Pornography is a graphic display of human sexuality that can be traced as far back as any other sign of human intelligence. Throughout the ages pornography has evolved and developed, but it was not until the technological and ideological progress of the 20th century that pornography was able to find its way in literally every aspect of modern society. At this time American society has not yet formed a uniformly accepted opinion about the effects of pornography. Some activists suggest that pornography provides people with a healthy way to explore their sexuality. Others argue that pornography is the root of all evil, and must be eliminated completely. Neither side is able to supply a solid proof of their position. Growing rates of failed marriages and increase in sex related crimes, however, suggest that, even though a limited exposure to pornography is probably harmless, and excessive exposure can have a devastating effect on involved individuals.
In his book “A history of prostitution from antiquity to the present day” George R. Scott states that the first sexual drawing was made by the cave man, and dates back almost a thousand years prior to the discovery of the first written document. Since then, human sexuality has played a major role in majority of the developing societies. Even though pornography existed, it was mainly used as instructional materials, and not as a primary source of sexual attention. With the development of Judeo-Christian system of morals and the restriction of human sexuality, prostitution began to serve as a source of satisfaction for the human sexual desires. Scott provides devastating statistics to support his statements. For example, it was estimated that one of eight women in 18th century New York was working as a part or full time prostitute. Towards the middle of the 20th century, with the development of science, people begun to question the traditional believes. They could not help but notice that oppression of human sexuality caused a lot of problems in the society. Various movements became to develop, that advocated a free expression of human sexuality, and developed in what we now know as a sexual revolution. Contraception became wildly practiced, and enrolment in premarital sexual relationship became a norm. As a result the need for prostitution greatly decreased, and this fact was commonly used by the free love movement supporters. As a result of sexual revolution, pornography has also made its way in to the mainstream society. Pornography began to be viewed as an individual right to the self exploration. Here is what Sallie Tisdale, a writer and a feminist of the time had to say about an anti-pornography effort by another famous feminist Catharine MacKinnon:
I take this personally, the effort to repress materials I enjoy – to tell me how wrong it is for me to enjoy it. Anti-pornographic legislation is directed at me: as a user, as a writer. Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin [noted radical feminists who oppose pornography]… are themselves prurient, scurrying after sex in every corner. They look down on me and shake a finger: Bad girl. Mustn’t touch. That branch of feminism tells me my very thoughts are bad, that anything goes… The message of pornography… is that our sexual selves are real. (Pornography Opposing Views, p29)
Many health care professionals began to rely on pornography as a means of alternating of human sexual behavior. In their eyes pornography was simply one of the tools that they could use to help their clients. Here is an example of what one sexologist of the time, Pattin Britton Ph.D, had to say on this matter:
As a board-certified clinical sexologist, I can tell you that it is common knowledge in my field that sexually explicit films and videos are often recommended as a mode of treatment for couples or individuals with clinical sexual problems. Such materials are viewed by professionals as helpful, not harmful, assets in the treatment process. (Pornography opposing Views, p30)
The sexual revolution brought sexual freedom, but it did not change the way people viewed family and marriage traditions. Men and women continued to get married, have families and have children. And they continued to have all of the same difficulties that the families were facing for centuries. Here is how Punneet Bedi describes these difficulties in his article titled “The hypocrisy of marriage”
Marriage demands abstinence from extra marital sex for either spouse, but the desire is so strong that marriage vows are often broken. Like all moral codes, marriage rules are generally hypocritical. Moral wrong doing, sexual infections or unwanted pregnancies may be the reasons for some, but the fear of breaking a marriage by betrayal is the most common deterrent. Like most things pleasurable but forbidden, extra marital sex is sought when one is sure that one will not be caught.
As stated in the above article although it is common for people to feel occasional urge to stick a relationship outside of their marriage, very few actually choose to follow up on that urge. Prior to the development of internet pornography, a person had to go through a lot of trouble to get involved in any sort of external sexual activity. In order to get a prostitute, engage in affair, or even go to a strip club an individual had to take a risk of being caught and exposed. With pornography being marketed as a healthy behavior, many people turned to it to satisfy their sexual desires. A trip to a shop that sold pornographic material still has proven to be a relatively dangerous activity, with a risk of being noticed by family members or friends. All of this has changes with the development of the internet technology. Man and women no longer had to risk an embarrassing exposure in order to get their access to pornography. Now they could watch an unlimited amount of obscene material from the comfort of their home. They could even get involved in the “harmless” internet sex with the help of video cameras. Here is an example of just one of these cases from Dr’s Schneider and Weiss book “Cybersex Exposed”
Jack, the oldest of four children, became the “man of the house” at age eleven, when his father left his mother for a younger woman. Jack’s mother took on two jobs in order to feed the family, leaving Jack largely responsible for his three siblings… Jack was very much “parentified,” meaning that at times he was needed to be more the parent than the child. After college, Jack married Susanna, a very dependent young woman, and continued his pattern of feeling responsible for other’s happiness. Several years after his wedding, he became involved with a secretary at work. The affair provided a haven from his responsibilities and gave him a chance to experience intrigue, excitement, and just plain fun, something with which he’d had very little experience. After a year, however the secretary…told Susanna about the affair. Susanna’s response was uncharacteristically independent: she divorced him.
When Jack got married for the second time, he told doubting buddies, “I mean it, this time no extramarital secret life.” One wedding present, a home computer, gave Jack entry to a whole new world – the Internet. Unknown to his friends and new spouse, Jack was involved nightly in three different online affairs, had downloaded more than 1200 pornographic images … and was spending fifteen to twenty hours a week in sexual chat rooms …- all of this secret from his wife and accessed from his study at home.
Before their marriage, Jack and his second wife, Jody, has enjoyed healthy sexual relationship, but gradually, as Jack’s hidden Internet life became more arousing to him than sex with his wife, he grew more detached and withdrawn… Jack justified his activities by telling himself, “I’m not actually cheating. I’m not having real sex with anyone else… I am just having some fun, and no one is being hurt.” He told Jody that his heavy work schedule … were so draining that he was just not interested in sex for the time being. (Schneider, Weiss, p2-3)
Clearly Jacks use of pornography can hardly be classified as “healthy”. Nevertheless the fact that pornography was not being views as anything bad caused Jack to think that everything was ok. Eventually Jody went on to discover his behavior, and she felt that it was neither healthy nor fair. Jack, however, is not alone. Today more and more men begin to find themselves in Jacks shoes.
A groundbreaking cybersex survey by Cooper and associate of 9,265 Internet users found that 8.5 percent were sexually compulsive of addictive. These cybersex users spent at least eleven hours per week in online sexual pursuit. They were considered addicts because they generally denied their online sexual activities, and continued going online despite poor academic or job performance, relationships difficulties, job loss, sexual harassment suits, arrests, failed relationships, or other adverse consequences.
Approximately 1 percent of the cybersex addicts in a follow-up analysis of the groundbreaking Cooper cybersex survey had a lengthy history of sexual obsession and compulsions that long preceded their discovery of sex on the Internet. (Schneider, Weiss, p10)
According to the provided statistics 7.5 percent of internet users developed a porn addiction without being previous predisposed.
It is estimated that well over 60 million people in the U.S. purposely visit Internet porn sites. According to ComScore Media Matrix, there were 63.4 million unique visitors to adult websites in December of 2005, viewing over 15 billion pages of adult content. (Kastleman, p3)
8.5 percent out of 60 million people means that there are over 5.1 million people currently addicted to pornography in U.S. alone, which is more that population of Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco combined. Out of these people, 4.5 million would not have become addicted if it was not for internet pornography. And with the number of internet users constantly increasing this numbers are very likely to go up. Cybersex addicts, like any other addicts, become preoccupied with their addiction and stop being responsible members of society. Here is how two of the porn addicts describe their condition.
While many hours at a time were wasted in this endeavor, it never seemed to really satisfy me. Oh, it would for the moment or while I was actually viewing the files, but the letdown and guilt afterwards were a real downer. I found myself risking everything – wife, family, reputation – in pursuit of this compulsion. It was when I began to view it as a compulsion that I knew I had a serious problem. But I did not and could not stop. It was only when my wife found some Web-temp [pornographic] files on our home computer that I was forced to finally confront the problem.
Cybersex use consumed my life. I was to the point where just closing my eyes would bring on an uncontrollable need to feed my addictive fantasies. The pictures viewed would haunt me day and night. I couldn’t look at another person without some filthy thought coming into my mind.
Many people disagree with the notion that pornography can be addictive. After all they were taught pornography viewing is healthy exploration of one own sexuality. Empowered by the belief that many men and women engage in pornography viewing, as a temporary means to combat their loneliness, or as a fun thing to do, curtain that when need to be they will be able to stop. In a matter of fact the majority does not realize that their behaviors exceed the limits of normality, until after they are confronted by their loved ones. It is not a coincidence that sexologist have been prescribing pornography as a medical treatment. Pornography viewing causes the human body to produce a full spectrum of chemicals. These chemicals, as any other drugs can be helpful if taken in small portions and harmful if the dosage is being abused.
It is often easier to understand addiction to as substance than to a behavior. The reality is that arousing or stimulating activities can be highly addictive for some according to how it affects their brain chemistry. Whereas drug and alcohol addictions can be defined as “a problematic relationships to a mood-altering substance,” sex addiction can be defined as “a problematic relationship to a mood altering experience” (Schneider,Weiss, p26)
In his book “The Drug on the New Millennium, the Brain Science Behind Internet Pornography Use” Mark B. Kastleman provides a very detail description of the process that take place inside a pornography viewer brain. But in order to understand these processes it is important to examine how the mechanism was design to work during the regular sexual intercourse. He describes the process as going down the funnel, until the climax as reached. Once the climax is reached a couple slowly begins to emerge back to the reality.
The Narrowing Process of the Healthy Marriage
In a healthy marital relationship, sexual intimacy creates powerful physical, emotional, and chemical changes:
- A Narrowing Process: At the top of the funnel the married couple enjoys a wide perspective of the world and the people around them. Then, as they become physically intimate, their brains begin to narrow in focus… climax is the most narrowly and powerfully focused singular event that the brain can engage in… in order to achieve this place, the brain must narrowly focus its attention and block out all distractions(work, the children, paying bills, etc)
- The Release of Natural Chemicals: To aid … this narrowing process, the brain … begin releasing a flood of endogenous (meaning produced from within) chemicals… These natural chemicals include the following:
- Dopamine: Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce extremely focused attention…This chemical causes each spouse to focus intensely on the other at the exclusion of everything else around them… A release of dopamine is associated with craving and dependency in addiction, which may be why it can help produce a healthy attraction and dependency between the spouses…
- Norepinephrine: This chemical generates exhilaration and increased energy by
giving the body a shot of natural adrenaline. Norepinephrine has also been
linked to raising memory capacity. Whatever stimulus is being experienced in the
presence of this chemical is “seared” in the brain. This helps explain how a
couple in love can remember the smallest details of their beloved features…
- Testosterone: …Testosterone is known as the hormone of sexual desire in both man
and women. For man, however, it is the key hormone of desire, triggering feeling
of positive energy and well being…
- Oxytocin: … the flood of oxytocin at climax acts as natural tranquilizer,
lowering blood pressure, blunting sensitivity to pain and stress, and inducing
- Serotonin: This natural chemical is released right after climax, bringing on
deep feeling of calmness, satisfaction and release from stress. Anti-depressant
drug like Prozac are design to increase levels of serotonin.
- The Experience is More Than Just Physical: As husband and wife move down the
funnel together, there is more to the experience than just chemicals released in
the physical body… the mind; heart and spirit are all joined together… 4. A
Climax of Many Things: … the final crescendo resents a culmination of all the
things husband and wife have shared – doing the dishes, paying the bills,
raising the children…all that … make up a marriage.
Just like in marriage, a pornography viewer goes through a similar process. The involved chemicals, however, produce a completely different result.
The Narrowing Process on Internet Porn
When an individual enters the funnel
through the viewing of pornography, the physical and chemical processes are virtually
identical to those in marital sexual intimacy, but with some radical differences
- A Narrowing Process: At the top of the funnel, before beginning to view
pornography, the individual enjoys a wide perspective of the world. Pornography
addicts … describe the top of the funnel as reality: their public self… Just as
in the marriage funnel, the porn viewer begins blocking out distractions – but
he is blocking out much more. He is alone. The object of his narrowing is …
pornographic images. So along with work, paying bills, etc he also begins
blocking out all thoughts of God, his marriage, family, morals, commitments and
consequences… 2. 3. The Experience is More Than Just Sexual: There is a lot more
going on in the Pornography Funnel than sexual arousal. In fact, remove the
sexual arousal from the process and any similarities to sexual intimacy in a
healthy marriage cease… While sliding down the Pornography Funnel, a tidal wave
of conflicting and confusing images and messages wash over viewer… visual images
are stored as emotional memories in the brain before the logic center realize
what has happened… when the logic brain catches up… and brings on a “fight or
flight” type response. The adrenaline gland sends out cortisol, the “stress
hormone,” which in turn activates myriad body-system process to counteract
stress. In essence, the entire pornography process is intensified and
supercharged, far beyond what sexual arousal alone would accomplish… The human
system is not design to deal with this overwhelming level of conflicting
stimulations… This is why many neuropsychologists … refer to pornography as
“visual crack cocaine”.. 4. An Empty and Hollow Climax: … When one uses
pornography to reach climax, the brain desensitizes to the images, habituates to
them, and eventually becomes bored. An increase in the variety of images and/or
time spent on the Internet is required to maintain stimulation levels… In a
healthy marriage relationship, sexual intimacy in only a part of everything else
going on in the couple’s life… So when the couple “brings all of that into the
bedroom” it is highly unlikely that the brain will habituate to the sexual
process… 5. When Reality Returns – the Hopeless Dialogue: When the porn viewer
emerges from the narrowest part of the funnel back to a wide perspective, the
heartless “drug-high” of pornography and climax quickly dissipate. Suddenly his
rational thinking returns and the hopeless dialogue begins: “What have I done?
What was I thinking?” … he wasn’t thinking, that was the problem! Once he
descends into the Pornography Funnel, he gives up his ability to “think.” The
overpowering flood of chemicals overrides his cognitive thought and reasoning
abilities. The frontal lobes – the logic center of the brain – are virtually
shut down and the limbic system, which controls the pleasure/emotional center of
the brain, takes over. (Kastleman, p39-57)
- The Release of Natural Chemicals:
… the porn viewer’s brain… begins releasing endogenous chemicals. The viewer
feels highly aroused… all of the stress, pressures, anxieties and pains in life
begin fading away as his system is flooded with endogenous drugs… the viewer is
able to self medicate and escape the reality of life…
- Dopamine: Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce extremely focused
attention… this causes the viewer to focus intensely on the pornographic images
at the exclusion of everything else around him…
- Norepinephrine: This chemical
induces feeling of exhilaration and increased energy by giving the body a shot
of natural adrenaline… Nor epinephrine also increases memory capacity… this
explains why porn addicts can recall the images seen with vivid clarity years
- Testosterone: Pornography triggers the release of testosterone which in result
increases the desire for more pornography…
- Oxytocin: … oxitocine acts as a natural tranquilizer. The individual … seek
oxytocin rush to cope with stress and pressure of life.
- Serotonin: This
natural chemical released … evoking a deep feeling of calmness… individuals turn
to porn to self-medicate and escape the stress…
- The Experience is More Than Just Sexual: There is a lot more going on in the
Pornography Funnel than sexual arousal. In fact, remove the sexual arousal from
the process and any similarities to sexual intimacy in a healthy marriage cease…
While sliding down the Pornography Funnel, a tidal wave of conflicting and
confusing images and messages wash over viewer… visual images are stored as
emotional memories in the brain before the logic center realize what has
happened… when the logic brain catches up… and brings on a “fight or flight”
type response. The adrenaline gland sends out cortisol, the “stress hormone,”
which in turn activates myriad body-system process to counteract stress. In
essence, the entire pornography process is intensified and supercharged, far
beyond what sexual arousal alone would accomplish… The human system is not
design to deal with this overwhelming level of conflicting stimulations… This is
why many neuropsychologists … refer to pornography as “visual crack cocaine”..
4. An Empty and Hollow Climax: … When one uses pornography to reach climax, the
brain desensitizes to the images, habituates to them, and eventually becomes
bored. An increase in the variety of images and/or time spent on the Internet is
required to maintain stimulation levels… In a healthy marriage relationship,
sexual intimacy in only a part of everything else going on in the couple’s life…
So when the couple “brings all of that into the bedroom” it is highly unlikely
that the brain will habituate to the sexual process… 5. When Reality Returns –
the Hopeless Dialogue: When the porn viewer emerges from the narrowest part of the funnel back to a wide perspective, the heartless “drug-high” of pornography and climax quickly dissipate. Suddenly his rational thinking returns and the hopeless dialogue begins: “What have I done? What was I thinking?” … he wasn’t
thinking, that was the problem! Once he descends into the Pornography Funnel, he
gives up his ability to “think.” The overpowering flood of chemicals overrides
his cognitive thought and reasoning abilities. The frontal lobes – the logic
center of the brain – are virtually shut down and the limbic system, which
controls the pleasure/emotional center of the brain, takes over. (Kastleman,
It is true that oppression of sexuality can be responsible for causing many psychological problems. However, it seems that in its effort to move away from potentially harmful believes of the past, the society moved too far in the opposite direction. Any extreme is dangerous. Hopefully the society will learn to recognize the new danger, and be able to find a healthy balance between the restrictions and acceptance of human sexuality. Until this understanding becomes a common knowledge, it is very important for individual families to be aware of possible effect of pornography; it no longer should be viewed as simple and harmless fun.
1. Bedi, Puneet. The hypocrisy of marriage. Mumbai: India Today, 2008. 7 Dec. 2008. An article describing problems of modern marriage.
2. Bender, David, Bruno Leone, and Carol Wekesser. Pornography Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc, 1997. Provides a collection of arguments of both pro and against pornography advocates.
3. Kastleman, Mark B. The Drug of the New Millennium. Salt Lake City: Power Think Publishing, 2007. An insight inside the chemical processes that take place inside porn addict’s brain.
4. Schneider, Jennifer, and Robert Weiss. Cybersex Exposed. Center City, MN: Hazelden , 2001. A self help guide for cybersex addicts.
5. Scott, George R. A History of Prostitution from Antiquity to the Present Day. New York: NY Medical Press, 1954. A historic insight into sexuality of different times and societies.