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Porn as Erototoxic | Posted: May 5, 2011

How Addiction Harms the Person

Pornography Harms: A Briefing What Congress can do to enforce the existing laws

Mary Anne Layden, PhD Briefing on Capitol Hill, June 15, 2010

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Several decades ago, researchers conducted a study in which they inserted electrodes into the pleasure centers of rats' brains and then hooked the electrodes to a button that the rat could push to give themselves a burst of brain-generated pleasure. The rats liked it so much that they began to push the button continuously and they forgot to eat, to sleep or to have sex and they died. They pleasured themselves to death.

I once had a patient that we will call John. He told me that he had a fantasy about a career that would be ideal for him. He spent a significant amount of time preparing himself for this career, training, looking for career opportunities, making contacts and applying for jobs. Then one day he came to the therapy session with the exciting news that he had an appointment for a job interview that was the dream job. This was the big chance that he had worked so hard for. John didn't go to that appointment because the morning of the interview John could not get himself to stop surfing Internet pornography sites.

My patient Harold loved his wife but he stopped having sex with her. Because of his pornography use he could no longer get aroused by a real women. His sex drive had been burned out and exhausted by the constant bombardment of images of women with unnatural body parts, engaging in more and more extreme, degrading and painful sex acts. He would go to bed at night with his wife and as soon as she was asleep he would get up and get on the Internet porn sites. He started to go prostitutes and for a while the prostitutes were sexually arousing because of the novelty, the ability to control what was done, and the illicitness of it. But soon prostitutes were no longer arousing so he then only used the Internet to get sexually aroused because he could find the exact image he was looking for, did not need to have any thoughts about the needs of another person, didn't need to concern himself about rejection or consent, and he could find images of sex acts that even the prostitutes were unwilling to do. So harder and harder kinds of pornographic images on the Internet were necessary: first violence, then animals and finally torture and children. Harold's daughter-in-law was a researcher in the area of sexual torture of children.

Steven was a lawyer who had wanted a job working for the government prosecuting sex crimes. Steven got the job but was later indicted for masturbating to child pornography which he accessed on his work computer. The children he looked at on the Internet were the age of his own children. His wife divorced him and he can no longer have contact with his kids.

Like the brain-stimulated rats, these men had pleasured themselves to psychological death, relationship death, career death, and self-respect death. They went from curiosity about sex on the Internet, to compulsive behavior, to illegal behavior. They started with milder forms of pornography but then developed tolerance to it so that it no longer aroused them. They would then begin to escalate using pornography for longer periods of time, in riskier places and using harder and harder forms. In the beginning of this progression, they would say, as do other men, that there were certain kinds of pornography that they found disgusting and they would never use them. Invariably, they would end up using those kinds. They would watch things being done to women that they would not want done to the women they love. It psychologically destabilizes them to violate their own innate sense of justice, fairness and the golden rule and reduces their own self-respect. They would lie to others about their use or swear that they would stop but they never did. They would lie to themselves about the possible negative consequences and then they would ignore the actual negative consequences that had already occurred. They, like many other men, were highly motivated to think that pornography was ok to use, that it was a harmless pleasure and that didn't hurt anyone. Any challenge to that belief was met with a blast of blowback. If anything interfered with their access to pornography, they would get irritable or enraged or depressed or anxious. They avoided anything that would interfere with their use including family picnics, time with their wife or friends, church services, jobs and ironically actual sexual intercourse with a real woman. They did not connect their increasing problems of erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and retarded ejaculation with their pornography use. They were only dimly aware of the many ways they used pornography. Unlike other drugs, pornography can get you up if you are depressed or bored or can get you down if you are anxious, or stressed. Pornography is such a versatile drug that the impact on your brain chemistry makes it be both an upper and a downer. Also, unlike other drugs, we can never completely remove it from the system. It is permanently implanted in the brain. No detox is possible. This is the first time that the mental health field has been asked to deal with an addictive substance that is irremovable.

American Psychiatric Association has now added Hypersexual Disorder to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 which will include both sexual addiction and pornography addiction. The mental health field is coming to realize that the central issue of addiction is not that you ingest a substance through your mouth or veins but that however the substance is delivered, it has an effect on your brain that causes terrible negative consequences and yet you continue to ingest it anyway. Pornography may be ingested through your eyes but its impact is not just on your genitals but also on your brain so it fits the addiction definition perfectly. Don't be fooled by those who are motivated by greed or lust or fear or ignorance that tell you otherwise.

And even men who do not become addicted suffer damages and inflict damage on others including their partners or on females in general. The research indicates that it is not just the sex addict but also non-addicted men who use pornography who start to think and act in sexually callous ways, thinking and treating women as sex objects, reducing their support for the women's liberation movement, with increased likelihood of sexual harassment and sexual violence including rape. In relationships, they become dissatisfied with their partner's looks and sexual performance, demanding that their partner act out degrading and physically damaging sex acts, having affairs and thinking that it's acceptable, wanting sex that has no emotional involvement and becoming less child centered in their marriages especially toward female children. Frighteningly, men who are exposed to pornography increase their belief that pornography does not have to be kept away from children.

Pornography robs men of their masculinity, of their psychological health, of their self-respect, of their greatness. Pornography robs men of themselves. It robs them of the chance to be the kind of men they know they can be. It then robs their family, their community and their country of all that they could have offered.

Whether they are Elliot Spitzer or Tiger Woods or the head of the Harvard Theological Seminary or the head of the University of Pennsylvania Library system, their out-of-control sexual behavior stole them from us. Pornography stole them from us. The world has been robbed of their talents. We as a country cannot afford to lose even one more husband, father, son, gifted athlete, statesman, scientist, bus driver or college student.

John and Harold and Steven were caught in the net as many others will be. They were on the same path as the button-pushing rats but many other men are on this path as well. John, Harold and Steven, like so many other men, could not see the small damages and the large damages that were caused by pornography and at times they could not even see that they needed help. We can't depend upon the button-pushing rats with the electrodes in their brains to make the decisions about pornography. Nor can we allow the rats who make money from this whole toxic industry to make the decisions. It is up to those of you who are motivated by love of your country and love of your fellow man to take back the control, speak truth to authority about what pornography is and what it does, do whatever needs to be done, enforce whatever laws need to be enforced, spend whatever money is necessary to spend, to make sure that the rats do not win.

Mary Anne Layden, PhD, psychotherapist and Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania.