I have just returned from a 3 month sabbatical where I took time to study the area of male sexuality to prepare retreat material for the men of the Spanish speaking community. They specifically asked me if I could do a retreat for them focusing on this topic because, among other concerns, there was the issue of getting caught up in internet pornography. It is an area that impacts on JPIC in a number of ways, and is at epidemic proportions at present, as I can attest to the number of men who have come to speak to me personally or in the confessional, struggling with this area.
Pornography of any kind does grave injury to the dignity of its participants, be they the actors, vendors or the public. Often the actors who appear in pornographic material or videos have been trafficked or have resorted to such demeaning employment to feed addictions to drugs or to pay a financial debt. Thus, viewing and paying for pornography is a justice issue in that we contribute to the harm perpetrated on the actors involved.
What is particularly insidious is that it is easy to become addicted to pornography which worsens the damage done to all parties involved. Addiction to Porn involves both a physical addiction and emotional addiction, and both these areas have to be treated for healing.
Addiction to Porn is like any physical addiction to drugs or alcohol. In order to understand the physical addictiveness of pornography it is helpful to consider a man’s brain. While both men and women can become addicted to pornography, men in particular are wired to be visually stimulated. When a man sees an erotic image, he will automatically look at it and his eyes will lock on that image. While this is happening, chemical reactions are occurring in the brain. Dopamine is released, and this mixes with testosterone and results in an adrenaline rush. The man literally experiences a strong sense of excitement and even a high.
Along with the heightened sense of excitement, norepinephrine sends a message to the autonomic nervous system that causes the heart rate and respiration to increase. This accounts for the fast heart beat and heavy breathing. A message is also sent down to the spinal chord to the genitals for sexual arousal.
All of this physical and emotional excitement leads to an anxiety that can only be relieved in an orgasm. Thus a person will masturbate. When orgasm is achieved, opiate chemicals are released into the brain resulting first in a strong feeling of euphoria and then relaxation.
This process of extreme emotional and physical excitement, anxiety, orgasm, euphoria and finally relaxation, is extremely pleasing, both physically and emotionally. The brain likes it and wants more. Thus it will lead the person to go back to pornography and masturbation over and over again for the same result. So, whenever the porn addict is happy, sad, excited, lonely, angry, etc., he or she will return to pornography and masturbation.
As with any drug, after a while a tolerance develops. More of the substance is needed to achieve the same effect. Soft porn no longer is exciting. The addict will need to move on to more extreme forms of pornography such as hard core, fetish, violent or child pornography to get the same effect. These areas are much more damaging to the victims used as actors in this material.
Further, along with tolerance to pornography, dependence develops. The addict’s body actually craves pornography and orgasm. If he or she doesn’t get a ‘fix’ they can experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, head aches, etc.
For some, the tolerance they develop eventually leads to the point where looking at any pornography is not stimulating enough. At this point, they might be tempted to act out what they have seen in pornographic material, which leads to extramarital affairs, the use of prostitutes, and even anonymous sex.
Ultimately, the porn addict will find his or her life out of control. The addiction has left their life totally unmanageable. Many such people will spend thousands of dollars on pornography and prostitutes to support their addiction, thus feeding an industry that exploits other, often vulnerable, human beings. The addiction can also lead to the loss of marriage, family, friends, career, and reputation.
As human beings we have evolved a powerful sex drive, and it is meant to be that way so that we procreate. If it were not that strong, we would have died out as a species a long time ago. However, the evolution of human sexuality never developed with internet pornography in mind. In other words, our technology has evolved faster that we have evolved to deal with it responsibly.
It is particularly a problem for men because they are formed in a ‘Culture of Cruelty’ where any weakness is ruthlessly made fun of or bullied. Boys not only feel the pressure to appear masculine, but they feel that, in doing so, they must clearly not be feminine. So they consciously or deliberately attack in others and in themselves traits that might possible be defined as feminine. Instead of tenderness, empathy, compassion in relationships, they learn emotional guardedness and wariness with which so many men approach relationships for the rest of their lives.
Masturbation and internet porn allow for sexual experiences where their masculinity will not be questioned or ridiculed. I mean that, from a performance standpoint, it is almost impossible to fail at masturbation. But with a girl, what was simple becomes infinitely more complicated physically and emotionally. Men can feel out of their depth with relationships. The desire for control of what happens in a sexual encounter or avoid the embarrassment of failure or looking awkward is what motivates some men to pay for sex with a prostitute or use internet porn.
Another JPIC issue this touches on has to do with censorship of the internet. Recently there have been a number of online petitions fighting against US government attempts to control search engines, such as Google, or online sites that the current US government want to control access to. Given that our technology has evolved much faster than we have evolved to deal with it in a mature and responsible way, it could be argued that freedom of the web, in terms of access to pornographic material, is seriously harmful to vulnerable human being who are regularly exploited for sexual servitude and gratification. Censorship of such sites acknowledges the fact that many of us are vulnerable to the addictive nature of such sites and unable to deal responsibly with the easy access to such material. The problem is, where do we draw the line in terms of censorship?
What is important to present to you all, in drawing this blog article to a close, is that for people addicted to internet porn, there are resources they can use to help them liberate themselves from this trap that harms them and others:
- Honesty – develop your self-awareness and commitment to face the truth about yourself, without a debilitating sense of guilt and self-recrimination that only serves to weaken your resolve.
- Spiritual Plan – seek God’s grace and know that God is on your side and wants your good. Also there are faith based recovery programs that you can utilize.
- Education – get the truth about addiction to pornography and recovery. Lots of information can be obtained from websites and Church groups such as “Integrity Restored.”
- Counselling – seeing a counsellor for therapy can unmask the underlying issues of self-loathing and help the person work at self-acceptance and healing.
- Support – support groups with a 12-step program exist (an adaptation of Alcoholics Anonymous). Having a group that you can share with helps you to feel less isolated, relieving this pressure. Such groups can also help you to be accountable.
- Purifying you life – rid your life of porn and the access to it such as getting blocking software to block access to pornographic sites.
Many good men can get trapped in this area. I am convinced that they genuinely do not wish to harm anyone. The insidiousness of internet pornography is the incredibly easy access to such material, and the perceived anonymity involved. My hope is that by publishing this article that it may serve as a help for those who wish to be liberated from this addiction and the self-loathing that it brings.