This Is Your Brain on Porn: Pornography Addiction, Society, and the Brain
Many of my drug using, sex crazed friends have said at least once that having an orgasm and doing a line of cocaine create the same feelings within the brain. I am able to understand why there is a chemical change when participating in a sexual act, but I cannot comprehend how people can be addicted to pornography, which has virtually no interaction with the viewer. Sexual acts that one partakes in, like all activities that one partakes in, changes the chemical reactions and firing rates in the brain; so why is it that viewing pornography, which is a mainly optical activity, can change the brain, and even more than that, create an addiction? Simply put, pornography addiction is the “abuse and overuse” (1) of various types of pornography; however, on a deeper level it is a very complicated subject. It raises both medical and social questions, and it is uncertain if the answers to these questions will ever be agreed upon. It is one of the few addictions that are just considered to be a psychological addiction; possibly because of that, most doctors do not consider it an actual addiction, but instead as a sub-condition of obsessive compulsive disorder (1).
While it is not considered a legitimate disease by many, pornography addiction does have similar symptoms: those affected are not able to control how often they engage in the behavior, engage in it to rid themselves of stress, work up a tolerance to it, and engage in the behavior instead of having social and personal interactions (1). These symptoms, especially the ultimate, have been exacerbated by the drastic increase of internet porn, which makes the medium readily available in the privacy of one’s own home. The extra convenience has occurred hand in hand with increasing opposition, stating that pornography in the home has effects on not only the person viewing it, but also those who stumble upon it, such as children. Many see it as a perversion of the home, and not as a real disease.
Another aspect of the addiction that makes it scientifically legitimate is the changes that occur in the brain when one engages in activities involving pornography. When an addict looks at porn, testosterone, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin are released, creating what Dr. Judith Reisman refers to as an “erototoxin” (2). The chemical change, which causes the person engaging in the act to have a temporary feeling of euphoria, becomes a necessity for the person to function. Like any other type of addict, porn addicts become trapped within their disorder, and the difference between casually watching pornography and being an addict hinges on the chemical makeup of the brain.
Pornography addiction is still very controversial, because the issue of its existence is still being constantly disputed. Scientists and moralists are entangled in a possibly endless argument, both publicly and privately, over the legitimacy of the addiction, as well as the differences between pornography addiction and other addictions, such as drug or alcohol addictions. While Dr. Judith Reisman agrees that viewing pornography causes a chemical change within the brain, she also believes that these changes will create a physical deterioration along with the psychological effects; however, as a critic of Reisman pointed out, “One unmentioned implication [of Reisman’s article] is the fact that, if sexual arousal from pornography causes 'brain damage', then so will real-life sex” (2). Since there is a reasonable possibility that having sex and viewing porn cause the same sort of stimulation in the brain, it would make sense that every time one engages in sex, one loses part of one’s mental faculties. Currently, there is no data to prove that this is true, and it appears as if there is no affirmative data about viewing pornography as well. Another issue of an addiction to porn is that while, with most drugs, it is possible to work all of the chemical out of the body after a certain amount of time, a pornographic image will stay in the memory as long as the memory exists. In a far more extreme interview, Dr. Judith Reisman stated, “[Pornography] could be more addictive than crack cocaine because cocaine can be excreted from the body. Pornographic images cannot. They remain, structurally and neurochemically, with a person forever” (3). She, as well as many others who believe that pornography addiction has more detrimental effects than other types of addiction, take the issue of addiction out of the scientific, and drag it into the sociopolitical. n
Personally, the research for this paper has raised more questions than it has answered. I am still unsure as to why it is considered a disease that branches out from obsessive compulsive disorder, as opposed to being on its own as a disorder. All addictions are obsessive, but not all are part of another disorder. It seems to me as if the squalor surrounding pornography addiction, not its scientific merit, has prevented it from becoming its own legitimate psychological disease. This has caused me to question how addictions are understood and proceeded with in both scientific and social realms, and also to understand that the variables of what determines a disease are not necessarily solely based on science or facts; much more plays into a disease than I had ever contemplated, especially ones that relate to something as that is discussed so much socially, morally, and politically, such as pornography.