I came across this article about clergy sexual abuse and the concept of eroticized power seemed relevant to the current blog series on sexual abuse in the church. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following in the comments.
As with any behavior we engage in there are payoffs and there are consequences. This post explores the negative consequences of obsessive and compulsive consumption of pornography.
- Misusing sexuality or unhealthy sexual expression for the gratification of personal lusts and desires rather than the divine purpose if was gifted to use for (pro-creation and monogamous bonding/attachment) creates a host of attachments neuro-chemically and emotionally. When we complete a sex act (climax) we have engaged a process that includes attaching (oxytocin/vasopressin) to the object of our sexual desire. If these objects are images on a screen then we form a connection with those objects that was intended for your partner. Repeated gratification to pornography can lead to difficulty bonding with a loved one in meaningful ways, emotionally and physically.
- Because of the impact of porn, our ability to connect with others emotionally is reduced. The real problem is that our understanding of the true nature of sexual relationships gets polluted with porn consumption (creates fantasy). Porn creates something less life-giving, commitment-solidifying, joy-producing for transient, sensual, immediate gratification. As a result we learn that porn consumption, leading to masturbation and climax can be a powerful “mood altering experience” helping us deal with the stress of day-to-day life.
- Regular pornography viewing can also create a distorted perspective on reality. It reinforces body types that are not natural, sexual positions that are only for a good camera angle not a natural position during sex, it creates expectations for our and our partners sexual behaviors and puts pressure on both to perform as what is seen on the screen. Neural wiring changes occur due to regular porn viewing that reinforces our desires for what we see on the screen. We begin to crave in real life what we see on screen. This can also lead to a sense of emotional disconnect in which we are observes of our own sex acts rather than fully present with our partner.
- Emotional deregulation can occur when we become dependent on porn to relieve stress or make us feel pleasure. When we are frustrated with our partner being sexually unavailable we turn to porn out of frustration or to extract secret revenge for their scorn after a fight.
- In order to consume porn regularly we must disengage morally. This is dangerous because if done frequently or repetitively we lose our ability to empathize with others. Moral disengagement allows us to do that which is socially unacceptable by blaming others, justifying our behavior as deserved or just, or by displacement of responsibility of our choices.
- Porn will likely reinforce negative gender stereotypes. Cultural messages still support traditional gender roles and elevate the notion that women exist for men’s pleasure in a male dominated world.
- The shame and guilt that often accompanies pornography related problems is intense. One the episode is over these feelings rush in and drives the behaviors underground to keep them hidden from others. This leads to isolation and disconnect from important relationships. This can lead to depression or hopelessness and helplessness. The feeling that one is trapped in a shame cycle is often reported.
This list is not exhaustive but is a good gauge of what can happen to an individual that compulsively and/or obsessively consumes pornography. In the next post we will look at ways to walk alongside someone stuck in the labyrinth of pornography.
There is a hypnotic effect of porn that is all consuming, turning consumers into Porn Zombies. Sex and the human body was meant to captivate our attention and it is good. God created sex to be shared within the boundaries He laid out but there is a level of moral disengagement via objectification that one must accept if they are to habitually consume pornography. The male brain is predisposed for this type of objectification.
A recent study found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution—that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action. When consumed too frequently, for increasing lengths of time, compulsive pornography viewing has the potential to rewire the neural circuitry of the brain. Viewing pornography creates a superhighway to climax (dopamine reward) that was intended to be a long journey through the back roads leading to intimacy. Sex and the climax were simply meant to be the end result of that intimate journey.
Through studies, men who watch porn have shown that they are visually aroused not just by images of the human bodies they desire but also by the facial expression of pleasure shown. This is cause by mirror neurons that are cells in the brain that activate when you simply see another behavior. Have you ever watched an UFC fight where one opponent lands a giant knee to the face? What do we do in response to seeing that? We all collectively gasp and oooohh and aaaahh and wince in pain. Why? Because the mirror neurons in our brains are active, sending out signals that are similar to what the individual being punched is experiencing. As we watch porn our brains neurologically experience what we’re seeing on the screen, increasing our desire for the same experience.
Your Brain on Porn
In order to understand the effects of porn we must first explore certain parts of the brain that are in play. The following is just an overview.
The Limbic System is home to many things. First and foremost, it is responsible for rewarding behaviors the brain and body deem “good”. The word “good” is in quotes because “good” is subjective when left up to man’s definition. “Good” according to God is not defined the same way man defines it. Man defines “good” as anything that delivers pleasure or removes displeasure. Pretty simple. It’s hedonic in nature and self-serving.
Two parts of the Limbic System that are responsible for pleasure and feelings of pleasure are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala allows us to express emotions and reward behaviors that make us “feel good” so we increase the likelihood of doing them again. The hippocampus stores and retrieves memories associated with those feelings and behaviors.
It works like this; I’m driving in my car and Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi comes on the radio. When my senses take those sounds in the brain begins the process of retrieving memories attached to the song. It immediately presents the memories of a high school dance. I remember all the details with vivid clarity. I remember slow dancing with Angie, the lighting in the gym, the feelings that accompanied that nervous dance and other sights and sounds that were present (this is important to remember). Those memories trigger an emotional response in my brain and send signals to the prefrontal cortex (the smart part of my brain behind my forehead that makes sense of things and add meaning to memories and events) and if the pre-frontal cortex determines that this event was good I will then feel good as I think about it.
Take a moment and just contemplate how the regular viewing of sexual material can have a similar impact on how the brain responds to porn. Here’s an example of how this plays out: You’re at home alone while the family is at the grocery store. You’re alone (crime of opportunity) and you’re on your iPad (accessibility). Before you even begin surfing porn sites (most viewers have their personal favorites and can quickly navigate right to it) we have to resolve any cognitive dissonance (moral objections) and we use a myriad of techniques to do that. After we begin viewing the porn your mirror neurons cause you to become aroused based on what you’re seeing on your screen. This arousal builds until you have to release the tension your body is experiencing and you masturbate. This results in a climax and you experience the rush of natural endorphins such as dopamine (neural rewiring is occurring during the entire process) and the body begins to return to a normal state. It is typically at this point the we re-engage our moral compass and for some a flood of emotions rush in; guilt, fear, remorse, shame, etc., all set us up for “needing” to view porn again because of powerful pleasure reward makes those negative emotions disappear for a while (it’s hard to feel bad about yourself while having an orgasm while being caught up in a fantasy).
Repeated cycles of this and its accompanying behaviors can and most certainly will lead to neural rewiring that is habitual. If the porn was heroin (a comparable experience to orgasm) this is what we would call addiction or drug dependency. The craving for the payoff of watching pornography is compelling enough to alter our lifestyle and behaviors. We may become deceitful, coming up with ways to be alone, to cover our tracks, socially isolate, or other intimacy retarding behaviors and a host of other consequences we may not even be aware of. In our next post we will look at some of those consequences.
If you’re a youth worker then you already know about the abundance of pornography due to modern technology. If you don’t, you should pay attention. Due to new technology porn has never been more accessible, affordable, or anonymous than it is today. At the same time, sale of Smart phones to adolescents is driving the mobile phone industry. Add these two factors together and you have a new way to engage in an old struggle.
Young people are historically impulsive and vulnerable to addictive behaviors. This is not a revelation to anyone but the temptations and opportunities to act on those impulses have increased significantly in recent years. Viewing pornography almost seems like a rite of passage and current research tells us that first exposure to pornography is occurring at an average age of 11-years-old. The natural but curious nature of sex often makes it hard for even the most convicted teenager to resist the compulsion to revisit these sites again and again.
Accessible – Youth have unlimited means of accessing outlets to pornographic material today; smart phones, apps, tablets, gaming systems, the internet, television, pay-per-view, and peer-to-peer sexting. There are a myriad of ways that kids can intentionally or unintentionally view material that captivate their bodies and brains in a powerful way.
Affordable – Access to porn has typically come with a price tag that served as a barrier for most young people accessing such material. Today, much like a drug dealer that fronts you a sample to “hook” you, porn website offer free samples in short increments with the same intention.
Anonymous – Because much of this is done of personal i-Devices the stigma typically associated with these behaviors is diminished. One can privately browse content for hours and easily delete any browsing record of such indiscretions. Instead of going to the seedy gas station to buy a magazine, or to the backroom of the video store to find the adult movie selection, technology allows those outlets to come directly to the consumer.
I do not want to demonize the adolescent’s desire for sexual expression. God gave us a sexual desire and it is good. It is important to distinguish between normal sexual curiosity and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices. Nevertheless, we know that when anyone engages in a behaviors repeatedly neurological changes can occur, rewiring our brains to a “new” norm. Compulsive pornography consumption will fundamentally change the way we, especially our youth, will experience sex. Everything from expectations about sex to the physical experience of sex to our ability to attach to others in an intimate fashion will be impacted.
All is not hopeless. In this blog series we will continue to unpack to the problems associated with sex, as experienced as the norm today, and how we might have better conversations with our youth, their parents, and ourselves about sex and sexual behaviors.
We know this video was released a couple years ago but it warrants being recycled every now and again because of the powerful message it has.
WARNING: The content of this video addresses themes of pornography and the internet. It is useful for beginning discussion with you teens on the long reaching effects of pornography.
Next time you’re tempted to click…remember.
The article suggests that many parents have certain beliefs about adolescent sexual behavior that may be, albeit unintentionally, reinforcing certain stereotypes that shape the sexual behavior of their kids.
You can read the full article here.
We want to know more about the stereotypes you hold about teen sexual behavior. What are the beliefs you have and how did you develop them? We also want to know if you think they contribute to adolescent sexual behaviors?