One of the most harmful and pervasive drugs in society today cannot be smoked, injected, or swallowed. It does not kill the user, and is not even viewed as harmful by many who use it. Its effects take place insidiously slow, so as to give no warning of the changing thoughts and behaviors it causes. It is free, and available at all hours of the day. Someone who has even the slightest notion of wanting to use it is able to, whenever they would like. This drug is internet porn, an experience that causes the same effects as a traditional drug (such as cocaine) in the user, but is more popular and widely accepted than any other that causes such effects.
Pornography (“sexually explicit material designed to produce sexual arousal in consumers that is bad in a certain way,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) has been present for practically all of humanity. The first pornographic image dates back to over 12,000 years ago, etched in a cave during the Paleolithic time period (Sandars 120). Since then, pornographic material mostly has been similar, shown in still images, just with more detail. They were etched, then drawn, then painted, then sculpted. Each of these innovations brought more detail to the material, however with the invention of the printing press in the 18th century, pornography was first distributed in large quantities and to a wide range of socioeconomic classes (Jenkins).
This continued as books were published, then magazines. The invention of the motion picture in 1888 heightened the realism of the material even more, as well as increasing the ubiquity of the content when videotape and movie rental stores emerged (De Vries). This increased revenue and exposure for the porn industry, however the motion picture and all other innovations before it could not match the one that would completely change the way that pornography is consumed: the invention of the internet.
While past changes in the ways we have viewed pornography have increased the vividness and realism of the material, the internet did this while changing the way it is viewed so as to toy with the user’s brain through the principles of the Coolidge Effect. The Coolidge Effect was initially tested on male rats, which were placed in a cage with a sexually receptive female rat. Researchers found that for each instance of performing sexual intercourse with the same female, the male would take longer to ejaculate. However when researchers placed a new female in the cage, the male took the same amount of time for ejaculation as they had when they performed intercourse with the first female for the first time. The time until ejaculation increased with each instance of intercourse with the same female, and the process kept going. Separate experiments have proved this effect to be true for humans, both males and females (Florino).
Evolutionarily, males are meant to fertilize as many women as possible in order to maximize population growth and to ensure the existence of the species. This innate drive, promoted by the Coolidge Effect, is taken and perverted by internet porn. It provides an endless amount of “mates to fertilize,” each summoned by the click of a button. This constant novelty and unlimited accessibility causes extreme dopamine overloads in the brain, which cause addiction (Cline 2).
This happens because of the brain’s adaptability to dopamine overloads. When too much dopamine floods the brain, it gets rid of a number of dopamine receptors in order to cope. This results with the person feeling generally sadder, because to them it doesn’t feel like there is as much dopamine in their brain as per the normal amounts. They need an overload of dopamine to feel happy again, and the cycle continuously repeats itself (Doidge 95). A protein called iFosB also contributes to addiction by strengthening pathways in the brain that were used during times of pleasure, which makes a person more likely to repeat those activities (Nestler).
This addiction generally comes in four phases. The first is initial addiction, when a person begins using porn regularly. This leads to escalation, the need for more intense content to satisfy cravings because of the decrease of dopamine receptors present in the brain. After this comes desensitization, which is the lack of disagreement with sexual content that one had disagreed with before. Finally, there is acting out sexually, which is the acting out of the sexual activities that one has viewed so frequently for such a long period of time. These include activities such as group sex, rape, and incest, however in most cases this stage of the addiction takes the form of instability in relationships, both romantic and non-romantic (Cline 2-4).
There are many causes for this falling out of relationships. A partner will never be able to satisfy the high standards of beauty set by porn, so they view their partner as less attractive because they unconciously compare them to porn stars’ illusory looks. This also causes their sex lives to worsen because they have difficulty getting turned on by their partner and real-world people, which in some cases leads to premature erectile dysfunction in men (Latham). Also, the pathways strengthened by iFosB are strengthened for pathways that are set off by porn, and those that are set off by sex are weakened because they are not used, causing a person to want porn in place of sex (Nestler). Moreover, a study conducted by Yale University showed that porn use causes its users to “animalify” the opposite gender – that is, to view them as not having capacity for complex thought but as having capacity for strong emotional response (Gray). This has the potential to destroy both romantic and non-romantic relationships between a person and another of their sexual liking.
In a study conducted by Duke University in 2004, it was found that one in four Americans feel that they have no close friends, and the mean amount of friends people have has decreased by almost one since 1985 (2.94 to 2.08) (McPherson). Doubtless, there are many causes for this, but certainly porn’s presence in our culture does not help people connect with each other. The isolationism that it promotes through the act of viewing it and its effects on those who do so needs to stop, or at least slow, or this trend of loneliness in America will certainly continue.
Loneliness and addiction has pervaded the lives of so many who have been baited into pornography’s bitter allure. It entices and traps those with money, power, and class, those without, and people in between. Increased awareness for the problem can help people see the effects of pornography, and can help start a change in their lives, as any diversion from pornography’s habits and culture is beneficial to our society and its inhabitants.