Tue, 19 Mar, 2019

Long Term Effects of Pornography on Mental Health

By Amun Kharel

According to the eMarketer’s data, 1.91 Billion people had access to a smartphone in 2015 (Weiss 1). Furthermore, according to the International Telecommunication Union, “In 2016, 47% of the people in the world [had] access to the internet” (“Global Internet Usage”). This data shows that a significant portion of the world’s population has access to information in their pockets that was hard to access even by the privileged class a few decades back. However, the information that people access through the internet is mostly pornographic in nature. It is estimated that “every second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet” (“Internet Pornography by the Numbers; A Significant Threat to Society”). These numbers suggest that significant portion of the people find viewing and masturbating to porn pleasurable. This is mostly because of the neurotransmitter that activates brain’s reward system called the dopamine as the presence of dopamine “initiate feelings of wanting, desire, even cravings” (Zimbardo 22-26). People watch porn and masturbate to it because dopamine instantly rewards their brain with a pleasurable experience during this activity. Although porn gives people pleasure in the short run, viewing, and masturbating to porn for longer periods leads to porn addiction; porn addiction causes degradation of our mental health by wasting our time and creative energy, wearing out our reward system, and changing our sexual attitude in a way that causes harm to an individual in the long run. First, addiction to pornography, like any other addiction such as alcohol and drugs addiction, enslaves our minds to waste our time and energy, as such addictions compel us to indulge in short-term gratification and harm us in the long run. To better understand the harmful effects of the compulsion to watch and masturbate to porn, we have to understand the steps that cause addiction and ingrain addiction in our brains. Suppose a person constantly walks into a bar for a glass of alcohol. By drinking the alcohol, he experiences a feeling of pleasure. After some time, as he is continuously presented with such pleasurable experience, he realizes that drinking has become his habit. Then, he wants to quit drinking alcohol by not going to that bar. However, he now can be presented with cues such as the smell of that bar, bars with similar physical outlooks, and other things that link his brain to the similar experience while he was drinking alcohol. After he is exposed to such cues, it is almost impossible for him to resist drinking alcohol.  In this scenario, he has lost his self-discipline and now he can easily be victimized by such cues, which leads to addiction. Finally, this person with alcohol addiction will want to increase the quantity and doses of the same alcohol. In contrast, a person who continuously exposes himself to porn needs a different category of porn to satisfy his craving. As alcohol addiction, porn addiction starts with continuous consumption of porn. People think they can easily indulge in porn without having any consequences, but later they recognize that cues associated with the pleasure of watching porn will destroy their self- discipline. Watching porn when nobody is home might be a cue to a porn addict. When people want to quit watching porn, such cues will compel them to watch porn, masturbate, and achieve orgasm.  This process perpetuates the addiction, and porn addicts want different and more extreme categories of porn to gain pleasure. Searching new categories of porn will waste their time and creative energy. People who are supposed to work on a cognitively demanding task, such as writing a paper for school or writing a computer code for their next big project, will underperform or procrastinate as they waste their time and creative energy on searching and masturbating to intense categories of porn (Zimbardo 22-26).  According to a licensed psychologist and a renowned researcher Alexander Rozental, “Procrastination has been shown to be associated with increased stress and anxiety, exacerbation of illness, and poorer performance in school and work” (Rozental 480-490). To recap, porn addicts yield pleasurable experience watching porn as long as they keep watching porn from different and more extreme categories. Searching varieties of porn waste their time and creative energy. This habit leads to anxiety and poor performance in professional and academic life. Secondly, to further confirm the significant damage done by porn, in the long run, a research was conducted to scan and check the effects of porn on our brains. “In the first-ever brain-scan study of online porn users, conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, researchers found that the hours and years of porn use were correlated with decreased grey matter in regions of the brain associated with reward sensitivity, as well as reduced responsiveness to erotic still photos” (Zimbardo 22-26). Gray matter is the region in our brains that signals dopamine as we experience pleasure in our day to day life. The release of Dopamine is what gives us the sensation of pleasure, but this study made a terrifying conclusion that the continuous consumption of porn for a longer period is correlated with wearing out our reward system as dopamine is signaled infrequently. This brain change leaves people less sensitive to pleasure.  In another study, “Dr. Foresta found that 16 percent of high school seniors who used online porn more than once a week reported abnormally low sexual desire...” (Zimbardo 22-26). Additionally, due to this brain change, we need higher stimulation and surprise element in our everyday lives to gain the sensation of pleasure. To gain pleasure, which is triggered by high stimulation and surprise element, is very unlikely and unrealistic in the real life. For example, a person who has been consuming several hours of porn every week for a long period of time will be less likely to aroused by his sexual partner in the real world. This situation occurs because porn stars are professionals in their field who make the sexual experience seem perfect with makeup, implants, and reactions which trigger high stimulation and surprise to their audience. If people go to their partner with similar expectations for the first time, they are bound to be disappointed and embarrassed by their partner. If the partner is not understanding and supportive, this situation leads to friction in a relationship, which has a negative impact on the mental health such as anxiety and low self-esteem in a person who experienced his/her first sexual encounter. Therefore, continuous consumption of porn is associated with desensitization to pleasurable experience and necessity for higher stimulation and surprise element is observed in porn addicts that set up an unrealistic expectation in the real life. Such expectations never fare well in real life which leads to disappointment and frustration (Zimbardo 22-26). Lastly, internet pornography has changed people’s beliefs towards sex in a way that people these days consider sex “as physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational” (Owens 104). The attitude of people towards sex has changed significantly in the past few decades, which has caused more harm to society than good. Human beings are creatures who want to be understood and loved by other people. Specifically, they want someone with whom they can meet both their physical and emotional needs. On the contrary, people’s beliefs about sex as a purely physical activity denies them from having a meaningful relationship with their partner. Sex becomes an activity which fuels their physical needs in the short run but leaves them unhappy and incomplete mentally and emotionally in the long run. As we can note, like any other addiction, pornography gives us satisfaction for a short period. However, such satisfactory experience given by porn does not outweigh the harm caused by it in the long term on our mental health. By wasting our time and creative energy to reduce the quality of our work in academic and professional life, decreasing the brain’s gray matter to desensitize us to a pleasurable experience, and changing our healthy attitude towards sex, viewing porn has significant impacts on our mental health. Therefore, watching porn is an irrational and a harmful lifestyle choice.

About Author:
Amun Kharel is a former DWIT student who is currently studying in the US. Currently, a freshman and a math major but will eventually graduate in either Physics or Computer Science. Believes in objective truth because he says, "Facts don't care about your feelings."
Work Cited
“Global Internet Usage.” Wikipedia. 15 April 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage. Accessed 16 April 2017. “Internet Pornography by the Numbers; A Significant Threat to Society.” Webroot. https://www.webroot.com/us/en/home/resources/tips/digital-family-life/internet-pornography-by-the-numbers. Accessed 16 April 2017. Owens, Eric W., et al. "The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research." Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, vol. 19, no. 1/2, Jan. 2012, pp. 99-122. EBSCOhost. Rozental, Alexander, et al. "Differentiating Procrastinators from Each Other: A Cluster Analysis." Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, vol. 44, no. 6, Nov. 2015, pp. 480-490. EBSCOhost. Weiss, Todd R. "Global Smartphone Use Continues to Climb, Studies Show." Eweek, 15 Dec. 2014, p. 1. EBSCOhost. Zimbardo, Philip, et al. "How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood." Skeptic, vol. 21, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 22-26. EBSCOhost.