porn

Let’s do a little experiment. To begin, sit still and try not to think about a pink elephant. Don’t picture it. Don’t even let the words “pink” and “elephant” combine in your mind. And for the next minute, keep track of how many times you think of a pink elephant.

Did you do it?

It’s hard, right?!

When I first tried this, I couldn’t stop thinking about pink elephants. I’m not sure if I had ever thought about them before, but the minute I was not supposed to, my mind became a pink elephant nature reserve.

Scientists call this phenomenon the “ironic process theory.” They have observed that the more you try to suppress a thought, the more likely you are to think about it.

Now, pink elephants aren’t too troublesome, but what about something a little more serious?

What about *gasp* sex?

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian religion, I had extremely conservative views on sexuality. I believed that sex was explicitly for heterosexual marriage and that physical intimacy outside that narrow context was not only unworthy, but would in fact unravel the very fabric of our society.

Not only did I completely abstain from watching porn in my 25 years of church life (a fact few are able to believe), I also avoided anything that was “immodest” or contained innuendo. 

I had never attended sex ed classes and the closest thing I got to “the talk” was overhearing what I’m now certain were wildly exaggerated conversations in the middle school locker room. So with the pink elephant experiment in mind, I’m sure you can imagine what it was like for me as a pubescent teen trying madly to repress sexual thoughts and activity! The more I tried to avoid it, the more prevalent it became. 

I soon developed a McCarthy-level paranoia about pornography. It seemed that the filth was lurking in every novel, in every film and on every website, just waiting to entrap me with its enticing chains.

I was certain that if I gave in just once, I would be overtaken by full-blown addiction that would inevitably destroy my relationships and self-worth. I walked out of movies, I closed books, and more than once I lost my progress on a school assignment because I had to quickly shut down the computer to avoid temptation.

Now fast forward a few years.

I had left the religion of my youth and had begun the arduous process of reassessing all my values. In a wave of nihilistic to-hell-with-it-ness, I decided to face my lifelong fear; I deliberately watched porn. And over the span of a couple months, I watched it with some regularity.

As expected, I found it quite stimulating. But I also found it somewhat troubling. I had no intrinsic moral qualm with the basic concept — if consenting adults wanted to film themselves performing sexual acts, and other people wanted to watch, it didn’t hurt me — but I didn’t appreciate what I perceived as prevalent misogyny. 

Eventually, I decided that I didn’t want to watch it anymore. It wasn’t because it was undermining all my relationships or my career. It wasn’t because I had lost my self-esteem or because I was turning into an addicted sex criminal. And it certainly wasn’t because I believed porn was pushing God to the brink of destroying the world with fire and brimstone.

I stopped because I wanted to. I didn’t feel any guilt or shame about it. It just wasn’t something I needed or wanted in my life. And that was it.

I found walking away a relatively easy task. Granted, I had only been viewing for a couple months, so my usage was only barely considered habitual. But even so, it demonstrated that the not-even-once anxiety of my youth was unfounded.

Surprised by the ease of my withdrawal, I began doing some research. And what I found completely contradicted the myths I had been taught growing up.

The culture I was raised in treated porn like a drug and equated even minimal porn use with addiction. My research proved this assessment to be both unscientific and even harmful.

Physical addictions, like those occasionally experienced by drug users, are “a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect,” according to Psychology Today.

Porn can’t be a “new drug” because it’s not a drug at all. When a person views porn, there is no foreign chemical on which the body develops a dependence. In that sense, there is no such thing as a “porn addiction.”

Porn doesn’t even affect the brain the same way other addictive substances do.

Dr. Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, studied cerebral responses to sexual stimuli by people who struggle to regulate their porn consumption. Where an alcoholic would have significant spikes in a neural reaction called P300, the porn users showed none. “Our findings don’t make them look at all like addicts,” said Prause.

What most people mean when they say “addiction” is actually compulsive behavior, a psychological phenomenon where a habitual emotional release becomes so irresistibly consuming that it interferes with normal life.Though the phenomenon is real, it’s not as prevalent as the puritans parrot.

Here’s a simple fact: almost all men watch porn (including Christian men who consume just as much as secular men). Imagine if every one of them were actually “addicted.” There would be almost no functioning members of society. But that’s not the case.

Normal usage is far from compulsive. The average person spends only about 20 minutes a week watching porn. This can easily be done without incurring unnecessary financial stress or taking significant time away from personal or professional obligations.

Of course, there IS a small minority of people whose porn usage is compulsive. However, it is incorrect to infer that it is the porn causing the compulsion.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom actually demonstrated that men who are unable to resist online porn might already be predisposed to compulsive problems in general.

So blaming compulsion on porn is like blaming binge-eating disorders on food or hoarding habits on possessions. Like any emotional release, it’s not necessarily about the substance, but the individual.

And this is where misinformation by the anti-porn movement becomes potentially harmful.

At the root of most compulsive behaviors is an emotional release from other problems, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety or stress. By portraying a relatively normal action as pure evil, misguided anti-porn rhetoric creates unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame, which are in turn relieved by — you guessed it — watching more porn.

The result is a cycle of shame and depression that perpetuates the very problems the anti-porn movement wants to eradicate.

The problem is further exacerbated when the cycle is referred to as an addiction. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University found that “a person’s own feeling of being addicted to online pornography drives mental health distress, not the pornography itself.”

“It doesn’t seem to be the pornography itself that is causing folks problems, it’s how they feel about it,” said one of the researchers, Joshua Grubbs. “Perceived addiction involves a negative interpretation of your own behavior, thinking about yourself like, ‘I have no power over this’… We know from many studies that thinking something has control over you leads to psychological distress.”

The evidence demonstrates that the emotional issues sometimes associated with porn are only as bad as a person believes they should be. It’s all a matter of subjective perspective, not intrinsic reality. Take away the belief that porn makes you depressed and addicted and you find it much less depressing and addictive.

This applies also to relationships. The slogan “porn kills love” is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. Porn doesn’t kill love. Negative perception does.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Destin Stewart and Dr. Dawn Szymanski, found that females who had negative perceptions of their boyfriends’ porn usage, experienced “lower self-esteem, poorer relationship quality and lower sexual satisfaction.”

Compare that to the study which found that women who watch porn actually experience greater sexual satisfaction and intimacy. This interesting because women are much more likely to view porn with their partner, implying a positive perception. So it seems that without unnecessary guilt or shame, porn can actually be beneficial relationships!

When Utah Senator Todd Weiler says porn “lowers self worth, leads to unhealthy views of sex and relationships, increases the odds of infidelity and is a major cause of divorce, among other problems,” he is forgetting that it’s only the negative perception of porn that causes those things.

Now, I’m not saying everybody should immediately get a subscription to a porn site. Like anything, there are definitely side effects and circumstances that should be considered. I myself choose not to watch it.

What I’m advocating is a more rational approach to porn. I’m calling for less fear-mongering and more facts. If we could just discuss the issues rationally without black-and-white judgments, the decision to NOT watch porn could be so much easier for everyone.

Remember the pink elephant experiment? So much of the anti-porn movement is about avoiding the pink elephant. What it doesn’t realize is that by doing so, it makes it harder and harder to avoid.

The truth is: porn has been around forever and it’s not going away soon. People will always watch it. So, we can continue fighting monsters of our own make in the futile battle for eradication, or we can figure out effective solutions to mitigate the damage associated with it.

If you are concerned with prevalent misogyny, good! Raise awareness about feminist porn! If you’re worried about abuse and exploitation, awesome! Drive consumer traffic to makers of ethical porn! If you’re worried about teenagers learning about sex from a webcam, then talk about ways to improve our public sex education resources.

And most of all, if you’re worried about porn causing depression and destroying relationships, then stop treating it like an addictive, dangerous drug. Remember: porn doesn’t kill love; shame does.



Richard R. Lyman
Richard R. Lyman
Well-dressed and down for a good time, Richard R. Lyman was the most recent apostle to be excommunicated. The poor guy actually believed what Brigham Young said about only polygamists being in the Celestial Kingdom. I guess you're only allowed to take "spiritual wives" when you're President of the Church. Follow on Twitter: @tgilliland789

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