What Happens To Men When They Watch Porn (And How It Affects Your Relationship)

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The Kind Of Porn Men Watch Tells You Exactly What Turns Guys On
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You're going to want to pay close attention...

Note: This post is in response to an article on Psychology Today titled "Why Are These Men Downloading Child Pornography?" by Karen Franklin.

Karen Frankin, Ph.D. recently published an article suggesting that easy access to pornography and the wide diversity of pornography now available online have lead men to watch child pornography even if they never previously experienced sexual arousal from pedophilic fantasies or content.

Franklin reports that as a forensic psychologist, she sees more and more “normal guys” in the legal system on child porn-related charges.

She goes on to argue that “wearing out the reward circuitry” of the brain is at the root of this problem, and that the explosion of online porn is also contributing to a rise in relationship problems that include men who watch porn rejecting their partner for sex and to men now searching online for “content that they formerly considered disgusting or unappealing.”

Yet while Franklin’s theories are certainly dramatic, interesting and fear-inducing, they are also based on poorly supported arguments.

Here are just 8 examples of the significant and well-researched challenges to her arguments:

1. The "tolerance effect" does not apply to human sexuality.

Franklin’s main thesis is the idea that excessive porn use and availability leads porn users to progressively seek out more “novel” material. This is an implicit assumption of the “tolerance effect" of the addiction model, which states that users of substances require greater quantities of the substance over time in order to achieve the “same” sensation.

Unfortunately, this argument is inappropriate when applied to sexuality. The course of sexual development over a lifespan leads to increased desensitization. When we are hormonal adolescents, almost anything can turn us on. As geriatric adults, achieving sexual arousal takes a lot more work. This is normal, and there has never been a study which attempts to distinguish this “tolerance effect” from the changes involved in normal sexual development.

2. The assumption that people seek more novel erotic stimuli online is challenged by data presented by researchers Ogas and Gaddam in their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts.

After analyzing untold numbers of people’s searches for porn, these authors found that people are actually quite boring, searching for the same types of porn and stimuli, time after time.

They found no evidence of a “slippery slope” (presumably coated in KY Jelly) that leads people’s sexual interests to change through exposure.

 

Related: If You Have Ever Had A Rape Fantasy, Here’s What It Means

 

3. There is little to no evidence that the stimuli behind individual's sexual desire change (or can be changed) over time.

Franklin’s premise that exposure has the negative effects stated above rests on an assumption that people’s sexual arousals can change, or be morphed, through exposure to online stimuli. This belief is actually at the root of those who engage in conversion therapy, a practice in which therapists or others attempt to forcibly alter the homosexual arousals of individuals in order to "convert" them to the sexual orientation of heterosexuality.

There is little to no evidence that such changes are possible, and rather strong evidence that such changes are impermanent at best.

In a now-infamous study at Tulane University, electrodes were implanted in the brain of a homosexual man in order to stimulate the pleasure centers of his cortex while he watched heterosexual porn and then had heterosexual sex with a sex worker. Once the electrodes were removed, subject B-19 later returned to homosexuality.

And with specific regard to pedophiles, there is growing evidence that their arousal emerges from predisposing neurological characteristics, and that while these men can be taught to constrain or alter their behaviors, their underlying sexual arousal patterns may be irrevocably fixed.

The fact of the matter is, as people watch porn, they become more accepting of sexual diversity, both in themselves and in others.

They become less religious and more egalitarian in their gender values.

Are they then more likely to be willing to explore sexual desires they previously thought of as "disgusting"?

Yes, because that disgust was a reflection of a moral conflict between their desires and what they had been taught about sexuality. As they've watched porn, they've learned that sex is not inherently scary, bad or destructive as they once thought and they receive validation that their personal sexual desires are neither unique nor sinful.

4. Dopamine doesn't work that way.

Franklin describes dopamine as a “feel-good” chemical and refers to research suggesting porn and masturbation can alter the brain structure.

Unfortunately for her, and for others who use this same line of reasoning, dopamine is not a “feel-good” chemical, but rather one that enhances learning and is not actually associated with pleasure. Research on the neurological effects of porn has shown no evidence of causality, whereas solid research suggests that brain characteristics predispose individuals to engage in high levels of sensation-seeking, including porn use.

In other words, the brain characteristics we are born with come first.

5. Sexual dysfunction in men has NOT been scientifically linked to watching porn.

Franklin describes the high levels of sexual dysfunction in young males and infers these are related to porn use.

In contrast, recent research actually finds that porn users have better sexual knowledge than non-users of erotic material. Indeed, research with young males with erectile dysfunction concludes that the predictors of erectile dysfunction are personal characteristics such as anxiety, drug use, smoking, obesity and limited sexual experience.

Not porn.

 

Related: New Study Shows Surprising Effect Porn Has On Men

 

6. Relationship troubles have NOT been scientifically linked to watching porn.

Franklin blithely suggests that porn use is causing relationship problems, despite the fact that all of the developing research in this area indicates that pre-existing relationships and moral problems and/or conflicts predict increased porn viewing and that men use porn and masturbation as ways to cope with and compensate for sexual problems in relationships.

To the contrary, research finds that for many couples, viewing porn has a positive impact on their relationships.

7. Franklin assumes that porn represents a unique form of media with uniquely disproportionate effects.

This is a common assumption, but one that is untested and unproven. There’s no evidence porn has a differential learning effect compared to, say, soap operas.

We can assume it might because porn involves sex and involves masturbation.

It MIGHT have a greater effect. But it might not.

The average American consumes about seven minutes of porn at a time, on average, a few times a week. In contrast, the average American consumes over five hours of television a day. Which medium is more likely to have an effect on people’s values and behaviors?

8. Franklin essentially ignores the simple truth that woman also watch porn.

I find it interesting that Franklin is so focused on male users of porn.

Research by Chivers, Dawson, and Suschinsky found that females are actually more physiologically responsive to porn compared to males, but that women are less often aware of their own sexual arousal to this material.

If anyone watching internet porn was at risk for problems or changes from their use, it would be women. In fact, women watch porn at increasing rates and search for “rough sex” porn at three times the rate of men. This isn't because porn made them that way, but because they use porn to seek out material that fulfills sexual interests they’ve been taught to fear or to feel ashamed of. Online porn offers a safe and private way for women to explore sexual fantasies that lie outside of the neat box they have been taught “nice girls” should like.

On the plus-side, Franklin does responsibly point out that online child pornography consumption is unlikely to reflect a greater risk of actual engagement in sex offending.

But, she mistakenly argues that increased viewing of child pornography is the direct result of the wide array of porn available today.

In doing so, she ignores data clearly stating that the amount of child pornography any one person views is a better indicator of pedophilia than a person’s behaviors (including sexual abuse of multiple children). In other words, the porn people watch reflects their pre-existing sexual dispositions.

In the most basic terms, we can best understand peoples’ sexual interests by better understanding what they watch — because they watch what already turns them on.

Porn is not changing society, men, relationships, or sexuality.

Access to online porn reveals what peoples’ sexual interests actually are — which just happens to often stand apart from what we would like them to be.

Dealing with such moral conflicts between the reality we wish for and the reality that exists requires that we deal with real people and our real issues, rather than allow ourselves to be distracted from the truth by blaming porn.

 

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on issues related to sexuality and mental health who has been published in the Los Angeles Times and Playboy and has appeared on television with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil, among others. His second book, "The Myth of Sex Addiction," challenged the concept of sexual addiction and triggered a firestorm of debate, allowing people to finally challenge the media hype behind this pseudo-disorder. His latest book, "Ethical Porn For Dicks: A Man's Guide To Responsible Viewing Pleasure," offers men a non-judgmental way to discover how to view and use pornography responsibly.

 

 

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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