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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: PORN ADDICTION:The continuous stream of new sexual mates in Internet porn overrides normal satiation mechanisms for sex.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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"Coolidge Effect." This describes how male sheep typically take longer to ejaculate when having sex with the same ewe, but can ...
Dascha, porn actress
"Coolidge Effect." This describes how male sheep typically take longer to ejaculate when having sex with the same ewe, but can ejaculate with a new partner in about two minutes every time. Wilson says that mammals developed tools designed for binging on natural rewards in case they needed to pack away food after a hefty kill or got their moment as Alpha male.
According to Wilson's theory, Internet porn perverted this evolutionary mechanism. It tricked my brain into thinking that I had the opportunity to procreate with limitless new mates, prompting repeated "hits" of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation. These persistent spikes of dopamine triggered the release of another chemical -- ΔFosB -- that's necessary for binging on rewards like sex and food.
With a reward like food I would eventually get full and my brain would cease its excitement for new bites. But the continuous stream of new sexual mates in Internet porn overrode my normal satiation mechanisms for sex, causing ΔFosB to accumulate in my brain. The accumulated ΔFosB ultimately led to physiological changes -- a numbed pleasure response, hyper-reactivity to porn, and an erosion of willpower -- that resulted in my cravings and addiction-like symptoms.
According to Wilson, Internet porn's power to sustain arousal with mass numbers of novel mates at-a-click has sensitized many people's brains to porn sex rather than real sex, leading to a wave of porn-induced brain-based sexual dysfunction. This is distinct from past pornography, because even fiends flipping through magazines could only fool their brain into thinking that there were a dozen or so different partners at a time with whom they could copulate.
Wilson contends that these new Internet porn "addicts" tend to exhibit specific symptoms related to these new conditions of porn, like compulsive novelty seeking and mutable (shifting) sexual tastes. This can further exacerbate stress if users' porn-based sexual fantasies morph to the point where they clash with their self-identified sexual desires or orientation.
Wilson's theory resonated with me, as did the trove of candid narratives of porn addiction and recovery hosted on YourBrainOnPorn.com that color the portrait of a user I can understand -- who can't get it up or can never cum, who watches gay porn or fetishes like "scat" despite having no real-world interest in those scenarios, and who spends hours a day masturbating with a tight-squeeze "death grip" that just can't be matched by vaginal sex.
While I was tempted to run with these corroborating accounts, I recognized that anecdotes were just that, and I wanted to see more rigorous investigations before drawing any conclusions.
The critics of YourBrainOnPorn.com feel the same way. They point out that there has never been a study that specifically examines the brain changes of Internet porn users with the scientific robustness of a randomized control trial, so the brain changes that Wilson and Robinson speculate are occurring in heavy porn-users have not actually been observed.
It's true, but that standard might not be feasible here. In 2009, University of Montreal professor Simon Lajeuness tried to set up such a study, but was thwarted because he "could not find any adult men who had never viewed sexually explicit material."
In lieu of such a study, Wilson and Robinson link to a slew of studies that show how the underlying brain changes observed in all addicts have already been seen in the brains of overeaters, compulsive gamblers, video gamers, and more recently in "Internet addicts" (including porn-watchers).
These changes include desensitization (reduced responsiveness to pleasure), sensitization (hyper-reactivity to addiction-related cues), abnormal white matter (a weakening of the communication between reward circuits and the frontal cortex) and hypofrontality (a decrease in frontal-lobe gray matter that is involved in impulse control and decision-making).
Still, the lack of scientifically rigorous research that isolates Internet porn users from other "Internet addicts" has forced Wilson and Robinson to cite testimonials -- and is why the couple's detractors cry "anecdotal pseudoscience!" and "mass hypochondria!" Sometimes, Wilson and Robinson do seem to get carried away, like by claiming that ex-Internet porn addicts are a valid, albeit "informal," control group to study this phenomenon (but, of course, they're not randomly selected, so there may be a common trait among these folks that made them use and stop using that could affect their results).
If the duo comes off as overzealous in their defense of the legitimacy of porn addiction, it may be because their counterparts are so dogmatically dismissive. Well-known sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein argues in The Humanist that these "addictions" are likely secondary to other root causes like bipolar disorder, OCD, borderline personality disorder, or just masturbating too much, and that focusing on porn masks the problem -- and the individual's responsibility to deal with his own immature decision-making. Dr. Klein categorically refutesthe addiction model, stressing that most people who watch porn have no problem with it. He declares, "[U]sing porn does NOT cause brain damage, erectile dysfunction, or loss of sexual interest in one's mate."
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