The Science of Pornography Addiction

pornography addiction

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Boys and pornography is becoming a big issue for schools and parents. Find out some great information from my recent conference talk.

We only have a very short time together this afternoon so I only wanted to share with you a few basic insights into the way that pornography is shaping our society and in that process impacting millions of individuals and the relationships they value. I have a favourite speaker who once said, “You don’t need a whole bunch of great ideas to change your life  you just need one good idea that you’re actually prepared to use.” So that’s what I want to do this afternoon. I want to leave you with one or two useful insights that you can take forward into your home or professional life. I will give you all a load of free stuff at the end as well as my contact details and if you would like me to work with your organisation or business then we can have that conversation.

Let’s begin. What I have been trying to do for some time on television and radio is to shift the debate about pornography from questions of morality and ethics to one of public health and I will get to that, the issue of public health, in a moment.

To some of you this will seem problematic. For those of you in the room who view pornography through the lens of what I would call monotheistic personalism, there is not much point having a discussion about whether pornography is immoral or unethical. We agree that it is a problem because in pornography the human person is fragmented and viewed in a utilitarian sense instead of being created in the imago dei.

The person is reduced to their body parts and the capacity of those body parts to service the sexual arousal of third parties. I think one of the best encapsulations of this idea comes from Pope John Paul the Second who said, “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much…but rather that it shows too little.”  While I am indulging myself in some of my favourite quotes, I think British philosopher Roger Scruton cuts to the very core of our cultural problems with sex when he says, “Sex is either consecration or desecration. With no middle ground in-between.”

If you try and have a discussion with people about the moral questions presented by pornography you will run into the issue that the brilliant academic and philosopher Alisdair MacIntrye discusses in his book After Virtue. We simply no longer have a shared language around morality because the entire framework of faith and reason has been undone by the enlightenment. It is recovering but it will take a long time. All this means that trying to convince people that pornography is bad for them will be a bit harder than it should be for the next few hundred years. I am an optimist. My second Masters degree taught me to think in 500 year time blocks so I am in  for the long haul.

The good news however, if there is any in this whole sad landscape of what pornography does to people is that we are now seeing a vast and growing body of peer reviewed empirical data on just what pornography does to the human brain and how that impact shapes behaviours and what those behaviours will mean for your home, workplace or Church. This is what I mean by the way I have been trying to move the debate toward public health, that’s where we have the data. The problem is that no matter how good the data a lot of very powerful people want to ensure that we ignore the science. Why? Because, if we follow the science it forces those in power to confront much deeper questions. The science would force many of our elites to reconsider their wholesale support for the sexual revolution.

In the 1950’s, some bright spark had a bit of an idea. They noticed that all these people smoking two packs a day seemed to have a strange habit of dying. Funny that. How could inhaling a huge cocktail of carcinogenic compounds 80 times a day cause anyone grief? So they began to quietly suggest that maybe there was a link. “No” said Big Tobacco and Government, the popular press, Hollywood, Marlboro Man and just about everyone else. “That’s a ridiculous idea…be quiet you fundamentalist. Trying to ruin everyones smoking fun with your moral crusade.”

Unfortunately, lots of people kept up this inconvenient habit of dying when they smoked a lot and it also cost a hell of a lot of money in health costs and lost productivity. But Big Tobacco leaned back in that cosy government funded easy chair, blew a smoke ring and laughed, “Prove it.” Tens of millions more people had to die but eventually the quiet voice of science and reason won the day.

In 2013 we know that pornography massively stimulates the release of the neurochemical striatal D2 dopamine. Overproduction of D2 dopamine then triggers the overproduction of another neurochemical DeltaFossB which actually eats gray matter in the pre-frontal cortex. The best introductory text on this is Judith Reisman’s “The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Addiction.” We now have a vast body of data on how imagery causes neurochemical and neuroplastic change in the human brain.

The impact of this reduction in gray matter which we call hypofrontality is seen is two key issues. One, huge problems with impulse control and also an inability to forsee consequences. That’s no surprise as the prefrontal cortex is the executive centre of the brain.

A 2011 study called Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder states, “…researchers found a 10 -20% reduction in frontal cortex gray matter..”

In terms of how widespread these addictive problems are likely to become we have a veritable Tsunami of data. Neilsen research in the first quarter of 2009 showed over 4 million Australians accessing hardcore online content. The recent British Independent Parliamentary Enquiry into Online Child Protection data shows 4 out 5 16 year olds accessing pornographic content weekly. A little over 30% of Internet traffic is pornography related. The largest study ever conducted of Internet addiction shows 14% of Chinese adolescents already in the category of full blown addiction. Run the numbers on that one. It’s a big country. It’s a little under 200 million people with Internet and pornography addiction losing up to 20% of their frontal lobes.

But its not a substance. It’s not a drug. It can’t be addictive. In 2011 The American Society of Addiction Medicine added sex to its categories as ‘biologically addictive’ and stated, “…altered biology affects subsequent behaviour.”

Dr. Nora Volkow from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “…the Institutes name should encompass addictions such as pornography.”

Columbia University Psychiatrist and neuroplasticity expert, Dr. Norman Doidge – “The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor but long term, sometimes life long neuroplastic change in the brain.”

UCLA Berkley Emeritus Professor Phillip Zimbardo. “…brains are being digitally rewired in a new way for change, novelty, excitement  and constant arousal.”

Ok…so there’s the good news! So what do we do.

1. Take all the free stuff I can give you today.

2. Maybe come to my talk tomorrow.

3. Get my card and download this talk.

3. Go to

4. Learn as much about the topic as you can – especially the addiction science because that impacts people.

5. Create a workplace policy and education and training sessions. I can help you with that.

Make a decision to love and to simply be a good person. Be a person who values the inherent dignity of the human person, the sacredness of sex and the common bonds that have always and may still hold our societies together.

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