It’s safe to say that internet porn has conquered the world.
Its widespread use is one of the fastest growing symptoms of the digital age — viewed and used by nearly every guy with an internet access! This modern global phenomenon has impressively been able to snatch away a significant piece of our attention pie like few advancements have. As a society we have become ensnared by it where it is no surprise to see that we are reluctant to confess (or even consider) the existence of any adverse side effects of indulging in such an activity. But hasn’t porn always been around? What’s so different about today’s porn? How bad could it really be?
Mid 19th century: from Greek pornographos ‘writing about prostitutes’; from pornē ‘prostitute’ + graphein ‘write or record’.
We have always been fascinated by sex. There is something so sensual, so profound and powerful about human sexual intimacy that many psychologists argue its the reason we live! But porn is not sex. It is simply the result of our incompetence to suppress or satiate our own desire for real sex; a laziness which has allowed it to flourish beyond measure. With the help of digitalisation and the internet, porn has grown into something which now defines many of our sexual desires — a sort of global Frankensteinian epidemic.
Past porn and present porn
Pornē (or pornographos) has been ubiquitous with human civilisation. Back then it was bathhouses and brothels. More recently we developed the playboy-type; nudie mags and backroom video stores. The point is that the further back we go, the less mediums of transfer we had, and the greater the moral, monetary and physical constraints there were limiting our access to novel porn. But now, as though we’ve been trying to break free of the work of some unseen tyrant, oppressing our “right” to as much solo sexy-time as possible, we have finally arrived at a boundless enterprise of sex; normalised by globalisation and irrelevant of age.
Although some of us may argue that those constraints gave classic porn a certain intimacy about them. Modern-day porn throws it all out the window. Maybe these constraints existed for good reason…
Today, the internet brings with it an unrivalled platform for spreading porn and all its related exploitations, where over time its normality has slowly but surely become solidified in our culture (the internet has a talent for creating norms). However, porn isn’t simply confined to your laptop. It is a whole enterprise that spreads to real cultures and affects real people.
If we compare sex “buyers” (prostitutes) and “non-buyers” (free internet porn), consumers of the latter may fiercely defend that theirs is no where near as damaging as the former. Although there is a growing number of women watching porn, the large majority of avid users today remains male. And so, upon closer inspection, we see that today’s pornstars are nothing but glorified prostitutes where although the user may not be directly paying for their prostitution, he is instead paying with money gained through indirect mechanisms, e.g. online advertising and user analytics. Free is never really free.
By consuming internet porn, we are directly creating demand for filmed prostitution; wherever there is enough demand (whatever that may be), you can be sure someone will supply it:
- 30% of all internet traffic is pornography.
- 60% of all porn pages are hosted in the U.S.
- California is the engine of the U.S. Porn industry, churning out 66% of all porn made in the U.S.
Internet porn transcends the screen. It affects personal relationships and norms within our community.
- It changes users’ sexual preferences and expectations: encouraging increasingly extreme sexual behaviour. Users seek, as a reflection of their porn consumption, more sadomasochistic sex.
- It encourages prostitution: porn users are 400% more likely to visit a prostitute where they then struggle with personal relationships. They begin to confuse their sex with a prostitute with that of a mutual loving relationship. This results in anger and frustration when partners don’t agree, and difficulties maintaining normal relationships.
- It results in a increased demand (and supply) for other sexual activities: strip clubs, erotic massages, lap dances, and escort agencies have become so conventional that many men don’t consider them as forms of prostitution.
The physiology of porn addiction shares similar biological alterations with gaming addiction, food addiction, gambling, alcohol and drug addiction.
Internet porn works by providing the user with unending novelty — In nature it is beneficial for males to be able to fertilise as many willing females as there are available. Therefore, males are able to ejaculate (and fertilise new females) much quicker compared with the same female. So the availability of new females allows for a quicker and more exciting intercourse until he becomes utterly exhausted. This is known as the Coolidge effect.
Porn works by utilising this effect, where each new female on screen is interpreted as a genetic opportunity. But as with any rarity in nature e.g. high calorie foods, overconsumption leads to adverse changes in the body.
- Numbed pleasure response: the element of novelty allows for more frequent ejaculations and surges in dopamine. Our brain then becomes desensitised to it (via Delta-FosB) where normal day-to-day pleasures just don’t cut it for us anymore.
- Hyper-reactivity to porn: other physical changes cause our brains to become hyper-reactive to porn; normal pleasures not only become more boring, we get hyper excited by porn.
- Willpower erosion: we become less able to control our desires and become motivated as the frontal cortex changes.
Porn and the Youth
Gary wilson refers to it as the “The Great Porn Experiment”, where porn-watchers have become eager test subjects in the “most global experiment ever unconsciously conducted” with almost no control subjects. It has been found that most boys seek pornography by age 10, driven by a process in which the brain suddenly becomes captivated by sex. Our teenage years are also a time of maximal dopamine production and neural plasticity, where by the time we reach our mid 20’s, our brain has strengthened the heavily used neural pathways, and pruned those which were not. These are the years that a human is most vulnerable to addiction.
Unfortunately, there has not been widespread understanding of the effects of porn on individuals specifically because it has been difficult to find non-users. And since the symptoms of arousal addiction mimic those of:
- Social Anxiety
- Performance Anxiety
- Erectile Dysfunction (ED),
we have been instead viewing our rising youth health problems inside-out, prescribing medicines that do not tackle the real problem. Another concern is widespread youth (and adult) ED — something completely unique to our modern society.
New technologies have allowed us to do great things; namely to isolate and replicate desired elements of naturally occurrences. But deconstructing natural affairs that would otherwise come novel and wholesome simply to satiate simple desires may not always be beneficial to our kind. Progress is a symptom of a healthy society, but we must maintain control and hindsight over its pervasions. Brian Latour’s “Morality and technology” and Langdon Winner’s “Technological Somnambulism” both emphasise to us the passive stance we have taken in the context of our technologies. We have become victims of our technology where we’d rather not examine the negative externalities of our own productions, choosing instead to live off the superficial. When will we truly start considering the flip-side with an open mind? Just because we may not yet understand the consequences of an innovation, let’s not dive in head first just yet and instead approach with caution and moderation.