Wiring Sexual Tastes to Hairless Genitals...Oops!
Are we waxing away the line between adults and children?
At present, our culture both underestimates the power of erotic cues and misinterprets their significance. That is, sexual cues are presumed harmless because sexual tastes are thought to be hardwired whatever one views. Two circular assumptions follow from this faulty premise: First, we assume that what one climaxes to reveals one's unalterable nature; and second, we assume that if one begins climaxing to something incongruous one is merely discovering one's "true" nature. Such flawed reasoning arose in part due to medical politics which gave rise to a staunch refusal to investigate the plastic effects of sexual behaviors on the brain's delicate reward circuitry.
Actual experience, however, suggests that intense stimulation can alter sexual tastes in some brains. Indeed, some of today's Internet porn users are undergoing unnerving changes in their brains and arousal patterns—a possibility now well explained by many experiments revealing the plasticity of the brain. These changes are difficult to reverse while porn use continues. In short, sexual cues that start out as insubstantial and meaningless as cobwebs can become cables, that is, can lay down brain pathways that are given high priority because they are associated with the intense reward of orgasm.
In past articles we've pointed out that these changes can be very disturbing if they are mistaken for changes in fundamental sexual orientation. But they can also be less dramatic. Consider this guy's experience:
Justin: I used to have a big thing for enlarged breasts. Yesterday there was a clip on the news about girls with silicone implants and their health hazards. They showed a lot of these girls on the beach etc., which would once have got me drooling and set me off on a porn frenzy. But after a month without porn, they actually looked weird. The unnatural, augmented breasts put me off. I was thinking, "Why would they do this to themselves? What's the big deal about big breasts?" And this is from a guy who spent a lot of his life worshiping them.
To rid the brain of an unwanted arousal cue, one has to cease activating the associated brain circuits—in this case by not masturbating to similar cues. Disuse gradually inhibits the relevant circuits, although it may not extinguish them completely. Flashbacks are not uncommon.
Bare bottoms and an uneasy mind
In the past year, we've heard from both men and women about another porn-related plastic change that is causing distress. A European woman wrote:
In porn, bodies and genitals are usually depilated, so one automatically becomes conditioned to privates and bodies without hair. Familiar looking depilated genitals then trigger the porn user's reward center's urge to pursue the reward. Most porn also involves anal sex, so the viewer is also conditioned to buttocks as a cue for orgasm. Any naked, depilated bottom will then trigger the urge to orgasm, whether it belongs to a male, female or child.
How did I find out? I have a little girl of 2 years living in my home at the moment, and she loves walking around naked. I am ashamed to say that some of her spontaneous positions triggered my own self-inflicted porn conditioning. Certainly, I decide what to do with a trigger and (sorry to say that) arousal. I would never, ever act on it.
But it is scary that, even though I haven't watched porn in over two years, the unconscious triggers are still there, ingrained in my brain, and only reveal themselves now. And mind you I am female! It is also scary that I never noticed before how porn had conditioned my subconscious. I still remember times when women in my country didn't shave. Not even their legs, and no one would have felt bad about it. And now? You feel like a real outsider if you don't shave, so you do.
Okay, that's one person's experience.
Hairlessness: an unwanted sexual cue
More recently, an equally thoughtful man reported this experience:
I first got interested in the psychology of pornography a year or so ago when I read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. In one chapter he discusses a client he worked with who was having problems with online pornography. The book is excellent, but this chapter really got me thinking about how I came to battle with my porn use. My story is unusual, but probably not isolated.
I really didn't use pornography at all until I was about 28 and even then, at such a low level as to be almost negligible. I was briefly exposed to it as a sixteen-year old, but just never got into it. A combination of things changed all that. The main thing though was having private and easy access to lots of pornography via computer. I started using it more often because my wife and I had our first child and as such, a heap of things changed, some of which I was expecting, and some not.
I like to think of myself as a pro-feminist male. I married my wife because she is a serious feminist and I respect and love her for it. I love being involved in raising my two young boys, and we work hard to have a very loving and fair relationship. And so, with myself and my wife tired from our new parental responsibilities I thought I would use pornography as a way to have some harmless enjoyment, and leave my wife to get all the sleep she needed. We even discussed this, and she was all for it.
Little did I know what I was in for. It has been quite disturbing to experience the changes in my mind that have happened as a result of my increased pornography use. After using porn, for the next few days I find unwanted images and thoughts in my mind, sparked by the most unexpected experiences.
What really shocked me was an experience at a good friend's place one night, whilst over for dinner. My two little boys were sharing a bath with their 8-year old daughter and I went in to get the kids out and changed. All of a sudden, upon seeing a naked 8-year old girl, my mind started bringing up sexualised thoughts. I was so shocked I walked straight out and asked my wife if she could take over.
This is not something you can tell anyone. These are not thoughts that I have ever in my life even entertained, and yet, there they were, out of nowhere. But not really out of nowhere. I now realise that a lot of the porn I had been looking at depicts women with no pubic hair - not something I particularly like, or had even noticed - but, it had, unbeknownst to me, become etched in my mind.
The fact that pornography could do this to me, disturbed me very much, and as a result, I had a discussion with my wife about my increasing use of porn. I have taken steps to manage it, but it is difficult and I have to remain quite vigilant. I don't know what our society is going to do to stop this problem. I know that for me, if I hadn't had a computer and easy access to it, I doubt that my porn use would have ever become the issue it has become.
It is encouraging that there are now places where men can openly discuss the dangers of pornography for our psyches. Because, largely in our society, and especially amongst the vast majority of men, we are encouraged to laugh it off as a trivial matter, which increasingly, many of us know that it isn't.
Pubic hair and prominent labia minora only develop with puberty. Both are signs of adult women. Straight men once typically wired their sexual attraction to adult females using the standard visual cues of pubic hair and normal labia (among others). Indeed, older men on our forum say they don't find shaved women especially appealing. Their first sexual experiences were apparently with normally endowed women, or imaginations/magazines featuring same.
For most, this classic scenario subconsciously discouraged visual interest in prepubescent females. "If it ain't hairy, it ain't hot. Throw it back."
In today's porn world, however, "shaved," like anal sex, is de rigueur. We now hear younger men saying they will have nothing (sexual) to do with an unshaven female. What has happened? Adolescent porn users are cutting their teeth on depilated sirens. This is just when their brains are most sensitive to reward and furiously wiring their sexual arousal to associated cues—in this case, hairless genitals. This same process affects some adult viewers, too.
A sensitive brain can wire up to a new sexual cue with a few intense orgasms. Thereafter, such a brain will respond to that cue (whether with arousal or repulsion) before the brain's owner is even consciously aware of the cue. In short, the brain's reward circuitry ignites a powerful reaction before the person's frontal cortex has a chance to dismiss the cue.
In some brains, classic conditioning proves to be but the top of a slippery slope to more permanent alterations of the reward circuitry. These alterations produce a much higher level of dopamine release in key brain circuits (sensitization). This brain change is often accompanied by an overall decrease in the brain's pleasure response (desensitization). Together these addiction-related changes drive cravings for increasingly stimulating material.
The hairless, juvenile trend is not lost on the female partners and would-be partners of today's heavy porn users. They still hope to turn on their cue-conditioned mates. According to a 2010 study, labia portrayed in porn protrude less than labia portrayed in medical textbooks and other sources.
Result? Not just wax treatments, but also labia surgery to eradicate signs of sexual maturity are increasingly common. Using shaving and surgery, women are deliberately neotenizing their genitals, that is, intentionally making them look immature, juvenile.
Are we whittling away our aversion for sex with children?
Is this change in conditioned visual tastes removing an evolved barrier that once discouraged adult sex with children? If this is a possibility, how can we, as a society, hope to have an open discussion about it? Or even do reliable research? Given the willingness of today's authorities to assume any sexual response to images of minors proves someone is a pedophile, who would dare to discuss such feelings except on an anonymous Internet forum...maybe?
A discussion is definitely needed, however. Minor-attracted persons see their desires as a sexual orientation. It would be prudent to clear up the distinction between their circumstances and randomly wired, reversible plastic tastes—before overstimulated porn users mistake themselves for MAPs. Law enforcement officers, too, need to learn the difference:
Anthony: I started looking at porn, on a regular basis, about five years ago. First there were the beautiful women, then the hardcore porn, then the weird insertions, then the transvestites, then critters, then the hermaphrodites, then the teen porn, then the younger models and now prison (soon to go). As the years passed I became less and less interested in masturbating and more and more interested in "novelty" searching. Looking back, I just don't see how I failed to recognize that I had a problem.
People who acquire random, unwanted sexual associations would do well to reverse them. Why?
1. The anxiety from worrying about an uncharacteristic sexual taste can also get wired up as an arousing cue...leading to agonizing, but arousing, obsessive-compulsive "testing" to see if the unwanted reaction is still there. Each test strengthens the relevant brain circuitry, making the task of rewiring more challenging. For help reversing this OCD, see the work of Jeffrey Schwartz MD.
2. With the overstimulation of persistent porn use, random tastes may continue to morph in new, perhaps more shocking, directions.
Reversing tastes can be tough. It requires patience and absolute consistency in not fantasizing about, or climaxing to, problematic cues. Avoiding Internet porn's constant novelty helps too, because intense stimulation itself can drive escalation.
Is hairlessness in porn trivial?
You may be saying to yourself, "Oh please. I know the difference between a child and adult when I'm watching porn!" That isn't the point. Pavlov's dogs knew the difference between his bell and Alpo, but after a while they salivated when they heard the bell alone.
Brains are plastic. Once we wire up a cue, we have no way of knowing when it will trigger a reaction. A recovered porn user explained:
Porn kinda messes with one's preferences. There are things I was originally repulsed by, which I still [after recovery] find highly triggering and erotic, and which I don't let my mind focus on. When you first separate from porn you can't help but think about them because they are like the sexual wallpaper of your life. Instead of reacting strongly to intrusive thoughts, I just calmly ignore them and shift my attention to something else.
If you stick with it you'll get to a place that is something like who you were before you started using porn. For example, I'm a heterosexual male but over the years of porn viewing I began involuntarily checking out other guys' junk. Porn made me aware that all these men had penises too, and that it was possible to look at them the same way I would check out a woman. I never questioned my sexual identity, but it did kind of weird me out when I found myself studying my guitar teacher's crotch. I would think to myself, "What the hell am I doing? I don't like guys." That is a much rarer event today, and less worrisome now that I understand how porn causes random plastic changes in the brain.
The urge to get off now is potent motivation. It can be especially demanding in a desensitized brain that is struggling with the discomfort of returning to homeostasis following overstimulation. Whatever your circumstances, however, it pays to think twice before jumping on a hyperstimulating, or uncharacteristic, arousal cue. Better to endure an uncomfortable period of sexual frustration now and again, during which your usual stimulation isn't doing it for you because your brain hasn't returned to normal sensitivity, than to risk wiring unsettling tastes into your brain by forcing climaxes with more stimulating material.
Sexual associations are subconscious, and, in some brains even the superficial ones are tenacious. For good or ill, our brains are plastic. That is, the sexual cues we employ to reach climax are not necessarily toothless, and sexual tastes are not set in stone (unlike underlying sexual orientation). In short, we have more control than we thought. It's time to exercise it. Who needs to find a friend's prepubescent child a sexual distraction?