How harmful is ubiquitous pornograpy?

Pornography is as old, or almost as old, as human civilization.  But, thanks to the Internet, it is readily available to anyone in the USA and many other countries who has access to the Internet.

This is something new in the world.  Never before has pornography been so ubiquitous.  By pornography, I mean depiction of sex in a cruel or degrading light.

Scientific studies indicate that prolonged exposure to pornography re-wires certain centers of the brain, much as taking addictive drugs does.

I don’t find this hard to believe.  We know that the human brain changes depending on how it is used.  A famous study of London taxi drivers showed that that process of memorizing the city street grid in order to pass a licensing test resulted in the growth of extra neurons in the memory centers of their brains.

Pornography addiction, which is a something I never heard of until five or so years ago, is so widespread a concern that there are 12-step groups to help fight it.

Some experts say that many adolescent boys and girls are growing up with a distorted view of sex through exposure to pornography.

Erectile disfunction (ED) is an increasing problem among men.  Involuntary celibates, or “incels,” have always existed, but now they constitute an identity group.

There is no proof that Internet pornography, in and of itself, is a cause of either erectile disfunction or involuntary celibacy.  But there are reports of men find who find more pornography more arousing than flesh-and-blood women, and also less trouble than dealing with an actual person.


Life is harder for young men today than it was when I came of age.  (I’m 83).  It is perfectly understandable that some of them should turn to pornography, drugs or alcohol for solace, even these are false solutions that make their problems worse.

For one thing, young men today face a more uncertain and unforgiving economy than I did.  There is a widespread attitude that lack of success in economic competition defines you as a contemptible loser.

There also is a widespread attitude that postponing sex and marriage, rather than being a rational response to circumstances, also defines you as a loser in the arena of sexual competition.

Young men also are up against a certain hostility to men and masculinity in our culture.  Even qualities such as stoicism and risk-taking that once were honored are considered “toxic masculinity.”

Then there is the sexual revolution, which holds out the promise of unlimited sexual gratification, and the feminist revolution, which requires men to be careful of what they do and say around women.  As a society, we haven’t yet figured out how to strike a balance between the two.

Not all young men experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, not all who do turn to drugs, alcohol or pornography as a response, and not everybody who finds solace in drugs, alcohol or pornography becomes an addict.  I don’t want to make overly sweeping generalizations.

I do think a stagnant economy, current cultural expectations and ubiquitous availability of pornography are bad ingredients that produce a poisonous mix, and there is nothing to stop it from getting worse.

I give Jordan Peterson a lot of credit for helping young men.  I don’t agree with him about everything, but he presents an an ideal of a healthy and even heroic masculinity in opposition to so much of what young men hear today.    His 12 Steps for Life is excellent advice

Of course women also experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, but the topic of this post is Internet pornography, and I don’t think that pornography is a big issue for women, except for its impact on the men in their lives.

So far I’ve been writing about adults.  I don’t think I need to make an argument that children should not be continuously exposed to pornography.

In the USA, we have a movie rating system that forbids children to attend certain movies and allows them to attend certain other movies only when accompanied by an adult.  No reasonable person objects to this.

But any child with access to a Smartphone can view material much more extreme than in the X-rated movies of old.  (The pornographic movie theaters that existed in my city in the 1970s and 1980s have gone away – an example of local business falling to the competition of Internet business.)

Shoshana Zuboff and Jaron Lanier have reported how Google, Facebook and other companies gather information about people from their Internet use and use the data to try to manipulate their behavior.  There’s no reason to think that porn companies are different.

Long before any of this was perceived as a problem, a venture capitalist named Paul Graham made the argument that, in a free-market economy, the more addictive product or service was bound to win out, and the world is on track for greater addictiveness.

I’m not sure what to do.  The two main approaches are to block access to well-known pron sites, such as PornHub and YouPorn, and to require registration on porn sites to verify that users are adults.

There are obvious problems in enforcement in both approaches, and also the question of making a legal distinction between erotica, which is healthy, and pornography, which is degrading.  D.H. Lawrence, whose erotic novels were banned in many countries, thought pornography a great evil.

I don’t think pornography can be banned completely.  I’d like to make porn less instantly, conveniently and universally available.


Internet Porn and Civilization by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

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

Wikipedia article on Legal status of Internet pornography

The UK Porn Block, Explained by Matt Burgess for Wired UK.

The Acceleration of Addictiveness by Paul Graham (2010)

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2 Responses to “How harmful is ubiquitous pornograpy?”

  1. Says:

    I have real doubts about these “scientific studies”, “some reports”. There are other “reports” that challenge the other ones. But I have doubt mainly about the term pornography as there are many different kinds of pornography and do these “reports” differentiate?
    There are joyful presentations of sexual behavior as well as ones I find particularly disgusting.

    I don’t believe in a single cause for e.d. or other sexual dysfunctions. The amount of chemicals introduced into the atmosphere might be a more compelling reason as well as the plastic that now is in everyone’s blood stream.

    Like so many other areas of life a simple cause is appealing, but seldom real.


  2. jyvurentropy Says:

    This was an interesting article. I’m not sure if I agree with everything said here, but it certainly gave me some things to mull over.


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