How can we bring the problem of porn addiction into the mainstream?

Printer-friendly version

Ex-porn user outlines the challenge of explaining porn's genuine risks

As the hard, cold physical reality of Internet porn addiction grips more viewers, and they struggle through the distress of withdrawal, they are asking why the mechanics and risks of Internet porn addiction aren't more evident in mainstream advice. Below, I reproduce the insights of one such observer. His words appeared on a site called www.yourbrainrebalanced.com.

For those who may not be up to speed on the field of addiction research and its relevance for Internet porn users, I've provided a brief recap with numerous links below his post. 


How can we bring the problem of porn addiction into the mainstream conversation?

By Onanymous

Porn addiction is a problem, and the vast majority of men who are suffering porn addiction are not even aware of it. They don't even know that there is such a thing. I got to thinking about the reasons for this ignorance after reading this comment by  in another thread:

I think measures need to be taken to keep porn away from people that are underage. They seriously need to put together some laws that porn producers have to follow to keep porn out of kids view!

While I understand this impulse, I don't agree with it. I think that politically that law would be difficult to get passed, and practically it would be difficult to enforce. Porn would have to be defined somehow (almost impossible -- one person's addictive porn is another person's boring video of a woman in a sexy dress smoking a cigarette). And then a system would have to be invented for keeping minors but not others from accessing the porn. It's a recipe for government domination of the Internet, and an open door for censorship of all kinds. No thanks.

I think the Your Brain On Porn emphasis on education makes a lot more sense. Think of how many guys get on the road to recovery just by discovering the existence of PMO addiction. And so many guys say, "If only I had known, I wouldn't have let myself get hooked." They demonstrate this to be true by working hard to get unhooked.

But education requires people to listen. And it is a serious challenge to get people to listen to the somewhat novel and complex [scientific] argument for porn addiction.

Right now we don't look at Internet porn the right way. We're either disgusted by it or fascinated by it, and neither side even entertains the notion that Internet porn is addictive like cigarettes or sugar water. So many conversations are derailed by one side shouting "Pervert!" and the other side shouting "Prude!"  Both parties remain ignorant about what's really happening to the brains of our teenagers while they learn that sex = Internet porn.

Promotion of the YBOP premise faces resistance from just about every group:

Liberals tend to side with science, but knee-jerk reactions to anyone talking about the dangers of any form of expression get liberals into attack mode. They're so used to anti-porn people being religious moralists trying to legislate from the Bible that they often (quite unfairly) mistake Gary Wilson for one of these people at first glance. Liberals need porn to be harmless so that it remains true that nothing protected under the First Amendment causes harm. It's hard to deal with the complicated reality that a certain form of expression could be both deserving of protection and also potentially harmful to the brain. It is easier to believe that there is no problem in need of addressing.

Libertarians tend to be smart and scientific as well. However, to maintain their ideology, libertarians need everything to be both legal and harmless. All drugs should be legal -- and therefore any concerns about addicts running wild in the street must be dismissed as irrational fear-mongering. All food should be legal -- therefore libertarians dismiss anyone even talking about the addictive dangers of our current artificially enhanced food supply as "nanny state" enforcers hell-bent on taking away our rights. And of course anyone suggesting that porn might have addictive properties that wise men should consider before consuming it is just a sex-negative loon. Libertarians have an extremely strong filter that keeps out any argument, however sound, that could conceivably lead a reasonable person to consider restricting any rights.

Conservatives seem like natural allies in promoting the dangers of porn. But that's only because they tend to view sexuality itself as something dangerous and in need of authoritarian control. And religious conservatives approach this debate from a strongly anti-science perspective. Arguments based on evolutionary biology -- the only arguments worth making, in other words -- are a no-go. The delusional consensus among evangelicals is that the theory of evolution by natural selection is false and leads people away from God. Evolution is more controversial than porn. Conservatives may be "against" porn, but their reasons why, and especially their desire to use the law to turn their own morality into legislation, make them toxic allies who would only offer reasonable people another reason to dismiss all "anti-porn" arguments as religiously motivated prudery.

Feminists, an important subset of liberals, also seem like natural allies. The patriarchy has no more vivid expression than in extreme porn. The young female performers in porn are very often traumatized by their experience. And many women, including feminists, who simply want good healthy sex with their male partners are being denied this valuable life experience by male PMO addiction. But feminists have three good reasons for not wanting to enter this debate. First, "sex positive" feminists have made criticizing anyone's sexuality controversial within feminism -- anything seen as condemning sex workers' free choices is seen as anti-women. Second, evolutionary psychology is rejected by virtually all prominent feminists; they see it as a "just so" explanation and excuse for men doing whatever they want to do. All ideologies are resistant to inconvenient science, and feminism is no exception. Third, correctly perceiving the problem here as "addiction" takes a measure of responsibility away from the individual man and also requires empathy for him. Feminism isn't fond of either of these.

Porn users, who are in a position to benefit most from this discussion, can be extremely resistant to the idea. It doesn't take long for ad hominem attack to become the primary defense deployed by a porn addict when confronted with his addiction, even in the abstract. Older porn users hearing about young guys suffering ED are sure that some other factor like diet must be at work, even when it is made clear that the affected guys can get it up for porn but not for hot young real-life women. It's as if the hindbrain has a devoted army of brain cells that order an immediate, irrational, strong attack on anyone threatening the precious porn. As is common with addiction, the porn user usually must "hit bottom" with ED or severe depression before he will be open to the idea that spending hours wanking every day to extreme Internet porn might represent problematic behavior.

In short, almost nobody is positioned to want to have a conversation about the actual, scientifically supported dangers of porn use to the human brain. And so we're not having the conversation.

What do you think about the cultural/media landscape I have pessimistically outlined above?

Any ideas for working around the obstacles and thrusting the problem of porn addiction into mainstream conversation?

END OF THE POST


Recap of relevant addiction research:

For years, researchers have been able to induce addiction in animal models at will. This has created, and continues to create, a huge database of the brain circuits, neurotransmitters, receptors, growth factors, transcription factors, genes and cellular alterations involved in addiction-related brain changes and behaviors. Many of the markers are well understood and some can already be observed and measured in humans

Next, researchers induced behavioral addictions in animals, using wheel-running and food addiction. It turns out that addictive drugs only cause addiction because they magnify or inhibit mechanisms already in place for natural rewards like sexual arousal.

Since they had been isolating the markers of addiction visible in humans, researchers could see that behavioral addictions (food addiction, pathological gambling, video gaming and Internet addiction) and substance addictions all involve the same fundamental mechanisms, and lead to a collection of shared alterations in brain anatomy and chemistry.

The master switch that triggers many of these addiction-related changes is the protein DeltaFosB. Continued over-consumption of natural rewards (sex, sugar, high-fat, aerobic exercise) or chronic administration of virtually any drug of abuse causes DeltaFosB to accumulate in the reward circuitry. Sexual activity also causes the accumulation of DeltaFosB, enhancing rats' "sexual efficiency" (and perhaps driving porn addicts to keep going as well).

It simply doesn't make sense to engage in debate about Internet porn addiction while

Comments

...for writing this article. I came across it and cheered over a year ago. i recently resolved to find it again, finally did, and saved it for future reference.
The discussion of "resistance from just about every group" is genius! I've always sensed that universal resistance, but couldn't put into words just why these groups do not want to hear the truth and do not want to know the answers.
btw, I admitted my addiction in December 2010. I tried and struggled for three years. Thanks to the info on YBOP, I am now porn-and fap-free for 150-days+. thanks and peace, M