Pornography has become an epidemic. At least 66% of men aged eighteen to thirty-four indulge in porn; 41% of women have intentionally watched it online; 90% of teenagers who are regular internet users have viewed it; and prepubescents are being treated for pornography addiction. There are now over one-quarter of one billion pornographic websites in existence. We spend more on porn than on football, baseball, and basketball combined. $14 billion a year is spent in California alone. In 2005, $1.5 billion was spent on cell phone porn in western Europe. Two-thirds of human resources professionals have found porn on an employee’s computer. And the most searched for picture in human history is “Janet Jackson’s breast.”
We are now living in a pornified society, which is causing pornography addiction. A panel of academic experts appearing before the United States Senate Hearing on the Science of Pornography Addiction in 2004 testified that porn addiction uses the same neurological pathways as drug dependency. In the case of heroin addiction synthetic opiates are injected into the body; when viewing porn the body manufactures its own opioids, which are as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
In order to understand just how porn addiction develops it is necessary to know something of the brain. From deep within the brainstem the mesolimbic reward center coordinates primal, survival needs, such as eating, nurturing the young, and sexual contact, by creating feelings of desire and reward. An addiction develops when less advantageous desires cause the mesolimbic reward center to malfunction. This is a common feature of all addictions. The porn addict causes his addiction through repetitive exposure to images that initially thrill the viewer. This releases dopamine, the brain produces endorphins, and a natural high ensues. It is a vicious circle: the porn addict sees an explicit image, this releases dopamine that causes a natural high, making him desirous of more explicit images, he then views more images, which in turn releases more dopamine, and so the cycle continues. Effectively the brain has been rewired. There is now a generation of young addicts who may never fully recover from their porn addiction. After a period of abstinence, a cocaine addict can free his body from the drug, and stave off the desire for a fix. In contrast, the porn addict has images burnt into his brain that may never be removed, in part due to the association of extreme pleasure with the image and the resulting release of opioids. It has not always been this way.
In 1968 the United States President’s National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography was charged with understanding the effects of pornography on the public, and found virtually no evidence of child pornography, no full-frontal nudity in pornographic magazines , and little hardcore pornography. Then, pornography was rare, hard to come by, and the preserve of sad, dirty, secretive men, for it was not mainstream, and it was not socially acceptable. What has changed is the marrying of technology with pornographic interests. It was the coming of cheap printing presses in the eighteenth century that ushered in the first pornographic novel; the next leap in the pornification of society was not until the beginning of the twentieth century, when black-and-white photographs could be printed cheaply, culminating in the early 1970s when full-color photographs were used. But it wasn’t until the introduction of the home video recorder that the consumption of porn exploded. Home video removed the shame and stigma associated with porn as people could now watch it anonymously in their own home. By 1986, 20% of all videos in circulation were pornographic. However, the greatest force behind the proliferation of porn is the internet.
If the opioids produced by the body while watching pornography are as powerful as heroin, then the internet is the greatest drug delivery system ever devised. Picture a man so addicted to heroin that he invents a system whereby the drug is always freely available, twenty-four hours a day, in the comfort of his own home. His addiction is such that the heroin is pumped into his body directly through an intravenous drip, to which he connects at every opportunity. Little else matters to him, save for connecting to the intravenous heroin to feed his addiction. His life withers away, he loses his family and his job, and his young children also become addicts through his example, as they want to be “just like Daddy.” He is dependent, his life and family are in tatters.
Now picture the internet and the porn addict. At every opportunity, to the neglect of his spouse and children, he plugs in a cable through which the drug of the internet and porn is delivered into his home, and then into his mind, whenever his wishes. Minutes merge into hours, hours into several hours, sometimes a day or a night might pass while he is oblivious to time, and all the while his children see their daddy hooked up to a machine that is more dear to him than food, work, or spending time with them. This is the lot of the internet and the porn addict, and it is a very real and increasingly common picture of destroyed family life.
In a pre-internet society perverted desires, such as seeing children and animals as sex objects, remained private thoughts, rarely acted upon. Such a person was aware of the strangeness of the depravity of their thoughts. The internet normalizes perverted behavior, as the pervert can find websites and users that cater for every sexual possibility in the global marketplace of the internet. This makes the pervert’s desires and behavior seem normal, widespread, and acceptable. And yet, every single voyeur of internet pornography is now in danger of developing extreme sexual preferences that would be thought of as immoral, ungodly, and criminal in a previous age. Just as the heroin user needs an ever-increasing supply of the drug to achieve his high, so too the internet porn addict finds himself looking for more extreme sexual images in order to satisfy his addiction. What was exciting and titillating one week becomes normal as the addict is habituated to it, forcing him to look for more explicit and weird images, in order for natural opioids to be flooded through his brain. Perhaps this is the reason why the U.S. Government is seriously considering putting adverts on buses that read, “sex with kids is not OK,” as porn addicts in search of evermore extreme images turn to child pornography for their kicks.
An astonishing 24% of all image searches on the internet are for children in a state of undress or engaged in sexual acts; 20% of children aged ten to seventeen have received sexual solicitation over the internet; and 90% of children aged eight to sixteen with access to the internet have visited a porn website. International supermarket chains sell pole-dancing kits for young girls; mainstream shops sell Playboy stationery aimed at children; pornographers lure children into their murky world by linking web searches for popular cartoon characters to pornographic images; porn has insinuated itself into online gaming, video gaming, the music industry, and mainstream television programs and films; American girls aged thirteen to seventeen are spending over $150 million a year on thongs; while 11,000 American eighteen-year-old girls are having breast implants every year. With children being fed porn and being turned into sexual commodities, little wonder American child pornography rose 750% in the five years to 2003, and by 2002 over 26,000 websites dedicated to child pornography existed.
And so it is children, families, and spouses who bear the real cost of the dirty world of pornography through its corrosive effect upon relationships. In 2003, two-thirds of American divorce lawyers had witnessed a sudden rise in divorces that cited porn addiction as a factor. In 1995, before the widespread use of the internet, pornography played almost no role in divorce. Driven by a desire for extreme and unusual sexual behavior, the porn addict finds real women boring, unexciting, unwilling to please, and unattractive. He becomes less interested in real sexual relationships, preferring the virtual, fake world of porn. The real-world partners of pornography users seem inadequate when compared to the ever-willing-to-please porn-star on the screen. These same partners are often deeply disgusted with the superficial, egotistical, stupid man who is a porn addict. The spouse of a porn addict is more likely to be depressed, have an eating disorder, and suffer low self-esteem. Any indulgence young women might give to partners who are porn users soon fades, giving way to frustration and hate, as the porn user prefers his relationship with porn women over his spouse. He is, in effect, cheating on her, leading to hurt, jealousy, betrayal, and anger. Perhaps this is the reason why 40% of porn addicts separate from their spouse.
The price of admission into this world of porn addiction is a deeply unsatisfying marital life; a poor long-term emotional and sexual relationship with one’s spouse; divorce; neglected children who are also likely to become porn addicts; a career in tatters; withdrawal from family, friends, and community life; a diminished desire to have children;much lost time; a screwed-up mind that thinks constantly of the opposite sex; a desire for ever more perverted extreme sexual acts; a life that is connected at every opportunity to the solitary activity of internet use; and a constant, nagging, uncontrollable pull towards viewing explicit images that has never been seen before in human history. In the words of one porn addict under treatment at the Mayo Clinic: “It was the pit of hell. I got no satisfaction, but I went there anyway.”