Pornography addiction is a kind of drug addiction

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that Internet pornography is a true addiction, like heroin, alcohol or tobacco addiction.

It literally rewires the human brain.  The male human brain is hard-wired to respond to sexual novelty.  It processes Internet pornography as a constant access to new sexual partners engaging in new kinds of sexual activity.

Brutal and kinky is a more powerful stimulus that erotic and gentle, so that would be the bias of any Internet side that wants viewers to keep coming back.

My inclination is to err, if I must, on the side of protection of free speech.  I am suspicious of any form of censorship.  But I have to reconsider after reading an eye-opening article yesterday by a writer named Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry who surveyed the scientific literature on pornography addiction.

Porn is a sexual stimulus, but it is not sex.  Notoriously, heroin addicts eventually lose interest in sex: this is because their brains are rewired so that their sex reward system is reprogrammed to seek out heroin rather than sex.  

In the same way, as we consume more and more porn, which we must since it is addictive and we need more to get the same kick, our brain is rewired so that what triggers the reward system that is supposed to be linked to sex is no longer linked to sex—to a human in the flesh, to touching, to kissing, to caressing—but to porn.

Which is why we are witnessing a phenomenon which, as best as anyone can tell, is totally unprecedented in all of human history: an epidemic of chronic erectile dysfunction (ED) among men under 40.

Pornography, including sado-masochistic pornography, has always been with us.  It is as old as civilization.  But never before has pornography been so universally available.  A 12-year-old boy with a Smartphone has more access to sexual stimulation than the most decadent Roman emperor, Turkish sultan or 1970s rock star.  I’m glad I’m not a parent today.

As Gobry admits, we don’t have conclusive evidence of the effects on society of universal availability of hard-core pornography.

… What we do know is that large numbers of our civilization are hooked on a drug that has profound effects on the brain, which we mostly don’t understand, except that everything we understand is negative and alarming.

And we are just ten years into the process.  If we don’t act, pretty soon the next generation will be a generation that largely got hooked on this brain-eating drug as children, whose brains are uniquely vulnerable. It seems perfectly reasonable and consistent with the evidence as we have it to be deeply alarmed.

Indeed, what seems supremely irrational is our bizarre complacency about something which, at some level, we all know to be happening.

I am in favor of sexual freedom.  Do whatever you like with whatever consenting adult you like in your own space.  This is more than a question of individual behavior.  It is a question of what kind of society we want to make.


A Science-Based Case for Ending the Porn Epidemic by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for American Greatness.  Print-Friendly Version.

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5 Responses to “Pornography addiction is a kind of drug addiction”

  1. Nikolai Vladivostok Says:

    Hi Phil,
    I found this perpective on the current pornography debate compelling:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Chicken Little, anyone?

    I have a completely different take.

    I don’t doubt that it is possible to become habituated to porn, to have it as a hobby, even to be obsessed with it, just as it is possible to become obsessed with anything that provides squirts of endorphins as a result of doing something.

    Or where doing something fails to trigger an expected reward and you keep doing it over and over to try to get the reward again. That is a conditioned reflex. Gambling rewards one just enough to keep the seeking behavior going but not enough for you to actually get ahead. Reacting to Pavlov’s bell doesn’t make you addicted to bells.

    Most people get bored and move on to something else.

    I don’t like to use the word addiction in this context. Anything anyone does on a regular basis for pleasure then becomes an addiction, rendering the term meaningless. I’m addicted to blogging??? To hiking??? Maybe to watching NCIS??? Addiction is a powerful epithet, like racism, or homophobia or misogyny. One should not be throwing such powerful curse words about casually.

    Opiates addict you by shutting down your body’s natural endorphin production. (Modern synthetics are extremely good at this.) Life without endorphins is pretty horrid so you go to a source for the quick fix. Likewise, uppers addict you by shutting down your production of epinephrine. Even Caffeine is addicting. Withdrawl is the number one cause of “weekend” headaches as people drink coffee all week to stay awake but not so much on the weekend.

    That is MY definition of addiction. Dependence on a foreign substance for continued functionality. As we have seen in heroin maintenance programs, one can still function at a high level as an opioid addict and the brain doesn’t necessarily rewire the opioid pathways as substitutes for sex. (Uppers and downers are a lot more physically destructive.)

    As for ED…

    If you could prove an actual increase in early-onset ED over time I’d be more likely to ascribe it to the great increase in obesity which in turn leads to early-onset circulatory disease. We have teens with obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arterial deposits. That is a known formula for ED. It doesn’t magically disappear at adulthood, it gets worse.

    The “epidemic” of under 40 ED may be an illusion. ED was always there. Hidden in the shadows and unreported from shame. We now have ads on television talking about it and extolling the virtues of pharmacological cures. There is something you can do about it and the taboo is reduced. Getting the prescription is a trivial affair, to be done over the internet. It becomes less of humiliation and men are more willing to report it.

    People whose sex ed took place “informally” may see porn and think that is what sex is supposed to be like. Men who are perfectly capable of reproducing may even report it to get the prescription to try to live up to the standards they see in porn. If it isn’t at least 8 inches, pointing straight up and hard for at least an hour, they feel inadequate. So, ready porn in the absence of education and/or experience may increase performance anxiety among insecure men. Performance anxiety will increase psychological ED – but it will additionally increase spurious prescriptions.

    Every new prescription for an ED drug is another case of ED.

    I am reminded of the “epidemic” of Autism Spectrum Disorder. There was no epidemic. The “hotspot” in Silicone Valley was the natural result pf a bunch of people already on the high end of the spectrum getting together and having babies with a double dose of the genes. (I’m sure similar things happened elsewhere.)

    The expansion of the definition from full-blown autism to a wide spectrum of traits greatly expanded the number of cases. Now we are finding that female ASD is as common as male but just not diagnosed. Then the US DMS IV folded Asperger’s into the autism spectrum. People started looking for cases of it and the more one looks the more one will find. And then along comes Sheldon Cooper and it almost becomes cool. You don’t have to be Rainman anymore to be autistic.

    Autism went from one in a thousand down to one in forty. Suddenly I am autistic???. Nothing real changed about me, just definitions, and loss of taboo status and more people looking for it.

    Back to the porn thing… I did a blog post a long time ago about sexting and how it is contributing to a decline in teenage sexuality. Sexuality is a scary thing. Sexting is a way to experience some of the benefits of sex without the risks. It is far easier to coax a reluctant partner to sext than to have intercourse.

    For the vast majority of porn users, the mechanism is similar. Porn provides a pressure-release function when sex is unavailable. Never mind the folks who use porn as a build-up to actual sex. Porn only provides visuals and maybe some bad audio. We are fundamentally wired for touch and taste and smell and pheromones as part of our sexual experience. Those pathways aren’t going to go away unless they were defective to start with.

    Which leads me to my next point. If people self select out of the gene pool because porn has become a substitute for real sex, uh, so what? Is that a bad thing, any different from naturally being a person uninterested in sex? There is a bit of that in the world, too.

    Porn is such a politically charged issue! There have been multiple presidential commissions on pornography, all from Presidents hoping to find an excuse to continue prohibiting sexually explicit materials. The religious right regularly goes on jihad against it. A wing of the feminist movement is at war with it. That means that any study purporting to conclude the right or wrong of the thing needs to be examined very very closely.

    I’ve looked over the studies mentioned in the article and none of them tell us the effect of watching porn on an ordinary person. Something special has to happen for a behavior to become obsessive to the point of badly disrupting a person’s life.

    I consider it a very bad idea to restrict the acknowledged rights of the majority to protect a small minority from what… self-harm? I’m not sure it even qualifies as such. More like self-limitation. No doubt heavy porn users will just join the ever-extending list of alternative sexualities and genders seeking recognition and acceptance.


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