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The power of porn

Written by Genevieve Worrell

EARCH the word ‘porn’ and Google will return 409,000,000 results in 0.14 seconds.

The first result will be PornHub, the largest pornography site on the internet and the 60th largest website in the world, boasting completely free access to their near infinite library of pornographic films and videos.

WARNING: THIS STORY DOES CONTAIN GRAPHIC CONTENT.

With this in mind, it is not hard to conceive that 42.7 per cent of internet users view porn.

It may, however, shock some to know that the average age of first exposure to pornography in Australia is 11-years-old.

The consequence of this widespread exposure of young, impressionable minds to distorted, sexualised content can be poignantly summarised by the experience of Sophia Bell.

Miss Bell, a 19-year-old university student who is using a pseudonym, described the occasion of losing her virginity with a high school boyfriend.

“The lead up was typically awkward and everything was going along as I had assumed it would , until he climaxed onto my face,” Miss Bell said.

“When he saw my look of disgust he immediately became defensive, arguing that he’d seen it in porn.”

Young adults are using pornography as a method of sex education, Australian researchers and educators identified in the 2010 report Eroticising Inequality: Technology, pornography and young people.

Consequently, Australian adolescents are modelling their own sexual behaviours based on unrealistic depictions of sex and intimacy intended to replicate fantasy.

While adolescents are actively consuming pornography with the relatively innocent intention of learning about sex, adult porn consumers are falling victim to a far more sinister brand of subconscious education.

A content analysis of popular pornographic films, published in Violence Against Women in 2010, found that aggression rates in pornography have almost tripled in recent years.

The study examined 304 scenes from the most popular professionally produced blue movies in America and found that almost 90 per cent depicted physical and verbal aggression towards women.

Brisbane sex therapist Sarah Birt says this demand for violent content as both the result of social taboo and the consequent excitement it rouses in viewers, as well as the primal physical urges of porn’s greatest consumers – men.

“Men have that nature towards women of domination, particularly sexual domination,” Ms Birt said.

By exploiting the culturally suppressed impulses of men, the porn industry is making an enormous profit at the expense of women’s rights and safety.

Academics of learning theory have demonstrated that consumers of sexually explicit media model the sexual acts they observe when those acts are positively reinforced.

In the same 2010 content analysis mentioned above, it was found that 95.9 per cent of female porn actresses condoned the aggression directed towards them by exhibiting verbal approval, consistent with the fantasy they are being paid to fabricate.

The degradation of women encouraged by pornography has been proven to foster negative attitudes and forceful behaviours toward women.

The increasingly violent nature of mainstream pornography also takes a toll on the viewer, regardless of their gender or orientation.

Ms Birt described repeated masturbation using pornography as a stimulant as an example of classical conditioning.

“It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dog,” Ms Birt said.

“It releases serotonin in the brain that gives you that good adrenalin feeling, which becomes associated with porn.”

As a result, habitual porn consumers often struggle to maintain healthy sexual relationships after having trained their brains to respond to the extreme visuals of pornography rather than intimate contact with a real-life partner.

It is common for regular users of pornography to experience desensitisation, leading them to seek out increasingly more graphic material to achieve the same chemical release.

In some cases, this reliance on pornography to produce the chemicals serotonin and dopamine in the brain can result in serious and destructive addiction.

Mitchell Smart, chairman of Liberty Inc – a Brisbane-based not-for-profit support network for people struggling with sexual addictions – summarised the findings of multiple conclusive scientific studies on the physiological effects of pornography.

“Your brain becomes totally rewired,” Mr Smart said.

Not just an expert in the field, Mr Smart has experienced the vice-like grip of pornography addiction firsthand.

“By the end of year nine I was looking at porn on average about three hours a day, probably five days a week,”Mr Smart said.

Mr Smart’s addiction, fuelled by a deep struggle with his own sexuality and an ongoing sense of isolation from his peers, continued to cast a dark shadow over his life until he made the decision to seek help at the age of 21.

“I didn’t want to be the kind of person who watched pornography all the time,” he said.

“You’re tired, in a constant haze, and it’s difficult to enjoy anything that isn’t porn or sex related.

“You can’t help but fantasize and objectify the people around you.

“It’s very lonely.”

Rehabilitation was an incredibly draining and harrowing process for Mr Smart.

“The first year was really difficult, and I wasn’t sure if I would live.

“Because what you are essentially addicted to is serotonin, [without that] you get sad and vacant.”

His treatment, which spanned across several years, continues to be a financial burden on his family.

“When I got married four and bit years ago I took $15,000-$16,000 debt into my marriage and that’s almos exclusively from recovering from my addiction,” Mr Smart admitted.

Like any recovered drug addict, Mr Smart now lives with the knowledge that he will likely relapse.

“The last time I relapsed was six months into my marriage,” Mr Smart disclosed.

“I don’t want it to, but I expect it will happen again.

“My internet access is constantly monitored now on my smartphone and my computer.”

There are no treatment facilities in Australia equipped to deal with clinical pornography addiction, despite the growing number of sufferers like Mitchell Smart.

However, the number of untreated porn addicts will never be equal to the countless number of victims like Sophia Bell, innocents who will continue to suffer at the apathetic hands of pornography until the tragedy is realised.

 

This post was originally published on Golden-I UQ 2014.