More on Naomi Wolf’s ridiculous “Is pornography driving men crazy?” article, which has now been reposted on HuffPo. Thank goodness, the commenters there are taking her to the cleaners for her myopic writing. I’d like to keep taking her there.
“Given the desensitisation effect on most male subjects, researchers found that they quickly required higher levels of stimulation to achieve the same level of arousal. The experts I interviewed at the time were speculating that porn use was desensitising healthy young men to the erotic appeal of their own partners.”
Well, again, I’m not a brain scientist. I don’t know much about how this all works. But it seems a safe bet (that I’ve read about, too, but hey look at me I’m not trying to deploy factoids I don’t fully understand! Wheee!) that the dopamine hit that men get from jerking off to porn is similar to the one they get from having sex. Orgasm itself releases a flood of chemicals that provide a variety of pleasant effects–dopamine is just one. All of these chemicals are powerful and they work to make us feel happy, slightly sleepy, and emotionally close to the thing or person we’ve just shared our intimate act with. It applies particularly well if that partner is a human being, and facilitates bonding (evolutionarily, of course, this was meant to help pairs bond in case a child had been produced, so they could both stick around to take care of it).
Many theorists have concluded that perhaps this bond gets shared with porn and develops an even stronger emotional attachment–I’d argue it might make someone bond more with his or her hand. But, hey, what about sex partners? Does this mean that people who have sex with their partners will eventually need more extreme sex to get off?
Well, yeah. I mean that’s kind of the whole thing about even the healthiest of sex lives, isn’t it? When they start out, most male-sexed people are so excited they have an orgasm in seconds. But after they’ve done it a bit more often they can go a bit longer, and sometimes after a while they take for-friggin-ever. Right? So does this mean that men who have sexual relationships with other people are going to go around needing to be choked, slapped, and submerged in wax or something every time they get it on, because they’ve been overexposed to sex?
Well, for some men, yes. But so what? The assumption Ms. Wolf is making is that “extreme” sex acts are always bad. But that’s another blog post.
The point HERE is that masturbation and porn are blamed for all sorts of social and sexual evils when both masturbation and porn are simply pieces of the larger sexual puzzle. Yet, when it comes to the things that make these two habits “bad” to commentators and the larger culture, these same things, as applied to other sexual behaviors (like sex with a partner), cease to be as bad. If you need more and more stimulation to get off with your partner, there seems to be little in the way of a stigma attached to it. When things do get out of control, people often divorce or go into counseling for sex addiction, which, incidentally, is just expression the same issues inherent in pornography addiction. It just tends to involve more people in the “addict’s” life. I’m not sure where I stand on the idea of sexual addiction in general, and again, I’m not a scientist.
But I’d venture to say that it’s not the sex or the porn itself that causes compulsive behavior and addiction that we can write condescending articles about; it’s the need for the dopamine. It’s the chasing after the rush. It’s the inability to put the rush together with a healthy feeling of self-worth, intimacy, or attachment that makes it dangerous, or the ability to find only the rush worth pursuing at the sake of real, meaningful human interaction.