My Boy Brain on Porn: How Fantasy Can Affect Intimacy

 

Steeped in the unrealistic ideals 1970s family television shows, Scott Allen’s expectations of love and intimacy were severely distorted when he saw his first ‘Playboy’ at age 7.

I was not raised with much parental involvement. In fact, by today’s standards, my parents’ involvement could be considered criminal due to the level of abuse, absence, and neglect. But I did have a TV to watch, and that TV taught me all that I knew about bonding with others. However, it didn’t teach me that real relationships are not safe.

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My favorite family sitcoms in the 1970s were The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. My idea of a normal life grew into an imaginary place where love and care would always solve the simple challenges of life. But Gilligan’s Island became my fantasy escape, a paradise island with all of the necessities in life, all carved from coconut trees, and the lovely girls—dazzling Ginger and the wholesomely beautiful Mary Ann. I still think of Mary Ann in a special way. She was someone my little boy self trusted and with whom I wanted to be.

One of the more industrious of my childhood friends often dragged treasures out of the trash in the alleyways. One day at school he said that he had found a whole box of Playboys. So, after school that day we sat quietly, flipping through over a 100 Playboy magazines. That was my first exposure to pornography.

Playboy was very crafty at the tease, luring you with images of naive sensuality and sexiness yet never quite revealing the more delicate features of the female form. Nonetheless, I never felt the same. Something deep within my seven-year-old mind had shifted. I felt different, more grown up but not comfortable, more of an edgy, uneasy feeling. I wanted to see more Playboys, that was for sure! On that day I unknowingly began a formidable journey—to know a real woman. I was armed for my quest with nearly completely dysfunctional emotions and a heavy cloak of a TV-induced sense of normalcy.

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Early in my 17th year I became acquainted with the totality of the female form without the obscured poses and unfortunate staples—I lost my virginity. I now felt like a real man without the young man’s mystery gnawing at my psyche. I felt calm, soothed, and certain. Yes, this was a good feeling, one that I intended to feel forever.

As life progressed and girlfriends came into my life with greater ease and went away with less difficulty, I enjoyed the occasional porn mags, then videos and DVDs. Commercial pornography such as Penthouse became much more explicit by the mid 1990s, and by the time internet porn hit the globe, all sense of mystery was gone, and I felt like my sense of morality was slipping away.

I felt instantly rewarded from online porn, like one of those laboratory rats pounding on a button to send a pulse through an electrode into the pleasure center of my brain. The strong, knowing, and manly sensation that I briefly felt when I was 17 had become a seductive mirage toward which I clicked more frequently and for longer visits while alone with my computer. I would never reach that ultimate sensation but only sustain more tolerance for the opiate, of which I would consume longer and nastier doses. I became addicted to this fantasy, addicted to chasing a mirage that always lured me further, as if with the next click I would reach my destiny.

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My love relationships always would become flat from silently critiquing my girlfriends and whenever possible, launching expeditions into solitary escapism. I craved the rush of new opportunity, the fuel to reach my goal, which was locked within my physical memory, trapped in blood and bones.

My body felt what it wanted and needed but could not comprehend that those drives and needs were not within the world in which I lived; they were a fantasy, and I was merely and simply the spectator of an illusion, an endless shopper. I was swept into feeling intimate bonds with total strangers who so often were exposing their sacredness in order to be paid, or even to pay their captors in some cases.

For me to awaken to this conflicting reality felt like Neo, awakening in The Matrix; my relational life was devoid of real connection. What I felt and experienced was simply an artificial reality, perpetuated by a manipulating sales campaign.

I became aware that I was leaving wreckage behind me in failed relationships and finally admitted to myself that it was me who was not present and remained shallow and critical. How could I be committed to one woman when so often I was feeling the fantasy bond of intimacy with 100s or even 1000s of others?

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I’ve been in therapy for several years now, trying to reconcile my senses and regain, or actually build, my connections to real life, uncontrollable and filled with humans who are sometimes not so accepting. I’ve realized that by being hooked on the pleasure button of porn that I was ignoring and bypassing all of the real pleasures in relational and sexual life.

Some of my guy friends, who likely are addicts themselves, say that I’m getting wimpy and sensitive, and I see them becoming less and less in touch with their wives or girlfriends, kids, and businesses. Am I delusional, or am I awakening? Too sensitive, or becoming alive?

I realize that I may have been more prone to addiction due to my unhealthy childhood, but I have become aware that the influence of porn is powerful enough to derail even those who did have healthy and truly normal childhoods, with both parents present and functional in their lives.

As I struggle to see and feel the pure beauty within a real woman-being, I am often haunted by the effects and memory of my porn use, and even still yearn for sweet Mary Ann and the innocent attractions that I felt for her. The qualities she represented to me are here with me today in the real woman that I love, along with so many more qualities, because she is real, and I am not going to click away or change this channel!

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In gratitude to Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, who died Tuesday, 7/12/11 at the age of 94.

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—Photo dierk schaefer/Flickr, Gilligan’s Island: mycotopia.net

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About Scott Allen

Scott Allen is a father of two, an aspiring Taoist who enjoys writing and is a contributor to posarc.com (Partners of Sex Addicts Resource Center) where he is helping a website dedicated to building healthy intimacy.

Comments

  1. Thank you Scott for the honesty and the nostalgia. I’ve been wanting to stop looking at porn but realized that I couldn’t. Now I’m just trying to cut down and seem to be going the other way with it. It seems the first obstacle for me is admitting that it has me. Hooked on junk. And I agree that this has affected my love life.

  2. I run a support group for partners of sex addicts and I have found that addiction to porn–or prostitutes, massage parlors, anonymous hook-ups, multiple affairs, etc.–always stems from early childhood deprivation. Many sex addicts get hooked on porn early on as a way of staving off the pain of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or lack of attachment to primary caregivers. Your searingly honest and poignant portrayal of your own childhood supports this picture of the etiology of sex addiction. And I agree that porn is a particularly slippery slope for those inclined towards addiction.

    • What makes porn addiction? I mean, I’ve been watching lots of internet porn since I was 10 and jerking off at least 3 times a day every day since that time, but it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my life — I don’t have a life — so I’m not sure it can really be considered an addiction. Also, like I said, I can’t actually get laid so it is the only outlet I have. It’s certainly true that I had a childhood of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and more. (add in some disfigurement and debilitating chronic illness for good measure)

      I’m now 22, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve kissed someone, I don’t even need any fingers to count the number of times I’ve been on a date or been in a relationship, I’ve slept with a girl once, and I’ve never had a woman respond favorably to trying to get a date. Unfortunately, there are many men out there like me whose only options are porn or prostitutes. We’re too far behind the curve to ever find someone interested in being in a relationship (who wants to date someone with less relationship/sexual experience than your average 13 year old) so we use the only options available to us.

      • Have you ever thought that it’s your rabid porn use (from what I’m getting) that’s turning off potential partners, assuming they know, anyway?

        • No, I don’t, because it never gets to that point, ever. I can’t even get a girl to say yes to a date.

        • I watch a lot of porn and go to prostitutes. I never kissed a girl till 27. But right now I have absolutely no problem getting women and I am completely honest with the women I get.

          Not being able to get women has absolutely nothing at all to do with porn use.

          You want a women. Its easy. Go to where they are (if you don’t know where do some research) and talk to them. Tell them what you want, what you like about them. Chase them. You will easily get them.

          Usually if you can’ t get a women its simply because you aren’t focused and aren’t aggressive enough in pursuing what you want. You probably aren’t persistent enough and you have a difficult time asking for sex. This was my problem and its probably yours.

  3. Some of us don’t have the luxury of sex unless we pay for it so internet porn, at least, gives us something to look at and fantasize about. I’ve had sex once, shortly before I turned 21, with an extremely unattractive and overweight woman just so I could finally get laid. If I could afford hookers, I’d definitely go that route, but I can’t so porn is the only option.

  4. CJ’s comments made me feel sad, and I can empathize being in a similar position in some respects. I just wonder how much of your lack of success meeting a woman and falling in love has to do with your use of pornography rather than the other way around. Is porn and focusing on only visual and physical gratification stopping you from developing the part of your inner self that is attractive to (good) women? I know in my own life porn use in my teens lowered my self-esteem and confidence with women considerably and after I gave it up I felt like a different person. I felt more attractive to women and the difference in how women responded to me changed also. But I lived for many years without looking at porn or having sex before meeting the woman I fell in love with and married. It’s possible to live without both porn and sex, and personally I was much happier and freer and more relaxed around women when I stopped focusing on those things and developed other aspects of my life to become a much more rounded person (which, I strongly suspect, is what made it possible for me to be in a fulfilling relationship now).

  5. Thanks for an honest look at what social inadequacies can underlie a porn addiction and keep perpetuating it….

    I’m from the same generation as you and cringe today when I think about what must have gotten downloaded into lots of our young, subconscious minds from watching I Dream of Jeannie every afternoon.

    The plot: rigid, controlling, not-too-attractive, middle-age man literally finds a stunning blonde woman on an exotic beach whom he rescues and then gets to legally hold her captive, no questions asked.

    She’s willing to wear only super sexy outfits (even to vacuum his house), and she wiggles, giggles and squeals with delight at the chance to do something, anything for him!! She has magical powers and lives to grant him any wishes he can possibly dream up! And she has to call him Master.

    And if she’s-b-a-a-a-a-d and gets a little jealous or doesn’t do exactly as he orders her to do, there are no arguments and she doesn’t get to reject him….If she so much as pouts, making him feel a wee bit uncomfortable, he gets to banish her to a tiny little bottle from which she cannot escape unless HE lets her out.

    If he’s feeling kind and does let her out, she is contrite and conciliatory and fawning all over him for his forgiveness.
    Oh, and she is consigned to live with him forever and ever, for fate has it that she can never leave him. And because she comes from a magical place, she never ages or changes in any way; her perfection is locked in forever.

    Your incisive article has me thinking that these scenarios from TV are almost exactly mirrored in porn: we get to be the Master with a gorgeous captive (or island castaway) and that we’re entitled to never be rejected by only perfect, young, beautiful, submissive women (or men) who live to fulfill our every desire. Yup, I can see that being very addictive! Congratulations on embracing Recovery!

    • Thank you for this brilliant analysis. I was captured by this program, along with the rest of the TV idiocy of the 50s. All of this programming went right into our young brains, giving us an understanding of the proper role for women and men, the winning attitudes, the rewards and punishments. I, too, had Playboy as a companion as a young man, and used the “paper dolls” liberally. Isn’t that what they were designed for? Someone pointed out that men practiced sexuality with images, masturbating to Playboy and now Internet porn. Women practiced sexuality with romantic fantasies, romance novels, and soap operas. Is it any wonder we have difficulty finding common ground in relationship? Our “models of excellence” were fantasies, not real humans with their faults, wrinkles, bad smells, and also the glory of their souls.

  6. From personal experience of both mine and previous partners porn use, yes it can affect all areas of real sex and intimacy (not just sex but many aspects of relationships and attitudes). Not only does it effect sex between partners but it distorts your view of sex, male and female bodies, desires, actions, beliefs etc. I have been studying the psychology of porn use and the way it alters the brain, it’s a very complex issue and porn use is highly personal and usually a secret we can hide from ourselves and our partners. I think the porn idustry is a global sickness and effects both our conscious and unconsious attitudes. I personallly have stopped using all forms of porn (i can’t say it was easy though – it’s a powerful drug, despite the fact i despised how it made me feel) and will not have it in my life again; it was nothing but destructive to my self esteem, sexuality, enjoyment of sex, relationships, views of women, including myself and it took me a long time to finally stand up for my true beliefs on the porn industry, it’s representation/objectification of women and men and it’s representation of sexuality. For many years I have just accepted it in relationships because we are often made to feel like we have to and there is something wrong with us if we don’t want to accept it. I also finished a relationship due to a partners porn addiction, it was hard but it was the right thing to do. But if i honestly look back on all my close relationships, i think all of my bf’s were porn addicts, they just didn’t realise it (and i didnt want to face it or wasnt sure enough about the subject). It’s just so widely accepted and encouraged, especially among men from a very young age, that we just see it as normal and healthy. Also, the older i got and the more easily it was able to be accessed via the net, the more i sunk into my own toxic road of personal porn use. But i believe it is not normal or healthy and it is sending us down a very dark path in terms of sexuality, the likes of which we’ve never been before. I am pro sex and porn actually made me hate sex, my body and sexuality in the end. The more i used, the less i liked sex and the more i learnt about my partners porn addiction the worse i felt about myself and all aspects of our relationship. It has really effected my brain, self esteem and enjoyment of sex in many ways. Its taken me a long time to get over it all, but i think i’m finally getting there and have wholeheartedly joined the widening fight againt the toxic, capitalist porn industry. And i am happy about this. You have to face your own issues to really understand it and why it has such a hold on so many people.

  7. *I think it also distorts how we sex sexually liberal women. The western ideal now has become sex for sale. Women servicing men. This effects how we act sexually with our partners and how we see women who want to have an equal, mutually beneficial sex life. The way these women are talked about is disgusting. Porn is successfully entering all of our culture; the words we use, the images we send in various media forms, the messages we give our children. They’re brainwashing us. It’s nothing but toxic to all involved. I feel sorry and very very worried for the younger generation who are being fed this from a very young age. It disturbs me that this image is what we are projecting as healthy sexuality and what is normal and healthy. It’s far from either of these thing.

    • Don’t forget that we also have a form of pornography in women’s magazines, and in almost all advertising for products, diets, television shows, etc. Look at any magazine rack from afar and it’s filled with slim young maidens showing how sexy they are, alongside muscle men, muscle cars, and a few dozen older white men in suits. It’s ALL a fantasy. You, too, can be thin, rich, young, and popular – forever. Just buy this thing, this concept, vote for this politician, try this new drug. We live in a world FILLED with pornography – which is not just sexual, but conceptual. It is pornographic advertising that drives sales. Have you looked at potato chip bags lately? Chip porn. Car porn. Cosmetics porn. Clothing porn. It’s everywhere…. the fantasy for sale.

  8. Say, how about a nice article on emotional pornography?

    That’s the vast industry that sells women the fantasy and false expectations of romance.

    • In some respects i agree, however, comparing porn and romance is not valid. They are two very seperate things. It’s an old pro porn propoganda argument used by porn addicts so they can indulge in there ‘little pleasure’ is hugely manipulative. I think the romance genre sets highly unrealistic ideals on both men and women, unfulfillable stereotypes for both sexes. BUT, it’s not hateful, it’s generally loving, atleast. The most profitable porn is hateful, degrading, misogynistic porn. Even the stuff that isn’t is full of women/men pretending to ‘love’ what they do, emotionally manipulating you and hooking you to buy a product. I think feeding girls highly unachievable romantic ideals is very destructive too, but not the same as the porn industry. It’s not brainwashing. But it does set many people up for disappointment in later life. Our responce/actions when using porn and emotional, sexual fix is very different and should not be compared. Watching any movie is not the same as watching porn films, it is a very different act and we are engaged in the film in a very different way, our brains respond very differently. Porn changes your brain, even more so in the impressionable youth. The physically changes your brain. As a female the last thing i’m interested in is the romance genre. Most of my ex’s have enjoyed romance films far more than me (although most of them wouldnt admit this down the pub! Because we stereotype men and make them conform to this ridiculous idea of what a man should be and should like). I was far more into sex than romance! But then i was called a ‘slut’ for this and you wouldve been called a stud! Something even more heavely reinforced in porn today. To me romance always portrayed women in a weak, soppy way and men as the hero type, sweeping in to rescue….that was never something i found attractive or an ideal i wanted. Of course i wanted love, just not the mainstream idea of love. I’m aware many people do though or perhaps think they do due to our over idealised romantic views and attitudes we instil in our kids about how boys and girls should be and should act. You may find this series of articles interesting on this subject. I agree with this perspective. : The Neuroscience of Romanticized Love – Part 1: Emotional Taboos http://nblo.gs/iJedZ
      Relationships: The Neuroscience of Romanticized Love – Part 2: Either-Or Thinking http://bit.ly/muWefy
      The Neuroscience of Romanticized Love – Part 3: A Jungian Analysis of Psyche Wounds http://t.co/8UDOJWN – if these links don’t work, it can be found on the psychcentral website.

  9. Porn is a fantastic sexual outlet… Thank GOD

  10. To add another point; yes, porn preys on both boys a girls needs. It preys on the emotions and basic physical needs of all humans. Like the article stated it manipulated you, it also manipulates little girls such as these: News: Role Modeling By Dad Influences Daughters’ Sexual Behavior http://bit.ly/laLSdm
    I can tell you i was one of these girls….i was ‘offered’ to do porn at the age of 17. Thankfully i had more self respect than that, however, i was very sexually active at a young age and suffered emotional abuse in my home and sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend for years. I couldve easily been manipulated into selling myself and it been painted as empowerment. Many more little girls are being sucked into it these days and the more its widely viewed and accepted the worse the problem gets. Even more so now that it is more ‘accepted’ that girls actually like and want sex too….shock horror!! Many women watch porn, i was one. This def is no longer just a male issue. The industry is a leach, it sucks on peoples emotions, desires, needs, insecurities, problems, basic human drives etc etc.

  11. Quijiboh says:

    One thing I would add to this discussion is that there is nothing inherently wrong with fantasy and fantasizing. As an avid sci-fi and fantasy fan in all kinds of media I would certainly plump for this position. The caveat, I think, is that for it to be healthy you have to be able to maintain the disconnection between your fantasy and reality. If you can leave your imagined worlds at the door when entering real relationships, then it’s fine.

    Something that occurred to me while writing this post – perhaps people from a background of neglect and abuse are more susceptible to porn addiction because they have more trouble maintaining the disconnect between reality and fantasy, as reality was so awful?

    That being said, I wouldn’t say there is much merit to the fantasy that the majority of porn peddles. Particularly what with the genuine human suffering that goes into creating it.

  12. “I’ve realized that by being hooked on the pleasure button of porn that I was ignoring and bypassing all of the real pleasures in relational and sexual life.”

    It’s all real Scott. Porn IS real. It’s a real thing. It produces real feelings and sensations, the brain really processes it.

    What does it matter if someone feels bliss holding a real woman or imagining doing so? Why is one inherently superior to the other? Both seem to have ups and downs.

    People act as if real relationships are so genuine, but they can be just as hollow, at least with fiction we know it for what it is.

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