Feb 4, 2013

The Not-So-Harmless Pasttime – How Internet Porn Gets You Hooked

Rosie Palm | Contributing Writer

Internet pornography is an absolutely fascinating phenomenon. Never before has mankind had such widespread access to filthy images and videos, catering to pretty much every single fetish imaginable.  No longer does the public need to experience the shame of seeking out and buying pornography in public – the internet has changed this, allowing people to stream content directly to the privacy of their own home. Indeed, it seems that adult content is slowly but surely beginning to dominate a huge chunk of online space – for instance, 12% of all websites are pornographic; also, an outrageous 25% of all search engine searches are to do with pornographic content (68 million requests a day!). It is clear, then, that the world is obsessed with all kinds of porn – it is a shame, then, that not many have stopped to consider the adverse effects of this type of content.

ADVERTISEMENT

Before the usual arguments appear of ‘mankind has always had access to porn’, or ‘you can find pornographic sketches in cave paintings of the prehistoric times’, I would like to point out that it is only in the past 10 years have we had access to high-speed internet and streaming video, meaning that the porn of today is frighteningly potent and realistic.

Now, I’m no scientist, but I do know that for a comparison experiment, one needs to have a control group – for instance, in our example, to see if there are any negative consequences to excessive use of pornography, we must take a group of people who do not use pornography, and then compare them to a sample of those who do use it. This is precisely what Canadian researcher Simon Lajeunesse attempted to do – to his surprise, he could not find any 20-year-old with no previous exposure to pornography. In fact, he discovered that most males attempt to seek out pornography at the age of 10 (some other sources state that the average is 11). While this is a clear roadblock in terms of carrying out any sort of meaningful research in the area, it does show the extent to which adult content plays in a modern young man’s life.

While Lajeunesse concluded his study by stating that internet porn is relatively harmless, and does little to change sexual behaviour in humans (on grounds that adult content is regarded as mere fantasy and not an actual representation of real life), I believe that he missed one crucial point – the fact that pornography is extremely addictive, an addiction that is rooted in our evolutionary habits.

An example of this was brought up by Gary Wilson in one of his TED presentations. Let us consider an experiment where a ewe and a ram mate. With each encounter, the ram takes longer and longer to mate with the same ewe. However, if a new ewe is placed in the pen each time, the ram takes a significantly shorter time. Similarly, when we switch test subject to humans, in an Australian experiment, males became bored while watching the same pornographic video over and over – yet arousal rates shot up immediately after a new video was shown. What does this prove? Well, it could be said that this type of behaviour comes from a long line of evolution – we are more likely to procreate if we mate with a large number of partners, as opposed to just the same partner. The same applies when people view pornography – the brain is tricked into thinking that each video is an actual sexual encounter, which means that the viewer feels compelled to watch more and more, with the brain thinking that it’s helping the body increase chances of reproduction.

Of course, all of this would not be enough to make internet porn addictive. What seals the deal is our tendency to indulge in ‘binge’ behaviour. Every animal, after generations or evolution, is prepared to indulge in binging, as this type of behaviour allows animals to prepare for a time when the substance is lacking. For instance, if an animal comes across a large amount of food, it will eat as much of it as possible, even if it does not need it at this time, to prepare for a time when food may not be as readily available. The same applies to sex, and, by extension, pornography. Because the brain has a similar reaction to porn as it does to real sex, people feel a need to watch more and more of pornographic material, as on a subconscious level, they feel like there may be a time when it will not be available (animals will also mate frequently, as there may come a time when sexual partners may not be readily available).

So what does this addictive behaviour mean? Well, for a start, people may begin to feel numb to regular sexual stimuli. Studies have shown that rats that binge on food begin to crave more and more of it – extrapolating this result to pornography, we could say that people might stop seeking sexual relations with actual people, as pornography gives them a quicker fix. An Italian scientist, Dr Carlo Foresta, has also found that due to a lower response to traditional sexual stimuli, pornography can also lead to erectile dysfunction.

While all of this information is only now starting to come to light, it is unclear just how reliable it is –it is, however, clear that we must keep an eye out on the negative consequences of this new phenomenon.

Sign Up to Our Weekly Roundup

Get The University Times into your inbox every week.