It’s just porn …

Having recently posted an article about porn consumption and its purported negative effects on male sexual function, I thought I’d write something about my thoughts on porn.

Robinson’s article in Psychology Today discusses some research, and what she describes as the growing number of posts and discussion threads by young men reporting increasing difficulties in their sexual performance due to porn consumption.   The article discusses the links between poor erectile function and high internet porn consumption and extreme porn consumption.  The argument goes that arousal is dopamine-based (one of the pleasure drugs in the brain), and over-stimulation causes dopamine-resistance – like insulin resistance in Type II diabetes.  Like drug addiction, you need more and more dopamine to feel a buzz.   To fix it, try a little rehab – cold turkey, and bang (no pun intended) you’re back to normal.  A little behaviour adaptation, and the body rebounds, along with erections.   (This is the article link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cupids-poisoned-arrow/201107/porn-induced-sexual-dysfunction-is-growing-problem).

I’m no scientist.  In fact, in terms of the medicalisation of sex and its reduction to the purely biological, I’m the first to throw my hands up in despair and to cite research that does not look only to the body to explain sexual ‘dysfunction’.   The failure of big-pharma to come up with a pink Viagra, and positive effects of placebos on women in research control groups for FSD drugs, go a long way to supporting the common-sense notion that sex is not just about penises and vaginas and clitorises.   What kind of day you had at work, what your emotional state is, how stressed you are about your credit card debt, and a thousand other little things influence our ability to engage in sex.  Some influences are physical, some are psychological, some emotional, others spiritual.  Problematically, research tends to reduce them to the biological – being cynical about it, its hard to be surprised when that is where the money is.  If we can ‘cure’ limp penises with a little blue pill, then maybe we can cure porn-related-ED with dopamine-blockers to speed up detox, or we can medicate in others ways to reduce the negative effects of hard-core porn consumption on some viewers.  The problem with this kind of approach ought to be obvious.  Treating the body without looking to other areas of the self only treats a symptom (if we are to regard porn consumption as a disorder).  Treating the what (ED) without treating the why (of why people watch porn and particular kinds of porn) is only half the story.  But then, that’s how you keep consumers consuming.

What is of additional interest to me with this article however is that in looking at (supposed) extreme outcomes  of porn consumption, all porn consumption can be pathologised.   When we talk about extremes, we all worry that we might somehow be effected too, even if we only watch a little.   I’ve seen a lot of porn.  Some I’ve seen as part of my research, some out of curiosity, and some because … well why not, really.  I’m pretty regular in that respect I guess.  Sex is interesting, most of us are curious about it, and because its such a taboo many of us like to sneak a peak (among many other reasons).    And porn spans a wide range of types, from the kind that makes you think ‘that’s kind of sweet’, to the really fake kind that makes you laugh, to the hardcore gonzo porn that frankly makes me feel sick on a lot of levels.   Part of the problem about talking about porn is that the term covers too much to be of any use to us.  The difference between home-made porn and gonzo is considerable, and when people take their stances on porn the spectrum of activities can get elided into one big negative category.  The first question we really need to address is whether this is the case.  Is all porn bad?  Considering how sexually repressed we are as a society (don’t be fooled by our current trend towards sexualisation) thinking about this is quiet important, because it reflects what we think about sex in general.   And if we start thinking about that, we can work out realistic boundaries that reflect realistic and ethical behaviour rather than moral panics and ill-informed condemnation.

If we can break porn down into the OK kind (if you think there is such a thing) and the not OK kind, we can start to discuss more sensibly the effects porn can have on its viewers.  To say that porn has no effect whatsoever I think is naive.  Problematically, when such statements are made (that porn effects us), the inference is that porn’s effects are necessarily bad.   Porn can be inspiring, giving you new ideas about what you want, and just as importantly what you don’t, without having to deal with that negotiation within the middle of a sexual event.  Knowing what to ask for was a major issue for many of my research participants.  Porn can also be normalising.  Seeing others desiring what we desire can make us feel less different, abnormal, deviant, however you want to describe it.   Of course, that’s a slippery slope argument considering the rise of hard-core and gonzo type porn, but not everyone slides down a slippery slope.  And porn as a sex aid is well known.  The negative critiques of porn usually centre on the debasement of women and the desensitisation of men (I’m leaving out porn involving minors for obvious reasons).   But again, these positive and negative effects, I suggest, depend on the kinds of porn you are watching.  Importantly, they also depend on your attitudes to sex in general, and your moral and ethical orientation towards others and yourself.

Thus I suspect that there will be a variety of reactions to the above article.  Some readers will see the research in their lives (whether in their own consumptive habits, or those of their partners’), others will note that they or their partners may want to negotiate more uncommon sex acts into their partnered interactions as a result of consumption, others that they feel less tense about their sexual selves because they watch a little porn.  Some will think ‘OMG that’s me/my boyfriend/my partner’, others that the research does not represent them so it mustn’t be so.   In taking Robinson’s article as a general warning to all porn-consumers, we run the risk as we do in so many areas, of treating the majority in a particular way because of the behaviours and reactions of a minority.   Of course, those with a medical background for research must do this if they  work from the idea that bodies can be universalised and essentialised – namely that all bodies are basically the same, and that problems reduce to the body.   When discussing porn consumption however, we move far beyond the body, but also back to it, to minds and hearts within it first and foremost.

I am not defending porn consumption.  But I am suggesting that Robinson’s purely biological approach to the effects of consumption is short-sighted and ignores the complexities that surround sex for us in Western society.  Realistically speaking, stopping consumption in favour of partnered interactions that result in successful sex can just as easily be read as not only dopamine rebounding but also the effect of conforming to socially acceptable ways of seeking sexual pleasure: ‘God’ may have blessed you with two hands, but vaginas (and other partner body parts) win hands down, morally speaking.   If porn makes you react, or eventually fail to, there may be more to it than neuro-transmitter addiction.

 

 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “It’s just porn …

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