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Alexandra Katehakis, M.F.T.

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Sacrificing Sex for Porn

Posted: 05/15/2012 4:23 pm

Can Internet Porn Really Be an Addiction?

This is beginning to be a tired question, but I'm sure you and your friends have talked about how more and more guys in their 20s and 30s are complaining of erectile dysfunction, or you've been on the receiving end of an inconveniently flaccid penis. It seems like a new epidemic is at hand, so to speak, from widespread usage of masturbation to Internet pornography. And yet skeptics keep insisting that addiction to porn is impossible, while more and more studies show that out of all online activities, porn is the most addictive. Get a grip! Consider this: Pornography usage is all about being alone and isolated, it's voyeuristic by definition, and about a constant search for surprise, novelty, and even shock at times. Courting another for the sake of seeking sexual contact requires human interaction, touch, smell, gazing into someone's eyes, and making yourself vulnerable. Who needs that?!

In the TEDx video "The Great Porn Experiment," Gary Wilson tells us that most boys begin seeking porn by the age of 10, due to a brain that is in a massive growth phase. Think about how teenagers seek constant novelty in order to feel satisfied and how easily bored they get. This is nature's imperative. We're hunter-gatherers, so novelty seeking in the form of the next mate is a genetic imperative, and it releases dopamine. This is hardwired into humans. When dopamine is released largely in relation to pornographic images, however, then the brain literally rewires itself, and all things associated with porn are sought: being alone, isolated, and voyeuristic; surprise, novelty, and shock; not to mention incessantly clicking a mouse.

Wilson explains that our brain's reward system is designed to move us toward rewards that give us pleasure, like food and sex. But what happens when there's too much dopamine in the system? Think of the last time you ate too much. What happened? Did you binge on a great dinner and then have a big piece of dessert afterwards? If so, dopamine was building up in your brain so that you couldn't read the satiation signal that said, "Stop, you've had enough." Instead, you got into a cycle of wanting more, leading you to eat the entire desert. If you have to hoard a lot of food for a long winter's nap, then you have to override the satiation signal, or if mating season only comes along once a year, then you'd better get busy. Since we're supposedly civilized creatures, why do we keep overriding the satiation mechanism? In part, because we can, and when we do, addiction ensues. When there's too much dopamine buildup in the brain, a chemical called Delta Fos B accumulates in the reward circuit. This buildup alters the brain and promotes a cycle of binging and craving, and that's what eventually leads to brain changes in addicts. For porn addicts the equation is that excess consumption of porn equals an excess production of dopamine-creating Delta Fos B, which leads to brain changes.

All Guys Look at Porn... So What?

A Canadian researcher attempted to study porn use among college-aged men and couldn't find a control group -- meaning a group of guys who didn't use porn. So, it's true, all guys look at porn! If all college-aged men look at porn, then looking at porn is the new normal. Given that most of these guys had been looking at porn for at least a decade, there was no way to determine whether looking at porn affected their sex lives or not. The brain changes that compulsive porn users undergo are unbeknownst to them, because they're like the proverbial frog who's about to be boiled to death. If you put the frog in boiling water, it hops out. If you put it in cool water and slowly turn up the heat, it will never feel its demise. Use enough porn and, like the alcoholic over time, you'll go numb to feeling pleasure in everyday life. The changes in your brain will have you getting excited and aroused when you see your laptop, flip open the lid, click your mouse pad, and begin your search for the ultimate novel image. Remember, it's not about sex; it's about novelty. As you become more powerless over your addiction, your frontal cortex changes, which is why you can no longer get an erection with a live human being. You visit an urologist for sexual enhancement drugs, and they work for a short while or not at all, then you end up in therapy for sexual issues. The therapist tells you that you don't have any serious psychological issues but that your brain is numb to real-life sexual encounters due to overstimulation by pornographic images, so it can barely send signals to your penis to stand up. The only cure is to go on a porn diet for a long time.

'Save the Penis,' or Penile Resurrection

Websites are popping up across the Internet helping guys to stop "fapping." Fapping means masturbating to Internet porn, and anti-fapping is part of a men's movement that is rapidly gathering steam. Sites like Reddit are adding members by the thousands. Because many guys started looking at porn as early as 8 years old, it takes them longer to restore their neurochemistry than older guys. Starting Internet porn at a young age is dangerous, because the brain is at its peak of dopamine production. Circuits that are actively being used are strengthened, and others are being pruned. These pathways are intensely wired together by the time a guy is in his 20s or 30s, so withdrawal from porn usage can be intense. But hang in there and don't despair. After about four or five months, your erection will be restored.

Old-School Sexuality

Getting support to stop using Internet porn is a good idea, because you'll be coming out of isolation and, sometimes, a lot of shame. Twelve-step meetings like SAA, SCA, and S.L.A.A. can be extremely helpful. Putting a filter on your computer, not using it when you're home alone or in a room where others can't see the screen and what you're up to is also a good idea. If you're really struggling, consider getting specialized help from a sex-addiction specialist (searchable through SASH or IITAP.)

Over time, your penis will stand up again in relation to a live and direct, full-blooded guy or girl. At some point down the line you may feel the need to masturbate. If so, consider going old-school and use a photo of your partner or a magazine image, but tread lightly, because your brain has been through the wringer. When in doubt, don't do it. Remember, stay away from two-dimensional hotties, because they're just pixels, and they're not about sex.

 
 
 

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