Some of my most popular posts are those that discuss porn and masturbation. I don’t believe they are the evil the the Mormon Church does. I also believe that the religious approach to sexuality is harmful and I believe that the evidence supports my view.
Yet, because I claim to believe in evidence and claim to have a moral compass which guides me to speak and act wisely regardless of what I’ve said in the past, I’m going to backtrack or at least modify my previous comments regarding porn. It appears that there is a significant difference when it comes to Internet porn.
I came of age in the 70’s and early 80’s long before the Internet. To me, “porn” means nude pictures, stories and movies. In that day it took time and skill to obtain event a smattering of titillating images. Masturbation was done fleetingly in bed or the shower, not sitting in front of a computer monitor or with a handy smartphone having access to millions of images, movies and stories.
Masturbation did not always include porn.
Simply put, today’s porn is not your daddy’s porn. And that distinction makes a significant difference to the human brain. Some claim that evolution has not prepared the human brain to interact with the Internet. So, the long term effects of Internet pornography viewing are dramatically different and more pronounced than with your old fashioned girlie magazines and XXX theaters. It’s not even so much about the porn itself, but about the Internet that impacts the brain in significant ways. Gamers and even some bloggers are believed to suffer some of the same neurological consequences as those who regularly imbibe in Internet porn.
Brief overview: Dopamine
Desire and motivation in humans is linked to a neurochemical called dopamine. It’s also how we get addicted. This ancient reward circuitry compels us to pursue things to ensure our survival…things like sex, food, love and novelty. In other words, dopamine encourages us to participate in life enriching, indeed life creating activities. Squirts of dopamine that occur during sexual stimulation are the scaffolding behind cravings. When you see porn you get a big rush of dopamine.
Dopamine also surges with novelty and this is where Internet porn and dopamine share a unique relationship. With the Internet, novelty is just a click away. What may have previously taken weeks or months to hunt out and view is now available in minutes on the Internet. That’s awesome if you’re a porn viewer!
But there are consequences to such awesomeness.
Dopamine rewires the brain to get more, but in the case of Internet porn the brain isn’t being rewired to pursue more sex; it is being rewired to pursue the novelty that can only found on the Internet. So, you end up with an oversentization to novelty and a dramatic desensitization to “vanilla” behaviors such a sex with a real person. It’s a cycle that causes willpower to erode and the creation of dysfunctional stress coping skills.
Nerve cells that are constantly fired upon by the same sort of behaviors lay tracks and strengthen connections. It makes it easier for electrical impulses to travel and communicate. Viewing porn on the Internet therefore creates a rut in your brain. Ironically enough this rut leads to LESS pleasure rather than to more. Over time, this dual-edged mechanism can have your reward circuitry buzzing at the hint of porn use, but less than enthused when presented with the real deal.
Of course this sort of brain circuitry rewiring was involved with porn use in the past too, but with the Internet it is more pronounced and more common. It happens faster to even the very young and it’s easier to stay in this rut due to the availability of Internet porn. The way it’s used keeps dopamine elevated for abnormally long periods, making Internet porn uniquely compelling, and potentially addictive. I was shocked in my research to discover anecdotal stories of 15, 16 and 17 year old boys who claim they are addicted to porn and can’t get it up with a real human being. These young people often claim they have never masturbated without porn. Their whole sexual functioning has been wired by Internet porn usage.
- While a fall off Niagara Falls might not kill you, it will inflict pain and suffering in the form of bruises, spinal injury, brain injury, bone fractures, etc. Internet porn won’t necessarily land you in hell but it inflicts some or all of the following:
- Loss of libido
- Impotence (can get it up for porn but not with a real partner)
- Erectile dysfunction (with real human to human sex)
- Delayed ejaculation (with real human to human sex)
- Social Anxiety
- Lack of confidence
- Inability to concentrate
- Depression and anxiety
- Brain fog
- Frequent masturbation (with little satisfaction and almost exclusively done with Internet porn)
- While some people can survive interaction with Internet porn nobody comes out unscathed. Some are entirely lost down the wormhole.
- Since Internet porn is how porn is accessed these days I’m jumping ship and saying it is unwise.
The damage isn’t permanent. The brain can be rewired to seek other dopamine pumping activities and alternate neurological super-highways can be built. Eliminating porn and porn fantasy leads to “un-wiring” and eventual weakening of sensitized pathways and cravings. Many have stopped using porn and recovered their lives.
Because the Internet is still so new, the knowledge and resources for recovering from an addiction to it are still in their infancy. Still, there are a surprising number of resources on the topic and not all of them relate to religion or the type of guilt and shame producing that it delivers. That sort of approach does not work to change behavior in my opinion. There are non-religious approaches for people who don’t necessarily think there’s a moral problem with porn but who recognize that it is having a negative impact on their lives.
I first stumbled upon this unique Internet Porn issue when listening to a TED talk on the subject. I think it’s an excellent place to start.
That link will automatically take you to the Your Brain On Porn web site. Spend some time on that site. You’ll find videos, article, testimonials and tools for change.
Yet, skeptic that I am, I couldn’t stop there. I recalled that John Dehlin had recently done a podcast on Mormon Stories about Overcoming Pornography Addiction. I hadn’t listen to it yet because the title on a Mormon-themed web site just sounded like it would be a litany of shoulds, shame and suffering. But I went back and listened to it. I was surprised. While the guest Tony Litster isn’t a scientist or psychotherapist of any sort, his summation pretty much matched what I had found on the Your Brain On Porn web site.
From what I can tell, Tony is a motivational speaker who processed his own affinity for porn, recovered and now seeks to help others. His own web site includes FREE resources and FREE coaching.
What I like about both of these resources is that the religious hysteria which usually informs this topic is missing. I’d still guess that Tony is Mormon albeit a liberal one at that.
I’m sure there are many more resources available that I haven’t found. It’s just that the religiously neutral ones here speak to me. Still, even these 2 resources aren’t 100% in agreement.
Your Brain On Porn actually takes a more dramatic approach by encouraging a “reboot” of the brain. A “reboot” is a period of time when you just shut everything off…porn, masturbation, even orgasm. The period of time can vary but it seems that 90 days is a common suggestion. During that time participants will have found productive activities to rewire the brain and regain normal sexual functioning after the “reboot.” Rebooting appears to be even easier for folks like me whose sexuality and habits formed before the Internet. Those those young people who don’t know masturbation or sex without Internet porn have a longer recovery period, but recovery and rewiring IS possible.
Tony, surprisingly seems to take a less melodramatic approach. He really doesn’t focus on a period of “fasting” from porn, masturbation and orgasm to reset the brain, but he sees the solution as substituting negative dopamine producing activities (Internet porn) with positive ones (taking care of the body, mind and spirit in other ways). The end result is the same…you gotta stop viewing porn and you still need to take care of yourself in healthier ways. I think a person could follow both approaches without much conflict at all.
Adherents to either methodology report recovery from the negative consequences of Internet porn addiction.
- Restored libido
- Ability to get it up with a real partner
- Ability to ejaculate with a reasonable time with a real partner
- Social confidence
- Ability to concentrate
- Minimal depression and anxiety
- Brain clarity
- Ability to masturbate without porn
I still stick by almost all of my earlier comments on porn and masturbation but I am reverting to an almost completely no porn policy. I do not think that viewing porn is the end of the world. Every man and many women will most likely have some sort of interaction with it in their lives. Yet, because of the new dangers to our brains inherent to the Internet the negative consequences are greater than ever before.
I suppose it is a lot like alcohol. I like alcohol. I like its taste and effects in moderation. But because I didn’t grow up with alcohol I can have a meal or be social without it. I have a full, untouched bottle of premium vodka in my freezer that has been there for months. I think I can safely say I’m not an alcoholic. There’s nothing inherently evil about alcohol. With the advent of the automobile, however, alcohol did become dramatically more dangerous and potentially harmful. Sure, it’s always had a dark side to its use but technology blew that out of proportion. And if someone finds that they have a drinking problem, staying away from all forms of alcohol is really the only solution.
The same is true for pornography. It has always been around and humans have dabbled in it with moderation at times and dis-functionally at others. But technology pushed the dark side of porn ahead light years and our bodies are not equipped to manage it. As a father I have an obligation to protect and warn my children of Internet pornography the same as I do with drinking and driving.
I’ve very clearly told my children that I would never be upset or angry if they asked me to come pick them up at a party. But I will be furious if they ever drink and drive or get in a car with someone who has. I feel the same now regarding Internet porn. While nudity and sexuality are wonderful things, the Internet is a dangerous place to go looking for them. And if someone finds that they have a pornography problem, staying away from all forms is really the wisest solution.
As always I welcome your comments, suggestion and questions.