fighting for free hearts

Porn: It Blows Your Mind

While doing some reading in preparation for an interview last week i re-read sections of Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself.

What Doidge has to say about the effect of pornography on our brains is something worth repeating. Often.

Doidge says:

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 piece in addiction].

Pornography seems, at first glance, to be a purely instinctual matter: sexually explicit pictures trigger instinctual responses, which are the product of millions of years of evolution. But if that were true, pornography would be unchanging. The same triggers, bodily parts and their proportions, that appealed to our ancestors would excite us. This is what pornographers would have us believe, for they claim they are battling sexual repression, taboo, and fear and that their goal is to liberate the natural, pent-up sexual instincts.

But in fact the content of pornography is a dynamic phenomenon that perfectly illustrates the progress of an acquired taste.

From the start, Doidge’s scientific conclusion gives us a completely different way to think about the lie that is perpetrated by the porn industry; namely, that porn is simply a form of entertainment. Moreover, it has nothing to do with giving us the freedom to express our natural instincts.

But Doidge doesn’t stop there.

He goes on to say that “softcore pornography’s influence is now most profound because, now that it is no longer hidden it influences young people with little sexual experience and especially plastic minds, in the process of forming their sexual tastes and desires. Yet the plastic influence of pornography on adults can also be profound, and those who use it have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it.”

The debate about using the term “addiction” in reference to pornography continues, with Dr. David Ley among those who insist that there is no such thing.  He went so far as to write a book titled The Myth of Sexual Addiction.

But Doidge has this to say regarding addiction:

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.

The damage we do to ourselves when we look at pornography is profound. Among other things, we are setting ourselves up for constant displeasure; we develop an endless craving that is never satisfied.

Doidge says:

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…

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 brain chemistry component of pornography use and addiction shows just how important it is for us to be made new in the attitude of our minds; to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Again, Doidge’s words are starkly different from the prevailing thought that pornography is harmless and a valid form of entertainment. Porn is always advancing. It is always attempting to take more ground in our minds and draw us in to deeper levels of involvement, including material that is risky or shocking or which we would normally consider repulsive.

What we today call soft core was hardcore 30 years ago.  It has to be that way because without a progression into “edgier” material pornography would cease to stimulate us.

 

 

 

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