It’s About Time to Reconsider Porn

In the last 15 years, pornography has become more accessible than a bag of potato chips. In this same time frame, the rate of teen sex has dropped significantly.

Editorial

In the last 15 years, pornography has become more accessible than a bag of potato chips. In this same time frame, the rate of teen sex has dropped significantly. We are living in what some have dubbed “the sex recession,’’ with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting teens having less sex on average than their parents did at the same age. Additionally, surveys from The Guardian indicated an increase in reported erectile dysfunction (ED) among people under 30. While there are undoubtedly many reasons for this decline in sex and increase in dysfunction, emerging research is pointing to porn use as a potential culprit.

The desire to watch porn isn’t sinful. It comes from the biological urge to procreate. However, humans were not wired for high-speed internet porn. Think of a human living in hunter-gatherer times. Chances are, they would only be able to meet a handful of different mates in their lifetime, making it crucial that they jump on every opportunity to get it on. Additionally, humans are wired to seek novelty to avoid inbreeding. With the internet, however, a person can be exposed to essentially infinite “mates” without ever leaving their room. What’s potentially dangerous about this is that it acclimates the brain to a high level of stimulation, where one requires constant newness in order to stay aroused. Consider switching between videos while masturbating. This desensitization of the brain can also lead people to desire more shocking sexual behavior that they may feel uncomfortable doing in real life, such as violence, orgies, and incest. Compared to porn, real sex may feel boring, and this can cause sexual dysfunction.

Ever heard the term “supernormal stimulus?” Probably not. It means an exaggerated version of something that may end up being preferred instead of the real thing. Scientist Nikolas Tingberg first coined this term when he observed that he could get animals to prefer fake mates to real ones. “Male jewel beetles will ignore real mates in favour of futile efforts to [mate] with beer bottles. To a beetle, a beer bottle … looks like the biggest, most beautiful, sexiest female he has ever seen,” wrote Gary Wilson in Your Brain on Porn.

One could argue that porn works this way too. Say Jimmy is at home and his friend invites him out to a party. Jimmy is horny, and wants to find a lover. Before internet porn, the prospect of real sex would probably seem much more exciting than a magazine. However, Jimmy is now faced with a tougher choice. He can either go out and try to hook up with someone, expending his energy and facing potential rejection, or he can stay home where he is comfortable and watch some hardcore sex videos. This is not mean to imply that people should feel pressure to have sex when they don’t want to, but for those who do want to have sex, porn may serve as a quick fix that ultimately does not satisfy the true desire for sexual intimacy. This is just like the beetle desperately humping the bottle. However, this issue goes deeper than simply preferring porn to sex. In many cases, porn use may actually lead people to be unable to have sex at all.

Erectile dysfunction. It’s a term that often evokes embarrassment or laughter. Generally, there are two types of ED: psychogenic and natural. Natural ED is caused by physical problems such as age or alcohol use, but ED in young people is typically psychogenic, meaning it has to do with the brain. This type of ED can be caused by performance anxiety, depression, and potentially, porn use. A number of surveys compiled by The Guardian show that between 14 and 35 percent of young men experience ED. According to Mary Sharpe, head of the Reward Foundation, data from clinicians and sex therapists also showed that up to 80 percent of the ED cases they recorded in young men were porn related. Other related sexual dysfunctions, in both the penis and vagina, include an inability to orgasm, lack of sensitivity, and lack of arousal, which all occur with a real sexual partner, but not during porn use. Though porn is not always the cause, there is documented evidence on online forums such as Reddit/NoFap of people who stopped using porn and saw their symptoms of sexual dysfunction go away.

So should people stop watching porn? It really depends. For those not experiencing dysfunction, it may seem unnecessary. However, for those experiencing problems or those who are yet to have sex, considering whether they use porn excessively is a good idea. Many proponents of the porn “reboot” suggest quitting porn for at least 30 days and observing changes. It’s important to remember that porn is not inherently bad, and feeling ashamed of watching porn can be more harmful than helpful. At the end of the day, most people want good sex and real life connections. If watching porn is detracting from reality, then it may not be worth it.

To learn more about porn addiction and sexual dysfunction, check out Your Brain on Porn, where much of the data for this article was pulled.