Porn & You

I grew up, being taught that any sexual expression or experience, including thoughts or dreams  which occurred outside of a marriage between a man and a woman was sinful, and would harm me psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and, potentially do irrevocable harm to my future relationships (particularly the one with my future husband). This belief impacted the way I saw my own sexuality and added a lot of guilt to my already guilt prone self, for the times when my body responded in ways that didn’t match these values. 

While these ideas are still a part of some people’s beliefs around sexuality, many people today, at least in North America and Europe, do not adhere to this way of thinking and see sexual desire, development and expression, as normal aspects of life, even when they occur outside of heterosexual marriage.

There is, however, still a strong feeling, among many people, that someone who accesses pornography (porn) has something wrong with them or their relationships.

There is an idea that porn will harm the individual and their relationships and is, inherently addictive; that all porn harms those who make it; and that watching porn will only serve to support human rights abuses that are believed to be inevitable within porn.

I will be writing several articles about porn. This is the first in a series and will focus on porn and the individual. My hope is that it will provide you with something you can use to examine your own ideas and believes about porn and its use in your own life or in the lives of others. It is not intended as a moral guide. It is intended as an ethical guide which you might use to inform your own ideas about what is moral for you based on your own beliefs and values.

Porn Addiction

Being sexually aroused is a very pleasant experience. The experience of arousal, in and of itself, does not actually harm anyone. Being aroused at the sight of another person’s apparent arousal is pretty normal. It’s catchy, this arousal thing. We humans tend to enjoy things that feel good and seek them out. We do this with food we like, by looking for experiences that are similar to past experiences that we’d enjoyed, for example, looking for a book by the same author we previously enjoyed or by seeking out time with people we’ve enjoyed time with in the past, etc. 

When people talk about porn as addictive, I would say, that yes, it can be addictive, in the same way that chocolate, alcohol or golf could be, but how do we define addiction?

When I do my initial assessment with clients whom I see in counselling, I will often ask about addictions and will clarify that my definition of addiction may start with something that they are concerned about, in terms of their behaviour, something that is causing problems in their life, and something that other people might have pointed out as concerning to them. This is the START of determining if something has become a problem.

After this initial assessment, in which we will also determine if there is any criminal activity happening, we may look at whether this activity is causing actual bodily harm to themselves by examining scientific evidence on the behaviour they are concerned about (i.e. the effects of various levels of alcohol or drugs on their body). Then we will further examine the feedback they’ve gotten from others, measuring it against the information they already have and looking at things like performance or attendance at work or school.

If someone is concerned about a persons behaviour they may have provided feedback on how this behaviour affects them. This is evidence of the impact of this behaviour on the relationship. In counselling we might talk about how this behaviour or activity get in the way of connecting with others and how do others see this activity in light of their relationship with that person. They may have heard feedback like, “you love beer/drugs/golf, etc. more than me.  Ultimately, the individual will need to decide whether others’ responses need to be challenged or incorporated in our own ideas and how much another persons concerns, even if they are not the same as the individuals’  concerns, are worth taking into consideration for the sake of the relationship, alone. Individuals will need to decide what changes they are able/willing to make in light of all of this information and what supports they will need to be able to do this.

When porn it is used  to meet needs that are better served elsewhere, it is most likely to become problematic. For example, if someone is lonely and ONLY ever tries to fill that loneliness with porn,  never actually connecting with real people, this may become problematic. If watching porn is your only way of managing loneliness, sadness, anxiety, trauma or other life issues, it will not actually accomplish what you hope it will. Some may use it more and more, if it is not addressing their needs, believing that it is not meeting their need because they haven’t used it enough OR when the need inevitable becomes more apparent, they might use porn to distract themselves from that need.

Problems in life and your relationships need to be addressed directly in order to fix, manage and/or heal them. Trying to address those with porn will not help  and will likely, in time, leave you in greater need than when you started.

(See Addiction, Your Best Frenemy? for more on addiction).

I do think that it is possible to use porn without having it be a distraction from other issues that need to be addressed and without it signalling something wrong with you. I also think that porn can be used without causing harm to you.

Your Brain on Porn

The idea that porn changes the brain patterns holds some weight. Every new thing we encounter changes our brain patterns, causes new neural connections and causes us to see the world in different ways. This is called growth.

When something new surprises us or triggers a strong shame or guilt response, due to previously held beliefs or ideology, we may experience that new thing as shocking, even traumatic, and may find ourself stuck on it, the images returning to our mind repeatedly, even when we don’t want them. Anxiety about our experience will feed our feelings about it and make it even more difficult to move past it. However, someone who does not have major concerns about the morality of porn could encounter the same images as the other person who feels the guilt and shame related to their beliefs about porn, and not be affected by those images in the same way.

If an individual is exposed to violent porn they may experience a trauma response.(For more on trauma see Men & Trauma- Anger, Anxiety, Addiction & DepressionBorderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – The New Hysteria and A Good Time to Panic). This can happen if it is unclear that the images or video was created consensually and is intended as play, and/or if an individual has a history of violence or abuse.  If someone is really disgusted by that type of sexual expression, does not have a trauma history, and knows that it the portrayal consensual and that no one is actually being harmed, it is less likely that they will feel trauma in response. In this case they might feel the way one does when the aftertaste of an unpleasant food gets stuck in one’s mouth. The level of their disgust may influence cause them to return to that image unwillingly if they are unable to distract themselves from it.

Desensitization 

Earlier, I spoke about the contexts in which porn could be classified as an addiction. As I said, before, I do not believe that porn is inherently addictive any more than any other potentially pleasant experience. Many people fear that individuals who use porn will become desensitized and need more explicit and violent types of porn in order to experience arousal. 

I believe that when you try something new, such as a new genre of movie, and discover you like it, you may have to explore within that genre, to get an idea of what really appeals to you.

I like suspense movies but I’ve discovered that I don’t like all suspense movies. I found this out by watching a bunch of different suspense movies and now I can better identify which ones I am likely to enjoy, before I see them. I believe that my tastes have changed over time, as I’ve become more knowledgeable about the different types of suspense movies, become more particular about the quality of the acting, the nuances in storytelling, and character development, and have been exposed to improvements in special effects. There may be some types of suspense movies that I don’t currently enjoy, but may come to appreciate in the future. Is this a slippery slope? You might say, “no, because suspense movies are not addictive.” I would argue that if the experience is pleasant enough, and feeds a need, such as my need for excitement, I am likely to be attracted to it to varying degrees and spend varying amounts of time watching suspense movies, depending on how the rest of my life is going. I think it’s the same with porn. Someone who is not initially attracted to BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Sado Masichism) might discover, after learning more about it, that they are actually interested and enjoy it, but others even learning all about it, may never be attracted to it. 

I do not believe that it is inevitable that someone will require more and more explicit and violent porn to be aroused if they continue to use it. Each person will be attracted to different things based on their unique individual tastes, experiences, knowledge, and sexuality. 

 

While many of us are not living as if any experience of sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage is evil, harmful and shameful, we live in a society that is built on these ideas. Our society has a  tendency to continue to perpetuate fear and shame around sexuality, in ourselves and towards others. This shame results in lack of information which causes real harm to ourselves and others, and a difficulty identifying when something is causing real problems and when it is not. Fear will not help us with this. We need to examine our own beliefs about sexuality and porn, look at the information about sexuality and porn, and make decisions based on this. 

I don’t believe that  porn is inherently harmful. I think it is something that can enhance our understanding of ourselves as sexual beings, by showing us what attracts us and what doesn’t, that has potential to add enjoyment and pleasure to our relationships, and that it can be use as a form of self care. I also think that like any self care it can be used to avoid real issues and can cause harm to our relationships and to others, particularly those who make it (more on this in a future post). (See also What do You Really Need? – A 6 Step Complete Self-Care Assessment Guide)

This is not the end of this discussion about porn. It is a complex topic which I will be addressing in ‘bite sized pieces” in future posts.

See also, Ethical Porn.

Stay turned for upcoming posts on Relationships & Porn;

 and Parenting & Porn

2 thoughts on “Porn & You

  1. Pingback: Ethical Porn | It's Not Just You

  2. Pingback: Discovering Your Partner Uses Porn | It's Not Just You

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s