Desensitised by years of unfettered porn consumption, there is a growing number of people trying to ‘re-sensitise’ themselves and reverse many adverse symptoms attributed to excess masturbation especially as the addictive pastime is nearing a controversial expansion; artificial intelligence.
Healthy or harmful? The verdict on how pornography and masturbation affect the user varies tremendously depending on the source. Some researchers assert that there is virtually no detriment that occurs as a result of this consumption. Advocates will quote such sources to fortify their claim that the two things are ‘normal and completely healthy’ while occasionally insisting that any opposition to that is driven by moral viewpoints (often theological) or individual anecdotes. What’s clear is that millions of Brits do partake in porn as evidenced by new data this year. Apart from the United States – where reportedly 1 in 3 citizens seek porn at least monthly – the United Kingdom has the second highest amount of traffic to the adult content site Pornhub. According to data published by the Daily Mail, ’29 per cent (13.8 million) of UK online adults accessed a pornographic content service in May 2023, and reach has remained relatively stable year on year’.
So, why the hullabaloo? Millions of individuals we rub shoulders with daily are embracing porn and masturbation so surely it can be considered something normal, right? Well, not necessarily. That which is common is not strictly made normal by virtue of being so (and certainly it does not confirm its harmlessness). Older generations alive today tell us of doctors who, only some decades ago, recommended cigarettes to their patients. Smoking now, of course, is understood as a harmful activity closely associated with the development of cancer. Physicians who advocated smoking were hired by tobacco brands to do so as a means of sponsoring their colossal money-making industry. Meanwhile, in the United States alone, reports claim that the porn industry makes as much as $97 billion per year. For comparison, Microsoft as a titan of the lucrative ‘Big Tech’ industry reported a net income of around 72.4 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2023, according to Statista. This is why some sceptics warn of mass advocacy for porn and masturbation as personal biases, as well as private interests, may influence the mainstream coverage surrounding the issue, as was once true of smoking.
An article published this year by the New York Post touched on some of the adverse effects associated with porn like erectile dysfunction. This included a 2020 study which found approximately 1 in 4 men ‘who use porn often and are under age 35’ (a period of life that should be their ‘sexual prime’) experienced erectile dysfunction with their partners. It references Dr Rob Weiss, a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist, who said: “Porn addiction can lead to desensitization to sexual stimuli, which can decrease arousal and lead to difficulties achieving and maintaining an erection…”.
Yet, this is merely one of the numerous harmful side effects associated with porn and masturbation. Of further concern is the increasing number of news stories that warn of artificial intelligence being integrated into adult content production. Critics warn that it could be used to upload photographs of individuals who do not – or cannot – consent to this and have those images incorporated into digitally generated deepfakes (artificially generated images) that display them engaging in sexual acts. What’s more, such materials that can be tailored precisely to the user’s preferences represent a higher risk of causing addiction and, subsequently, destroying that person’s quality of life.
This takes us back to our original question: healthy or harmful? Exploring this debate on search engines like Google will generate a plethora of results affirming the former and speaking of benefits. The results that challenge this view, however, and warn of its disadvantages, may require a deeper dive to find. Here is an overview of what they say.
Pornography and Masturbation – What’s the harm?
Everything in moderation. This applies both to behaviours seen as risky or rewarding. For example, with alcohol, we know the harmful side effects of overconsumption. Even healthy practices like working out may damage the gym goer’s body in excess. The point, while simple, is often overlooked with porn and masturbation; all activities ‘good or bad’ entail costs especially if done without moderation.
Andrew Huberman PhD, is a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the neurobiology department at Standford University School of Medicine. Accompanied by Dr Jordan Peterson, a renowned clinical psychologist and professor, the pair discussed the negative effects of porn and masturbation – particularly for men – in a podcast released this year.
It outlines how ‘frequent masturbation to pornography’ may cause sexual dysfunction and hinder a person’s ability to form relationships.
The activity can cause a ‘high dopaminergic response’ to viewing sexual acts which in turn ‘reinforces voyeurism’ instead of developing communication skills. In other words, the viewer is not being stimulated by intimacy or communication with a person but rather watching that person experience it with another. It risks ‘training the brain’ to prefer watching others have sex rather than doing it.
This impedes one’s ability to find a mate and pair bond. After male ejaculation, the hormone prolactin sharply increases which in turn ‘blunts dopamine release and testosterone’ for long periods of time. This ‘open loop of neurochemicals’ harms men’s chances of forming relationships. This spells a wider concern for the continuation of society and may partly explain plummeting birth rates in the West.
What’s more, dopamine release without effort or organisation can destroy one’s quality of life. Unlike release via hard-earned activities such as physical labour, unfettered masturbation to porn offers ‘big peaks’ of ‘reward’ chemicals which essentially ‘programs’ the individual into a spiralling lifestyle of lethargy as they are disincentivised from effort. This, in turn, poses a high risk of forming addiction.
With free access to a neverending supply of explicit content, users may be quickly ‘de-sensitised’ to ‘regular’ porn and turn to more extreme forms to satiate their addiction. As artificial intelligence may soon be used to tailor porn to individual preferences, this holds huge implications for consumers embracing more extreme or ‘taboo’ materials.
Many accounts echo the above and speak of symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, social anxiety, poor self-esteem, as well as low libido and motivation.
Famous people have also spoken out against porn. This includes the Grammy-winning singer, Billie Eilish, who said watching porn at a young age ‘destroyed her brain’, as reported by the Guardian.
How does porn impact society?
One disturbing trend in porn is violence against women. Such materials frequently portray verbal abuse – at least – from men towards women and this may ‘open the door’ to physical violence. A 2010 study looked at the fifty most popular pornos and researched 304 of their scenes. They found that 88% of them contained physical violence and 49% had verbal aggression. What’s more, unlike in real life where someone may fight back, in porn there was a recurring trend of victims responding neutrally or with pleasure to their abuse. The vast majority of these victims were women.
As the Colorado Counseling Center summarised: “In other words, porn portrays women getting beat up and enjoying it”. They note that even ‘non-violent porn’ portrays power dynamics between both sexes which portray women as ‘obedient and submissive’. When such materials are consumed, especially by impressionable youths, it runs a risk of teaching them to objectify and disrespect women.
In their article entitled ‘The effects of pornography in our society’, the Spectator wrote: “Porn creates a safe space for twisted sexual desires and is used as a “learning tool” for sex.” The author explains that porn encourages people ‘to be violent’ with sexual partners.
This harms relations between men and women in societies thus damaging their potential to develop relationships and latterly build families. Many sources claim that existing marriages are also quickly ‘ravaged’ should a partner choose to start using porn.
What’s more, reports tell of violence, drugs and human trafficking, behind the scenes of porn. This may include kidnapped women being drugged, raped and forced into the industry or porn actors being threatened by directors to engage in acts they’re uncomfortable with. This occurred in 2011 when two men in Miami were found guilty of advertising modelling roles as a means of human trafficking. Women who responded to their adverts were drugged, raped and recorded.
By supporting an industry that is rife in demeaning behaviours and violence towards others, especially women, we inadvertently encourage that in our society.
In addition, should millions of young males become addicted to masturbating to porn, the adverse effects may result in an entire generation of men who develop mental health conditions like depression, and/or are unable to meaningfully contribute to society. The consequences of which would be untold.
Lastly, it can be considered a colossal waste of time. In their piece entitled ‘The Porn Pandemic’, the LifePlan Organisation wrote that in 2016 people watched the equivalent of 4.6 billion hours of porn on just one of millions of such websites. That equates to 524,000 years of consumption in just a year.
Why is porn free to watch?
Decades ago, consumers needed to physically enter a store with ID to prove they were old enough to buy explicit content that – often – was produced in a registered studio. Even as the internet grew commonplace, many porn sites still had access fees. Now, however, more and more porn sites are free. So, what changed? By cashing in on advertising income, many pornographers can make even more money by removing subscription costs – it also allows them to keep up with their industry competitors.
The dark side of all this? This business model entails a huge cost. Not of finances, per se, but of other precious resources in our lives. Considering masturbating to porn as ‘harmless and cost-free’ works almost exclusively to the benefit of such businessmen.
Fight the New Drug (FTND), a nonprofit organisation based in the United States, explains that the industry wants consumers ‘hooked’ while they’re young. This allows them to act as a go-to place where youths learn about sex and experience sexual release, thus converting them into ‘lifetime customers’.
The rush of ‘pleasure chemicals’ in consumers’ brains reinforces the behaviour and, essentially, ‘rewires’ their reward pathways so they return to porn continuously thereafter. This causes them to lessen or even lose their desire and ability to bond with a real partner.
In short, it causes a “powerful dependence on porn that real relationships pale in comparison to the unrealistic, unattainable fantasy expectations porn creates” which in turn results in “harmed relationships”.
Thus, with consumers and their loved ones as collateral damages, the porn industry uses the currency generated as a result of this to generate mass profits via clicks, views and downloads.
Some critics warn that it is a highly effective means of ‘destabilising’ a society.
Which countries watch the most porn?
In 2022, Pornhub published their breakdown of trends from that year that included which countries watched the most videos. The review, covered by Yahoo! News, shows that the top three countries by traffic-watching porn were the United States followed by the United Kingdom and then France. Reports detail that all three of these countries have battled with rapidly descending birth rates in recent years.
In their report entitled ‘Is the current fall in birth numbers in France exceptional?’, the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) confirmed that “births have been falling in France for nearly 12 years.” They continue: “In 2022, 726,000 babies were born—over 100,000 fewer births than in 2010.”
Want to quit masturbating to porn? Here’s some advice
Masturbating to porn entails real-life consequences to the individual and their loved ones, so it’s important to address the issue without shame. If you believe you have an addiction, here are some strategies and techniques to help you overcome it as recommended by Medical News Today:
- Avoid porn
- Stay active
- Seek professional help
- Spend more time with others
- Exercise well and often
- Join a support group
You may also find value in reading the accounts of former addicts who overcame the problem and now attest to the benefits of not using pornography.