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PORN ADDICTION
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A doctor looks at a heroin addict's brain scans.
New research shows men who say they are addicted to porn … develop changes in the same area – the reward centre – that changes in drug addicts.' Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian

The Cambridge University neuropsychiatrist Dr Valerie Voon has recently shown that men who describe themselves as addicted to porn (and who lost relationships because of it) develop changes in the same brain area – the reward centre – that changes in drug addicts.

Neurosceptics may argue that pictures of the brain lighting up in addicts tell us nothing new – we already know they are addicted.
But they do help: knowing the reward centre is changed explains some porn paradoxes.

In the mid-1990s I, and other psychiatrists, began to notice the following. An adult male, in a happy relationship, being seen for some non-romantic issue, might describe getting curious about porn on the burgeoning internet.
Most sites bored him, but he soon noticed several that fascinated him to the point he was craving them.
The more he used the porn, the more he wanted to.
Yet, though he craved it, he didn't like it (porn paradox 1).
The cravings were so intense, he might feel them while thinking about his computer (paradox 2).
The patient would also report that, far from getting more turned on by the idea of sex with his partner, he was less attracted to her (paradox 3).

Through porn he acquired new sexual tastes.
We often talk about addicts as though they simply have "quantitative problems".
They "use too much", and should "cut back".
But porn addictions also have a qualitative component: they change sexual taste.

Here's how.
Until recently, scientists believed our brains were fixed, their circuits formed and finalised in childhood, or "hardwired".
Now we know the brain is "neuroplastic", and not only can it change, but that it works by changing its structure in response to repeated mental experience.
One key driver of plastic change is the reward centre, which normally fires as we accomplish a goal.
A brain chemical, dopamine, is released, giving us the thrill that goes with accomplishment.
It also consolidates the connections between neurons in the brain that helped us accomplish that goal.
As well, dopamine is secreted at moments of sexual excitement and novelty.
Porn scenes, filled with novel sexual "partners", fire the reward centre.
The images get reinforced, altering the user's sexual tastes.
Many abused substances directly trigger dopamine secretion – without us having to work to accomplish a goal.
This can damage the dopamine reward system.
In porn, we get "sex" without the work of courtship.
Now, scans show that porn can alter the reward centre too.
Once the reward centre is altered, a person will compulsively seek out the activity or place that triggered the dopamine discharge. (Like addicts who get excited passing the alley where they first tried cocaine, the patients got excited thinking about their computers.)
They crave despite negative consequences. (This is why those patients could crave porn without liking it.)

Worse
, over time, a damaged dopamine system makes one more "tolerant" to the activity and needing more stimulation, to get the rush and quiet the craving.
"Tolerance" drives a search for ramped-up stimulation, and this can drive the change in sexual tastes towards the extreme.

The most obvious change in porn is how sex is so laced with aggression and sadomasochism.

As tolerance to sexual excitement develops, it no longer satisfies; only by releasing a second drive, the aggressive drive, can the addict be excited. And so – for people psychologically predisposed – there are scenes of angry sex, men ejaculating insultingly on women's faces, angry anal penetration, etc.
Porn sites are also filled with the complexes Freud described: "Milf" ("mothers I'd like to fuck") sites show us the Oedipus complex is alive; spanking sites sexualise a childhood trauma; and many other oral and anal fixations.
All these features indicate that porn's dirty little secret is that what distinguishes "adult sites" is how "infantile," they are, in terms of how much power they derive from our infantile complexes and forms of sexuality and aggression.
Porn doesn't "cause" these complexes, but it can strengthen them, by wiring them into the reward system.
The porn triggers a "neo-sexuality" – an interplay between the pornographer's fantasies, and the viewer's.

Of all our instincts, sexuality is perhaps the most plastic, appearing to have broken free of its primary evolutionary aim, reproduction, even though a certain naive biological narrative depicts our sexual tastes as hardwired and unchanging, and insists we are all always drawn to the same, biologically fit, symmetrical features and attributes which indicate "this person will produce fit offspring". But clearly we are not all attracted to the same type, or person.


Sexual tastes change from era to era: the sexual goddesses painted by Rubens are corpulent by modern standards.
Sexual tastes also change from individual to individual: different people have different romantic "types".

Types tend to be caricatures: the free spirit, the artistic type, the bad boy, the strong silent type, the devoted woman, and so on. We learn that types are related to plasticity, when we discover the individual's history.
The woman attracted to "the unavailable man", often lost her father in childhood; the man attracted to the "ice queen" had a distant critical mother.
There is little hardwired about the specifics of these attractions. But the ultimate sign that sexual desire need not be hardwired into reproduction is the fetishist, more attracted to a shoe than its wearer.

Sexual tastes change over the course of our individual lives; not all love is love at first sight, based on looks; we may not notice someone as especially attractive, until we fall in love with them and feel such pleasure in their presence, that we soon "awaken" to their charms. And successfully monogamous couples, who love and feel attraction to each other over decades, slowly change their sexual tastes, as their partners age and look different.
Sometimes change comes quickly, but no changes are as rapid or radical as those occurring in teenagers, who go from having limited, to all consuming attractions.
Teenagers' brains are especially plastic.
Now, 24/7 access to internet porn is laying the foundation of their sexual tastes.
In Beeban Kidron's In Real Life, a gripping film about the effects of the internet on teenagers, a 15-year-old boy of extraordinary honesty and courage articulates what is going on in the lives of millions of teen boys. He shows her the porn images that excite him and his friends, and describes how they have moulded their "real life" sexual activity.

He says: "You'd try out a girl and get a perfect image of what you've watched on the internet … you'd want her to be exactly like the one you saw on the internet … I'm highly thankful to whoever made these websites, and that they're free, but in other senses it's ruined the whole sense of love.
It hurts me because I find now it's so hard for me to actually find a connection to a girl."
The sexual tastes and the romantic longings of these boys have become dissociated from each other.
Meanwhile, the girls have "downloaded" on to them the expectation that they play roles written by pornographers.
Once, porn was used by teens to explore, prepare and relieve sexual tension, in anticipation of a real sexual relationship.
Today, it supplants it.
In her book, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion, Izabella St James, who was one of Hugh Hefner's former "official girlfriends", described sex with Hef.
Hef, in his late 70s, would have sex twice a week, sometimes with four or more of his girlfriends at once, St James among them.
He had novelty, variety, multiplicity and women willing to do what he pleased. At the end of the happy orgy, wrote St James, came "the grand finale: he masturbated while watching porn".
Here, the man who could actually live out the ultimate porn fantasy, with real porn stars, instead turned from their real flesh and touch, to the image on the screen.
Now, I ask you, "what is wrong with this picture?".

THE PROBLEM WITH PORN

Adolescent sexuality expert Maree Crabbe on pornography's impact on young people.
Technology has enabled the proliferation of pornography, making it so pervasive that it has become the main sex educator for many young people. This is a profound problem because it gives a distorted view of sexuality and human relations, predominantly involves violence against women and encourages hazardous practices.

It is causing young people confusion and anxiety, and they are feeling pressure to mimic acts that are common in pornography but that many girls, in particular, find distasteful, degrading or painful.

Research shows more than nine in 10 Australian boys aged 13 to 16 and more than six in 10 girls in the same age group have seen pornography online. They can seek it out anonymously and effortlessly. Many, too, stumble upon it inadvertently through internet search engines.

Maree Crabbe
Maree Crabbe is an expert on young people and sexuality. Photo: Simon Schluter
Today's guest in The Zone has worked for more than a decade with young people and sexuality, and is the joint leader of a project called Reality and Risk, which seeks to arm young people - and parents, carers and educators - with information and confidence to think critically about pornography and the messages it conveys about women, men and sex.

Maree Crabbe has worked with young people for 20 years, and has focused on sexuality and sexual health for the past decade, developing and presenting programs about sexual violence prevention, sexual diversity and prevention of sexually transmissible infections.

In our interview, the full transcript of which - as well as a short video statement by Crabbe - is at theage.com.au/opinion/the-zone, she gives advice to young people and adults and sets out the scope of the pornography issue.

''Pornography has become incredibly accessible … and more aggressive. What was most accessible a couple of decades ago was a centrefold - a still image of a naked or semi-naked woman. Now what is most accessible is moving imagery of people having sex, often quite aggressively. It is shaping the ways that many people are thinking about and experiencing sexuality.''

A fundamental concern is the predominance of violence, the overwhelming majority of which is against women. Crabbe cites a 2010 analysis by US academic psychologist Ana Bridges that found 88 per cent of scenes in pornographic videos portrayed physical aggression, while nearly half contained verbal aggression. The aggression is not random - 94 per cent of it was perpetrated against women. And more than nine in 10 of those acts of aggression were met with a neutral or a positive response by the targets - the female performers following the scripts.

''The message to the consumer is she likes it when he hits her or he chokes her or he gags her. And quite often women are visibly gagging, usually on a penis, but sometimes on other things. It gives a very confusing message to consumers about what might actually be enjoyable for most women. Pornography is normalising what we call porn's signature sex acts - the ejaculation on faces and bodies, what the industry calls deepthroating, which is fellatio with the penis in the back of the throat, that sometimes induces gagging or even vomiting - and heterosexual anal sex.

''The point is not whether anal sex is good or bad, or that it's no good to get ejaculate on your face or parts of your body. It's that the script of pornography is normalising and misrepresenting the experiences of pleasure of lots of people, particularly women, and shaping a sense of what is expected as part of the sexual experience for many young people when that is not actually what a lot of people want to engage in.''

Violence against women is a massive global issue, and is one of the most pressing problems in Australia. Research by VicHealth found that for Australian women aged between 15 and 44, intimate partner violence - that is, excluding general violence against women - is the leading preventable cause of illness, injury and death. Every five or six days in Australia, a woman is killed by her partner or former partner.

Crabbe stresses the scripts are generated by an industry seeking a profit from representing sex to a primarily male audience. She says there is a lack of focus on mutual pleasure and female pleasure. The crucial notions of respect and negotiating consent are usually ignored.

''Porn creates a sense of what is normal, what is expected, and that we ought to consent to ways of doing sex that are not just derived from the interaction between those individuals engaged in the experience, and what they would like to be doing. We're hearing many stories from young women about their partners initiating the signature sex acts from pornography and of the women struggling with both wanting to please their partners, wanting to be accommodating and generous in their sexuality, but not wanting to engage in those sex acts.''

While pornography producers may not see their role as sex educators for young people, that is what they have become. This has confronting implications for parents and carers. And for many adults, this may be a particularly uncomfortable challenge. A lot of parents find it excruciating broaching even basic sex education, let alone talking to their children about pornography.

''We struggle to talk about desire, pleasure, consent, communication. But if we don't have those conversations with young people, the porn industry will. What young people will learn then will not be as good as it could be if people who care about them had had those conversations with them. This is a really significant part of responding to the pervasiveness of aggressive internet porn. Part of it is also about modelling things - modelling respectful gender relations in our homes and communities and extended family, and maybe one day in the media and politics.''

Crabbe says that while prohibiting internet use is clearly not a realistic or desirable parental policy, parents should monitor and limit young people's access to the online world.

If parents and carers do not arm young people with the knowledge to critique pornography and understand it for what it is, young people are going to continue with a distorted view. It can be a dangerous distortion.

''Pornography is an extremely problematic sex educator. The vast majority of pornography doesn't do anything remotely like what we could consider promoting safe sex or safe sexual practices.''

Crabbe says only 10 per cent of pornography shows the use of condoms. And while many professions are covered by legislation against bodily fluids being allowed to contact other people, no such restrictions apply to pornography.

''There is also a prevalence of sexual acts that are very dangerous for one's sexual health. This includes unprotected sex with multiple partners, and sexual acts like anal sex directly into vaginal sex, or anal sex directly into oral sex.''

Crabbe's advice to young people is to understand the imagery has been constructed for a commercial purpose, and that as pornography becomes so pervasive, producers are seeking an edge in a crowded marketplace. There is not room to discuss it here, but there are fascinating questions around why producers might think that such distorted and unrealistic portrayals are what is demanded and, indeed, why some men might demand it.

Crabbe says it is important that young people communicate with each other, and explore what is pleasurable. ''I would encourage them to have a vision for sexuality, and for relating, that is respectful and mutual and that actually can be fulfilling.''

She advocates, too, young people talking more broadly than just with their partners. They should talk to their peers and to respected adults. To help such discussions, Crabbe and her co-creator of the philanthropically funded Reality and Risk project, David Corlett, have been working since 2009 to generate resources, including a forthcoming documentary film, Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, that draws on interviews with about 140 young people and pornography producers and performers.

Crabbe and Corlett are also providing training to government departments, organisations and employees, including the sexual crime squad of Victoria Police, the Australian Institute of Family Studies, youth workers and teachers.

Reality and Risk has produced education material, including curriculum elements, policy documents and background material for school leaders and parents, for secondary schools. Crabbe and Corlett were also commissioned to produce a module for universities to use for teachers' sex education training.

''It is not enough just to critique. We need to also say what would be better. With good leadership and good resources young people might both avoid some of the costs of porn's influence and might benefit from a fuller sense of who they might be and what they can contribute to the world beyond this.''



Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-problem-with-porn-20130521-2jyud.html#ixzz40U8WW9G4
Further reading on relationship:
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