Biblical Feminism, Marriage — August 28, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Porn and young males: “Creating guys unable to navigate complexities of real life relationships.”

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Young men are becoming hooked on arousal via online porn, according to Psychologist Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan. And as they do so, this results in catastrophe for both schoolwork and relationships with others.As the two researchers’ CNN article notes, such on-line images highly stimulate the brain.

Parallels to drug addiction are partially correct, but not entirely:

“[T]he attraction [in online porn] is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic [….] a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

Years ago, when working on an article for JPUSA’s Cornerstone Magazine on cocaine addiction, I read the studies done involving monkeys wired with a button which dosed them with cocaine every time it was pressed. The monkeys pressed the button until they died.

Zimbardo and Duncan’s observations include studies done with rats rather than monkeys. In those studies, dating back to 1954, each rat’s limbic system (the pleasure center of the brain) received shocks every time the rat wandered to the center of its cage. The experimenters thought the rats would avoid the center of the cages, thinking the shocks would be unpleasurable. Wrong. Like the monkeys, the rats zapped themselves again and again until they drew near the brink of death. Are we smarter than rats? Yes. But are we smart enough not to in this case imitate them? No. The online images stroke our pleasure center and for some of us at least prove to be as potent as those shocks were to the rats:

This new kind of human addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone. Past and future are distant and remote as the present moment expands to dominate everything. That present scene is totally dynamic, with images changing constantly.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. … The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. … Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual.”

The latter observation seems borne out by a BBC-News report on sexism in video games, a form of sexism rife in the online gaming community and usually aimed at real-life females who are gamers. That’s no surprise, as contrary to myths about porn being more female friendly, if anything the opposite is true.

Online porn is unquestionably more violent and extreme than porn was when feminists such as Andrea Dworkin fought it in the 1970s. Dworkin and other “Second Wave” feminists believed porn both influenced and reflected the profound oppression of women. While many feminists today reject that notion, they do so on dubious grounds.

Gail Dines, who since Dworkin’s death in 2005 has been perhaps the most articulate feminist voice against pornography, authored Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality (2010). As The Guardian notes re Dines’ findings, again underscoring Zimbardo’s point regarding porn’s effect on young boys and men,

“According to Dines’s research the prevalence of porn means that men are becoming desensitised to it, and are therefore seeking out ever harsher, more violent and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want, she says; at the industry conferences that Dines attends, porn makers have increasingly been discussing the trend for more extreme practices. And the audience is getting younger. Market research conducted by internet providers found that the average age a boy first sees porn today is 11; a study from the University of Alberta found that one third of 13-year-old boys admitted viewing porn; and a survey published by Psychologies magazine in the UK last month found that a third of 14- to 16-year-olds had first seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger – 81% of those polled looked at porn online at home, while 63% could easily access it on their mobile phones.”

Both Christian critics of porn and Second Stage feminists opposing porn have been mocked by those claiming that studies show no direct link between porn and actual violence against women. The germ of truth in such a claim is that many men do in fact consume porn yet do not go out and become rapists. But neither Christians nor feminists against porn have ever suggested the cartoonish version of reality the pro-porn (a.k.a., “sex-positive”) folks present as our position. Those attempting to defend porn offer up a straw-man argument, knock it down, and tell their hearers they’ve shown us to be wrong.

I cannot (or rather will not) describe here, for obvious reasons, the actual contents of pornography available on the internet. But nothing that is physically possible is excluded — and by physically possible I am talking about acts often outside any equation of tenderness or mutual pleasure. How will someone whose mind has been filled with such images go then to their marriage bed and love their spouse the way the lovers of Song of Songs loved? How will they ever experience as single persons the longing sexually that is part and parcel of a deeper longing to share all aspects of another person’s life? Wholistic sexuality is part of a relational fabric involving others in a web of interdependent love.Sex snapped off from mutuality-based relationships in the end is not only frustrating; it is the worst form of solitude.

But that’s all the usual preacher’s dribble. So how about this? The terrible reality about porn is that its influences are not simple, but complex and far-reaching. The way we talk to one another in our day and age, the overtly sexual content of many insults one human offers another, the violence of our culture, even the vicious tone of political discourse in this country, how much of it all has been influenced by the relentlessly non-relational and objectifying power of pornography? That power says this: “I am the center of my world, and my pleasure is paramount. Others exist to please me, to become apparatus in my pursuit of what pleases me.”

Porn’s effects, then, may not be just sexual, or even primarily sexual, in nature. How do I see another human being? Martin Buber’s famous formulation of the “I – It” vs. the I – Thou” relationship…. is it really hard to see which one of the two pornography and pornographic violence (that found in many video games) encourages? How far such I – It thinking goes in affecting the mean (cruel and small) world we inhabit today cannot be over-estimated.

Paul writes to the Philippian church:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 8,9 NRSV]

The punch line re porn and violence perhaps is best considered then as a question:

Does what we think have anything at all to do with what we do? That is, are our thoughts the genesis point for our actions? For the online porn addict, the answer is painfully obvious. But for those of us who dabble in images of porn and violence, the answers can be ignored. But if we ignore them, we do so at not only our own peril but the peril of a society already chewed up by the unholy jaws of Corporate Greed.

In the end, after all, porn is a business. And like the cigarette companies’ “nicotine delivery system,” the pornographers have found in the internet their drug’s perfect delivery system. And we, both consumer and consumed, become the objects to their corporate self-pleasuring.

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