Humans Aren’t Rodents. Porn Isn’t Ruining Marriages.


Look familiar? I thought not.

Humans are not prairie voles. We are not guinea pigs or mice. We’re humans.

Pop science loves to trot out research on rodents to confirm or challenge behavioral assumptions. But what the writers often miss is that our behaviors are shaped by far more than food, fights, flights and fucking. Humans are highly complex social primates and, because of this, our responses to the world can be difficult to explain with simple biology or neurotransmitters.

And yet, as a recent porn hysteria post at The Good Men Project demonstrates, we still love clinging to these simplistic notions. The writers cite our dopamine reward system as evidence that porn’s excitement is ruining marriages. Videos of sexual athletes fucking for the camera apparently overtake your reward system and make your (female) spouse unattractive. (If you’re gay, does this mean you get a free porn pass?)

The article is fraught with incredibly sexist and false assumptions about human sexuality. I’ll just start at the top and work my way down.

“First, an ancient biological program in the brain overrides natural satiety when there are lots of mates begging to be sexed. Your brain perceives each new individual on your screen as a valuable genetic opportunity.”

This is true of a large population in general. When more potential sex partners are around, be they at work, on the street, on the bus, at a party, or in a magazine, your selectivity goes up because you have more options. Think about the last time you went to get ice cream or choose one brand out of hundreds. With more options it can be harder to choose.

“Second, too much stimulation can numb the pleasure response of the brain for a time, pumping up cravings for more novel stimuli. Therefore, a familiar mate—your spouse—appears less and less enticing.”

Dopamine responses can happen to almost anything. Completing a personal project, running, or even cooking a good meal for someone. Funny how we don’t point to jogging or roller coasters as marriage destroyers.

“And finally, too much stimulation of the brain’s sex and mating circuitry obstructs the mammalian instinct toward monogamy.”

No. Just, no. I can’t believe the writers would say this paragraphs before mentioning “the 97 percent of mammals that are promiscuous”. Apparently that monogamous mammalian instinct is weak. Yes, humans fall in love and we bond with one another. Bonds happen in friendships, romantic relationships, and between family members. But this is not a simple case of needing to bond in order to raise offspring. We’re social animals and the biological parents do not necessarily need to raise children.

They also claim that “[u]nlike rats, humans are pair bonders” but this is simply not the case. Humans are horny, slutty little creatures. We do not naturally bond for life. For a more in-depth discussion, check out this Salon.com interview with “Sex at Dawn” author Christopher Ryan.

Surely, the thought that a failing marriage can be blamed on something as simple and easily avoided as porn is comforting. But this removes accountability from people in a marriage and places the blame on external factors. Married life can become boring. People change and personalities don’t always fit together the way they did in the past. Our social construction of marriage as a completely psychologically and physically fulfilling relationship between two people puts a serious amount of stress on those involved. How can you be everything to just one person forever?

Furthermore, the article misses the ways straight male sexuality norms conflict with monogamous partnered norms. We assume men to be sex driven, to be performers and teach that women can either be sexual or wife material. In this context, porn is a safe haven for male sexual anxieties. There is no guilt to be had due to a partner not attaining orgasm, something that many men experience in the real world.  They don’t have to struggle with wanting a woman to be hyper sexual and wondering what that means for her reputation or status as a romantic partner. Sex without emotional constraints can be appealing because it is simpler.

Which brings me to this section:

According to a 2007 study, mere exposure to images of sexy females causes a man to devalue his real-life partner. He rates her lower not only on attractiveness, but also on warmth and intelligence. Also, after pornography consumption, subjects in a 2006 study reported less satisfaction with their intimate partner—including the partner’s affection, appearance, sexual curiosity, and performance. Moreover, they assigned increased importance to sex without emotional involvement.

Once again, they’re focusing only on male response. This is true for everyone. See someone sexier than the person you’re with and you’re going to devalue your mate a bit. It doesn’t matter if you see a better option in porn or in the most recent blockbuster, they’ll compare you to Brad Pitt or Selma Hayek in a heartbeat. (Also: the 2006 study found exposure to pornography had the same effects regardless of gender. Furthermore, this is only self-assessment taken immediately after viewing.)

Modern marriage is difficult. We are competing with free will and changing desires in a restrictive sexual landscape. The bedrock foundations of gender (divison of labor, social rights) have changed drastically over the past hundred years and I think we’re in the process of reforming marriage to answer those changes.

So, everyone. Please don’t be blaming porn on your relationship problems. Even after their hysteria-inducing article, the authors have this to say:

“Does this mean everyone who views porn will give up on his marriage? Of course not.”

32 thoughts on “Humans Aren’t Rodents. Porn Isn’t Ruining Marriages.”

  1. Thanks for this, I was thinking the same kinds of things when I read that article. Mostly just, “… sigh.” Well done response. Hope they’ll think twice about posting that kind of nonsense, it’s disappointing—I guess I expected better of that project.

  2. I first heard of the “rat experiment” back in 1972 in a class on psychology except that version of the story went like this:

    Test #1: A ram in heat was put in a pen with a sheep. The ram attempted to copulate 7 times in 1 hour.

    Test #2: A ram is put in a pen with a sheep. After the ram copulates with the sheep, the sheep is removed and a different sheep is put in the pen. The ram attempts copulation 14 times in a half hour.

    So far, I have been unable to confirm this with Google but I’ve never forgotten the story; I’m not making it up.

    As for the hysteria:
    Anybody who smokes a marijuana cigarette will become a heroine addict. Anybody who picks up a drink will become an alcoholic. Anybody who places a bet will end up with a gambling problem. Yes, there are people with problems but doesn’t mean everybody has a problem. FYI: According to the World Health Organisation, 4% of drinkers have diagnosable alcohol use disorders.

  3. Dear Sexademic:
    I think that there are some individuals, of all sexual preferences that can have problems with spending too much time, money, and energy on porn. I do not think that they are deceiving themselves when they say that they have more free time, money and energy to offer other relationships in their lives when they stop using/consuming porn. I assume we both can agree that this minority of people are not well served by approaching their issues of porn consumption with hysteria.
    If you think Mrs. Robinson’s article is an example of anti-porn hysteria then what would be an appropriate way to address the issues that some people are having with their use of porn? I am glad to read that you and Ms. Blue have written that people that appear to be compulsive about their porn use can change. I think that you would suggest that their compulsions may represent issues about their intimate relationships, or the lack of them. I would also think that you would recognize that this may be very difficult. During that process I think they may also suspend/ or stop all use of internet porn. This would also be difficult.
    I think Mrs. Robinson has been trying to gather scientific evidence that seems to suggest some explanation for compulsive use of porn. But I doubt if she would say that this satisfies all the many reasons why some people may over consume porn. I think the animal studies she cites are useful, although not sufficient, they are worth considering.
    I think that much of your debate with Mrs. Robinson is about how different your writing audience is to hers. Most people that get married, on their wedding day do make honest promise that they will be faithful to one spouse for a life-time. We may both agree that this is a remarkable, and even heroic considering both the social, and endogenous challenges. She is writing to that audience. You may be writing to an audience of realists that would think that such marriage promises are delusional, and those that make them are quaint, old fashion romantics.
    I hope you may advise us, who are on this fool’s quest for faithfulness, and integrity in marriage.
    “Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson, joltin’ Joe has left and gone away…”

    1. “If you think Mrs. Robinson’s article is an example of anti-porn hysteria then what would be an appropriate way to address the issues that some people are having with their use of porn?”

      First, identify how porn is causing a problem in their relationship. Do they feel guilty about the amount or type they watch? Is their spouse feeling jealous or resentful? Often I see people struggle feeling aroused to something that is branded as “abnormal” or inherently harmful. Sometimes the biggest issue is not the image itself but the subjective evaluations of that image and its meaning.

      Second, take a long hard look at one’s own sexual assumptions and ideas. There is something in a person’s perspective that makes sexually explicit images compelling to the point of obsession. I think these compulsions are rooted in very basic anxieties about sexuality that stem from restrictive social norms. [For an example, please reread the section I wrote about male sexual anxiety in the article above.]

      “I think Mrs. Robinson has been trying to gather scientific evidence that seems to suggest some explanation for compulsive use of porn.”

      Fair enough. But, as my mentor Gil Herdt once wrote on a paper I turned in: DIG DEEPER. I also wonder how we’re defining “over consumption” in this context. Who gauges this? The very idea seems to assume that there is an ideal amount of porn to watch.

      “I think the animal studies she cites are useful, although not sufficient, they are worth considering.”

      The thing is, this article proclaimed in its title that porn was destroying marriages. Serious claim to make when only considering a small slice of data unrelated to humans.

      I understand the drive to discover why life isn’t turning out like the brochure. Why do our marriages and relationships fall apart, why we fight, how we can sometimes feel so alone and disconnected from someone we love: these are all worthwhile questions with answers more complicated than “this right here is highjacking your brain and destroying your relationships.”

      The sexist assumptions of males as hapless sex addicts, unable to tear themselves away from bouncing boobies and hardcore XXX action really kill me. Men are not slaves to their dopamine reward system nor do they follow their dicks like dousing rods to the nearest pussyhole. They are people with free will trying to exercise it amidst often confusing information.

      “You may be writing to an audience of realists that would think that such marriage promises are delusional, and those that make them are quaint, old fashion romantics.”

      I don’t necessarily think this, but I have to go give my own ideas about marriage a harder ponder. I grew up in the divorce generation and the meaning and security of marriage is questionable to me. I understand wanting a life partner and wanting the warm happy feelings of love but there is something amiss with the way we’ve constructed modern relationships. I’ll have to get back to you on that…

  4. These debunking posts are why I read your blog..You are teaching readers to think critically for themselves when they read pop science. Is there any chance you’ll give us a taste of how things went at the defense of porn talk at Cambridge?

    1. Absolutely! I’ll be posting bits about my trip on this blog and give a recap of the debate as soon as I have a moment to sit and reflect on it. Also, I’ll try to get a copy of the debate recording and post it here.

      (Thanks for the kind words.)

  5. Great, balanced, intelligent article. I’m usually fairly fond of GMP but in this case they’re way off the mark, and you’re rightly nailed them for it.

  6. Thanks for pointing out that the 2006 study tested both men and women, although we did not actually say it only applied to men. Our post was written for “Good Men Project,”and even when we write in gender-neutral ways, the editors often edit to make the articles more male-specific. Incidentally, the title we proposed for this item was simply, “Porn, Novelty and Dissatisfaction.” It was the editor who chose the “hysterical” title. He says he thought it would increase hits. We dislike this tactic, but title-editing is beyond our control.

    You’re right that marriages end for lots of reasons. That’s no justification for failing to explain to people the biological reasons why the superstimulus of today’s Internet porn may speed habituation between mates. They are free to use, or not to use, as they choose—but on more information. Right now, the message on the street is, “Porn is harmless, or even beneficial, and there’s no such thing as too much.” That is turning out not to be sound advice for many due to the ability of Internet porn to overstimulate brains.

    We think you’ve made the common error of confusing “pair-bonding” with “sexually monogamous.” No mammals are sexually monogamous, even among the three percent who pair bond. Pair bonders are known as “socially monogamous.”That is, they typically pair up to raise offspring together, but there are occasionally some genes exchanged on the side in extra-pair couplings.

    We humans fall in this category, Ryan’s fragile thesis in Sex at Dawn notwithstanding. If humans weren’t pair bonders, you and we wouldn’t even be having this debate. We’d all be as promiscuous as bonobos and would lack the brain circuitry even to conceptualize lasting union. You may want to have a look at this academic paper: “The Evolution of Coupling,” http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/haselton/webdocs/PillsworthProofs.pdf. I’d be happy to suggest additional materials, if you are interested.

    In short, to say that humans are promiscuous doesn’t prove they aren’t pair bonders. Nor does it say anything about the power of extreme stimuli to impair their ability to bond. This is the point of our article, and you have ignored both it and the research on which we base it with your “We aren’t rodents” objection.

    Stating that humans aren’t rodents disregards scientific method, neuroscience, and evolution. It reminds us of Sarah Palin’s “Are We Wasting Money on Fruit Fly Research?”

    As you surely know, scientists aren’t studying rat brains to help rats with their erectile dysfunction or addictions. Nor do they study voles to see how too much stimulation of their reward circuitry screws up their pair bonds so they can offer them marital counseling.

    Evolution conserves brain structures, hormones, and neurotransmitters. In rats, humans, and all mammals…addictions, sexual desire, erections and bonding involve the same fundamental brain structures and neurotransmitters. It is common knowledge that all mammals share a limbic system and reward circuitry, which possess the same mechanisms that are activated by the same hormones and neurotransmitters. If you can name a limbic system function that we do not share with other mammals, we’d be interested in hearing about it.

    For example, recent research (2010) on rats with unlimited access to junk food revealed brain changes that were later found in human subjects. In both humans and rats a key change was a decline in dopamine receptors (D2) in the reward circuitry of the brain. This caused human and rat brains to become less sensitive to dopamine — driving overconsumption. Lower D2 receptors are a major hallmark of all addictions. (Studies: Rats: Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats– 2010, Humans: Weight Gain Is Associated with Reduced Striatal Response to Palatable Food– 2010 http://yourbrainonporn.com/garys-research-food-addiction)

    It would be reckless to assume that masturbating to Internet porn frequently for long periods could have no effect on the reward circuitry or partner perception, given that overconsumption of junk food, gambling and gaming have already been proven to cause drug-like brain changes.

    Porn use cannot be studied in animals, but our primate cousins will pay for monkey porn: Monkeys Pay to See Female Monkey Bottoms “The study found that male monkeys will give up their juice rewards in order to ogle pictures of female monkey’s bottoms.”

    Let’s remember that when the link between cancer and smoking first came out, the tobacco companies hired doctors to say smoking was good for people. It turns out not to have been the case. In the past year, researchers in three other countries (France, Israel and Germany) have said the evidence points to the need to treat compulsive porn use as a bona fide behavioral addiction. Once scientists begin scanning the brains of heavy Internet porn users (assuming they can find any controls…) it’s likely we’ll all have to face up to the fact that today’s sexual superstimuli can cause brain changes that alter perception, including perception of partners. Men and women who want to stay bonded harmoniously will probably conclude that porn’s costs outweigh its benefits.

    1. I’m sorry to hear they sensationalized your title, bad on Good Men Project editors for that.

      I have to run out the door in a few but will try to revisit this later. Here are my basic responses/thoughts to your comment:

      -Yes, I understand we have similar endocrinology and limbic systems. But this ignores the complexity of human psychology as well as the adaptability of the human mind. Learning, interaction and culture shape how we respond to the outside world beyond any predetermined biological systems. The pressing question is how to find a multidisciplinary approach to understanding human behaviors.

      -There is a tendency to view pornography as an “extreme stimuli” without recognizing the increasing amount of ALL stimuli in modern life. Cars, movies, advertisements, games, toys: all of these are examples of extreme stimuli on the mind. Do we no longer like playing cards because we have PS3s? Are walks undesirable because we could ride in Corvettes?

      -You cannot compare media to actual consumables like tobacco and junk food. No one injects pornography into their bodies. The way a person processes an image is entirely subjective whereas nicotine and sugar have objective and measurable effects.

      -People can have behavioral “addictions” to almost anything. Shopping, gambling, arguing on the internet. This tells us nothing about porn and much about human compulsiveness.

      -Of course media, along with experiences, self-reflection, alter our perceptions. But perception is constantly changing and to treat this as if watching pornography is the only stimuli influencing how you view your partner is naive.

      “Men and women who want to stay bonded harmoniously will probably conclude that porn’s costs outweigh its benefits.”

      I disagree. Many therapists suggest couples try watching porn to spice up their love lives.

      What I see as the bigger issue is how we treat sexuality and the sexual anxieties experienced by so many people when trying to mitigate between internal desires and restrictive norms.

    2. To sexademic’s points above, let me just add, Mr Wilson and Ms Robinson, that even if habituation can be created by porn this does not mean that porn is in itself evil; but rather that certain levels of porn might create habituation (supposedly different levels for different individuals).

      The whole point of your paper seems to me obvious: namely, that compulsive behavior tends to increase the need for the object of the compulsion because the gratification (dopamine reward) will decrease as habituation sets in, thus necessitating larger input of the object of compulsion to achieve similar results. Now, you’re suggesting that even mild exposures to pornography might create this effect. I think the data in your paper doesn’t really support this view.

      It’s a question of balance; and of individual balance, since individual ‘threshold levels’ will vary.

      Given all the misconceptions about sex and porn in our culture — and please allow me to differ from you: the messages I hear around me are certainly NOT that “Porn is harmless, or even beneficial, and there’s no such thing as too much”. 80% of the time I, at least, hear the exact opposite: porn is sinful, porn is “animal”, porn is ugly and disgusting, etc. etc. etc. Hiding your porn story from pretty much everybody continues to be the absolute norm.

      So I think the world is still too obviously biased against porn. The tobacco analogy fails here: tobacco was previously considered good, and prior to cancer research most people agreed that it was. (It was, after all, an old, traditional Native American custom.) If you prove anything other than the obvious about porn (namely, that compulsive porn comsumption — like all obsessions — is bad), then you will be doing the opposite of what the cancer-and-tobacco research did: namely, you’ll be supporting the oldest beliefs and viewpoints about porn in our Judaeo-Christian culture.

      Everything can be a poison or a life-saving medicine, depending on its uses. If you can prove that porn can be misused so as to have bad consequences, then you’ve simply shown that porn is just like pretty much everything else — food, drinks, sports stats, Wikipedia editing, social activism. Everything has a dark side; but let’s not forget the light side either.

  7. I find that a lot of health care professionals do not understand neurobiology, neuroplasticity, and are unaware of recent research in addiction.

    Actually one can compare food, nicotine and internet porn.

    The basic concept to grasp is that ALL addictions involve the same mechanisms and changes in the brain’s reward circuitry. These same changes occur in all mammals. There is no difference, whether the addictions are behavioral or to substances. This is so because drugs don’t create anything new in the brain – they simply amplify or decrease existing mechanisms.

    Not only does recent neuroscience clearly show a common neurobiology for all addictions, the researchers who study addiction agree that this is so. This reminds me of the debates on global warming. The nay-sayers are not the researchers, because the research evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction.

    All addictions, whether behavioral or chemical, involve dopamine dysregulation. The presence of addiction is often determined by changes is dopamine receptors. All addicted humans and animals have shown a common structural change – a decline in dopamine D2 receptors. This considered a hallmark of an addiction process. This is not psychological. This is a structural change in the reward circuitry with corresponding alterations in behavior, such as tolerance, escalation and withdrawal symptoms. This takes time.

    The many porn addicts who visit our site exhibit tolerance, escalation and withdrawal symptoms. This means that their brains have undergone physical changes.

    What initiates ALL addictions is this single mechanism: Consistently elevated levels of dopamine in response to stimuli. This is the start, and the low dopamine receptors are the finish. For a clear presentation on this concept see the “Your Brain On Porn Series.”

    http://yourbrainonporn.com/your-brain-on-porn-series

    Incidentally, sugar doesn’t cause dopamine receptor changes directly in the reward circuitry. It only stimulates sensory nerve endings like taste buds – which in turn activate dopamine in the brain. A ‘sugar high’ is actually a dopamine high. So there is nothing special about junk food. All behavioral addictions (gambling, internet porn, video games) stimulate sensors, such as – sight, touch, hearing, etc.

    The effects of Internet porn on the brain have yet to studied via brain scans. But other behavioral addictions have been. The obese and the pathological gamblers show a decline in dopamine receptors that mimic drug addiction. Video gamers show addictive changes, too.

    So here’s the question I want you to answer: If other behavioral addictions can mimic drug addictions, how can internet porn not do so as well?

    Before you answer, ponder:
    1) Sexual activity releases far more dopamine than other behavioral addictions (orgasm or a twinkie—which is more stimulating?)
    2) Sexual reproduction is more important to our limbic systems that anything (that’s why we get rewarded)
    3) Novelty always stimulates dopamine

    Internet porn combines extreme novelty (unlike real sex) with the reward circuit’s Number One dopamine buzz: sex. Nothing at all like our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ ever encountered. As John Mayer said “300 vaginas before breakfast”.

    Cars, movies, advertisements, games, toys are certainly stimuli, but not universal, nor are they extreme. Show a Corvette to an African Bushman and he may be curious, but I don’t think he would get a hard-on or have an orgasm. However, have him watch some hot babes going at it and he would probably perk up. An advertisement for depends might not do much for the bushman, but high fat/high sugar snacks would.

    We have seen the results changing our hunter-gatherer diets to high fat, high sugar junk: 70% fat, 35% obese. This occurs in spite of the internal and external pressures to be normal weight. Modern food is a never before encountered super-stimuli which has been proven to cause brain changes. A far higher percentage than occurs with drugs.

    In animals and humans, only about 15% of drug users ever become addicted. Why is that? Because our brains are attuned to two things – food and reproduction. Our dopamine system is programmed to skyrocket with both.

    Just look around and see what modern food has done to the reward circuitry. Internet porn is next.

    1. I understand. I just disagree.

      First off, I think using addiction terminology previously reserved for drug users is incredibly misleading. Heroin, cocaine and meth amphetamines release somewhere around 5 to 10 times the amount of dopamine released by other stimuli. This creates a changes in the brain that actually hijack your reward system to the point of dulling everyday experiences, changes that can last for months after discontinuing use.

      Though a behavioral “addiction” also triggers dopamine it is not the same thing as taking over and completely disrupting the reward system. This framework is not helpful in a clinical setting for helping patients struggling with behavioral issues. By labeling it as an addiction you pathologize their behaviors and remove personal responsibility. Anyone with narcissistic or neurotic tendencies can avoid dealing with deeper issues. Also, I’ve heard increasing talk in the past few years of “addiction transfer” for behavioral addicts where after successful treatment of one problem they move onto something else. This could mean the problem is not food, sex or shopping but an underlying tendency towards compulsive pleasure seeking behaviors.

      One thing I will give you is that orgasms release heavy amounts of dopamine. (I’ve heard on a level between alcohol and heroin.) But that’s not all our brains release during orgasm. When considering orgasm and the release of dopamine why are we not also discussing the other neurotransmitters involved in orgasm? Norepinephrine? Oxytocin? Serotinin? You can’t simply point to a single neurotransmitter without considering the roles of other neurotransmitters. They work with each other and influence each other.

      From an evolutionary perspective, I can’t understand how sex could possibly become an addiction. Wouldn’t eschewing all other stimulation in favor of the heady dopamine orgasm rush be a maladaptive trait? Orgasms are so pleasurable (and AWESOME)that it would make sense for our wiring to have a guarding mechanism against addiction to orgasms.

      The thing I want to impress is that habituation is not the same as addiction. An illustrative example could be technology use. My phone is something novel and I almost compulsively check my email and social media feeds on it, likely giving me little dopamine hits. When I travel somewhere out of range or go camping I feel a “withdrawal” of sorts. I feel anxious because something I am habituated to is not there. But this is not an addiction and within a few days, at most, I’m over that feeling. I do not feel the need to reach for my phone after weeks without use.

      Do people become habituated to porn? Yeah. We become habituated to all kinds of things and stopping habits can be uncomfortable. But, once again, this is not an addiction.

  8. Thanks for considering our views. Just a few thoughts on yours before we leave you in peace. :-)
    1. We did not say habituation equals addiction. We said extreme stimulation can hinder the pair-bonding mechanism in the brain by overwhelming the reward circuitry with too much dopamine. The reward circuitry, which is critical to bonds, has a surprisingly large influence on multiple areas of our lives. This is why it can cause unwanted perception shifts and other problems as it goes out of balance…whether or not it reaches the level of addiction. See “Sex and Morality: A Debate Between Competing Neurons” for more: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cupids-poisoned-arrow/201101/sex-and-morality-debate-between-competing-neurons
    2. We said Internet porn is the problem, not orgasm or masturbation. That said it pays to keep in mind that dopamine dysregulation is the underlying problem, however one creates it. Internet porn is a particularly easy way to dysregulate dopamine, but people have managed to get addicted to other sexual stimuli throughout history.
    3. It’s easy to say “you don’t agree” with what we’ve explained about how superstimulating behavioral activities can alter the brain in ways that indicate an addiction process at work, but it’s kind of like saying you don’t believe in evolution. All neuroscience researchers disagree with you on this point, so should we listen to you…or the head of the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), for example?
    4. Yes, other neurochemicals are released at orgasm, and even different ones, depending upon whether an orgasm involves intercourse or not. But those other neurotransmitters aren’t what are causing Internet porn to impair relationships by speeding habituation to partners.
    5. Yes, drugs flood the brain with neurochemicals, but it is not, as you suggest, intensity that determines rates of addiction. If that were the case, everyone who tried drugs would be hooked, and few would be obese from eating junk food (less intense dopamine stimulation). In fact, only 15% of humans and animals get addicted to drugs of abuse. That’s a small minority. Most people don’t get hooked because they find drugs, or their effects, aversive. Junk food and Internet porn, on the other hand, have the potential to hook far more people. The reason is that our brains evolved, not to hook us on drugs, but to encourage us to binge on food and mating opportunities. Who finds their favorite, readily available treat or a highly erotic image aversive? This is why 79% of Americans are overweight these days, while very few of our ancestors were. And it’s why it’s almost impossible to find men who are not using Internet porn. We don’t know how many are hooked, but it’s evident the numbers are growing, given the many new sites supporting men who are desperate to quit and unable to do so. (Psychiatrist Norman Doidge (and others) was already seeing the effects of brain changes associated with too much porn stimulation of the brain a decade ago.) Keep in mind that Internet porn is like nothing our ancestors’ brains ever confronted. You cannot satiate yourself on images. You can watch hundreds of images an hour. Result? Exhaustion, but not satiation…according to the men who visit our website. This is what makes today’s porn so much riskier than a static “Playboy” of the past.
    6. The body *does* have satiety mechanisms for food and sex. The trouble is that they don’t work well when we are confronted with superstimulating versions of those things. Due to all the dopamine they release, they fool our brain into thinking such things are really “valuable,” and our brain drops D2 receptors so we continue to binge. See “Intoxicating Behaviors: 300 Vaginas = A Lot of Dopamine” http://yourbrainonporn.com/intoxicating-behaviors-300-vaginas-a-lot-of-dopamine. Mean Genes and Supernormal Stimuli are good books that will help your readers understand why an environment flooded with hyperstimulation leaves us vulnerable to dopamine dysregulation in ways our ancestors never had to confront.
    7. Yes, all of us have other issues. But a balanced dopamine response (i.e., the absence of dopamine dysregulation) makes it far easier to address and overcome other issues, whether they are personal or marital.

    1. Mr Wilson, Ms Robinson,

      We said extreme stimulation can hinder the pair-bonding mechanism in the brain by overwhelming the reward circuitry with too much dopamine.
      With which I think everybody agrees — and agreed even before your research.

      The reward circuitry, which is critical to bonds, has a surprisingly large influence on multiple areas of our lives.
      Likewise, other circuitries also have a surprisingly large influence on the reward circuitry, and on each other. When talking about cross-system influence, we need to remember how much of the intertwining effects we still do not understand and only imperfectly even imagine. Take-home message: let’s not jump to conclusions.

      Internet porn is a particularly easy way to dysregulate dopamine, but people have managed to get addicted to other sexual stimuli throughout history.
      The same is true for eating disorders or alcholism; yet nobody claims that food or alcohol are inherent evils (as — pace your claims — most of our culture still does about porn).
      Dopamine dysregulation is not ‘about porn’ any more than it is about food, alcohol, compulsive gambling or shopping. Rather than simply looking at internet porn, it would be interesting to seek the similarities in the origin of compulsive behavior so as to see them abstracted away from ‘the evil du jour‘ in our society. Porn, even lots of it, is not worse than alcohol or food, as far as amount and ease of accessibility goes.

      It’s easy to say “you don’t agree” with what we’ve explained about how superstimulating activities can alter the brain in ways that indicate an addiction process at work, but it’s kind of like saying you don’t believe in evolution.
      If it’s easy, then maybe you’ve missed the point; namely, that there are other factors at stake, plus a definition of what addiction is and how different it is from simple habituation. Considering the changes in diagnosis (homosexuality used to be a disease, and now no longer is), I would not be surprised if the director of NIDA today were in strong disagreement with the director of NIDA in, say, 20, 30 or 40 years on precisely the topic of your paper.

      In other words: the point is that she is (as I am) skeptical of your claims and results. This is quite normal and quite frequent in the academic community; and tends to foster further research on the topic, from viewpoints other than the one which caused the skepticism in the first place. In the final analysis, since it causes more questions to be asked and more research to be done, it is beneficial.

      But those other neurotransmitters aren’t what are causing Internet porn to impair relationships by speeding habituation to partners.
      But what are they causing — and are we sure that they aren’t implied and mechanisms that would counter the precise effects that you worry about? In other words: saying ‘there are other neutrotransmitters involved’ translates as ‘we don’t know the whole situation yet; I understand your concern and I see how it comes from your results, but there’s more to do research on.’

      Who finds their favorite, readily available treat or a highly erotic image aversive? This is why 79% of Americans are overweight these days, while very few of our ancestors were.
      But if this is the case, the culprit is not ‘internet porn’ or ‘available food’, but our evolutionary histories.
      In order to avoid compulsive behaviors, we should see them as the same kind of phenomenon. Alas, this is (again pace your claims) very much not the case with porn, about which there is very much ‘traditional’ concern, prejudice, and stereotypes. If only people thought of addiction to porn as they think of obesity — i.e. as an exaggeration on something that is quite normal, if consumed well! But no — our society very much distrusts and despises porn and considers it bad no matter what (most anti-porn people don’t even need your study: they already ‘knew’ it was bad before) — in a way that is absolutely not the case with food, or even with alcohol.

      You say commonsensical things about compulsive behavior. To make things clearer, you should say the SAME things about all kinds of compulsive behavior, and point out that compulsive porn consumption is bad not because porn is bad, but for the same reason that compulsive overeating is bad: because it’s compulsive.

      Most anti-porn people would deduce from studies like yours that porn should be abolished (as Prohibitionists thought of alcohol). This, despite the fact that they do NOT think that eating disorders imply food should be abolished, or that alcoholism implies alcohol should be prohibited. It seems to me that this is not your position. A piece of advice from me: make this position clearer. Make the point that what you condemn is the compulsiveness, not its object. Make the point that internet porn is not bad because porn is bad (just as junk food isn’t bad because food is bad): both internet porn and junk food are bad because of certain evolutionarily explainable character flaws of ours, that can be dealt with without abolishing either food or porn.

      Compulsion is the enemy, not porn, food, or alcohol. Whatever is bad with “an environment flooded with hyperstimulation” is not solved by “an environment deprived of stimulation” — to say nothing of the need to define “hyper-” here (how much?).

  9. sounds like another verson on “you will go blind if you do that”.having seen and used porn for 41 years (and been married 32) porn is just not an issue for me.I know this is my experiance, however, it does show that not everyone life experiance is the same. I might say my wife and i have a good sex life and porn does not cause any prob that i can we can see for us.I am a ordinary male and would like to have other sexual conquests, however, porn fantasy helps to keep these regulated in a “safe zone” and is benificial to our relationship. just my 2 cents worth.

  10. Dear Sexademic:
    There is good evidence that internet porn use is risky.
    After making some concession of your request for more precise language, let us return to the main point, which is the danger of internet Porn use, especially in regards to having a strong marriage bonds.
    Let us agree that it is not porn itself, but the compulsive use of porn that can trouble a couple that trying to be monogamous. As a result, your request that we be more precise in our dialogue is well taken. You also would prefer if our conversation would avoid the phrase, “internet addiction.” You seem to be open to the use of “compulsive internet use” and “compulsive internet porn use.” I think we should try to honor your request, although to the average reader the difference between a compulsion and an addiction may seem small.
    However please do not bring up the distracting topic of prohibition. I do not think it is relevant.
    What I do think is relevant is the stories of many men and women that have gone through a divorce, job loss, financial destitution as a result of compulsive internet porn use. To say there are real risks in using internet porn is as important as saying there are real risks to driving a car. That should not be confused to mean we should forbid internet porn sites or stop driving.

    1. Point well taken. Equally relevant, however, are the many stories of people who found out more about themselves through porn, who came to understand better what they liked and didn’t like, who opened their minds to new sexual ideas, and who found a better sex life with their partners in this way.

      Stories go both ways. Neither should be ignored.

  11. I am grateful that your last message is about the two sides to this discussion of the value of internet porn viewing for married couples. I hope we can agree that there are RISKS as well as BENIFITS to viewing internet porn sites.
    I can agree with you that viewing a variety of erotic images can help some people to discover aspects of themselves and different ways to find new pleasures that can be shared with a partner. Also many people viewing erotic internet sites discover these new ideas, even when this not at all their intentions of viewing such sites.
    However I have found that this is similar to getting an important phone call and not hanging up the phone. It is as if one continues to hold the handset expecting more information. Most people hang up the phone after they get the message. Most likely it is not information that they were seeking. Not that we are not grateful for what Nina Hartely and the Sinclair institute have taught us; these sites are a small part of the porn market.

    1. Indeed they are, just as Sex Is Not The Enemy is a small part of the porn market.

      But then again, ‘good books’ are also a small part of the published book market. Most books (I’ll dare take a guess and say 90%) published in a given year are perfectly stupid, many are even arguably harmful. Yet we don’t talk about censoring books because of that.

      The truth is that there is always ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in anything you may want to consume; and that it takes becoming a full person (always an unfinished process) to learn how to choose the best things for yourself. And since things don’t always have the same meanings, even not the meanings their authors intended… different people may legitimately end up with different tastes. Which means that it is ultimately good there are is so much variety out there — even if most of it is, in my humble opinion, crap. I don’t have to be right about that; in fact I’m sure there are many people who see more than I do in many things I consider crap (just as I enjoy certain things some other people may think of as crap, like science-fiction TV shows).

      It’s good that there’s Nina Hartley and the Sinclair Institute and Tristan Taormino. And maybe it’s also for the best that there also is Girls Gone Wild and Max Hardcore. Just maybe.

      1. Asehpe: I already respect and appreciate your thoughtful responses to my blog posts but that link you provided pushed me into the love zone. The mosaic even has panels from my favorite web comic, Oglaf. Hearted!

        1. Always glad to increase the love zone; this world needs a little more of it. Your blog is a great addition to the resources for those who want to break free from simple (and simplistic) stereotypes. (My personal favorite in webcomics is xkcd — they even often mention my favorite past SF TV show, Firefly — but Oglaf is a close second. :-)

        2. I’m just realized that this must be the first time in my life a girl decided to put me in her ‘love zone’ because of my taste in porn. How odd! :-)

  12. This subject ignores a common issue regarding the adoption of porn: a partner who isn’t available or makes him or herself unattractive to the other partner. This regularly happens long before porn becomes a habit, for society and other factors make ending relationships difficult no matter how bad things get. I seriously doubt most women stuck in abusive relationships would stay if they had an easy out which would solve all their separation problems for them!

    To blame men (usually) for finding release in porn when they have few other options is elitist, and ignores that porn might well be the best solution to their dilemma. If there is already no sexual “there” there, and a person turns to porn instead, just who is really being harmed by it? Maybe two people with mismatched sex drives still love each other. Maybe they don’t want to end their sex-starved relationships for other non-sexual reasons. Maybe they aren’t very good with dating, or what other social issue have you. It should not even be an issue for anyone not involved in a specific relationship, which makes one wonder why they have so much time to get nosy and not pay attention to their own relationships before they become unmoored to the norm.

    1. That is certainlly true, and I agree with your comment here. To be fair, though, what the critics above were saying is that some people exaggerate their use of porn, to the point of becoming obsessive about it, and that an environment with lots of free porn available everywhere may increase the number of such people (just as an environment full of fast food may lead to an increase in the number of obese people). I don’t think these crticis deny that there are legitimate uses of pornography (at least I didn’t see that made explicit in their comments); I think they claim there are dangerous overuses of it. We can all agree with that. I see them as exaggerating in the amount of danger of this overuse, and in the extent to which they downplay the good sides.

  13. Scientists: Too Much Internet Porn May Cause Impotence
    Published February 25, 2011 | NewsCore

    It may not make you go blind, but Italian scientists have identified a worrying side-effect of watching too much pornography.

    Researchers said Thursday that young men who indulge in “excessive consumption” of Internet porn gradually become immune to explicit images, the ANSA news agency reported.

    Over time, this can lead to a loss of libido, impotence and a notion of sex that is totally divorced from real-life relations.

    “It starts with lower reactions to porn sites, then there is a general drop in libido and in the end it becomes impossible to get an erection,” said Carlo Foresta, head of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine (SIAM).

    His team drew their conclusions from a survey of 28,000 Italian men which revealed that many became hooked on porn as early as 14, exhibiting symptoms of so-called “sexual anorexia” by the time they reached their mid-twenties.

    There was some good news, however, as the condition was not necessarily permanent. “With proper assistance recovery is possible within a few months,” Foresta said.

    Other data presented at the SIAM’S annual conference in Rome suggested that Germans are the biggest consumers of online porn in Europe, with 34.5 percent of internet users logging on to watch smut.

    France ranked second (33.6 percent), ahead of Spain (32.4 percent) and Italy (28.9 percent).

  14. You obviously don’t get the point of the article.

    Your dismissal of the first passage (“First, an ancient biological program…”) as a generality demonstrates your inability to grasp the problem at hand: porn is a READILY AVAILABLE alternative to interacting with a REAL mate. Being around potential mates makes you more selective, but at least you’re selecting amongst real people. The problem is that some men would rather look at porn than look for a mate or spend time with the one they have. This denial of reality is a humongous problem that you somehow didn’t notice.

    Also, running don’t compete with women for a man’s attention, porn does. Men aren’t skipping out on sex or looking for sex partners b/c they want to ride roller coasters instead. Your rebuttal was idiotic. Again, you have failed to grasp the fact that digitized images are replacing human beings as sources of satisfaction.

    Finally, people don’t replace their mates with images of Salma Hayek or Brad Pitt because they don’t tend to masturbate to their movies; if they did so to a great extent, then they probably would. You’re confusing the satisfaction of a blockbuster movie (which is not sexual) with the satisfaction of a porn (which is sexual).

    I think people should consume porn in moderation as a COMPLEMENT to a relationship, not as a REPLACEMENT for one. In small doses, porn is just harmless fun. It’s when people consume too much of it that makes it a problem.

    As you can see, you missed a lot of obvious distinctions. Scientists worked hard to draw their conclusions, and while I’m sure it’s really intellectually demanding to blog, the least you can do is closely read what you’re trying to debunk.

  15. Earl:

    Maybe Jessi Fischer isn’t the one with the reading comprehension issues.

    Maybe it’s you just showing your biases.

    Let us follow your points from the beginning, shall we??

    Your dismissal of the first passage (“First, an ancient biological program…”) as a generality demonstrates your inability to grasp the problem at hand: porn is a READILY AVAILABLE alternative to interacting with a REAL mate. Being around potential mates makes you more selective, but at least you’re selecting amongst real people. The problem is that some men would rather look at porn than look for a mate or spend time with the one they have. This denial of reality is a humongous problem that you somehow didn’t notice.

    OK..so plenty of men use masturbation to porn as an alternative to finding a mate to engage in sex with. This is bad…HOW?!?!?!? Because all men should simply abandon masturbation as a lower form of sexual activity to intercourse with a living person? Or…they should simply force themselves on the first woman they see to relieve their normal sexual urges?? Or..they should just subdue those urges until they find the perfect intimate mate to marry..and then have sex?? Sorry, but rape is not an option, and many men shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice themselves to find “the perfect woman”.

    Not to mention the basic fact that millions of men consume porn regularly, yet are perfectly able to engage in normal healthy relationships with their wives/girlfriends/significant others. (And, what about the women who use porn as a tool for masturbation..I suppose you have no issues with their abilities to relate with men, right??

    Also..while it is true that humans are mostly wired to select mates for reproducing the species, it still doesn’t conclude from that that porn will inevitably be destructive to that process. Masturbation is certainly nice, but it is still not the same as engaging sexually with a willing, loving, and desirable partner. Most human beings understand and recognize the difference, and are able to differentiate between the appeal of porn and the appeal of a real live flesh and blood person. It’s not an either-or situation.

    The conservative sexual bias underlying your critique couldn’t be more transparent.

    Also, running don’t compete with women for a man’s attention, porn does. Men aren’t skipping out on sex or looking for sex partners b/c they want to ride roller coasters instead. Your rebuttal was idiotic. Again, you have failed to grasp the fact that digitized images are replacing human beings as sources of satisfaction.

    Actually, people obsessed with jogging or athletics can be very pushy with their time and can easily get derailed from relating with their significant others….but I guess we won’t be blaming college sports for that, now will we??

    And…what “digitized images”?? Most porn consists of real live people engaging in real live sex. Written erotica, of course, is another story.) Besides, men and women have been making up their own sexual imagery for centuries through art on paper, canvas, even on the sides of caves. How different was that from those “digitized images”, and how much of a distraction from “human satisfaction” were they??

    In fact, those “digitized images” are reflections of human satisfaction that are used by viewers to create and develop their own levels of personal human satisfaction. Couples are using porn to improve their sex lives as much as single people use them for masturbatory fantasies. Only someone deeply reactionary would construe this as problematic to “real” human relationships.

    Finally, people don’t replace their mates with images of Salma Hayek or Brad Pitt because they don’t tend to masturbate to their movies; if they did so to a great extent, then they probably would. You’re confusing the satisfaction of a blockbuster movie (which is not sexual) with the satisfaction of a porn (which is sexual).

    That loud bell you are hearing is my BS meter going off.

    First off, I know plenty of Salma Hayek and Brad Pitt fans that would highly disagree with your statement.

    Secondly, the enjoyment of a blockbuster movie is a bit different than the high one gets from an orgasm or an otherwise pleasant sexual encounter, but they both come from basically the same place…the human desire for pleasure.

    Thirdly….porn by its very nature is intended to generate sexual desire, just as comedy is designed to emit laughter and horror movies are intended to emit fear and fright. How is fear any less destructive or distortive to humans than sexual desire is?? Besides, merely masturbating to Jenna Jameson does not co-relate to actually engaging in live sex with her; the main point about porn is vicarious sharing of pleasure with the actors or performers engaging in that sex scene.

    Again, most users of porn are more than capable of seperating the fantasy from reality and of distinguishing between their reality and fantasy that porn promotes. Pseudo-sociologists bent on conservative anti-sex agendas won’t change that.

    I think people should consume porn in moderation as a COMPLEMENT to a relationship, not as a REPLACEMENT for one. In small doses, porn is just harmless fun. It’s when people consume too much of it that makes it a problem.

    And of course, “scientists” like you will be the ones to tell us when porn consumption becomes “too much”…right?? Because people are simply too horny or lazy to sense that on their own.

    As you can see, you missed a lot of obvious distinctions. Scientists worked hard to draw their conclusions, and while I’m sure it’s really intellectually demanding to blog, the least you can do is closely read what you’re trying to debunk.

    Oh, I get it…a woman trained in research in sexology is apparently unfit to offer her critique of a survey (not a true study tested by research, but a SURVEY with predetermined biases and cultural assumptions about sexuality and men)…but you are qualified to smear her because you didn’t like her conclusions. Pretty damn pathetic, I’d say.

    Far more marriages are threatened by financial problems rather than sex or porn. Would Earl and his minions want to join me on a campaign to limit the flow of money or credit cards, which plainly cause people to spend more than they have, thusly destroying families and relationships??

    Right…I thought not.

    Anthony

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