Men and Porn: An Introduction

In this article, we’ll be discussing how men consume porn today and why they do it. We will also discuss the effects of pornography on society as well as some potential solutions.

“effects of early sexualization” is a term that refers to the effects that are seen in children who are exposed to pornography at an early age. Early exposure to porn can cause issues such as low self-esteem, body image problems, and difficulty with intimacy.

This essay series is now available as a professionally designed, distraction-free paperback or ebook that you can read at your leisure while offline.

“It’s a new neural route,” artist John Mayer said in a 2010 interview with Playboy Magazine about his connection with pornography. When you wake up in the morning, you open a thumbnail page, which leads to a visual Pandora’s box. I’m sure there have been days when I’ve seen 300 vaginas before getting out of bed.”

Most males in the West may connect with Mayer’s overall mood and daily routine, if not with the particular number he supplied. Pornography viewing, traditionally seen as a shameful activity best carried out in the shadows of society, has evolved into a practically universal aspect of every man’s life. It’s almost a given that the major male characters in current television shows (especially comedies) watch porn, and in many instances, it’s virtually applauded (see Barney in How I Met Your Mother). The same is true in contemporary American literature, and even in men’s magazines, you’ll find a range of comments about the normalcy of porn. It’s been ingrained in our popular culture, influencing our entertainment and discussion.

Many guys are concerned about the impact their porn habit is having on their brains – even Mayer speculates later in the Playboy interview that it’s harming his generation’s relationships. But, in general, a lot of males watch porn without giving it much consideration, perceiving it as something relatively benign – a regular part of life and fuel for countless online jokes.

Is pornography, on the other hand, really harmless? Should it be a part of a man’s daily routine, or are there any drawbacks to this practice? This week, I’ll be delving into these crucial topics in a four-part series.

What Is Weird and What Is Normal?

While most people regard pornography to be perfectly healthy and perfectly normal, it is important to remember that what is “normal” in Western civilization does not always apply to other cultures. Researchers discovered that psychologists and sociologists routinely base their conclusions on studies done with one type of test subject: the WEIRD (those in Western, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies); in fact, 96 percent of the subjects whose behavior has been reported in top psychological journals were drawn from only 12 percent of the world’s population, according to a study published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (a journal published by Cambridge University). The WEIRD has been assumed to be typical of people all around the world, however this is simply not the case. When compared to the behaviour and attitudes of people from other cultures, Westerners are more likely to be outliers.

Masturbation, for example, is an interesting illustration of this. Masturbation, like porn, is often seen as a male universal. Nonetheless, it is an alien practice in certain civilizations. For example, when anthropologists tried to question two Central African tribes – the Aka and the Ngandu – about their masturbation habits, they struggled to describe it, not because these two peoples were timid or ashamed about the matter, but because they didn’t have a label for it. The Aka “thought it weird and suggested it may happen far away in Congo, but they didn’t know it,” according to the researchers. We specifically asked guys whether they had masturbated before they were married or during the post-partum sex taboo, and they all said no.” The absence of masturbation was also observed in other tribes, according to the study:

 

“We questioned Robert Bailey about his experiences attempting to collect sperm from Lese males in the Ituri forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo for fertility research.” He admitted that explaining to men how to self-stimulate in order to obtain semen samples was difficult. “Three of four semen sample arrived to him combined with vaginal fluids, despite detailed and extensive directions,” he added.

While masturbation and pornography often go hand in hand, the focus of this series will be on pornography. I only bring up the subject to highlight an essential point: what we believe to be normal, masculine universals in industrialized, Western nations are not necessarily so. Unfortunately, the notion that “everyone does it” is sometimes used to shut down debates about the potential negative consequences of particular habits before they can be adequately addressed.

Pornography That Isn’t Your Grandfather’s

Of course, pornography has been in some form or another for thousands of years all across the globe. The ancient Greeks and Romans created art depicting graphic sex scenes; the ancient Hindus gave us the Kama Sutra; supposedly virtuous Victorians still managed to create titillating erotic artwork; your grandpa lined his barracks with sexy pin-ups and had access to “stag films”; and your father had a stash of Playboy magazines in his closet.

However, since the dawn of the digital age, both the level of access and the sheer amount of porn has changed dramatically (it’s estimated that porn makes up 30% of all data transferred on the internet). Gary Wilson contends in his book Your Brain on Porn that today’s high-speed internet pornography is substantially different from the static kind of the past. And our hunter-gatherer mentality isn’t equipped to deal with it. For many guys, the mismatch between our present porn-infested world and what our brains were designed for is causing issues.

Protect, Provide, and Procreate were the three P’s of the ancient, universal rule of masculinity. While this trinity of support was intended to sustain the “edifice” of masculinity, in today’s world, men aren’t typically called upon to be guardians, and their labor as providers might be unsatisfying. As a result, the pillar of Procreation has come to hold an excessive amount of weight in a man’s life, twisting and contorting as a result of the stress. Modern men’s lives are frequently filled to the brim with sex – or at least seeing other people have sex – since the ideal of reproduction relied not only on bearing offspring, but on a man’s sexuality as a whole. Men have become observers of their own libido, and porn has filled their everyday lives with more abstraction than action, leading them farther away from the essence of masculinity.

As a result, it’s not strange that, although our society often glorifies porn as a relatively innocuous, omnipresent pleasure, unhappiness and disquiet have emerged at the same time. Thousands of men have reported a variety of problems as a result of their porn consumption in forums all over the internet. Some people have said that their habit has gotten in the way of their schoolwork, employment, and even relationships. Some people have claimed that their sexual performance with their spouses or girlfriends has deteriorated as a result of their constant consumption of porn. Some people are just fed up with how having porn on their minds has transformed everything they hear into a sexual innuendo, from a sentence in a pastor’s sermon to the harmless things their children say. Simultaneously, professional urologists and therapists are reporting that an increasing number of young male patients who are major porn users are developing sexual issues, such as erectile dysfunction, that typically manifest later in life.

 

Many men have joined the “Paleo” movement in recent years, altering their diets, exercise regimens, and lives to more closely resemble those of their forefathers. They learned that sitting all day, eating processed foods, and doing endless exercise was robbing them of their health, strength, virility, and spirit, and that replacing these habits with more natural ones gave them a new lease on life. Isn’t it past time that men compared their porn intake to that of their forefathers and evaluated if cutting it out would help them grow into better men?

A Word on Pornographic Research

We posted a piece on The Porn Problem five years ago. It was a decent article — our research and writing abilities were relatively rusty in the early years of the site, and it’s more of a broad, off-the-cuff discussion of the moral concerns at hand than a sophisticated, scientifically-supported essay. I still stand by my arguments, but this is a topic that demands much more investigation, especially in terms of porn’s actual impact on the brain. I also promised in that article that I’d write a follow-up on how to stop watching porn, which I’ll finally do this week! (Have I mentioned that AoM is a lengthy game?) I never forgot about that task; instead, I wanted to see what new study on the issue would come out in the coming years so that I could offer more informed suggestions.

Since then, I’ve read all I can on pornography that I can get my hands on. Despite the lengthy wait, research on the impacts of internet pornography is still in its early stages, and there isn’t much available. This is due to a number of factors. For starters, studying the impacts of pornography is very difficult. Because both the researcher and the research participant know what the variable being studied is when they urge a study participant to eliminate porn from their lives, double-blind studies are impossible. Furthermore, researchers have had difficulty locating males who have not seen online porn in order to compare their brains or lifestyles to guys who have. The lack of pornographic research also has an ethical component. Finding a young guy who has never seen porn and then exposing him to it would be a terrific approach to examine the impact of porn on the brains of youngsters. However, this would be unethical for obvious reasons.

Another reason there isn’t a lot of study on porn is because for much of modern history, pornography was never viewed as an issue that needed to be studied since it wasn’t considered a problem from a therapeutic standpoint.

Finally, pornography is a divisive topic, making objective study and analysis difficult. On the one side, there are moral crusaders who are hell-bent on proving without a shadow of a doubt that pornography is abhorrent and should be outlawed. On the other side, “sex positive” therapists, sexologists, and yes, porn producers believe that porn is a component of a sexually healthy lifestyle and, as a result, minimize evidence of porn’s negative effects while highlighting its positive effects.

 

All of this is to imply that finding reliable, impartial pornographic research may be challenging. That is, however, starting to change. Researchers are beginning to take porn usage, especially the online type, seriously as more males on internet forums self-report having difficulties with it, and as more physicians and therapists report encountering patients who have problems with it.

We’re left with utilizing correlational and anecdotal data concerning the consequences of watching online porn on the body and mind until additional study is done. While not as robust as causal studies and worthy of more examination, it would be foolish to ignore the evidence we do have outright. Many of the studies and analyses on pornography are conducted by guys who have direct experience with it. They’ve banded together on forums all over the internet (like Your Brain on Porn) to participate in a massive n=1 experiment, reporting on what happens when they remove porn from their life. Although it isn’t the most scientifically rigorous kind of testing, their shared experiences have been beneficial to other guys and have prompted genuine scientists to investigate online pornography even further.

A Note About My Personal Prejudices

I’d be negligent if I didn’t own my personal prejudices when it comes to the issue of porn. To be really honest, I believe that pornography is both illegal and immoral. Because I’m a religious man, I hold sexual virginity to a high standard on many levels. I’m not a porn user and never have been, save from finding some nudie magazines in the woods as a kid and sometimes unintentionally coming upon pornography on the internet (it’s hard not to when your profession is on the internet).

This may make me ineligible to publish objective pornographic content in the view of some. While this is true, no one, even trained scientists, is objective. And I believe I’m quite good at looking at a topic outside of my own views, viewing it as if I were a neutral observer, and seeing whether there are any compelling, non-religious reasons to adopt specific habits. To that goal, I conducted extensive study across the board, reading both pro- and anti-porn literature with an open mind. In fact, throughout my investigation, I came to believe that, although pornography was not for me due to my personal convictions, it wasn’t a huge concern for other guys and didn’t have any substantial negative consequences. But, after reading additional resources on the matter, I came to believe that, regardless of one’s religious convictions, the case against consuming porn was the strongest.

Finally, despite my religion, I’m not a fan of the zealous anti-porn fear tactics used by many religious organizations. When individuals refer to pornography as a “pandemic” or “plague,” I can’t help but roll my eyes. According to my findings, that kind of language isn’t really helpful and, in fact, may backfire, making the attraction of porn even more attractive and the prospect of quitting much more difficult for males who use it (for reasons I’ll explain later in the series).

 

Bottom line: I hope to give facts on the potential harmful consequences of porn consumption in the most balanced, non-polemical manner possible, allowing readers to make their own decisions about whether or not they want to continue seeing porn. 

This Week’s Destinations

This week, I’ll take a closer look at what the latest research on internet porn’s impact on the brain has to say. If you’ve been trying to stop watching porn (for whatever reason), you’ll discover why it’s so difficult to quit (but how it is still achievable). Here’s what’s coming up:

Tuesday: Porn, dopamine, and your brain; you’ll discover how dopamine plays a key part in your desire for porn.

Wednesday: How online pornography provides a potent “superstimulus” that may rewire your brain’s reward system, leaving you feeling hooked and unable to quit. We’ll also look at how excessive online porn usage may lead to sexual difficulties such as erectile dysfunction and delayed ejaculation, even in young, healthy males, as well as mental and social issues such as depression, social anxiety, and a loss of willpower. You’ll be in a better position to quit accessing online porn if you grasp the neurobiology behind it.

Thursday: The series will come to a close with some advice from the domains of cognitive and behavioral psychology to help you stop pornography for good.

Other Posts in the Series may be found here.

Why is there such a strong attraction between men and porn? Porn’s Potential Pitfalls How to Stop Watching Porn

 

 

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