. My useless opinion; nasty stuff.

    • Anonymous says:

      You have every right to decide what your dealbreakers are in your relationship. I don’t think you’ll hear a lot of hate here, just skepticism about how realistic your position is.

      Just curious, probably none of my business, but you did bring this up after all – do you consider it disrespectful and sinful for your husband to masturbate at all, or just disrespectful and sinful to look at pornography? Do you not want him to use it at all, or just not bring it into the house? I ask in part because I wonder if the rules/boundaries are clear to him.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I have to disagree with the comments that say the author is telling everyone what ‘normal’ sexuality is. I think this article has the opposite problem, actually. There’s such a huge gray area here, I wonder how much of ANY sexuality is acceptable under this analysis.

    If the problem is the fact that we have powerful reward systems in the brain and therefore pleasure centers are dangerous, then really anything that is pleasant is dangerous. If porn masturbation creates dangerous brain chemicals, then we will also need to limit falling in love, good food, sentimental movies, really anything that may be pleasurable. Let’s face it – if orgasm is just brain chemicals, then everything we feel is just brain chemicals. Reading romance novels that present men as dashing, heroic saviors, not to mention watching quirky romantic comedies, no doubt also change the brain’s chemistry.

    I think that people (male and female) who masturbate a lot may develop insensitivity. One way to prevent this is to masturbate less frequently, of course, but there are other options. If you pleasure yourself the exact same way every time with no variety, then of course you are going to require “more extreme” measures over time. Variations in pressure, speed, etc. may help to prevent insensitivity. If you’re going to talk to your children about frequency, you may as well talk about variation.

    A teenage boy scheduling masturbation according to his mom’s recommendation seems to be a recipe for disaster. Does he have to tell her when those times are? Will this schedule be marked on the calendar on the fridge?

    • The problem isn’t “powerful reward systems in the brain.” The problem is stimulation that is way more intense / frequent then the human brain evolved to handle without becoming dysregulated. The extreme novelty of rapid-fire Internet porn is like nothing our ancestors’ brains ever confronted, and it has the potential to change users’ brains. Your examples of other pleasures are irrelevant—unless their use rises to the level of abnormal stimulation. For instance, the brain evolved to “fall in love.”

      We agree that everything is reflected in brain chemistry moment-to-moment, but that’s not the point. The issue with today’s porn is whether the stimulation is intense enough to cause chronic changes in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels. It’s evident that overuse of porn can do that, just as heavy gambling, drugs and overeating junk food can do it. All pleasures are not equal. We’re talking about people getting hooked. Addiction is well defined, and Nora Volkow, head of the NIDA, has repeatedly pointed out that all addictions have the same mechanisms in the brain, whether substance or behavioral.

      We’re all for pleasure, so there’s no need to defend it. This article is a warning about a loss of pleasure due to brain changes. Addiction is, at base, chronic dissatisfaction.

      Mom? The point is that kids might be encouraged to come up with their *own* schedule.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I do appreciate there is a qualitative difference, along a spectrum, among different intensities of pleasure. Perhaps it was extreme of me to suggest the article is critical of all pleasure. I guess what I’m trying to figure out, from the article and for my own perspective, is where to draw the line, where exactly the “normal” threshold ends and the “abnormal” begins (assuming that’s a useful or appropriate distinction.)

        I admit to having very little background in neuroscience, but from what I understand the brain is already changing permanently from moment to moment to some degree. What I hear suggested here is that there is some “natural” normal state of the brain, somehow conserved over the last million years of natural selection, and that it is modern-day stimulations like massive junk food and internet porn that is changing the brain too much, however that is defined. Maybe, but there is much in the modern world that is making human brains unlike any that have gone before. I don’t think you’re saying this exactly, but it sounds like you’re saying change in the brain is inherently bad, when in fact it is always changing.

        I subscribe to the theory of natural selection, too. I think it’s a solid theory that the human brain today is a product of a long history, but I see some problems in arguing that there is a single “natural” state for the brain, like “how it’s supposed to be.” For one thing, natural selection does not really have a direction. It’s not that our brains are made to be a certain way and any big deviation is automatically unnatural and unhealthy. For another thing, standing on evolutionary theory too much could actually backfire – the human brain has evolved an incredible toolmaking feature that we use all the time to make very pleasant things like campfires, agriculture, written literature, and porn videos.

        Another assumption that I detect, and again maybe I am reading too much into the article, is the assumption that there is a somewhat normal small percentage of the population attracted to “more extreme” forms of sexuality. And, somehow the intensity of porn today has increased that percentage beyond the normal range – in one example given, too many men now expect anal sex with their female partners, when such practice had been rarer before.

        Again, I see some problem in spotting the normative range. Is there really a constant, evolutionarily normal percentage of people who are into things like BDSM? As a historian I am fascinated by the idea of figuring out how anyone could arrive at that average. (For example, taking any sexuality averages from the 1950’s as a baseline is probably going to skew the figures – the Baby Boom was an age of sexual extremes.) Is there an epidemic of unrealistic expectations because “normally” 95% are okay with vanilla sex but now “only” 75% are okay with vanilla?

        I also wanted to thank you at the very least for examining what people actually do when they ‘consume’ porn. I have seen decades of debates about pornography and entire curricula analyzing the visual images of porn, without hardly any mention of masturbation at all. I disagree with some of the conclusions here, but I’m glad to see we’re getting to some of the real life stuff here.

        • Gary Wilson says:

          If you truly want to understand how Internet porn can alter the brain watch:
          Your Brain On Porn Series
          http://yourbrainonporn.com/your-brain-on-porn-series

          You have pinpointed the main problem: not understanding neuroscience. Most sexologists, therapists, and sex researchers know very little about neuroscience. In other words they know virtually nothing about what they are truly studying – the brain. Desire, lack of desire, orgasm, compulsion, and bonding all arise in conjunction with neurochemical events. Behavior and neurochemistry are circular; each affects the other to a degree. So behavior matters. Many experts study sociological behavior without understanding the basic mechanisms driving the behavior, and their advice is therefore incomplete.

          The answer to where exactly the “normal” threshold ends and the “abnormal” begins can be determined biologically or behaviorally. Indeed there is an abnormal state, and a normal state when it comes to addiction.

          The three main biological changes that mark ALL addictions include:
          1- Decline in reward circuitry sensitivity. The main structural change is a decline in dopamine (D2) receptors. This leads to tolerance, or needing more stimulation to get the same (or lesser) reward.
          2- Sensitization of addictive pathways. This means that the rewired addiction pathways produce more dopamine than normal. This involves a protein called Delta FosB.
          3- Hypofrontality. This involves a decline in size and functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. The frontal cortex loses its ability to control unwanted behavior.

          As far as behavior, here is the full questionnaire for addiction produce by the APA:
          http://yourbrainonporn.com/definition-of-addiction-quiz
          The main behavioral signs from the APA include (answer “yes” to 3 and you have an addiction):
          1- Tolerance: Which leads to escalation of use. For porn addicts this manifests as more time viewing, or moving into more extreme genres of porn. Strong emotions, such as fear, shame and disgust, elevate both dopamine and adrenaline, thus stimulating the reward circuitry. Let’s be really clear: more extreme, means more extreme for that particular individual. What shocks him/her. It has nothing to do with societal norms. For example, on our forums we had a gay man distraught because he was hooked on straight rape porn. We have had straight men upset because they were hooked on gay porn. And even a lesbian upset because she needed straight porn to have an orgasm. So “normative” has nothing to do with this.

          2- Withdrawal symptoms: Any symptom at all means your brain has undergone an addictive process. Nearly every person on our forums experiences multiple withdrawal symptoms when they stop using today’s extreme porn.

          3- Difficulty controlling use: If one cannot completely stop using porn, without thinking twice, then the brain has changed. (Masturbation is a different matter, although, as an historian you would probably be interested to learn that today’s levels of masturbation in the West appear to be an anomaly.)

          4- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down.
          5- Concealing or minimizing use.
          6- Experiencing negative consequences from use.
          7- Replacing previous activities with the addiction.

          It’s not that our brains are made to be a certain way and any big deviation is automatically unnatural and unhealthy.
          This is statement is incorrect. The brain is an organ made of cells, like any other organ. It is no different. Large deviations from the norm have disastrous effects. Small deviations can lead to such things as addiction, autism, bipolar disorder, etc.
          Your statement is a perfect example of not understanding basic physiology—and you are certainly not alone.

          Just to summarize, we are not saying brains can’t evolve. We are not saying brain changes are “bad” in and of themselves. We are not arguing, “how the brain is supposed to be,” although we are arguing that behavior can push the brain itself beyond the range of “normal” as a physiological matter.

          We are pointing out that excess can create unwelcome symptoms in individuals, which appear to be evidence of physical changes related to an addiction process in their brains. The need for more and more stimulation is not a matter of choosing a different “flavor” of sex, even though it is currently portrayed that way. It can be evidence of an addiction process. Each person can figure this out for him/herself with adequate knowledge. A good starting point is The Brain That Changes Itself by psychiatrist Norman Doidge. He includes an intriguing account of a study on BDSM fans, which revealed a strong association with painful childhood procedures. In short, their “choice” of “flavor” was shaped by their environment, not their innate preferences. This is also happening in today’s porn users.

          • wellokaythen says:

            Thank you for the very clear definition of addiction. I can see the usefulness of the APA diagnostic in coming to some kind of conclusion about whether or not a person is addicted to something. It’s absolutely crucial to psychology and psychiatry to have some way of measuring behavior or tendencies. I recognize that the APA and the DSM-IV are recognized authorities in psychological matters. I have no doubt there are people who want to reduce their porn use because they feel addicted. And, I agree there has to be some definition to work with.

            However, my critical thinking skills are getting fired up here.

            First of all, this message seems to be using the rhetorical approach of “argument from authority.” The opinions of the APA, backed by good research, are worth noting, but saying that something fits the APA definition of something abnormal does not prove that using the terms normal and abnormal is a valid way to frame the issue of internet porn.

            I admit I don’t know much about the current APA (except for their citation style), but I do know the profession has a very mixed track record when it comes to working out normative ranges of behavior. (I believe it was the DSM-II that listed homosexuality as a mental illness.) Many ideas of what normal brain function should be are social and cultural conventions about “proper behavior” read back into physiology. (As introverted person, I’m very glad the definition of normal has recently evolved to make room for more of “my people.” We are no longer deviations from a norm, more like a variation of normal.) I agree that scientific understanding is crucial, I just want to mention that scientific understanding is always tentative and constantly evolving.

            A group’s definition of normal or abnormal is an interpretation of data, not a statement of some kind of biological fact. I may not be current on the latest experimental findings, but I do know, logically, that showing something has physiological effects outside of a certain range does not mean that the range is a valid definition of normal. Looking at something as “average” or “relative to the mean” or “in the majority” is mathematically sound and perfectly scientific, it seems to me, but “normal” is an ideological judgment.

            Second of all, devil’s advocate here, but a few of the items on the addiction checklist seem to be products of “social and cultural intolerance” (for lack of a better phrase) of porn and masturbation. Feelings that are heightened by a sense of shame and shock, negative social consequences, and concealing use are all products of reactions to porn, not necessarily porn itself. Perhaps removing the stigma of masturbating to porn could alleviate some of those aggravating factors. I’m also not clear on how masturbation gets separated out here – I assume by this APA definition it is possible to be addicted to masturbation, or is masturbation considered natural like food?

            Judging by the APA checklist, I am addicted to masturbation, coffee, food, TV, oxygen, urinating, reading books, and writing to this blog, just to name a few.

            Third, there seems to be a bit of circular reasoning in terms of seeing changes as bad: Changes are bad because bad things come from changing the brain so changing the brain is bad. I don’t see anywhere here where you say that tiny changes in the brain can be good or harmless. All change seems to be bad, for example difficulty in controlling use is “evidence that the brain has changed.” Surely my memory structures are now changed from writing this message. I may even remember this exchange for the rest of my life – permanent change right there.

            Another kind of circularity, though I’m not sure how to get around it: trying to limit use is evidence of an addiction and also recommended to stop the addiction.

            I think we have a lot of common ground here. I just think these conclusions bear some further analysis.

            • Gary Wilson says:

              QUOTE: First of all, this message seems to be using the rhetorical approach of “argument from authority.”
              Oh please, it’s not an argument from authority. You asked how one can tell if they are having a problem. Clearly, you are not interested in learning anything new, only tossing out straw men arguments. The APA test is just one measure that people can use to see if they are having a problem.
              Other tests include”The Three C’s.” Maybe you will like this one?

              1. Craving/Compulsion: Behavior that is motivated by emotions ranging along the Craving to Compulsion spectrum. This craving is intense and persistent.
              2. Continued Use: There is a continued use in spite of adverse consequences. So despite being aware of some of the harmful consequences both mentally, emotionally, and even physically, you do it anyway.
              3. Control: There is a loss of behavioral control. There is a building up of tolerance and there is withdrawal.

              QUOTE: A group’s definition of normal or abnormal is an interpretation of data, not a statement of some kind of biological fact.
              No, you are incorrect. As explained above, there are measurable and defined biological changes that coincide with moving from use to addiction. These biological changes (in the brain) coincide with behavioral changes seen in animal models and humans.

              QUOTE: Second of all, devil’s advocate here, but a few of the items on the addiction checklist seem to be products of “social and cultural intolerance” (for lack of a better phrase) of porn and masturbation.
              What are you talking about? This is a generic list aimed at any addiction. It was actually developed with substances in mind.

              QUOTE: Judging by the APA checklist, I am addicted to masturbation, coffee, food, TV, oxygen, urinating, reading books, and writing to this blog, just to name a few.
              Then you might want to think about abstaining from coffee and TV, but I wouldn’t suggest giving up oxygen or urinating.

              QUOTE: Third, there seems to be a bit of circular reasoning in terms of seeing changes as bad: Changes are bad because bad things come from changing the brain so changing the brain is bad. I don’t see anywhere here where you say that tiny changes in the brain can be good or harmless.
              This is even sillier than your last point. The article was on porn. It wasn’t meant to be a textbook on neurobiology. Where did we say “all changes in the brain were bad?” Talk about circular. You are arguing with your imagination.

              I’ll let Norman Doidge, from The Brain That Changes Itself, chat a bit:

              http://yourbrainonporn.com/doidge-on-pornography-and-neuroplasticity

              “The current porn epidemic gives a graphic demonstration that sexual tastes can be acquired. Pornography, delivered by high-speed Internet connections, satisfies every one of the prerequisites for neuroplastic change [forming new neural circuitry—a key element of addiction].

              During the mid- to late 1990s, when the Internet was growing rapidly and pornography was exploding on it, I treated or assessed a number of men who all had essentially the same story. Each had acquired a taste for a kind of pornography that, to a greater or lesser degree, troubled or even disgusted him, had a disturbing effect on the pattern of his sexual excitement, and ultimately affected his relationships and sexual potency.

              None of these men were fundamentally immature, socially awkward, or withdrawn from the world into a massive pornography collection that was a substitute for relationships with real women. These were pleasant, generally thoughtful men, in reasonably successful relationships or marriages.

              The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act.

              All addiction involves long-term, sometimes lifelong, neuroplastic change in the brain. For addicts, moderation is impossible, and they must avoid the substance or activity completely if they are to avoid addictive behaviors. Alcoholics Anonymous insists that there are no “former alcoholics” and makes people who haven’t had a drink for decades introduce themselves at a meeting by saying, “My name is John, and I am an alcoholic.” In terms of [brain] plasticity, they are often correct.

              Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it. The usual view is that an addict goes back for more of his fix because he likes the pleasure it gives and doesn’t like the pain of withdrawal. But addicts take drugs when there is no prospect of pleasure, when they know they have an insufficient dose to make them high, and will crave more before they begin to withdraw. Wanting and liking are two different things.

              An addict experiences cravings because his plastic brain has become sensitized to the drug or the experience. Sensitization leads to increased wanting. It is the accumulation of deltaFosB, caused by exposure to an addictive substance or activity, that leads to sensitization.

              Pornography is more exciting than satisfying because we have two separate pleasure systems in our brains, one that has to do with exciting pleasure and one with satisfying pleasure. The exciting system relates to the “appetitive” pleasure that we get imagining something we desire, such as sex or a good meal. Its neurochemistry is largely dopamine-related, and it raises our tension level.

              The second pleasure system has to do with the satisfaction, or consummatory pleasure, that attends actually having sex or having that meal, a calming, fulfilling pleasure. Its neurochemistry is based on the release of endorphins, which are related to opiates and give a peaceful, euphoric bliss.

              Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyperactivates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too do our senses hunger to be stimulated.

              The men at their computers looking at porn were uncannily like the rats in the cages of the NIH, pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent. Though they didn’t know it, they had been seduced into pornographic training sessions that met all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps.”

            • wellokaythen says:

              Sorry, misfiled my response. See below.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    What I am sensing is some impatience with what I thought was a spirited but rational, impersonal debate.

    Perhaps it would help if I summarized where I see the main agreement and disagreement between us.

    1. Agreement: I have no doubt that there are measurable, physiological changes in the brain associated with viewing internet porn. Real, factual biological changes, independent of the observer.

    Disagreement: Showing there is change is not the same thing as showing that the change is from normal and healthy to abnormal and unhealthy. The conclusion that a particular physiological dynamic is inherently abnormal and unhealthy is really a judgment call, not an objective scientific analysis. Similarly, imputing motive to someone else’s argument would also be considered a judgment call. Secondly, to “coincide” or to show a correlation is not the same as demonstrating causation. Measuring physical changes is not the same as showing that something has moved from a normal state to an abnormal one.

    2. Agreement: People can demonstrate symptoms of being addicted to porn in ways very similar to being addicted to drugs.

    Disagreement: Some of those ways of measuring addiction seem overly vague and could include many activities that are generally not thought of as problems. They could even be activities that many experts would consider “natural” and “normal” parts of life. (It’s not a matter of whether or not I “like” the rubrics, just whether they stand up to rigorous analysis.) I apologize if my comments about my potential addictions came across as flippant. I was clumsily trying to suggest that drawing the lines between use and addiction, and between habit and problem, is incredibly difficult, it seems to me, given the APA guidelines or the 3C’s. If harmless things can fall under the heading of addictions, might that also include porn masturbation?

    I think the Doidge excerpt is a very eloquent statement of his conclusions from his clinical experience. I think I get a better idea where your recent messages are coming from. His argument is quite clear and unambiguous. I understand it quite easily and I can see how people would find it an inspirational, alarming call to action. It uses very impassioned, evocative, even poetic language that one rarely reads in scientific research: “endless harem,” “seduced” by an “epidemic of porn,” etc. (I imagine that the word “epidemic” does have a quantitative, scientific measurement, but I’m guessing this is a more poetic use.) Definitely powerful, powerful ideological conclusions.

    • Gary Wilson says:

      What you are sensing is my inability to take you seriously when you claim to be addicted to urination and oxygen. So you are requiring more and more oxygen to get the same effect? You are hiding your use of oxygen? You are trying to quit breathing unsuccessfully? Breathing is interfering with social activities?

      QUOTE: Disagreement: Showing there is change is not the same thing as showing that the change is from normal and healthy to abnormal and unhealthy.
      This is the third time you have said the same thing. The third time you are completely wrong. No offense, but you don’t seem to grasp basic physiology or pathology. I’ll say it again – there are ways to measure addiction biologically, as outlined above. The questionnaires are ways people assess their addictions. If you want to take on the medical profession, addiction researchers, the APA, and clinicians treating addiction, be my guest. However, I don’t see you as having any special knowledge in the addiction realm. Your entire “argument” appears to be based on defending the use of porn. In other words, it is based on your “feelings” about your porn use.

      What is ironic is that this article (and other articles we write), have no judgments about porn use. In fact, we think it’s perfectly normal (although risky for the reasons we explain). We see the effects, but we don’t want to ban porn. We don’t see porn use as moral issue; we see it as neurological issue. As far use vs. addiction, that’s an individual decision. Even with negative consequences, such as copulatory ED, many will not stop using porn. As we have seen over the years, most heavy porn users don’t know how it’s affecting them until they quit. So if you want a valid test of how you may (or may not) be affected, try quitting for an extended period. See what happens. And then make your own choices.

      QUOTE: I think I get a better idea where your recent messages are coming from. His argument is quite clear and unambiguous.
      You would have gotten a much better sense of where we are coming from if you had followed the link to http://www.yourbrainonporn.com and watched the presentation. Then perhaps read the 40 or so articles on sexuality and neurobiology, and porn addiction. Or read the pages and pages of accounts of men addicted to porn and recovering from using. Or perhaps read the several hundred scientific papers related to addiction (and our comments on each one). Or maybe the pages of Questions and Answers provided by porn users. Or maybe read Doidge’s entire book.

      • wellokaythen says:

        It is correct that I don’t have any specialized knowledge in the addiction realm. I was responding as a critical reader of this blog. My responses to what I have read on this blog have been based on what I consider common sense and logic, and based on the basics of what I understand about the scientific method. I make no claim from academic authority. I freely concede that what I have said may be wrong, a concession I think is central to having a rational discussion. Would you be willing to join me in this by conceding that you could also be wrong?

        I appreciate the invitation to take on the medical profession, APA, et al. When I read something that doesn’t make sense to me or seems to have dubious logic, I tend to question it. If I have been disrespectful then I apologize. I tend to take statements as statements and not evaluate them based on the profession, degrees, or professional affiliation of the author, or lack thereof in my case. I like to think even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Even a non-specialist could have a valid point. The fact that someone does not take a statement seriously is not actually proof that the statement is untrue.

        I can see where one could get the impression that I am simply trying to defend porn or defend my own use. I am questioning the label of normal/abnormal in response to an article about the negative effects of porn use, so that could seem like a knee-jerk defense. No doubt I have preconceived notions about the normality or abnormality of internet porn, but my point is that some of the experts cited (Doidge, for example) seem to have preconceived notions as well.

        Maybe I am reading too much into Doidge’s use of some highly charged terms like “perversion” (used in the larger web article that you recommended). I assumed that whether or not something can be labeled a perversion is subject to debate. I assumed that whether or not something could be labeled abnormal is subject to debate. I assumed that the definition of addiction is subject to debate. I assumed that even statements by people more educated than me are subject to debate.

        Perhaps I was just imagining an anti-porn bias. Guilty as charged. Perhaps I was globalizing from earlier alarmist campaigns from the fields of psychology and psychiatry. (An earlier message brought up Friedrich Wertham, perhaps an extreme case but I do see some similarities.) Generalizing from similarity was a fallacious way for me to look at it. I should take it on a case by case basis.

        What I see now is some pretty good common ground, actually. I was trying to dig to see what the underlying assumptions were about porn and masturbation and I see they are actually similar to mine. I would agree with all the sentiments in this recent paragraph:

        “[W]e…have no judgments about porn use. In fact, we think it’s perfectly normal (although risky for the reasons we explain). We see the effects, but we don’t want to ban porn. We don’t see porn use as moral issue; we see it as neurological issue. As far use vs. addiction, that’s an individual decision. Even with negative consequences, such as copulatory ED, many will not stop using porn. As we have seen over the years, most heavy porn users don’t know how it’s affecting them until they quit. So if you want a valid test of how you may (or may not) be affected, try quitting for an extended period. See what happens. And then make your own choices.”

        Come to think of it, there’s something quite sex-positive about seeing a decline in sexual pleasure as a negative consequence of something! (Not sarcasm. I do think this.)

        • Gary Wilson says:

          QUOTE: Would you be willing to join me in this by conceding that you could also be wrong?
          Wrong about what? That porn addiction is real? That there are objective neurological measures for brain changes associated with addiction? That Internet porn addiction is a growing phenomenon?
          No I won’t join you. I stand 100% behind these points.

          QUOTE: Even a non-specialist could have a valid point. The fact that someone does not take a statement seriously is not actually proof that the statement is untrue.
          I’m still not sure what your point is – that addictions do not exist? If so, your arguments are based on personal wishes.

          QUOTE: No doubt I have preconceived notions about the normality or abnormality of internet porn.
          Abnormal is when the brain undergoes the aforementioned measurable changes associated with addiction. Normal is before your brain changes.
          Abnormal is when you take a number of addiction quizzes, and you keep getting the same result – that you may have a problem. Normal is before the changes.

          QUOTE: I assumed that whether or not something can be labeled a perversion is subject to debate. I assumed that whether or not something could be labeled abnormal is subject to debate.
          I understand you want to make this the issue rather than neurobiology. I’m not speaking for Doidge, but I think I covered this. My answer again is, “it’s up to the individual to determine what is a perversion”. You see, a porn addict needs to escalate in order get the same buzz (or even an erection). S/he is looking for what shocks the primitive brain to cause an elevation of dopamine in order to stimulate the numbed reward circuit. Porn users moving to an “abnormal” or “perverted” (whatever that is for them) genre is common, and a sign of tolerance (escalation).

          QUOTE: I assumed that the definition of addiction is subject to debate. I assumed that even statements by people more educated than me are subject to debate.
          Oh sure, for those that do not know neurobiology. Not at all for addiction researchers. That’s why we get so many psychologists and sociologists debating us on moral, or social, or whatever grounds. But we don’t write about the morality or the social implications of porn. Our interest is the user. Once you analyze the brain of an addict, the debate is over.

          QUOTE: Perhaps I was globalizing from earlier alarmist campaigns from the fields of psychology and psychiatry.
          This is typical. People immediately see the word “porn” and they have made up their minds before they read the first sentence of our articles. When we try to debate porn addiction on the basis of neurobiology (the only objective measure), we get the same patter. All the debaters reach the same dead-end: “There is no such thing as addiction” or “You can be addicted to anything.” These are false statements, and they demonstrate a complete ignorance of the dopamine system and addiction neurobiology.

          Our underlying assumption is that one can overstimulate the brain with extreme versions of natural reinforcers such as food and sex. You see, internet porn is not normal sex. The unending novelty of “sexual partners,” the unlimited variety of genre, and the shock/surprise that occurs frequently, are all highly stimulating, and potentially addictive, to the reward circuitry.

          • wellokaythen says:

            “Once you analyze the brain of an addict, the debate is over.”

            Yeah, I was afraid of this. I was afraid that “science” defined contrary to the nature of the scientific method would be used to shut down debate. All conclusions from objective scientific and/or clinical study are subject to further testing and investigation, if they are being examined under the light of science. From what I understand, this is why scientific studies are peer-reviewed and vetted from several angles. Most professional scientists would agree that theories are tentative, “as best we can tell given the evidence so far,” subject to further research, and paradigm shifts do occur sometimes.

            Certainty that the conclusion is 100% true and cannot be called into question, absolute certainty that the methods used were totally objective and totally conclusive, and absolute certainty that all researchers have done everything right, all these certainties can get in the way of expanding scientific knowledge. These certainties remind me of a “faith-based” approach, actually. I admit I have not read peer-reviewed neurobiological journal articles, but I am guessing none of them claim “stop the presses, debate is over, we now have the truth!”

            “Abnormal is when the brain undergoes the aforementioned measurable changes associated with addiction. Normal is before your brain changes. Abnormal is when you take a number of addiction quizzes, and you keep getting the same result – that you may have a problem. Normal is before the changes.”

            I see the distinction. I agree that there is great objective evidence of a change from “before” to “after.” I am not questioning the fact that there are changes from before to after. “Before X” and “After X” seem like perfectly objective, quantifiable, scientific, categories.

            What I have been questioning is the assumption/conclusion that before=normal and after=abnormal. I have read other peer-reviewed hard science journal articles, and they generally shy away from using words like “normal” and “abnormal.” I don’t believe astrophysicists refer to healthy stars and unhealthy stars, or geologists refer to a normal fault line or an abnormal fault line. Do neurobiologists really use terms like “normal” to describe brain dynamics?

            “You see, internet porn is not normal sex.”
            “The unending novelty of “sexual partners,” the unlimited variety of genre, and the shock/surprise that occurs frequently, are all highly stimulating, and potentially addictive, to the reward circuitry.”

            I agree with the second sentence. That seems to be on solid experimental grounds, and states a tentative, testable truth claim, and notes a tendency or a potentiality. My issue is with the first sentence. No doubt porn-inspired masturbation can be different from in-person sex in some neurological ways. (And for the sake of argument we can leave out the use of porn in foreplay between two or more people in person.) “Not normal” strikes me as a value judgment (and it could be accurate!) more than a scientific category. “Common” or “average” or “in the majority” are objective categories, but “normal” is not. There are people who engage in “more extreme” sex who are not addicted to it, and there are others who are addicted to “normal sex.” Yes, I do think addictions exist and that they can be correlated to brain changes. I just think the definitions or rubrics about addiction need some fine-tuning.

            From the neurobiological perspective, what is the definition of “normal sex”? (I imagine this is the main issue for many people who, like me, may overreact to your writing.) Is normal sex just whatever sex people have when they’re not addicted to porn?

            And, if measuring changes in brain chemistry and structure is the only objective measure, then that rules out self-administered questionnaires as objective measures. What I hear is that how one thinks about porn is only scientifically relevant in cases where a subject thinks he is addicted to porn but otherwise is immaterial. I can be trusted to self-diagnose as addicted to porn, but not trusted to use the same rubric to determine another addiction?

            Yes, the “oxygen addiction” was half-joking and an extreme example, not entirely fair, but I would point out that I only had to show 3 of the 8 characteristics, not ALL of them. My breathing has negative consequences in my life – my snoring disturbs my wife, the intake of oxygen into the body forms oxidants which contribute to aging damage, and it makes swimming much more challenging than it otherwise would be. I have attempted to stop breathing to see how long I can hold my breath, especially when I swim underwater, but I always cave in and start breathing again. I feel like it’s out of control sometimes – much of the time I do it and I’m not even aware that I’m doing it; it’s like some kind of involuntary compulsion. I have apparently developed a tolerance or need more to achieve the same result – as I get older, I get more and more winded when I reach the top of the stairs; the old breathing just isn’t cutting it anymore. I have no doubt that my brain chemistry looks very different when I’m breathing than when I’m not. Yes, all this is from apparent ignorance, but if I were a subject in a study that would be okay. And damn, it feels good to breathe sometimes!

            • Gary Wilson says:

              Dude, you are the one who first used “normal” and “abnormal.”

              Check the dictionary. “Normal” has two, very different definitions.
              It can refer to what is common, and this is how you’re using it. People can certainly differ about how common they think a behavior is or should, be (which is not what we write about). However, “normal” is also used in pathology to define homeostasis. If markers are outside a certain range, they are “abnormal,” as in the case of addiction. So for example, Internet porn use is “normal” under the first definition, and can still cause abnormalities under the second definition.

              For the rest, you just continue to re-spin the same tired points.

              I guess you want me to repeat for the fourth time that researchers agree on the neurobiology of addiction. Done.

              You really need to educate yourself on addiction science and basic physiology so you can add something new to the conversation. Please visit http://www.yourbrainonporn.com to learn the basics addiction science. The answers to all your questions are there.

              When you have something new and different to say, that’s based on some rudimentary knowledge of the subject, I’ll be happy to engage with you.

            • wellokaythen says:

              I respect a vigorous defense of an intellectual position. I admire confidence in others. I envy the certainty that other people feel about what they know.

              Here is how I am paraphrasing the most recent message:

              “Dear Galileo,

              Until you and Copernicus show a basic understanding of how the universe works, there is really nothing more to say. Read some books written by the experts and you will see that the sun goes around the earth. That is just basic science. If you want to take on Aristotle, the Church fathers, and the Inquisition, be my guest. They all agree. To my mind, I have successfully dodged your questions four times in a row, and I have no more to say. Until you share the same assumptions that I do, you are just persisting in ignorance.”

              Okay, that’s not fair. Copernicus’ heliocentric model was published posthumously, so no one was talking to Galileo and Copernicus at the same time. I took a little literary license there.

            • PS Dear Gallileo,
              Suggest you remove the cover from your telescope.
              Sincerely,
              Father Guido Sarducci

            • wellokaythen says:

              Good one! :-) Thanks for being good sports.

              Wait a minute. Was that a euphemism for masturbation? Very clever with the double entendre…..

  4. Culture Matters says:

    Maybe I’m the only one here who found the article too liberal.

    The author states that “accept that your child will have to make his/her own decisions”.

    Er, not. Parents make final decisions for their kids up until they are adults and on their own.

    Til that time parents train their kids in good decision making and allow them to participate in the process of making decisions – but the final say rests with the parents.

    As far as not “shaming” your child – why not? Who says a dash of shame here and there is unhealthy?

    I know that “shame” prevented me from getting involved in some risky things as a youth, and it still prevents me from doing stupid sh*t.

    Personally I find the permissive parenting that is en vogue right now in the US to be, well, dysfunctional.

    Take a look around your ‘hood. It just ain’t working.

    Parents: Set clear boundaries with your kids. Contrary to popular belief, kids actually want you to love them enough to do so. They have enough “friends” already. They want YOU to be a parent. A figure of authority. Loving, yet strict at the same time.

    American kids NEED that.

    Perhaps now more than ever.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Helping kids to develop a strong inner compass is indeed a prime role for parents. The risk of shaming a child when it comes to something like porn viewing, however, is that it makes the behavior more exciting (and neurochemically “rewarding”) when the child does happen to engage in it. This neurochemical reality increases an activity’s addictive potential, as explained in the article. I don’t think this discounts your points. I just wanted to mention why shame is risky when it comes to guidance about sexual behavior.

  5. Thank you for the well crafted essay. It clarified a few things for me regarding the type of pornography that is widely available and its impact on the psyche. I remember reading about a young man who is unable to have sex with his girlfriend, and yet masturbated furiously to porn; something that puzzled me. Now I understand why this could happen.

    Whenever I teach the human reproductive part of my health care classes, the kids are dumbfounded when I tell them that watching porn is like watching Spiderman. I tell them that sex is not like what they watch and that emulating it can be harmful (http://snuze.blogspot.com/2010/11/why-you-should-not-emulate-pornography.html), thanks to Chlamydia & herpes and enjoy how round their eyes get. *snicker*

    I applaud your suggestion that parents/guardians must speak openly about sexuality, masturbation and masturbatory aids. Young people need to be equipped to make informed decisions about their body (http://snuze.blogspot.com/2009/01/shagging-real-early.html), especially with the accessibility of “extreme” porn.

    Brava and keep up the good work!

  6. I think we could add drugs and even love to this article and simply call it Obsessions. Obsessing about anything isn’t healthy. People obsess over violence, drugs, love, sex, driving fast, etc. This is really about obsessing over visual stimuli, porn being this particular stimuli.

    Let’s get on with educating kids about sex and even porn. Stop making it so ‘bad” and mysterious and it won’t be as desirable. I do not mean to make it more easily available.

    • I think that’s a good way to describe the problem. The challenge, however, is that Internet porn is a lot easier to “obsess” over than most things for various reasons we’ve outlined here and elsewhere.

  7. “Who’s gonna get excited by Pac-Man when he has been playing Grand Theft Auto or Halo 3?”

    *Raises Hand*

    Pac-Man is still fun despite the fact that I have GTA and FPS’s to play with.

  8. It’s remarkable really, how puritanism reinvents itself. The Second Wave of Feminism was, of course, openly a revival of the “Zeroth Wave” social purity movement, a direct descendant of religious puritanism. Now, it wears a rather slipshod “liberal” hat, but it is all the same thing. So now we have again the terror of masturbation. If this stuff weren’t so influential, I would be laughing out loud at some parent with furrowed brow advising their adolescent son to try just masturbating once a week. Oh, go out for some vigorous exercise to purge those dirty thoughts!

    And, we have the addiction narrative, with a pseudoscience of brain chemistry attached. Wise owls will tell us with their checklists what is good pleasure and what is bad pleasure, and what changes in our minds we are allowed.

    Really, this is truly awful and, as I said, indistinguishable from the Victorian hysteria. No good will come of it. It sure as sh*t didn’t last time. How short our memories are, it seems.

    • To Ian B:
      What’s truly remarkable is your hysterical rant that our work is “pseudoscience”, without having anything specific to say other than ad hominem nonsense. Everything we say is backed up by the latest neuroscience. Instead of shouting “pseudoscience,” as if you know something, argue the neuroscience of addiction, and explain how Internet porn cannot cause addiction.

      Here’s one expert who understands a few things. Dr. Nora Volkow, Head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and one of the top addiction researchers in the world – in recognition of the change in the understanding of natural addiction, is advocating changing the name of the NIDA to the “National Institute on Diseases of Addiction”, as quoted in the journal ‘Science’:
      “NIDA Director Nora Volkow also felt that her institute’s name should encompass addictions such as pornography, gambling, and food, says NIDA adviser Glen Hanson.”

      I think I’ll take Nora Volkow’s opinion on the addictive potential of Internet porn over some random poster with a bone to pick.

      Let’s explore some science. Put on your thinking cap on and ponder this: A lot of heavy porn users are starting to hit a wall. They develop porn-induced erectile dysfunction (see study below).This symptom alone proves that excessive Internet porn is altering their brains’ reward circuitries. These men are terrified that they will never be normal again. Is it puritanical to help men recover their sexual potency and have sex with real partners? Because that’s one of the main focuses of our work. Recovery stories available via this page: http://yourbrainonporn.com/erectile-dysfunction-question

      Please enlighten us with your hypotheses on chronic erectile dysfunction in young, healthy men. Keep the word ‘variable’ in mind, and please, no pseudoscience. Details:

      Thousands of young men, mostly in their twenties, develop chronic ED for no apparent reason, after years of contented masturbation. It’s not anxiety, as ED symptoms are present when they masturbate. These visitors, most of them in their 20s, but many also in their 30s and 40s, come from all over the world. They differ in education, religiosity, attitudes, values, diets, marijuana use, personalities, etc. But they have two things in common: heavy use of today’s Internet porn and increasing tolerance.

      As the men recover, they experience similar symptoms at similar time intervals. First intense cravings, then complete loss of libido for several weeks, then slow return of spontaneous erections, and finally complete erectile health. The process usually takes 4-12 weeks depending on relapses. They experience restored erectile health, mood improvement, increased libido, seeing real women as attractive.

      One variable in common – and when that variable was removed all had the same response. What is truly frightening is the misinformation men suffering from porn-induced ED are receiving from so-called experts. Desperate young men, told nothing can be done, or it is all in their heads. All are distressed and some suicidal believing they will never be normal again.

      Speaking of science, urologists in Italy decide to do a survey because so many young men began arriving at their clinics with unexplained ED. Here’s what they found –

      http://www.ansa.it/web/notizie/rubriche/english/2011/02/24/visualizza_new.html_1583160579.html

      SCIENTISTS: TOO MUCH INTERNET PORN MAY CAUSE IMPOTENCE (2011)
      It may not make you go blind, but Italian scientists have identified a worrying side-effect of watching too much pornography.
      Researchers said Thursday that young men who indulge in “excessive consumption” of Internet porn gradually become immune to explicit images, the ANSA news agency reported.
      Over time, this can lead to a loss of libido, impotence and a notion of sex that is totally divorced from real-life relations.
      “It starts with lower reactions to porn sites, then there is a general drop in libido and in the end it becomes impossible to get an erection,” said Carlo Foresta, head of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine (SIAM).
      His team drew their conclusions from a survey of 28,000 Italian men which revealed that many became hooked on porn as early as 14, exhibiting symptoms of so-called “sexual anorexia” by the time they reached their mid-twenties.
      There was some good news, however, as the condition was not necessarily permanent. “With proper assistance recovery is possible within a few months,” Foresta said.

      Maybe it’s your memory that’s a bit faulty. I’m pretty sure Internet pornography arrived after the Victorian era.

  9. evilwhitemalempire says:

    Very obviously she doesn’t want men using sexual ‘substitutes’ because it dilutes female sexual leverage.

  10. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    On rereading this, I’m pretty much on-board with Gary and Marina. I do also feel, though, that we’ve entered a repressive era in which second wave feminism also participates. I’d say, make society more erotic, but only in a real sense. The obvious metaphor of men at computers being like Vegas visitors at one-armed bandits has a lot of meaning for me.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Robinson’s piece on porn and its effect on boys has already attracted its fair share of [...]

  2. [...] takes place — of today is not healthy for the teenage boys watching it.  And by not healthy, psychologists mean it can cause social anxiety and erectile dysfunction.  Ouch. Such videos are often so extreme that they dumbfound even the most free-thinking parents. [...]

  3. [...] Uhhhhhhhhhh. I’m already imagining what I would have said to my dad if he came at me with that sort of ultra-hyphenated, level-headed, auto-erotic, round-table discussion. Eff that. Our router will be set to block porn sites, and other than that, the natural hunting and gathering of porn will probably yield natural enough results. Check out Good Men Project for the full run-down. Source: Good Men Project [...]

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