Are We Raising a Generation of Addicts?

By Keaton Larson

Imagine every boy, at the age of ten, went to bed with a glass of whiskey instead of a glass of water or milk. All boys would grow into alcoholics, and society would consider this dilemma an acceptable and normal occurrence. Thankfully, this image is not a reality, and alcoholism is treated as a very serious addiction. However, the same cannot be said for a different type of addiction: porn.

Unfortunately, our attitude towards porn addiction does not match the severity of its impact. When I refer to porn, I am specifically focusing on high-speed Internet pornography, which has grown substantially within the last 10-20 years and has marked differences with pornography that existed before the internet boom. For the most part, I will be discussing pornography and its effects on males, but porn can be equally addictive or compulsive for females and should be no less of a concern. With that said, I should mention the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not officially recognize porn addiction as a diagnosis, as there remains a debate in the scientific community on whether porn is an addiction or a compulsion. Yet, despite scientific debate and public opinion, the data paints a picture that is increasingly troubling.

For starters, most boys begin to discover porn by the age of ten, according to a study by the University of Montreal. Another study in 2017 by the APA found the average age a boy begins consuming porn is thirteen. This is hardly shocking given the widespread availability and easy accessibility of porn on the internet. Furthermore, 76.6 percent of porn viewed on Pornhub’s website occurs using a phone, and the average age a child receives their first phone is 10.3 years old, according to Influence Central’s digital trends.

The massive fixation of high-speed internet porn across the globe is no secret. Every year since 2013, Pornhub hubristically releases a detailed data analysis of their internet traffic. The report includes information like total visits to the site, top categories, and age and gender demographics, among other things. Over the past five years alone, viewers watched about 29,010 centuries worth of content on their website, or almost three million years of porn since 2015. In 2019 alone, the site was visited 42 billion times, and there were 1.36 million hours of new content uploaded. As far as the world is concerned, high-definition internet porn is here to stay.

However, none of this data explains internet porn’s massive and growing popularity. To answer this question, we need to look at biology and internet addiction more broadly. Our brains evolved dopamine as a mechanism to motivate us to do anything that would help us survive, especially sexual reproduction. We receive a hit of dopamine in anticipation of a reward rather than when we receive the reward. Since procreation is a top priority for most species, the dopamine dosage for sexual actions is quite high. This dopamine chemical is not inherently bad though, but necessary; flooding neuroreceptors with dopamine incentivizes individuals to perform an action, like eat, work out, or reproduce. However, things in our world like drugs, gambling, and more recently, the internet exploit this neural process. This exploitation is the center of addiction.

Erotic content on the internet has the highest potential to increase compulsive internet use, according to the Addiction Research Institute in the Netherlands. One reason for this addictiveness results from combining one of our most basic biological urges with a constant flow of material that exploits that urge. As our bodies have evolved to receive dopamine in anticipation of sexual activity, these levels can lower as a result of repetitive sexual satiety with the same partner, a process called habituation. This is where the Coolidge effect comes in. The Coolidge Effect is the re-motivation of sexual behavior when a new partner presents itself for mating. This process was useful in a time when procreating was one of the most important goals for our species, and the amount of suitable mates was far less than today. Australian researchers from Deakin University conducted a study testing this effect. They showed men an erotic film segment multiple times, and after repeated viewings, sexual arousal decreased. On the 19th viewing of this segment, they changed the video to a new segment. Sexual arousal surged to the initial levels of the first viewing. How does this translate to porn? Porn offers a limitless amount of novel experiences at the click of a button. There is no shortage of content on the internet, and because of such a massive amount of material, our interest is constantly stimulated by something new. While many people still choose to pursue faithful, long-term relationships, this effect lives loudly within us, and porn is exploiting it to the highest degree.

Watching porn is not necessarily harmful in itself though, and every person that consumes porn is not an addict, so why is this addictiveness particularly dangerous? Many recent neurobiological studies have shown the effects of cumplusive sexual behaviors and pornogprahy use; watching porn has shown to cause changes in the brain similar to other behavioral addictions like gambling and substance addictions like drugs or alcohol, according to one study published in the journal, Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports. Sensitization, desensitization, and hypofrontality are all changes in porn users’ brains that are seen in addicts with addictions acknowledged by the APA. Porn users begin to associate specific memories or signals with porn, leading us to crave porn more but like it less. In turn, this causes a greater reduction in impulse control in our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that relates to reasoning. Teens are especially susceptible to this because their brains are at peak neuroplasticity. The consequences of this repeated exposure are frightening.

Although some sexual education through porn may be likely and healthy says one study from The Journal of Sex Research, men grow up with a skewed perception of sex and possess fantasies that are not healthy. Young exposure to porn by boys shows a greater need for power over women, according to the APA’s study from 2017, and as men consume more porn, they graduate to more hardcore content, says Meghan Donevan and Magdalena Mattebo in their article published in Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. As hardcore porn consumption becomes routine, users gradually become desensitized to its graphic content. As a result, for both men and women, repeated hardcore porn consumption is linked with sexual aggression, according to a study from the Journal of Communication. In addition, a clinical report out of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego found an alarming spike of dysfunction in men under forty, suggesting porn can cause severe sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, some men and women have experienced lower libido levels, as they have become more reactive to pornographic images and less reactive to sexual interactions with a real person. As a result, frequent consumption of porn correlates with an increased dissatisfaction in authentic sexual activities, according to a 2018 article in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.

Porn’s harmful effects are not limited to sexual activity. For starters, studies, like one published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, suggest day to day tasks and events can become less interesting. Porn consumption can also be a factor in decreasing academic performances. Finally, and perhaps most troubling, another article published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy shows loneliness and porn are strongly associated, with each one exacerbating the other.

The effects of porn on our brain and on our lives are well documented and endless. Whether or not we can conclusively label it an “addiction,” the science is clear. Repeated porn consumption negatively impacts our brains and bodies, causing loneliness, sexual dissatisfaction, erectile dysfunction and even aggression. While porn is not going anywhere, we ought to seriously reevaluate the role it plays in our lives. The conversation around sex and our bodies should occur, but our current negligence toward the way to facilitate this conversation will produce damaging consequences. When wondering if we are raising a generation of addicts, I worry about the possibility. You should be worried too.

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