Do Video Games and Porn Threaten Masculinity in Young Men?

By Zachary Siegel 05/26/15

Infamous psychologist Phillip Zimbardo claims that young men's brains are being digitally rewired.

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Excessive use of video games and pornography pose a threat to the masculinity in the young men of today, according to Phillip Zimbardo, social psychologist at Stanford famed for his disastrous 1971 prison experiment. He’s calling it the result of a new modern addiction.

"Boys' brains are becoming digitally rewired," Zimbardo told BBC World News. "You have this paradox—they're watching exciting videos that should be turning them on, and they can't get turned on."

Zimbardo’s latest study was an in-depth examination into the lives of 20,000 young men and their relationships with video games and porn.

Citing results published in his new book Man (Dis)Connected, Zimbardo told BBC World News, "With freely available pornography, which is unique in history, [young men] are combining playing video games, and as a break, watching on average, two hours of pornography a week."

The statistics reveal porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. The booming industry of mobile porn is expected to reach $2.8 billion by the end of 2015.

The results of this excessive form of digital pleasure look grim. For instance, Zimbardo described a modern phenomenon dubbed porn-induced erectile dysfunction, or PIED. “Young boys who should be virile are now having a problem getting an erection," he said.

To illustrate the paradoxical effect that video games and porn have on young men, Zimbardo recalls a poignant quote from one of his participants. "When I'm in class, I'll wish I was playing World of Warcraft," the participant said. "When I'm with a girl, I'll wish I was watching pornography, because I'll never get rejected."

It’s as if reality itself is being conflated with the digital world where now people prefer their digital pleasures over those found in the real world.

In terms of remedies, Zimbardo opines that we must first take the problem seriously and second, parents must take an active role in their children’s digital life. For instance, parents can monitor and limit the number of hours their children spend alone in their rooms.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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