Entertainment or Addiction?
At the heart of the debate surrounding pornography is the question of whether pornography is simply entertainment enjoyed by consenting adults, or whether it is a truly harmful activity that may even lead to addiction. First of all, one must ask if pornography meets the criteria of an addiction.
Pornography, as with other addictions, follows a predictable behavioral cycle. A person becomes preoccupied with pornography and, as use increases, so does tolerance. A pornography addict will feel compelled to engage in this activity and may feel unable to control or stop the behavior. If a pleasure response is achieved, the addict will feel temporary relief. An addict who is unable to find pleasure or relief will experience frustration. When pornography is stopped, withdrawal symptoms will likely be experienced — irritability, anxiety, frustration, and so forth.
Healthy sexuality is an exciting, stimulating part of committed adult relationships. Sex, food, and spending can all become addictive and, because of their unavoidable presence in one's life, abstinence isn't always a solution. Changing one's thinking and behavioral processes from addictive back to controllable and healthy is difficult, but, often with help, can be accomplished.
Again, the brain is also involved as the addict's amygdala and the rest of the pleasure circuit stimulate arousal and the expectation of a pleasurable experience. The behavioral and physical reinforcements promote the continuation of the addictive cycle. How do you know if you are experiencing the symptoms of pornography addiction? Here are some questions to consider:
Do sexual thoughts and/or behaviors monopolize your life to the exclusion of relationships and day-to-day responsibilities?
Is it a struggle to control or stop your thinking about or viewing pornography?
Have you lost your job or are you in danger of losing your job because of involvement with pornography?
Do you spend more money on pornography than you can afford?
Is it difficult to watch television or look at a magazine without flipping through the channels or pages looking for stimulating sexual material?
Do you use pornography to escape, deny, or numb emotional problems?
Do you feel the need to keep your pornography use secret or hidden?
When confronted about pornography use, do you become angry, irritable, or offended?
Has your pornography use continued despite negative consequences?
After many attempts to stop pornography use, do you feel it is hopeless that you'll ever gain control of the problem?
If you have answered yes to many of these questions, then you have crossed the line from pornography as possibly entertaining to pornography as addictive. You will need help and extensive support to overcome the problem.
Back to the debate over whether pornography can be entertainment between consenting adults. While that may be the case in a minority of instances, it is a fact that many who become involved in pornography are unwilling. A significant number of individuals associated with pornography have had a history of abuse, primarily sexual abuse.
Nine out of 10 children aged eight to 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. Many of these children inadvertently type in a trigger word that brings up pornographic material that they never intended to view. It has been estimated that one in seven children who use the Internet have received unwanted sexual solicitations while online.
Runaways and victims of sexual abuse may become involved in pornography through no desire of their own. Either they see this as a means of financial survival or the victimized thinking from abuse makes them easy targets. These are not instances of consent.
Also, remember that visual stimuli have the most powerful effect on the brain. Visual stimuli can overwhelm the parts of the brain that control thinking and logic. Thus, the visual images of pornography may incapacitate the brain's ability to think and make informed consent regarding pornography use. It can also be argued that once pornography becomes an addiction, consent is eliminated with the loss of control associated with addiction.
What's the Problem with Admiring the Opposite Sex?
There is nothing wrong with admiring the opposite sex when it is age appropriate and causes no emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or social harm to either person. It is unclear whether pornography can fit that criteria.
Both men and women enjoy the stimulating feelings of romantic attraction. In addition to the amygdala and hypothalamus already mentioned, the vagus nerves, the reticular formation, basal ganglia, anterior insular cortex, and cerebellum are all parts of the brain activated with sexual stimulation.
And it has been said that frequent sexual orgasms can have beneficial effects such as lowering risk for heart attacks, release of endorphins, reduction in depressive symptoms, a calming effect, boost to the immune system, increased longevity, and a release of oxytocin and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which may inhibit the development of breast cancer.
Along with these physical benefits of sexuality comes the emotional connectedness enjoyed by couples in a relationship. Pornography addiction overshadows these benefits by taking control of one's life, eliminating the relational component, and introducing unpleasant emotions such as shame and guilt.