Transcript of The Great Porn Experiment - TEDx Glasgow

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The widespread use of Internet porn is one of the fastest moving, most global experiments ever unconsciously conducted.


Nearly every young guy with Internet access becomes an eager test subject.


 

Canadian researcher Simon Lajeunesse found most boys seek pornography by age 10 - driven by a brain that is suddenly fascinated by sex. Users perceive Internet porn as far more compelling than porn of the past. Why is that? Unending novelty.


As you can see from this Australian experiment, it's not mere nudity, but novelty that sends arousal skyrocketing. Subjects watched 22 porn displays. See that spike? That’s where researchers switched to porn the guys hadn't seen before. The result: subjects' brains and boners fired up.


Why all the excitement? (A slide with sheep.) Mother nature likes to keep a male fertilizing willing females - as long as any new ones are around. A ram needs more and more time to mate with the same old ewe. But if you keep switching females, he can get the job done in two minutes – and keep going until he is utterly exhausted. This is known as the "Coolidge effect.“ Without the Coolidge effect…there would be no Internet porn.


This old mammalian program perceives each novel "mate" on a guy's screen as an opportunity to pass on his genes. To keep a guy fertilizing the screen, his brain releases the "go get it!" neurochemical dopamine for each new image or scene. Eventually the ram will tire, but as long as a guy can keep clicking, he can keep on going – and so will his dopamine. With Internet porn, a guy can see more hot babes in ten minutes than his hunter-gatherer ancestors could in several lifetimes. The problem is we have a hunter-gatherer brain.


Internet porn registers as a genetic bonanza - so, a heavy porn user’s brain carefully wires his sexual response to everything associated with his porn viewing. Being alone, Voyeurism, Clicking, Searching, Multiple tabs, Constant novelty, Shock or surprise. As one young guy asked: "Are we the first generation to masturbate left-handed?"


Real sex, in contrast, is: Courtship, Touching, Being touched, Smells, Pheromones, Less forceful stimulation, Emotional connection, Interaction with a person. What happens when our guy finally gets with a real partner?


Well, researchers  don't know much about the effects of Internet porn - for several reasons. In 2009 when Lajeunesse tried to study porn's impact on users, he couldn't find any college-age males who weren't using it. So, the first serious dilemma is that studies have no control groups. This creates a huge blind spot. Imagine if all guys started smoking heavily at age 10 - and there were no groups who didn't. We'd think lung cancer was normal for guys.


Undaunted by his lack of non-users, Lajeunesse asked 20 male students - "Is Internet porn affecting you or your attitudes toward women?" Their answer? "Nah, I don't guess it is." But they'd been using it for about a decade…pretty much nonstop. This is like asking a fish what it thinks about water.


Which brings us to a second problem: researchers haven't asked porn users about the kinds of symptoms Zimbardo described in The Demise of Guys [TED talk]. “Arousal addiction“ symptoms are easily mistaken for other conditions, such as: ADHD, social anxiety, depression, performance anxiety, OCD, and so on. Healthcare providers assume these conditions are primary--perhaps the cause of addiction - but never the result of addiction. As a consequence, they medicate these guys without inquiring about the possibility of Internet addiction. So, many guys never realize that they could reverse their symptoms by changing their behavior.


Third, as a culture, we can’t believe that sexual activity could lead to addiction--because "sex is healthy." But today's Internet porn is not sex. It’s as different from real sex as "World Of Warcraft" is from checkers. Watching a screen-full of naked body parts won’t magically protect a guy from arousal addiction. On the contrary, this Dutch study found that--of all online activities--porn has the most potential to become addictive.


 

Here’s why. This ancient brain circuit evolved to drive us toward food, sex and bonding. As a consequence, extreme versions of these natural rewards register as uniquely valuable. That is, we get extra dopamine for high-calorie food and novel hot babes. Too much dopamine can override our natural satiation mechanisms.


For example, give rats unlimited access to enticing junk food, and almost all of them will binge to obesity. This is also why 4 out of 5 adult Americans are overweight and half of them obese-- that is, addicted to food. In contrast to natural rewards, drugs - such as alcohol or cocaine, will only hook about 10-15% of users, whether humans or rats.


This "binge mechanism“ for food and sex was once an evolutionary advantage. It helped us “get it while the getting was good”. Think of wolves stowing away 20 pounds of meat per kill. Or it’s mating season and you’re the alpha male.


 

 What if mating season never ends? All those hits of dopamine do 2 things:

  • First, they tell your brain that you’ve hit the evolutionary jackpot.
  • Second, (very important) they trigger a molecular switch called…

DeltaFosB – which starts to accumulate in your brain's reward circuit. With excess chronic consumption of drugs or natural rewards, this build-up of DeltaFosB (starts to change brain and) promotes a cycle of binging and craving.


If the binging continues, it can lead to the brain changes seen in all addicts:

The simplified dominoes of addiction are: excess dopamine over time>> leads to DeltaFosB>>> addiction-related brain changes>>>more binging>>>more dopamine>>>more DeltaFosB>>>more brain changes.

  1. First a numbed pleasure response kicks in - so everyday pleasures leave our porn addict dissatisfied (desensitization).
  2. At the same time, other physical changes make him hyper-reactive to porn (sensitization). Everything else in his life seems boring, but porn really fires up his reward circuit.
  3. Finally, his willpower erodes – as the CEO of his brain, the frontal cortex, becomes inhibited.

 I can’t emphasize this enough: All addictions share these same neurological underpinnings and are triggered by the same molecular switch - DeltaFosB.


How do scientists measure the underlying brain changes? Brain scans of various types. These particular scans show reduced pleasure response in drug addicts. These and several other changes have also been seen in gambling addicts, food addicts, and very recently, video game addicts.


And now, in Internet addicts. I apologize for filling the slide with brain studies – but I want everyone to know they exist. Just notice the dates – these are hot off the press. So far, all brain research points in only one direction: Constant novelty-at-a-click can cause addiction. We know this, because when scientists examined former Internet addicts, these brain changes were reversing themselves. Unfortunately, none of these studies isolate Internet porn users—although they do include them.

Here’s the game changer....


At last, we have groups of guys who are no longer using Internet porn. That’s right. Heavy users are voluntarily giving it up by the thousands. These guys are the missing “control group” in the great porn experiment. They’re showing the experts what changing one variable can do.


It’s the “resurrection of guys.” Before I continue, you probably want to know why any porn-loving guy in his right mind would give it up. Two words:


Erectile dysfunction. “Internet porn is killing young men’s sexual performance.” As Zimbardo said, “Young guys are flaming out with women.” This survey by Italian urologists confirms what we have witnessed over the last few years.


 

Sexual enhancement drugs often stop working for these guys (if they ever did) - because their problem is not below the belt, where Viagra operates. Nor is their problem psychological. It’s due to physical & biochemical changes in the brain – addiction-related changes. Their numbed brains are sending weaker and weaker signals to their bananas.


As Dr. Foresta says: "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.”

3 take-aways from this:

  1. First, Foresta is describing a classic addiction process: gradual desensitization of the reward circuit.
  2. Second, Internet porn is qualitatively different from playboy. Widespread, youthful ED has never been seen before.
  3. Finally, ED is often the only symptom that gets these guys’ attention. The question is, "What less obvious symptoms are they missing?" Most don’t figure that out until after they quit.

--Here's a guy in his late twenties:


I've been to psychologists and psychiatrists for the last 8 years. Have been diagnosed with depression, severe social anxiety, severe memory impairment, and a few others. Have tried Effexor, Ritalin, Xanax, and Paxil. Dropped out of two different colleges. Been fired twice. Used pot to calm my social anxiety. I've been approached by quite a few women (I guess due to looks/status), but they quickly flew away due to my incredible weirdness. I've been a hardcore porn addict since about 14.

For the last two years I've been experimenting, and finally realized porn was an issue. I stopped it completely two months ago. It has been very difficult, but so far incredibly worth it. I've since quit my remaining medication.”


 

“My anxiety is nonexistent. My memory and focus are sharper than they've ever been. I feel like a huge "chick magnet," and my ED is gone too. I seriously think I had a rebirth – a second chance at life.”


This is why pockets of guys are appearing all over the web. On bodybuilding sites, pick-up-artist sites, sports sites - wherever men congregate. They are seeking a neurochemical rebirth. Here's a group on Reddit.com, who call themselves "fapstronauts."  "Fapping" is slang for solo sex – but they really mean giving up porn. They have added 2000 members since this picture was taken one month ago.


 

This movement to unhook from porn is growing. In fact, groups of are springing up across the web…in Europe too. But, there’s a bizarre fly in the ointment.


 

Guys in their early twenties aren’t regaining erectile health as quickly as older guys. How can a 50-year-old get his mojo back faster than a 20-something? Answer: even though the older guys used porn far longer, they didn’t start with today’s highspeed internet porn. We know this is the key variable – because older users don’t develop porn-related sexual problems until after they get high-speed Internet.


Today’s young teens start high-speed internet porn when their brains are at their peak of dopamine production and neuroplasticity. This is also when they are most vulnerable to addiction. But there’s another risk:


By adulthood, teens strengthen heavily used circuits and prune back unused ones. So – by age 22 or so – a guy’s sexual tastes can be like deep ruts in his brain. This can cause panic - if he has escalated to extreme porn, or porn that no longer matches his sexual orientation. Fortunately, brains are plastic, and tastes can revert after a guy quits porn.


As a guy returns to normal sensitivity, his brain looks around for the rewards it evolved to seek--including friendly interaction and real mates. Here’s one more example of what we hear every day:


 

“I feel like the next Sir Isaac Newton or Leonardo da Vinci!

Since i quit a month ago, I've literally: started a business, taken up piano, been studying French every day, been programming, drawing, writing, started managing my finances, and have more awesome ideas than i know what to do with. My confidence is sky high. I already feel like I can talk to any girl. I’m the same guy who took 2 and a 1/2 extra years to graduate from college - because of procrastination and depression.”


I'll conclude with a wish: I'd like to see Zimbardo's guys who are wiping out, and their caregivers, listen to the thousands of men who are teaching us about arousal addiction -- by escaping it.

Thanks for listening.