Chronicling Porn’s Damaging Effects

The Internet’s increasing ubiquity has led to many good things, but it has had at least one negative side-effect: It has never been easier to access pornography, and massive amounts of it. But how much porn is actually being accessed? Last year, ExtremeTech ran a piece on some of the largest porn sites, to see how much traffic they generate, and the numbers they uncovered were simply staggering. One such site served over 100 million page views a day, which translated into 950 terabytes of data (most of it video) every single day… and this was only the second biggest porn site in the world. (To give you some sense of how much that is, consider this: Back in 1993, the total traffic for the entire Internet was a measly 100 terabytes.)

So clearly, lots of people are accessing and viewing lots and lots of porn — and it doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to think that demand isn’t going to slow down any time soon. The obvious question then becomes, what are the effects of this much porn being consumed? Last year, Your Brain On Porn’s Gary Wilson gave a TED presentation that discussed the neurological effects of consuming porn, which include desensitization and numbed pleasure responses and erosion of willpower (similar to what you find with other types of addiction).

However, a more personal and disturbing account of porn’s effects can be found in a recent Salon piece titled, tellingly enough, “Did porn warp me forever?”. The author, who goes by the nom de plume Isaac Abel, doesn’t hide any details, and as such, the piece’s more graphic portions can be hard to read. Abel and his friends discovered porn before adolescence, and began actively downloading and trading CDs of porn back and forth. He would sneak into his family’s computer room in the middle of the night to watch what he could. Even though he had a vague feeling that what he was watching was wrong, the thrill of finding new porn was too powerful.

What he found, however, was that he constantly had to find kinkier porn in order to maintain the same thrill, the same rush of excitement.

With a teenage sex drive only inhibited by a vague shame, I quickly fell down a “kink spiral.” After all, we’re talking about reaching climax — when the overriding thought is often just “more!” The unknown, the unseen, was sexy to me, and I pursued novelty with vigor.

I found myself rapidly desensitized to online images. If a threesome was kinky last week, then I’d need something wilder this week. To reach climax, I had to find that same toxic mix of shame and lust.

By my sophomore year in high school I felt torn. Even though I was fairly certain that most guys my age were regular porn watchers, I felt ashamed about the type of porn that I was watching (not something that even the son of psychotherapists was eager to share with friends).

And even though he felt shame, he wasn’t quite sure why.

For one thing, I wasn’t hurting anybody. And for another, these sites put that pornography up there! They must be doing that because people want to watch it, right? I didn’t dream it up. I just clicked through the categories of what was there by popular demand. So it was normal, right? Did that make it OK?

His porn habit eventually began to impact relationships with real women, even to the point where actual sex was boring.

I starting seeing a young woman regularly, and some confluence of alcohol, weed, no condom, and the trust, comfort, and affection I felt with her allowed me to start enjoying sex — to an extent. I wouldn’t acknowledge it, but the majority of nights I had “good sex” I was intoxicated. And, what’s worse, I was fantasizing about porn during sex.

It was a dissociative, alienating, almost inhuman task to close my eyes while having sex with someone I really cared about and imagine having sex with someone else or recall a deviant video from the archives of my youth that I was ashamed of even then.

Abel’s piece, due to all its forthrightness and bluntness, can be a difficult read. (And sometimes, a bit hard to believe… but not by much.) At the same time, however, it’s rather refreshing to see someone be this honest about the inner conflict and shame that he’s experiencing as a result of porn, especially given how often porn is joked about or paraded around in our culture. Unfortunately, Abel’s answers to his porn problems are never satisfactory, his conflict never resolved.

I’m trying to reprogram myself — unlearn my socialized sexuality. But that’s left me very confused. I mean, what am I really trying to do? Discover my “natural” sexual attraction? Sexiness is always constructed — it used to be normatively hot to be fat and pale! What’s really the alternative to the socialized, porn-inspired sexiness that I’m seeking?

I think in the end, I just want to feel good about feeling good — to dislodge disgrace, guilt and addictive perversity from the part of my brain that controls arousal. I think kinky sex is wonderful; it acknowledges how shame, domination and weirdness truly pervade sexuality. But, I want to be able to explore kink — not be resigned to it. I’m grateful for my generation’s embrace of sexual liberation, but this feels more like a cage.

He just wants “to feel good about feeling good”. He wants “to be able to explore kink” but “not be resigned to it”. But therein lies the problem. He continues to define sexual pleasure in incredibly personal, individualistic terms. Ultimately, it’s about how he feels — be it guilt or pleasure, shame or ecstasy.

Back in my youth group days, my friends and I would often read 1 Corinthians 7:5 and say, “See, God really wants us to have sex.” We were in high school, our hormones running wild, and receiving often-conflicting messages from the Church with regards to anything sex-related. As such, any Biblical justification for having sex seemed like a small victory, a sign that we didn’t have to feel guilty about these urges of ours and that once we got married — natch — we could finally have all the sex we wanted. Because the Bible said so.

In a sense, we weren’t all that dissimilar from Abel, though porn was much less of a factor in those days. (Or maybe it was for my friends. Sadly, I don’t recall ever having a single discussion about porn and its effects during my entire youth group experience.) What we missed, however, was the preceding verse, which says “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”

At its core, sexuality — as envisioned and laid out in the Bible — is an act of sharing and sacrifice. It is about giving yourself, in the deepest and most intimate of ways, to another person. It is not about objectifying someone for what they can do for (or to) you. It is not simply about ensuring that you “feel good about feeling good”.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to “dislodge disgrace, guilt and addictive perversity” from our hearts and minds. But time and again, it seems like Abel is only intent on seeing sexual exploration and gratification as a primarily individualized experience. It is about what he can get out of it.

As Abel’s piece reveals, porn — like any addiction — can leave great damage in its wake. But in order for that damage to be healed, there must first be a realization of brokenness and the need for forgiveness, followed by a stepping outside of oneself and the seeking of correction, counseling, and accountability from trusted advisors. Finally, there must be a realization that sexual endeavors are not about how much pleasure one can amass for oneself. Rather, true sexuality is about surrendering and committing, fully and entirely, to someone else, and placing sexual pleasure squarely in the context of intimacy with, and commitment to, another human soul.

Make no mistake, this is difficult. Our selfish hearts always want to place our own pleasure and desires first, without the exposure, responsibility, and sacrifice that true intimacy entails. But that path only leads to the sort of loneliness, shame, doubt, and confusion that Abel details so thoroughly in his article.

About Jason Morehead

Jason Morehead lives in the lovely state of Nebraska with his wife, three children, zero pets, and a large collection of CDs, DVDs, books, and video games. He's a fan of Arcade Fire and Arvo Pärt, Jackie Chan and Andrei Tarkovsky, "Doctor Who" and "Community," and C.S. Lewis and Haruki Murakami. He's also a web development geek, which pays the bills — and buys new music and movies. Twitter: @jasonopus. Web: http://opus.fm.

  • http://brandywinebooks.net Phil W

    No comments?

    Your conclusion is strong: “At its core, sexuality — as envisioned and laid out in the Bible — is an act of sharing and sacrifice. It is about giving yourself, in the deepest and most intimate of ways, to another person. It is not about objectifying someone for what they can do for (or to) you. It is not simply about ensuring that you “feel good about feeling good”.”

    I want to add that sex is a marriage thing, and the faithfulness, the whole-hearted commitment to your wife or husband, is the most important part. We can’t share with or sacrifice for each other to selfish ends.

  • Pingback: this went thru my mind |

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    Rod Dreher recently wrote about how much porn was damaging this generation of teenagers.

    I was thinking of these teenage boys who are learning to think and feel about sex in abusive or dehumanizing way. For some of these young men, that’s the only way they have experienced sex. Their psychological dynamics are going through a process of being deformed in this way. But that doesn’t change the fact that it seems utterly natural to them from the earliest age. That’s all they have ever known. Therefore, it should feel to them like they were born this way. How else do you feel about an experience that you have no alternative to? And which you can find other people who claim to have it as well – giving you a sense that it’s not only you, so it’s fine. But that doesn’t change the fact that they weren’t born that way. If you would ask them, some might very well say, ” this is who I am.” Just like the homosexuality agenda discourse.

    Moreover, they are being told, by many people at least, that there is nothing wrong with any of porn, that they are perfectly normal, and that they have nothing to be responsible for. What level of self-awareness can we expect from a good number of these young men? Zero. And if you think that an increasing number of young women don’t endorse porn, you are mistaken. I’m not saying the problem is of equal extent or depth across the sexes, but it’s certainly not exclusive to young men.
    Then, if you would suggest to these young men that there is something wrong with their perverted sexuality, and that they need to “convert” to a wholesome sexuality, they would think you are obnoxiously repressive or clueless, infringing on their sexual freedom and what feels like their born-that-way sexuality which, to them, is so normal. If you don’t accept porn or think it’s normal, it’s you who has a problem. Just like the homosexual agenda discourse.

    people who are consuming porn are “learning” many things, depending on what they watch. They are learning to be homosexual or at least bisexual, or pedophilic, or to enjoy scatological debasements and other gross ways to deform sexuality. It depends on what kind of porn they watch and how their psychology interacts with it. The basic message of porn is that every single sexual desire that someone can have in their minds, no matter how dysfunctional and disoriented, is normal. That can have a very powerful effect on people who, in addition to other factors, are prone to have dysfunctional sexualities.

    So the subject of what they are learning from porn is a lot more broad then.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/panmankey jason

    >At its core, sexuality — as envisioned and laid out in the Bible — is an act of sharing and sacrifice. It is about giving yourself, in the deepest and most intimate of ways, to another person. It is not about objectifying someone for what they can do for (or to) you. It is not simply about ensuring that you “feel good about feeling good”.

    Sexuality is poorly “envisioned and laid out in the Bible.” It’s a hodgepodge of various ideas. Marriages are arranged, marriages are between men and multiple women, marriage is between young girls and older men. Paul basically argues that the ideal state is celibacy, and that people should only get married when they can’t contain their lust for one another. The Christian idea of marriage is more of a projection about how Christians want to see marriage. Arranged marriages were a part of American history into the 20th Century, certainly that’s not the ideal, but it was considered a Christian thing to do.

    I’m not going to disagree with you about the harmful effect of pornography. Children should certainly not be viewing adult materials, as a society we aren’t keeping up with technology and it’s going to come back to haunt us. However, the majority of Americans have at least watched porn once or twice. If it’s truly debilitating we are in big trouble, because it’s impossible to escape from.

    What would do the most good are honest and open discussions about sex between children and parents, and in sex ed classes in our public schools taught by trained individuals. Classes on abstinence or sex ed classes taught by unqualified individuals have just as many negative consequences as pornography.

  • Josh

    i’ve always wondered about this too. but i come at it from a non-religious/biblical viewpoint. i agree violence has no place in sex whatsoever. but at its core i see sex as basically a primeval urge to propagate a species. we are primates, and we see all sorts of strange, rather rough or even dare i say “deviant” sex in the animal kingdom. the animals are not concerned with intimacy or the “feelings” of their mate, if they can be said to have feelings. but just because homo sapiens are self-aware and capable of emotion, i believe the older primate brain still dominates when it comes to sex because is so important to the species as a SURVIVAL MECHANISM. in this way, i see porn as completely natural for humans. it has existed for a long time, along with prostitution. it won’t goo away. as in other areas of life, i don’t see it as a legitimate concern unless it is violent or not consensual. my thoughts.


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