Arousal Addiction

Arousal Addiction May 27, 2015

Philip Zimbardo (Man (Dis)connected) claims that young American men have become habituated to “regularly experience stimulus” by excessive exposure to porn and video games. He calls is “arousal addiction,” and explains that “in order to get the same amount of stimulation, you need new material, seeing the same images over and over again becomes uninteresting after a short time. The key is novelty of visual experience” (xix).

Obsessive gaming is one factor: “Because of the new difficulties facing young men in this changing, uncertain world, many are choosing to isolate themselves in a safer place, a place where thy have control over outcomes, where there is no fear of rejection and they are praised for their abilities. Video games and porn are this safer place for many young men. They become increasingly adept and skilled at gaming, refining their skills, and they can achieve high status and respect within the game.” He adds that he has nothing against games: “they have many good features and benefits.” Problems occur when “they are played to excess, especially in social isolation” (xv).

Porn makes things worse. Zimbardo’s objection isn’t moral, but neurological and psycho-social: “for young men who have had no sex education or real-life sexual experiences, it can be very problematic. Many . . . are developing their sense of sexuality around hard-core porn, not around real people. During our research, a lot of young men told us about how porn has given them a ‘twisted’ or unrealistic view of what sex and intimacy are supposed to be, and how they then found it difficult to get aroused by a real-life partner. For many of them, a real-life sexual encounter can be a foreign and anxiety-provoking experience because communication skills are required, their body needs to be engaged, and they must interact with another flesh-and-blood person who has their own sexual and romantic needs” (xvi).

Males are more prone to excessive use of porn because they are “aroused by ‘or’” while women are “aroused by ‘and.’” Men “have a single-cue arousability: nice breasts or a round butt . . . will do.” Women can be “physically turned on by just about any kind of porn,” but women “only become psychologically aroused when the ‘and’ threshold is met” – he’s got to be “attractive and nice to children and self-confident” (xviii).

Zimbardo’s book sketches out the symptom of male disconnection – disinterest in education and work, gaming, obesity, drug abuse. And he sensibly traces the causes to “rudderless families, absent dad” and bad schools and abuse of technology. He even, surprisingly, has a chapter on “Patriarchy Myths” that shows how much power women possess in purportedly patriarchal societies. 

ADDENDUM: For all the sense Zimbardo displays, his book suffers from a lack of clarity about the morality of porn. He suggests in several places that moderate porn use isn’t harmful, and throughout he leaves the impression that gaming and porn are morally equivalent – both bad in excess, both fine in measure. With this, Jesus for one would disagree, as He equates looking at a woman in order to lust for her is already adultery.

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