Is porn consumption ethical? How about healthy? James Fell examines some evidence, and offers his opinion.
Question: When you read about Nike using child labor, did you stop buying their shoes?
When you heard about how Wal-Mart pays some of the lowest wages in the U.S., and that they use nefarious business practices to put the competition out of business, did you cease shopping there?
Or what about McDonalds? They’ve been in the news recently about abhorrent working conditions. Will it stop you from quenching your McNugget thirst?
What about the building collapse in Bangladesh? Did you start checking labels to ensure you didn’t buy clothes made there?
I’m sure you’re a good person. You don’t think companies should be treating their workers so poorly. But if you continue to support these companies with a portion of your paycheck, then you’re helping to perpetuate the problems.
Welcome to cognitive dissonance: the stress that results from having your actions be in conflict with your beliefs.
And the solution to cognitive dissonance is often self-justification. It is a bit of mental gymnastics you use to diminish your responsibility, providing you with excuses to keep on doing what you do.
Wow. That whole intro was a serious downer, wasn’t it?
We humans excel at justifying our own behaviors. Now before you go thinking I’m some kind of guilt-tripping prince of guy who never does anything wrong, I have bought Nike, shopped at Wal-Mart, eaten Big Macs, and not cared where my clothes were made. Also, speed limits are for other people.
Now, let’s talk about porn.
Why? Why is fitness author James Fell talking to you about porn? Because it’s a health issue, and this is a health website. I wrote about how to find and keep a girlfriend already, and that was popular, so let’s see if we can drive some clicks.
By the way, I’m going to try and keep things kind of PG-13 here just in case my kids end up reading this. As an added bonus, perhaps you’ll feel more comfortable sharing it with someone who needs to read it.
So, I suppose I should tell you a bit about my history with porn. Never in my life have I watched it. Not once. Also, I can hold my breath for 15 minutes, I am Elvis’ love child, and I can fly.
It’s pervasive. After perusing a number of studies the data reveal that 70-80% of all men watch porn on a regular basis. Plenty of women like it too.
I’m writing this piece because a friend of mine posted a video entitled “Why I stopped watching porn” on Facebook, and a lengthy, contentious argument took place in the comments section. I witnessed plenty of butt-hurt; since we’re discussing porn here I should qualify that it was of the figurative variety.
The argument focused on the moral aspect of porn watching. Just like shopping at Wal-Mart, eating McDonalds, or running in Nikes, you’re supporting an industry that mistreats people. There is a dark, dirty and awful side to pornography production that sometimes involves rape, sexual slavery, abuse … I’m harshing up your next viewing session, aren’t I?
Eh, probably not. Sure, you love women and think they should be treated as equals and not abused or mistreated or objectified, but … cognitive dissonance! Enter: self-justification. Everyone else is doing it. The stuff is already out there. I only watch nice porn. I’m not into that rapey stuff.
Guilt-tripping to cease porn consumption has been around ever since that first photographer took an old-timey black and white photo of a naked lady. God is watching every time you touch yourself, and He is judging you. That’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother. It objectifies women. She’s on drugs. She’s faking it.
And it falls on deaf ears. I don’t expect any of these arguments to convince you to change your viewing habits. That’s why I used the words “compelling argument” in the title of this post; I’m choosing a different tack.
But what can compel you? The answer could be: self-interest.
I will repeat: this is about health. We’ve already established that you can justify your way out of caring about the health of the performers, just as you can not care about the child laborers who made your T-shirt, but what about your health? What if I could show you that there can be direct, negative consequences associated with certain porn viewing habits? Would it convince you to change them?
And I’m focusing on the word “change” and not “cease” because I’m realistic. I’m not asking you to desist all porn watching. I mean, if you want to stop completely after reading this, go big. But it’s sort of like alcohol: For most, I think it’s more realistic to focus on a path of moderation and limitation; an occasional indulgence that doesn’t create negative consequences in the rest of your life.
First, the Big Picture
Porn usage has a tendency to escalate towards more extreme versions. When I was a young teen, Playboy bunnies with a hint of pubic hair showing was awesome. Then one of my friends stole a Penthouse from his older brother, and that was even better. Then HOLY CRAP HUSTLER LOOK AT THAT!
Then, movies. Then, harder movies. Then … you get the idea. We build up a tolerance for the lighter stuff, and we seek something more extreme. After a while, you’re favorite stuff is watching redacted slamming redacted into redacted whileredacted and she redacted then he redacted all over redacted.
Compare that to what happens in real life.
Say you’re an average guy with an average personality and an average income. Ergo, the myth perpetuated by pick-up artists of beautiful nymphomaniacs lining up to copulate with you ain’t happening.
Instead, you have an average girlfriend. Her sexual interests are fairly mainstream, and you have a happy sex life, because traditional sex with a real live woman is usually light years better than being alone with an Internet connection, no matter what’s happening on the other end of your high-speed wireless.
(Note: I’m referencing male-female relationships as my example because I’m a heterosexual male and this is what I know. I don’t judge anyone based on gender or orientation. Whatever floats your boat.)
But what happens when, after the initial thrill of your relationship wears off, you start to wonder why she doesn’t look like those implanted, perfectly made up, half-starved Barbies in the videos you watch? Female porn actors are known to engage in things like labiaplasty, bleaching of certain orifices and waxing to achieve some kind of camera-friendly ideal. How do you think your girlfriend feels about being compared to that? How does it make you feel when you make the comparison? And what about the fact that she’s uninterested in doing any of that “redacted” stuff? Will it make you bitter?
But what if you don’t have a girlfriend? Should you just go big on the porn usage?
Well, probably not. Because, one day, you may get that girlfriend you’re after. And she may become your wife, and those porn habits you developed when you were single might not be so good for your relationship.
Like I said, this is just the big picture. Now it’s time for …
The Science of How Porn Affects Your Brain
I’m going to encapsulate the work of the folks at www.YourBrainOnPorn.com as succinctly as possible. If you want more information on the subject, I suggest you check out their site. Here is some telling information from their About page:
This site is secular, although everyone’s views are welcome. It is primarily science-based, and no one here is trying to ban porn. This is not a commercial site, so don’t go looking for something to buy. You won’t find it.
The brain-on-porn is not a religious organization trying to guilt trip you. As I pointed out at the beginning of this piece, guilt isn’t going to help you change. This entire article is about helping you change by appealing to your self-interest, and Your Brain On Porn is about the science of how porn negatively affects you.
Okay, here are the basics:
- Put a rat in a cage and give him a female to mate with, and he’ll go at her until he’s tired of that particular female.
- Give him new females, however, and all of sudden he’s in rampant fornication mode again. You can keep giving him novel female subjects until he’s completely drained.
- Humans aren’t that different, where novel mates compel us much more than a previous mate.
- Each new mate creates a rush of dopamine. But reward circuitry in the brain generates less and less dopamine with the current female, and to get a bigger rush of dopamine again – something our brains are hardwired to seek – we need a new female.
- Internet porn is especially problematic because novel females are easily accessed via a single click. At least when I was a teen you had to fast-forward the VHS tape for a while if you were bored with the scene you were watching.
- It’s not just new females that Internet porn compels us to seek out, but new situations. Regular old missionary isn’t doing it for you any longer. You thirst for something even more novel. Hence, more extreme. Hence, redacted.
And here are some of the potential consequences.
First, you become desensitized to normal stimulation. The seeking of more extreme types of pornographic material makes it so that’s what you need to get your rush. And by “rush” I mean achieve erection and ejaculation.
Sure, it doesn’t happen overnight, but over years you may find that girlfriend less and less enticing because your porn-viewing habits have changed your brain so that she just doesn’t do it for you any more. That erectile dysfunction isn’t because of anything below the waist or even below the neck. It’s because you’ve trained your brain to seek supra-normal stimuli that practically doesn’t exist in the real world or in real relationships.
It can also lead to “hypofrontality,” which is an eroding of willpower. You have a decreased ability to control impulses and poorer decision-making abilities. Now we’re going beyond negative relationship consequences, this can be bad for how you conduct your entire life.
Your Brain on Porn alleges that you can become addicted it. Just like with food, I doubt that porn meets the full criteria to qualify as a true addiction. Nevertheless, it can be compelling, and breaking the habit is often challenging. If you need some added motivation to try, read this article to learn more about all the potential negative consequences associated with Internet porn.
Why Less is More
Again, I’m not trying to convince you to quit entirely, because I just don’t see that as realistic in most cases. If you’re a young man, chances are you watch the stuff pretty regularly, and maybe this article speaks to you about your viewing habits. Maybe you recognize some of the details provided as affecting your own life. Or maybe everything is just peachy. But if you’ve read this far, perhaps it is because deep down, you think there could be a problem.
Or maybe not. But just because there isn’t a problem today doesn’t mean there might not be a problem one day. I personally am a big fan of long-term relationships with one person. Heavy porn usage is not conducive to such a relationship being sexually satisfying. Probably. I’d much rather have no (or much less) porn and a great sex life than lots of porn and a mediocre or poor sex life.
So, ease off there young fella. Or old fella. Or woman.
You are not a rat. You do not have a rat’s limited cognitive capabilities. You have a highly developed brain. You can decide to retrain it. How? Well, here are a lot of details. But it basically boils down to: “take a break.”
Just stop for a while with watching it. Give your brain a chance to “reboot.” Again, I’m not trying to purge it from your life 100%, although if it has it’s hooks in you deep you may find that you need to go completely without if you find future viewing rapidly takes you back down the rabbit hole.
But after you feel like you’ve gone through a reboot, then what? Well, like I said, you can still use it as an occasional indulgence, but with a newfound understanding of the dangers it can pose, and how to use it “wisely.” There is a big difference between a couple of beers on the weekend and lining up tequila shots at the bar every night. So it also is with porn.
And yes, I know this flies in the face of the guilt-inducing abolitionist approach because porn actors are often mistreated. We already established that such an argument isn’t going to convince many people, so I’m focusing on self-interest and feasibility here. The side benefit is that if everyone dramatically cuts their porn usage, the industry will wither. It allows for less harm.
If you decide to go back to it after your reboot, use it with caution. Understand how it can lead to more extreme viewing. Decide to select just a single scene that is more in line with something that might actually happen in real life. A.K.A. 80s porn.
I’m only partially kidding about that last part.
If you take a break for a month or two and then use it infrequently, watching tamer stuff – and even watching the same scene more than once – can be plenty of stimulation. It’s when you become a frequent user and permit yourself to taste the full, sometimes horrific rainbow of what the naked Internet has to offer that it leads to problems.
So make the decision not to go down that road again. Keep your porn “a couple of beer on the weekend” instead of “daily tequila shots.”
And reap benefits.
Benefits? What Benefits?
Well, you’re probably going to be hornier for a real woman, and that’s a good thing.
If you’re single, it can get you out of the house. It can motivate you to go find someone to spend time with; someone who likes touching your fun stuff. Want some advice on that? Here’s my find and keep a girlfriend article again.
And if you already have a girlfriend – or a wife – it can improve your sex life with her, because you want to improve it. If you’re not continually sated via porn, and more importantly, if you’re brain is no longer programmed to rely on porn for sexual stimulation and release, then you’re going to be more willing to put some effort into your relationship, because your desire for a real person is higher.
I’m not talking about constantly pawing at her and begging for sex because you’re not jerking off nearly so much. I’m talking about treating her in such a way, both outside and inside the bedroom, that makes her want more sex and want to please you more, because you’re doing things that please her.
This is worth the effort, because while some may read things like “80s porn” and “mainstream” in reference to sexual interests as boring or lame, you need to go through a reality check. The first part is that all the wild stuff you’re seeing on your computer likely is never going to happen for you anyway, so all you’re giving up is a fantasy. And what you’re gaining goes far beyond the physical, and into developing a mental and emotional connection with someone else.
Sex is a lot more than just in and out. It’s tickling and talking and laughing and cuddling. It’s showers together and winks and smiles and comments like “I have plans for you later” that enhance blood flow better than Viagra.
And unlike what happens after you slam the laptop shut, real sex is something that can leave you with a lasting glow of happiness and satisfaction.
Also read: How To Find (and Keep!) a Girlfriend
Photo: Flickr/ Suloke Mathai