Pornography Exposed

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In my previous post, I asked the question:

Is there anything harmful that warrants our intervention, not just for children but possibly adults?

I got responses that ranged the spectrum from support for a total ban to concern that doing so would criminalize adults who are using it in what they deem a healthy and responsible way.

As one reader asked, “…as long as the behavior is kept in the privacy of one’s home, and is not negatively affecting others, why legislate against it?”

I’ve waited until this week to weigh in with my own thoughts, and have tried my best to keep them brief. You could write a book on this! Oh wait, people have.

1. Pornography and Brain Chemistry

Pornography feeds into the pleasure system in our brain by stimulating a release of dopamine. Nicknamed “the pleasure chemical,” it acts as a reward to our brain by giving us a rush when we experience something new and exciting. To our brain, that’s a signal that this is something we want to do again in order to experience that same rush. Sort of like when you get off a roller coaster and can’t wait to jump back on again because the high is so exciting. But maybe that’s just me.

But our brains can build up a resistance to dopamine, requiring that we increase the stimulus in order to get the same rush. What once thrilled no longer works, and the viewer has to turn to content that is increasingly graphic in order to get the thrill of that first time.

As a culture, we’ve come to view pornography as just another way to satisfy our desires when we can’t or won’t be in an intimate relationship with another individual.

But research is showing that even there we aren’t getting the results we seek. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for diminishing arousal and therefore leaving us sexually satisfied, is released five times less after a person orgasms through masturbation than through intercourse.

Our brains are wired for physical intimacy with another individual and while pornography can be exciting and easier to access, it often leaves us feeling physically, psychologically and emotionally unsatisfied. We return time and again in search of something which can never be realized.

2. Pornography and Expectations

We know that TV and movies aren’t real, yet when it comes to pornography, too often we forget that what we’re seeing isn’t an accurate representation of sex and relationships in the real world. Pornography creates false expectations about sex, about the opposite sex, and relationships by normalizing certain behavior that in real life would be unhealthy and even dangerous.

Rather than viewing sex as an intimate act that embraces the whole person, pornography pushes for a one-sided, selfish, and often unrealistic view of sex as something to be consumed with little personal cost.

It breaks down the individual on the screen from a whole person with feelings, emotions, and needs, to an object that exists purely for our satisfaction.

When these expectations spill over into our flesh and blood relationships, the results are far from healthy or sustainable.

3. Affect on real relationships

In his eye-opening book, Premarital Sex in America, Mark Regnerus found that pornography use among men has reduced the value of real intercourse, taking with it their interest in making steep relationship commitments.

Why put the work into forming a relationship that requires sacrifice and dedication when you can get what you want as soon as you want it without the hassle of a real woman who might say ‘no’?

As Naomi Wolf points out in her article “The Porn Myth,”(which I highly recommend reading) pornography has actually lowered the sexual value of women and made it more difficult for young adults to enter into and maintain relationships. Intimacy requires work, and it’s unfortunately a work that many in our generation simply don’t see as worthwhile.

Look no further than the words of John Mayer, from an interview he did with Playboy magazine back in 2010,

“Internet pornography has absolutely changed my generation’s expectations. Twenty seconds ago you thought that photo was the hottest thing you ever saw, but you throw it back and continue your shot hunt and continue to make yourself late for work.

This is my problem now: Rather than meet somebody new, I would rather go home and replay the amazing experiences I’ve already had…I’m more comfortable in my imagination than I am in actual human discovery. The best days of my life are when I’ve dreamed about a sexual encounter with someone I’ve already been with.”

Is that the sort of attitude that fosters healthy relationships and provides a strong foundation for sustaining a long-term commitment? There are other studies I could point to that cite the high rate (68%) of regular porn users or their spouses who lose interest in real sex, who are more likely to be unfaithful and cite more marital unhappiness and divorce.

We believe we can compartmentalize our desire for sex through pornography, thinking we can control it from spilling into the other areas of our life.

It’s a way for ‘safe’ and ‘healthy’ release that won’t hurt us or anyone else. But the evidence I’m finding paints a wholly different picture.

Lulling us into a false sense of security, pornography silently poisons our attempts at real intimacy, keeping us trapped in a relationship with a false reality that will never leave us as satisfied as we crave or for which we were designed.

Photo via flickr courtesy of Amy Loves Yah