Explaining Porn Watching With Science!


In 2008, the Mayo Clinic published a case study of treating compulsive sexual behaviors with pharmaceuticals:

A male patient first presented to a psychiatrist (J.M.B.) at age 24, with the explanation, “I’m here for sexual addiction. It has consumed my entire life.” He feared losing both marriage and job if he could not contain his burgeoning preoccupation with Internet pornography. He was spending many hours each day chatting online, engaging in extended masturbation sessions, and occasionally meeting cyber-contacts in person for spontaneous, typically unprotected, sex.

The story is a familiar one. A young man seeking sexual activities outside of his marriage or relationship experiences guilt because of his compulsive behaviors. He feels he cannot stop and is at a loss for solutions. He wants to be good, by whatever measure his culture dictates, but feels he can’t.

The term “sex addiction” is the new darling of sensational media. The narrative of an addict is a compelling one, their struggle with external forces in the world leaves much room for pity. After all, this isn’t their fault but the fault of the pesky stimulus hijacking their tender neurological reward circuitry. Right?

Not really. The picture of compulsive sexual behaviors is far more complicated than (male) brain + (non-monogamous) sexual stimulation = addiction. Dopamine may indeed play a role in all compulsive behaviors but the narrative of porn as an external factor that takes over your system is a false (and overwhelmingly Christian) explanation that fails to recognize sexual histories and user conceptions of sexuality.

Enter….DOPAMINE!

Arguments about the addictive nature of porn center around dopamine, one of over 50 fun little neurotransmitters shooting around inside of our bodies. Missale et al (1998) define our little friend’s role as such:

In the central nervous system, dopamine receptors are widely expressed because they are involved in the control of locomotion, cognition, emotion, and affect as well as neuroendocrine secretion. In the periphery, dopamine receptors are present more prominently in kidney, vasculature, and pituitary, where they affect mainly sodium homeostasis, vascular tone, and hormone secretion

Of course, I’m sure most people associate dopamine with the reward system. At least, porn addiction doomsayers do. The story is that orgasm and novelty trigger dopamine, we feel rewarded and are then driven for even bigger ‘hits’ of porn. (What does that even mean? You can’t quantify a porn clip for intensity.)

While dopamine is involved in the reward system, it doesn’t work quite like that. Dopamine is a motivator for the reward, not the reward itself.  Or, as bad ass Stanford researcher Robert Sapolsky puts it:

“Dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than happiness itself.”

So the idea posited by the sex addiction set is utterly false: your brain is not rewarding you with dopamine. Your brain uses dopamine to motivate you. And amazingly, humans can release dopamine when the reward is months or ever years away.

One of the other claims made is that porn “burns you out” on sex with other people because it “hijacks” your system by hyperstimulation of your reward system, subsequently burning out the sex part of your brain making sex a pleasure-less activity.  The problem is, there is no specific sex part of your brain. Sexual excitement and arousal involve several parts of your brain structure:  nucleus accumbens, cingulate cortex, insular cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and the Paraventricular Nucleus of the Hypothalamus (PVN). Nor are there orgasm specific chemicals as any chemical involved in orgasm is involved in some other function.

But dopamine does have an interesting relationship to compulsive sexual behaviors. Patients suffering from Parkinsons Disease are often treated with dopamine agonists (DA), a synthesized chemical that binds to dopamine receptors, and some of those patients experience compulsive behaviors due to the DA, around 14%. Those behaviors include hypersexuality, pathological gambling, compulsive shopping or eating along with many other compulsive behaviors. One abstract on the subject listed “weighing, card and video game playing, fishing, gardening, intense interest in established hobbies, locking and unlocking doors, repetitive dressing and undressing” as behaviors observed in patients treated with DA in their small study.

I know what you might be thinking. “Aha! Dopamine and sex! Related! Porn addiction is for real!”

Not so fast. These are cases of people experiencing compulsion due to dopamine agonists. There is nothing to do with addiction either, simply that a heightened dopaminergic system can incite compulsive behaviors, such as compulsive gambling. In my view, this phenomenon is in line with Sapolsky’s discussion of dopamine as a motivator as these people are engaging in constant movement and activity. They’re motivated needlessly by the DA.

And now you may be thinking: “So….what about dopamine and addiction? That’s for real, right?”

In a way. There is evidence that low levels of dopamine receptors can predispose people towards chemical addictions and also play a role in obsessive compulsive disorders. However, according to Nora Volkow (director of NIDA) levels of dopamine receptors are highly variable among humans and there is evidence from primate studies that those levels can be altered by changes in environment. And, yes, people with chemical abuse issues do have decreased levels of dopamine receptors after withdrawal but this is because of an unnaturally excessive and persistent presence of dopamine, levels that would be difficult if not impossible  to maintain with non-chemical stimuli. (If you would like to get all academic and deep on this fascinating topic, go here.)

Sex and the Dopamine

“Neurophysiological studies demonstrate that dopamine acts more as a neuromodulator of sensory input than as an excitatory neurotransmitter…dopamine does not “turn on an orgasm switch.” Rather, dopamine produces a sensitization to sensory stimuli (Antelman & Rowland, 1977).” The Science of Orgasm, p. 121.

The neurobiology of orgasm is fascinating, complex and very poorly understood at this point in time. Here’s what we know:

  1. Dopamine facilitates orgasm.
  2. Oxytocin and endorphins peak during orgasm.
  3. Serotonin acts as a handbrake for orgasm.
  4. Prolactin produces a sense of satiety after orgasm.

But be aware that simply identifying the neurotransmitters and hormones involved in orgasm does not mean we understand how these chemicals produce the subjective experience of orgasm nor how exactly these all come together with external stimulation, brain activity and the nervous system. Simply giving someone a bunch of endorphins and oxytocin, while they may feel good, will not cause a spontaneous orgasm.

Some people will say that the brain releases as much dopamine as a hit of heroin during orgasm. I’ve been unable to find any reliable research on this, though there is research on hormones released during orgasm. What may raise the levels, if we’re taking Salposky’s perspective, is the uncertain reception of a reward. (In the case of sex, being unsure whether or not you’re going to get it).  So, perhaps sex that isn’t a sure thing is more compelling than sex that is.

In regards to compulsive sexual behaviors it’s not clear how these chemicals directly influence our behaviors, although evidence from Parkinson’s Disease patients experiencing hypersexuality or compulsions would suggest dopamine plays a role. However, the compulsions in those cases are not restricted to sex. The compulsions are varied.

A 2009 study looked at brain structure among men engaging in compulsive sexual behavior (CSB) and found that CSB patients exhibited more impulsivity yet their brains resembled people with anxiety disorders. What I found really interesting, and what ties back in with my point about general compulsion, were CSB patient’s backgrounds:

“Eight men who met the proposed research criteria for CSB described above were recruited from a treatment program for individuals seeking treatment for sexual problems. CSB patients all reported non-paraphilic CSB. Five of the 8 (62%) had a history of major depression, almost all (7 of 8 ) had a history of alcohol abuse or dependence, while 4 (50%) had a history of other substance abuse or dependence.”

While I completely disagree with the “sex addiction” concept, I do believe anxiety will cause people to engage in a variety of compulsive behaviors. But it could just as easily be compulsively polishing a rifle as it could be compulsive rest stop blow jobs. The issue is neither the gun nor the cock; the issue is anxiety.

And to complicate matters, sex is an anxious experience for some people. Unfortunately, a conversation fixated on the neurological effects of watching porn fails to talk about underlying sexual value systems and current life stresses that are likely influencing these rather uncommon behaviors.

Porn Will Not Destroy Your Relationship: But Instant Messaging Might (Kidding!)

The Archives of Sexual Behavior published a whopping four studies in April about pornography, including the internet kind! What did they find? I’ll go over the three that are pertinent to this discussion:

Male porn users self report higher levels of actual and ideal intimacy.

“In particular, the difference between the two groups with regard to total Ideal closeness of adults suggested that pornography users craved closeness/intimacy more than their counterparts.”

This runs contrary to porn addiction claims, that porn hijacks our brains and disrupts our ability to be intimate with real life partners. Yes, Virginia: you can watch porn and still have relationships with people.

Couples who watch porn together just as happy as couples who don’t watch any porn, alone or otherwise. People watching without their partners? Not as happy.

“The only difference between those who never viewed SEM and those who viewed it only with their partners was that those who never viewed it had lower rates of infidelity.”

One thing to be aware of is that the study measured infidelity with the question ‘‘Have you had sexual relations with someone other than your partner since you began seriously dating?’’ From a research standpoint you can’t really ask “Did you cheat on your partner?” as this would elicit a bias response. But, we don’t know if this indicates an open relationship or clear betrayal. The results section tells us a bit more:

“Across the groups, 9.7% (n=45) of those in the no-SEM group reported having sexual relations with someone other than their partner since they seriously began dating, while 19.4% (n=48) of those in the alone-only group, 18.2% (n=37) of those in the together-only group, and 26.5% (n=99) of those in the together/alone group reported infidelity.”

Overall, I wouldn’t take this as any evidence that watching porn will cause you to go cheat. But it will not destroy your relationship if you’re open about it.

Elle/msnbc.com conducts online survey about Online Sexual Activities (that means looking at videos as well as sexy chatting on instant messenger), social scientists go through data and find: majority of respondents report watching an hour or less per week and women more worried about partner use and negative effects than men, among other things.

The data is both quantitative and qualitative, so in addition to the numbers (which show most people are neither particularly bothered nor incredibly ecstatic about the OSA) you get to see quotes from respondents. What struck me were the quotes about negative effects attributed to sex chats:

“I think that ‘‘chatting’’ with a person on the Internet about sex and sexual topics is demeaning to the person you are with. My husband makes me feel like I am not good enough for him and that I am fat and ugly when he goes online and ‘‘chats’’ with other women about sex. I constantly worry that he will try to meet someone he ‘chats’  with and actually have an affair…Every time he logs onto ‘‘chat’’I feel like he is tellingme,‘‘I don’t love you, I don’t feel turned on by you, I want someone else, you are not what I want.’’

“Due to Internet smut, IM [Instant Message], and chat rooms,my partner had an affair that almost ended our marriage.’’

The study is really fascinating to look at although it’s limited by the sampling procedure. For the most part it seems ELLE/msnbc.com readers don’t take that much issue with online sexual activities, with more of a lean towards positive assessment.

Then Why All The Fuss Over Porn?

Let’s get back to that Mayo case study I listed in the beginning of this article:

Describing himself as a compulsive masturbator, he also subscribed to conservative Christian beliefs. Morally troubled by his own behavior, he claimed his sexual actions emanated—at least in part—from “negative influences from the devil.”

That. Right. There.

When you look at the “experts” using pop science and simplistic reductionist explanations to prove porn is evil, they are overwhelmingly Christian. The narrative of an external malignant force fits in with a Christian discourse about morality. In short, the devil made me do it! All the self-help books on porn addiction are written by and for Christian audiences. The sex addiction recovery centers are usually run by Christians. The very idea that sex is inherently dirty or shameful is borne from this theological tradition.

To be clear: I think religion is important. Community, public service and connecting with unseen forces in the world are all wonderful and necessary for people. And not all Christian traditions have this apoplectic reaction to sex outside of the married-baby-making-sex box. But when you find sex addiction, you will sure as hell find some kind of Christian, likely a Baptist.

The current porn panic is just like all sex panics before it: championed by the white, bourgeoisie, Christian reformers and shrouded in dubious “science” claims. Not so long ago, doctors gave dire warnings about masturbation, writing all manner of treatises on the vice of onanism and its physically deleterious effects. Insanity, hairy palms, dead libido, idiocy, violence, you name it. And it proved dangerous. In addition to sharp anti-masturbation devices placed around little boy’s genitals, some doctors took to burning little girls clitorises with hot irons. (That is, if they didn’t perform a full cliterodectomy.)

Yes, Virginia, if you touched yourself in the Victorian era, mommy and daddy might have the doctor cauterize or remove your clitoris, because, um, science!

Of course, we know now that there’s nothing wrong with masturbation.

But is there anything, anything at all wrong with porn? Yes. Much of it’s crap. Some of it reflects the same misogyny, racism and utterly broken attitudes of sex we see everywhere else and some of it is really hot and made with high ethical standards. (The rest of it is boring.)

Hold On Lady! I Have A Sex/Porn Addiction! This Is Real! How Dare You!

I had my own brush with compulsive online activities during the height of my graduate school stress. I spent hours upon hours each day, avoiding my research and hiding from my books to click on image after image after image. I was obsessed. It was almost compulsive and I had neither the desire nor the ability to stop myself, even when I knew I needed to be getting other things done.

Yet at no point did I consider seeking help. Perhaps I didn’t realize I had a problem. Or perhaps it was because there wasn’t a pervasive public discourse saying my habit was harmful, although I’m sure the images of BDSM, orgies, pegging and magical cum sprites would raise people’s ire if they knew it was there.

To be fair, I still look at webcomics on a regular basis. (Current Faves: Oglaf, Platinum Grit, Sinfest, Menage a 3, Magick Chicks, Eerie Cuties)

The question I ask myself is this: what was so compelling about webcomics at that point in my life?

I was stressed the fuck out. School made me anxious, my workload made me anxious, my housemates made me anxious- I was a regular anxiety ball. Webcomics were low-impact and noncommittal. Nothing happened and there was no way for me to fail looking at a webcomic. No-one would grade me. I had no reason to feel stressed. A simple, easy to access pleasurable activity to distract me from the unpleasant, isolated, walking heart-attack of my life.

Now what if we replace webcomics with porn? The story is the same, even down to occasionally masturbating after poring over some of the sexually explicit webcomics online. The big difference is that no-one ever told me it was wrong. I never heard that cartoons are wrong or that drawing pictures of people doing strange, fantastical and often sexual things is wrong. Had it been forbidden I may have sought it out even more. Who knows.

Did I have a webcomic addiction? No. I wouldn’t call it that. I was using it as a crutch to deal with a larger issue but I wasn’t “addicted”.

Although, I can think of a few potentially negative effects of porn:

-Agitating unresolved sexual issues

-A way to avoid tensions with a partner

-Repetitive stress injuries

-Getting bored with porn

But you won’t become addicted to it. If you have deeper issues about sex and are prone to compulsive behaviors, porn might become one more problem tacked on. The reason for this is not some biological predisposition towards shiny sex images that juice our brains like we’re on drugs: the problem is perspective. The problem is general sex hysteria and shame.

In summary: just because sex involves some of the chemicals involved in addiction does not mean sex is addictive. Not even close. And if it is absolutely imperative to your worldview to believe this is true, just say it’s the devil in your brain and leave half-assed scientific explanations out of it.

ETA: If you or someone you love is struggling with a drug addiction or compulsive behaviors, locate a therapist in your area. There are usually options for all incomes in metropolitan areas, though I’m not sure about rural. If you’re struggling with issues specifically pertaining to sex I recommend checking out the AASECT directory.

32 thoughts on “Explaining Porn Watching With Science!”

  1. I’m not addicted to porn, but I’m definitely addicted to blogs and video games. I feel ashamed about it , why? I’m not a member of a religion that condemns those things certainly. I think for a lot of people who compulsive online habits it’s a source of shame because we can’t get anything done and we disappoint ourselves and others.

    1. That’s a good thing. It means you have a conscious and recognize that you’re shirking your duties.

    2. The social background of hormonal distortions is usually neglected: isn’t it the compensation of utter professional dependence on institutions, enterprises, managers and governments that can be identified as source of sexual overexcitement? When free to develop an independent activity, men canalize their energies away from sex and return to it only occasionally for normal relaxation. Illusion? Proove the contrary, please!

  2. Very good article (got here from Zdnet). I find it fascinating that the arguments used are the sames for video game addiction and I completely agree with you that they are not really addictive but can become a problem when people use them to avoid dealing with the issues that are causing the underlying anxiety.

    1. Perhaps there is some link between strict sexual mores and technology phobia. Did you know that when the zipper, telephone and car first appeared they caused moral panics? The idea was that they would all disrupt the established order of sexual relations (easy genital access, hearing a young lover’s voice on the phone, and a veritable sex shack on wheels, respectively). I think there is something about any non-medical technological advancement that freaks certain people out so it’s no surprise that people use similar arguments to talk about video games.

      1. I’ve read a number of studies linking conservative views (political, social, and religious) to increased activity in the portion(s? sorry, I’m not a neurologist) of the brain that pertain to fear-stimuli. I would posit that this is probably connected to the general fear of change experienced by most people, and intensified in cases of new technology or new social issues (such as technological “addiction” of many varieties from porn to texting) by the fear of the unknown. Overreaction ensues, and there are enough people who will react in this fashion that it then becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of misinformation – not unlike the many and various utterly false rumours about Obama, healthcare reform, and any number of other issues.

  3. The science behind the demonetization of pornography has been proven over and over again that it is not science, but pseudo science. The studies over and over again have been shown that they are published and funded by typically “Christian” groups looking to push their conservative laws to the masses.

  4. Great post as always, Jessi. Particularly love this:

    “Just say it’s the devil in your brain and leave half-assed scientific explanations out of it.”

  5. Phenomenal article; really brings a lot of things to light, and this is a damn good piece to point people to when I tell them that there is NOTHING wrong with porn, and that people who watch it aren’t “sick,” or “disturbed,” or that they have a problem. The info on the dopamine is also great, thanks for this article!

  6. Thanks ,another good post. And , yes being raised a conservative christian, Using “Addiction” to scare folks, would fit the bill.

  7. Excellent post, super research!I like that you point out that couples who watch porn together are happier. I bet they masturbate together also;) Doing anything “pleasurable” compulsively and alone can lead to more intense loneliness and/or guilt I think – or at least avoidance. Thanks for thorough work!

  8. Link from Violet Blue website. Sex addiction is non-existent. As you say, a misuse of the word addiction. If you recall the Dr. Drew show on VHS (I think) “Celebrity Sex Rehab” – it seemed like all the addiction issues were either to traditional addictives (like heroine & cocaine) or were psychological issues, with sex being a way of relieving the anxiety caused by these real or perceived problems. What happened to just plain old fantasy? Movies, TV, the Internet in general, books, plays, parties, etc. etc. all offer an escape from day-to-day reality or, as you comment, daily anxieties caused by the uncertainty of the future or the perception of that uncertainty. Porn is pure fantasy – most of it may be bad, often boring too, but there can be moments in porn that hit ones libido (or something) just right. There is some porn being produced now that actually seems to have the underlying passion and desire that are necessary to real sex and real fantasy. So, it can be good, too. But it’s still “only sex”. Where’s the discussion about violent video games, bloody horror films and all sorts of violence we are exposed to daily when we are not even looking for it? Isn’t this a lot worse than sex? – a practice that us humans require to continue to exist. Why all the outrage? I hope that the younger generation is accepting of a variety of form of sexual activity as just a normal part of life and society and quit trying to tell other people what’s bad for them and what’s good for them! Especially when it comes to activities that have no effect on anyone but the participants.

  9. What an incredible spin job, filled with inaccuracies and distortions. It’s hard to know where to start.

    Some BASIC KNOWN FACTS that have been purposely distorted, or left out:
    1)Dopamine is necessary for sexual desire and sexual motivation. If “reward circuitry” (nucleus accumbens, or hypothalamic) dopamine is experimentally blocked or inhibited in animals there is no sexual activity.

    2)Dopamine is necessary for activation of the penile erection centers in the brain. The “reward circuitry” dopamine from the nucleus accumbens and VTA supply the dopamine to activate the MPOA of the hypothalamus which is considered the erectile center of the brain. Inhibit the dopamine and it inhibits erections.

    3)Addiction researchers (especially Nora Volkow, the head of NIDA) all agree that ALL addictions start with dopamine dysregulation (decline in D2 receptors, higher D1 receptors, and lower dopamine in response to natural stimuli)

    4)Addiction researchers (especially Nora Volkow, the head of NIDA) agree that both natural addictions (food, Internet porn, gambling) and drug addiction involve the same mechanisms and pathways, starting with dopamine dysregulation. So you can argue that there is no such thing as porn addiction, but you cannot, under any circumstances, argue that it’s not an addiction on the basis that dopamine would not be involved. There are 3,000 research studies on dopamine and addiction, so there must be something to it.

    5)It is common knowledge (and has been for many years) among researchers that dopamine is behind motivation, desire and learning. That’s why researchers consider addiction to be pathological learning with high motivation (dopamine

    6) It is also common knowledge that dopamine is not the final pathway for reward. In addiction terminology – dopamine is the motivation or drive, and opioids are probably the final reward, or “pleasure.” In reality it is activation of specific pathways by these neurotransmitters that equate with the experience of desire or pleasure. Please know that separating drive from pleasure/happiness can be done experimentally on animals, but does not occur in “real life.” We cannot separate desire (dopamine) from hedonic pleasure (opioids?). In other words you need dopamine and dopamine neural pathways to get you to pleasure, such as orgasm. Dopamine continuously rises throughout sexual excitement and drops at orgasm. Whether dopamine is a trigger for orgasm or not is not known, but your 1977 citation is ancient in terms of brain research.

    7)In fact, dopamine levels do spike in response to both novelty and seeking. This is why some addiction researchers want to rename the “reward circuitry”, the “seeking circuitry.” Dopamine’s response to novelty, seeking, and surprise is exactly what makes Internet porn different from porn of the recent past, such as magazines or even DVDs. With fast connections and free porn, a user can constantly activate the dopamine system by switching scenes, or genres of porn. With each new scene or flavor of porn the user gets a hit of dopamine.

    8)Although you are correct in that some people have lower D2 receptors prior to developing an addiction, new research shows that overconsumption of junk food can do the same. The new model is that excessive consumption of natural rewards can desensitize the pleasure response of the brain (lower dopamine D2 receptors). New experiments show that excessive consumption of highly palatable food can CAUSE a decrease in D2 receptors both humans and rats. A decline in D2 receptors is one hall mark of an addiction process.

    9)I’ve never heard of “burn out”. I think you may be referring to desensitization, which begins with a decline in D2 receptors. This leads to tolerance and the need for greater and greater stimulation. Heavy pron users comment the need for more “extreme” versions of porn (tolerance) in order to get erections or masturbate (desensitization).

    To summarize:
    Dopamine is necessary for sexual desire, motivation, and genital erection. It rises up to the point of orgasm, then drops. Dopamine also spurts with novelty and seeking. Addiction is a disease of learning and motivation, not of pleasure. All addictions involve similar changes in the brain. All addictions begin with dopamine dysregulation, including natural rewards. Researchers have known that dopamine is not the final pathway for pleasure, yet we need dopamine to get there. None of this in news to people who study addictions or sex.

    Here are quotes from one of top addiction researchers in the world:

    This is a question to Eric J Nestler – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_J._Nestler )

    QUESTION: Do these changes occur naturally in your brain without the influence of a drug of abuse?
    ANSWER: “It is likely that similar brain changes occur in other pathological conditions which involve the excessive consumption of natural rewards,
    conditions such as pathological over-eating, pathological gambling, sex addictions, and so on.”

    This is from Dr. Nora Volkow, Head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
    In recognition of the change in the understanding of natural addiction, advocating changing the name of the NIDA to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction, as quoted in the journal Science: “NIDA Director Nora Volkow also felt that her institute’s name should encompass addictions such as pornography, gambling, and food, says NIDA adviser Glen Hanson. ‘She would like to send the message that [we should] look at the whole field.'”

      1. Jessi…gee, ‘ya think???

        Most of those eight “points” offered by Mr. Wilson are nothing more than antiporn boilerplate that have nothing to do with the facts. There is NO proof that consumption of porn for most people becomes merely a stepping stone for “harder” usage, or that people who consume porn regularly automatically end up being so addicted that it affects their daily lives.

        And no, the stories of one or two addicts testifying to fundamentalist Christian antiporn groups or radical antiporn “feminist” groups do not make it any more true, either.

        Anthony

    1. Great follow up post, Gary!! One simply cannot put too much stock in the words or “research” of anyone who makes a living in the sex industry as with this blogger.

      1. @Kristen:

        Ah, ma’am??

        Jessi Fischer happens to have a MASTEER’S DEGREE in sexology. Therefore, she is more than qualified to venture on the subject of whether or not “porn addiction” is genuine or merely an invention of pop psychologists with not-so-hidden social and political agendas.

        Just because “many marriage counselors” don’t favor using porn as a means of reviving married couples’ sex lives is totally irrelevant to Ms. Fischer’s point that most legitimate studies do not agree about the definition of “sex addiction” or that it is proven that porn automatically causes addictive behaviors. The fact also remains that most marriage counselors happen to be politically conservative and more prone to antiporn/sexually conservative ideology…and that tends to bias their opinions.

        Nowhere in this essay does Ms. Fischer make light to the real problems of sexual compulsive behavior, nor does she deny that many people can get caught up in porn to the point of it becoming compulsive (as is the case with plenty of other behsviors). She is specifically targeting the “porn is inherently addictive because it increases dopamine like crack cocaine” meme that has been used and abused by many (including your beloved troll Gary Wilson) to support a dangerous pro-censorship antiporn agenda and to demonize normal consumers of sexual media as “addicted”. There is a difference.

        Anthony

      2. Oh…and Kristen???

        You might not like the fact that Ms. Fischer happens to take a more open-minded and progressive view of sexuality and sexual media than you would like, but that’s still no reason to trash her right to speak out and challenge your shebboleths about “porn addiction”.

        And no, she does not make a living “in the sex industry”; she simply doesn’t first choose to censor and belittle them for their profession.

        Anthony

  10. Interesting, informative, funny. Thank you from keeping me from my revision for five minutes :) I look forward to more

  11. Brilliant essay. I wish I had had this as a resource for the abominable debate on this very topic that I engaged in last week.

    My only consolation is that the information here might not have done us much good anyway, because our opponents jumped straight over science into the realms of: “On the internet people look at BONDAGE PORN! Isn’t that TOTALLY GROSS?! We should definitely restrict the hell out of that stuff. Think of the children!” I’m a little surprised, in retrospect, that they didn’t just come out and argue that pornography is an industry run entirely by literal demons.

  12. Great article! Very interesting and wonderfully humorous too. I have only just started reading your blog but will make sure I continue to – it’s brilliant. You are a terrific writer! Thank you.

  13. Fantastic article! I really appreciate some scientific fact to back up what I’ve known for ages — that porn addiction is akin to creationism as a paradigmatic invocation of the Christian world-view.

  14. I guess you’ve never met a real sex addict. Probably because our behaviors are so freaking destructive that who is going to be open about them? Nope, I’m not talking about the freelance computer programmer who finds himself jacking off to porn more than he’d like, thus avoiding paying work and strangling his dick so bad that he can’t get it up when his wife comes home. That”s procrastination and selfishness, not addiction.

    I’m talking about people who have to have a “hit” of sex at any cost. For me, it was unprotected sex with strange men that really got me off. You can imagine how unsafe and self-destructive this behavior was if you think about it. There is nothing wrong with having sex with lots of people, but there is something wrong if it becomes compulsive to the point that you act like a drug addict and will harm yourself and others to get what you want. Maybe it’s not sex addiction, it’s a form of OCD? I’m not sure, I had none of the hallmarks of OCD. I’m definitely prone to addiction though and have been addicted to video games and ice cream, among other things. I have an illustrious family of cocaine and gambling addicts with a few alcoholics. Things that are normal for normal people are addictive for us. It’s lame that people use addictions to moralize about something a normal person can use without a problem, but addictions are real and no fun :(

    1. This blogger makes no mention of the DSM adding sexual disorder diagnoses. Just because she chooses to make light of the words “sexual addiction” doesn’t mean that in essence it doesn’t exist. Call it whatever you like, if you don’t happen to like the words “sex addiction”. Many marriage counselors are no turning away from suggesting the use of porn in reviving a sex life. They’re beginning to find that in the long run, more harm than good is done.

      1. @Kristen: I think you’re confusing the oranges and the lemons, again. Try taking a few calming breaths…

        The thesis of this essay, so far as I understand it, is that porn *does not cause* addiction; rather, that addition-prone people can become addicted to porn, like any other learned behaviour. So, no-one is “making light” of addiction of any kind, but Jessi is asserting that the focus of the addiction does not necessarily *cause* the addiction.

        In the case mentioned in an earlier post that over-stimulation of D2 receptors by indulgence in pleasure activities results in reduction of said receptors and a predisposition to addiction, then there is an argument to be made that *excessive* use of *any* pleasure-stimulus renders the user susceptible to addiction. However, as this is hardly restricted to *porn*, why should porn be getting all the glamour press? Oh, the Religious Right is in town…now, there’s an explanation.

        Funny how science does all this hard work and discovers that, yes, Virginia, it is best to enjoy everything in moderation, including moderation. :-)

  15. Once again, Jessi, you cut through the BS and expose another shibboleth of antiporn idology as mere stuff and nonsense.

    No one is saying that someone can’t become “addicted” to porn as you can become just as “addicted” to everything from soap operas to professional wrestling to chocolate….but using “addiction theology” as a ruse to demonize people simply experiencing normal (or slightly greater than normal) human sexual desires is just sick, and goes to the heart of the dominant conservative sexual ideology.

    Point is, though, it’s not just fundamentalist Christians who are promoting such “addictionology”; antiporn “radical feminists” are equally capable of promoting such theories as a means of indicting men for their erections and shaming women who don’t follow their edicts.

    Other than that caveat…+100 to you for this essay.

    Anthony

  16. Gary Wilson’s post is FACT. Anthony, if you can’t prove that what he posted are blatant lies then SHUT IT.

    Anthony is very PRO-PORN, therefore not open to ANY info/data that will say that porn is bad. HE IS CLOSED-MINDED.

    The original article makes the assumption (and all pro-porn advocates seem to do as well) that all data/info/research that sheds light to the addictive nature of porn is done by Christians, and Christians are liars that can’t do good science and they are bent on making spoiled American society Victorian again.

    Whats the take? Christians are wrong because dopamine is not the reward? But its involved in the “reward process”? Therefore there is no such thing as “porn addiction”?

    And we then have Gary Wilson posting a lot of FACTS, and you guys complain about citation being needed? Well, the article itself needs citation.

    Instead, prove that the things Gary Wilson posted are FALSE. Can you do that, huh?
    Anthony is such a dumbass loudmouth but he can’t take the FACTS posted by Gary Wilson and PROVE them false. Prove any of Mr. Wilson’s points as false. PLEASE. Or else, SHADAP!

    To PRO-PORN advocates, there is no such thing as an “addiction” even if brain scans of different kinds of addicts seem to show eerily similar pictures of their brains.

    PRO-PORN/PORN ADDICT: “No such thing as a drug addict. Oh, don’t call an addict an addict; call him a “user”. No such thing as a workaholic, alcoholic, video game addict (who plays video games almost the entire day), no such thing as a food addict either.”

    1. Ahhh, no.

      One person SAYING that he is a sex addict does not make EVERY SINGLE person who consumes porn a bonafide sex addict. It doesn’t even prove that every person who uses porn is inherently a “porn addict”.

      The overwhelming majority of people who use and consume porn are more than perfectly capable of not only maintaining normal relationships, but are actually far less likely to fall into the traps of addiction or even compulsive behaviors.

      That’s not mere studies or anecdotes, VGI…that’s FACT.

      And I really do hate to burst your bubble, but there are plenty even self-described Christians who consume porn with no problems and no guilt whatsoever..even with your efforts to shame them into “addiction”.

      And please…if you have actually read ANYTHING that I have written, you will know that I take just as much offense at antiporn ideology when it is leveled by secularists (as in antiporn “feminists”, as I do when it is belted out by fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, Seventh Day Adventists, evangelicals, or any other form of religion or lack therof. It’s not about who, it’s about what.

      And, also….guess what, VGI?? I DO happen to believe that there is, for a small number of people, a trigger for what could be considered compulsive behavior that may even rise to the level of “addiction”. In those cases, though, the compulsive behavior — whether it’s watching porn, watching soap operas, watching FOX News, etc. — is often merely the symptom of a much deeper personal issue from which the object of their particular behavior becomes a trigger. So, in fact, I don’t deny that addictions do exist..only that you can’t simply confuse the behavior for the trigger mechanism.

      And no, merely posting your interpretation of a brain scan means not a doggone thing, since how are we to know that the level of neural involvement in a supposedly “addicted” person isn’t really the same level of a normally healthy non-addicted person?? Shall we merely take your word for it??

      Finally…Gary Wilson chose to bring his nonsense to this blog, and when called on his BS psuedoscience, he chose to bring his faithful minions to this blog to smear Jessi Fischer for nothing other than the fact that she called his BS out for what it is. You want to defend him and your “Christian” work, well that’s your right…but please don’t expect to come here and belittle the host and expect those of us in the reality world to sit still and not respond.

      So sorry, but I don’t take people I don’t know telling me to SHADUP too nicely.

      Anthony

  17. Oh..and VGI??

    Where did I ever say that ALL porn is essentially good?? There certainly is pretty bad porn out there, mostly of bad quality, and themes that aren’t so pleasant. But, that’s the nature of all art..not everything will consist of roses and wine and happy people.

    The difference is that I’m willing to acknowledge the bad with the good, the beautiful and indifferent with the ugly, and the fact that porn, like all other art forms and forms of expression, is in the eyes of the beholder and the producer and viewer. There is good and bad in everyone, and standards of taste may vary. Yours is not the only standard, nor should it be..and neither should mine.

    Anthony

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