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Porn as Erototoxic | Posted: December 22, 2005

Senate Subcommittee Hears Experts on Pornography Toxicity

By Jan LaRue, Chief Counsel
December 2, 2004
[links updated June 2011]

Mental health professionals say porn not only affects the mind and behavior, it alters brain chemistry.

On November 18, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) chaired a hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space on "The Science Behind Pornography Addiction."

Four experts in the fields of mental health and communication testified:

Judith Reisman, Ph.D., President of The Institute for Media Education, Scientific Advisor to the California Protective Parents Association and the Subcommittee on Junk Science for The American Legislative Exchange Council's April 2004 report [testimony];

Jeffrey Satinover, M.S., M.D., Psychiatrist and Professor at Princeton University [testimony];

Mary Anne Layden, Ph.D., Co-Director, Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program, Center for Cognitive Therapy, University of Pennsylvania [testimony]; and

Dr. James B. Weaver III, Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Department of Communication, Shanks Hall (0311), Blacksburg, Virginia [testimony].

Dr. Reisman specializes in the communication effects of images on the brain, mind and memory; fraud in the human sexuality field; and the addictive properties of sexually explicit images, commonly called pornography. She emphasized how pornography not only influences behavior but also actually alters brain chemistry, making children most vulnerable to its toxic imagery:

Thanks to the latest advances in neuroscience, we now know that emotionally arousing images imprint and alter the brain, triggering an instant, involuntary, but lasting, biochemical memory trail.

This applies to so-called "soft-core" and "hard-core" pornography, which may, arguably, subvert the First Amendment by overriding the cognitive speech process.

Once our neurochemical pathways are established they are difficult or impossible to delete. Erotic images also commonly trigger the viewer's "fight or flight" sex hormones producing intense arousal states that appear to fuse the conscious state of libidinous arousal with unconscious emotions of fear, shame, anger and hostility.

These media erotic fantasies become deeply imbedded, commonly coarsening, confusing, motivating and addicting many of those exposed.

How does this "brain sabotage" occur? Brain scientists tell us that "in 3/10 of a second a visual image passes from the eye through the brain, and whether or not one wants to, the brain is structurally changed and memories are created'we literally 'grow new brain' with each visual experience."

Children and others who cannot read can instantly decode and experience images ... . In fact, erotic (any highly arousing) images commonly subvert left hemisphere cognition. [Emphasis in original.]

Dr. Satinover emphasized that modern science debunks the dangerous illusion that pornography is merely "_expression in the trivial sense that a fall from the Empire State Building is a mere stumble--since it's hitting the ground that's fatal. Or, that cigarettes don't cause cancer, it's the burning smoke that's the problem."

Here is what I mean: Like cigarettes, that particular form of _expression we call pornography, unlike all other forms of _expression, is a delivery system that has a distinct and powerful effect upon the human brain and nervous system. Exactly like cigarettes, and unlike any other form of _expression, this effect is to cause a powerful addiction. Like any other addiction, the addiction is both to the delivery system itself--the pornography--and to the chemicals that the delivery system delivers. [Emphasis in original.]

It may seem surprising that, at this juncture, I should speak of "chemicals," when one might be thinking instead of "sex." But, in fact, modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction: Only the delivery system is different, and the sequence of steps. That is why heroin addicts in particular give up sex and routinely compare their "rushes" to "orgasms."

The pornography addict soon forgets about everything and everyone else in favor of an ever more elusive sexual jolt. He will eventually be able to find it only among other "junkies" like himself, and he will place at risk his career, his friends, his family. He will indulge his habit anywhere and everywhere, at any time. No one, no matter how highly placed, is immune. And like all other addicts, the pornography addict will lie to cover it up, heedless of risk or cost to himself or to others.

Dr. Layden included the anti-social effects of pornography consumption in her testimony:

Those who use pornography have also been shown to be more likely to engage in illegal behavior as well. Research indicates and my clinical experience supports that those who use pornography are more likely to go to prostitutes, engage in domestic violence, stranger rape, date rape and incest. These behaviors should not be surprising since pornographic videos containing all of these themes are readily available and the permission-giving beliefs of these pornographic videos reinforced by the orgasm say that all these behaviors are normal, acceptable, common and don't hurt anyone.

Dr. Weaver acknowledged that while "research directly assessing the impact of pornography addiction on fami1ies and communities is limited, ... there is a large body of social science research evidence that can inform our discussion." It reveals: "The manifest content of pornography has been extensively examined, for example, revealing that (1) pornography's dominant theme is one of unrestrained human sexual promiscuity and (2) it's devoid of coercion and violent action. ... Further, the findings of numerous studies suggest that pornography consumption promotes sexual deviancy, sexual perpetration and adverse sexual attitudes.

CWA constituents can rest assured that we will continue to make combatting pornography through public education and law enforcement a priority. For more information see our articles here.

Concerned Women for America
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