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Does Porn Equal Brain Damage and Inevitable Addiction?

70% of us have viewed porn. Some of us are very addicted. Kids start on average at 11. The consequences vs. the pleasures are real issues in human life.

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By Salatha Helton

06/25/14

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“I woke up three hours later in front of the computer, I was parched, I hadn’t had a drink of water, I had to pee, and I missed three phone calls… It was like I fell into this black void, [and] I fell into the internet. Once you’re in it, you’re in it, until it lets you go! When I woke up, it was like a black out. I had just been looking at porn, masturbating compulsively for three hours, and when I was done, I was blown away because I wasn’t interested in pornography. My addiction had morphed, and it outsmarted me,” states Tracy B, a participant in a group for sex addiction recovery.

Tracy isn’t alone. In the U.S. there are nearly 38 million people logging on daily to view internet pornography. Online, there are numerous sites that are easy to access through one click. Many of the sites are free, and the lack of security makes it accessible to almost anyone.

"You can’t outlaw porn because a bunch of idiots is getting addicted to it,” Ron Jeremy points out.

According to online statistics regarding porn, 72% of men and 28% of women visit porn sites. Men and women are behaviorally different in viewing porn. Most men will admit to having watched porn at some point in their life; however, women tend to hide it. 70% of women keep their porn activity a secret online (per Family Safe Media). 

Pornhub is one of the top online sites for free porn in the world. According to an infographic on its website, people are logged on for an average of 11 minutes per visit, and common search terms include teen, creampie, and compilation.

There is substantial debate regarding if porn can cause addiction, due to the lack of scientific research, or if porn addiction even exists. However, there are individuals who consistently have a difficult time escaping this fantasy world.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine, an online website that educates individuals about addiction, states that addiction is a disease that can impair a person’s ability to abstain and have behavioral control, and that it involves cycles of relapse and remission.

What could the effects of pornography addiction be? One recent German study shows a significant drop in brain activity in the prefrontal lobes and the prefrontal cortex. The study, published last month in JAMA Psychiatry, suggested that the loss of brain power was a result of the over-stimulation of the brain's reward center.

If you search top porn sites, you’ll find various categories enticing people to participate in the online world, and no topic seems to be off limits. Not only is porn easily accessible, advertisers also do an excellent job at strategically marketing to particular audiences. In fact, it’s believed that 30% of data transferred through the internet is porn, and every second over $3,000 is spent on purchasing porn (again according to Family Safe Media). 

There’s no dispute that the porn industry is lucrative. The U.S. is the leading producer of porn and nearly 80% of content is produced in America.

Arguably, not all porn is bad. “There is some data supporting that it can improve [people’s] relationships. The [issue] of porn and porn addiction is very controversial, and to a large degree the debate about the topic is not very scientific. It’s mostly reflecting people’s opinions and attitudes [rather] than based on solid science,” states Erick Janssen, senior scientist and director of education & research training at the Kinsey Institute.

Couples often express a desire to watch porn together to develop skills and romance. There’s a feeling of security and comfort being in your own home and sharing the experience with your partner.

Former porn star Shelley Lubben and author of the book Truth Behind the Fantasy of Porn, spent eight years in the sex industry and over a year in the porn industry. She disagrees that porn can be beneficial for couples. 

Shelley recalls being lured into the industry at a young age, and through pornographic sex she contracted genital herpes and HPV. “I woke up with a 104 fever, and blisters and sores all over my mouth… I was like ‘what the blank happened, what is this?’” Shelly confesses that contracting the non-curable disease made her depressed and suicidal; however, seeking support from the church helped her to become a better thinker and have a healthier attitude about herself. 

According to her, women and men should stop seeking relief or pleasure from online porn because it can ruin an already damaged and mentally ill community. Shelley takes the view that when you view porn, you’re watching sexually diseased individuals and drug addicts on camera.

“The porn industry promotes sex trafficking; it promotes pornography, and it promotes adulatory [behavior], it promotes addiction. What man will see a naked woman and say, ‘that’s it?’ Most of them [viewed porn] when they were like 12, 13, and 14-years-old,” she states.

On average, children view porn by age 11, and will often continue to view into adulthood. 

“We don’t know enough about [children viewing porn]. There are researchers who say it’s harmless. I think that a lot of things impact developing brains— from how our parents treat us, our friends, our diets, what we learn in school. I don’t think we know how specifically porn fits this developmentally,” states Erick Janssen.

20% of men and 13% of women admit to viewing porn while at work. Although people access porn voluntarily by clicking on websites, many find that the images permeate their offline lives and no matter how hard they try to rid their minds of the images, they won’t go away.

Addicts and non-addicts are different in the way they view and process porn. When someone has an already addictive mindset or pre-existing mental illness, fixation sets in. It’s a constant craving that is difficult to fulfill.

“They call it the internet crack cocaine, and when I was in porn, I had those horrific images haunt me for years, it took me years to get those images out of my head,” states Lubben.

She continues, “We’re all going through the same thing [of] depression and suicidal thoughts, the shame, the guilt, and then the cravings, desire, and lust. It repeats a [cycle] over and again. For [porn stars] we want the money, we were addicted to the money. We were addicted to getting attention and the fame, it’s just sad.”

Seemingly, addiction to porn is about an unhealthy mind and lack of behavioral control. Tracy B. states, “My addiction is in my head, and when I close my eyes and visualize a fantasy all of those chemicals are instantly released into my body. We call it euphoric recall… You try to fight an addiction that’s in your head; that’s a tough one! It’s easy to set alcohol down, but I didn’t want to give up sex forever, but where do you define appropriate when you don’t even know what that looks like?”

Without there being a clear explanation for porn addiction, people find themselves wanting to blame the billion dollar industry. However, porn industry icon Ron Jeremy, who has starred in 1700 films and directed 250 since the 1970s, believes that it's incorrect to blame the industry and porn stars.

He believes that the success of porn is attributed to people’s voyeuristic natures. When Ron began his career in the industry there was no online pornography; no video, just feature film. “The internet was a friend to the porn industry at first but became an enemy with the stealing and pirating.”

He continues, “It’s out there, [but] sometimes it is out there a little too much. I think it has its place, and it shouldn’t be blasted to the public, it should be chosen if people want to see it.”

Although Ron acknowledges that there can be an addiction to pornography, he disagrees with backlash that the industry receives. “Yes, porn can [cause] addiction as well, but no one is outlawing cigarettes. No one is outlawing alcohol, [and] and all kinds of tobaccos. You can’t outlaw porn because a bunch of idiots is getting addicted to it,” he states.

If someone is experiencing addictive behavior related to watching porn, it’s important to seek professional help from a therapist or sex recovery group because the compulsion can often spiral out of control.

For over a decade, Craig Gross has advocated for porn recovery. He is also the founder and leader of XXXchurch.com, an online community that offers support for individuals suffering from porn addiction.

According to Gross, internet pornography has existed for a while, and it has become people’s unrealistic expectation for sex education. He states that his close friendship with Ron Jeremy has also enlightened him about the world of pornography.

“The first thing is talking to somebody; you’re not going to get anywhere on your own— whether that’s your staff [or] someone you’re close to, you have to fill someone in on what you’re going through, or you’re never going to get through it,” he states.

Erick Janssen isn’t an addiction expert, but he says that there is a lot of discussion surrounding addiction and what classifies it as such. “There was a time even when alcohol addiction wasn’t determined necessarily by how much you drink, but whether or not it impacts your life, and [if] it will cause distress.”

He states that there isn’t a criterion for assessing when something is too much. “What if your religious values say that you should not watch porn at all, and you watch it once a year, are you than an addict?” states Janssen.

“You cannot prevent it completely. It’s out there, [and] it’s never going to go away. Instead of just saying it’s bad, it’s bad, it’s bad – maybe get people early on prepared on how to respond to it, how to deal with it, or maybe how to put it in content or how to stay away from it. It requires a mature approach,” Janssen states.

Salatha Helton is a writer based on the island of Oahu. She manages Lodie's Blog and is the author of Diary of a Skinny Girl. She last wrote about pro-ana.

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