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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Features Online Only | [ssba]

Great Sexpectations

Picture this: you’re reclined on one of the couches at uni after a draining day of lectures.  You realise you’re ravenous so you start to mentally run through the culinary options on campus, wondering which one will most effectively fill your growling stomach.  Sushi? A burger? That newfangled cronut creation receiving rave reviews?

Suddenly your musings are interrupted by an unassuming fellow who sidles over and puts the following offer to you: at absolutely no cost, he’s happy to provide you with a smorgasbord of succulent morsels sure to sate your hunger.  Available at any time of day or night, these goodies are unique. They give you all the sensory experience of eating without any of the typical side effects of gorging.  No weight gain, no indigestion, no bad breath. In fact, they’ll merely heighten your appreciation of regular food.

Chances are, at this point you’re semi-sold if not salivating. He’s proposing what sounds like the perfect combination of pleasure and pragmatism.

Just as you’re about to take your new friend up on the offer, another unknown character rushes over and asks you to hear him out before you do. He breathlessly proceeds to explain how he had spent years consuming the treats you’re about to accept, and he has news for you.

The fantastical claims simply aren’t true.

Whilst you do get the freedom to indulge your appetite at will, it comes with a hefty price tag.  He can attest firsthand to how delicious delights that once induced a food high soon lost their appeal.  Meanwhile, it took increasingly larger quantities and exotic variations to keep his interest piqued. Regular food simply didn’t seem to satisfy after experiencing the ecstasies of this pseudo-substitute.

What’s more, his experience isn’t singular.  He points to extensive academic research as well as anecdotal findings to verify his position: your ‘friend’ is guilty of false advertising. With that final assertion, he waltzes off and leaves you to make your decision. You’re left standing in a daze.

Where are you going to turn to get your satisfaction?

You’re still hungry.  The original offer still stands.  You’ve got to fill up on something.

Such is the allure of porn.

Let’s be real here.  We’re students in our sexual prime. Findings from a 2009 study of 29,000 US college students indicate that around 64% of guys and 18% of women at university indulge in X-rated content on a weekly basis, with growing numbers of both genders turning to cyberspace to get their kicks. Kiwi uni figures are unlikely to be drastically different.

Whether a casual fan, an avid user or a full-blown addict, most students who cite porn as a somewhat frequent pastime typically regard their pornographic proclivities with nonchalance if not eager enthusiasm. It’s a liberating form of sexual expression, it can help spice up an otherwise bland relationship, and it’s not hurting anyone- or so popular sentiment would have us think.

Research, however, suggests otherwise.

Unprecedented internet access to a wealth of pornographic and digital sex options is transforming sexual expectations and can impact ‘real-life’ sexual encounters in a far from titillating manner, or so claims sexual addiction expert Robert Weiss.  The number of vigorous young men in their prime who suffer from sexual dysfunction is on the rise, and Weiss draws a direct link between these men’s online porn intake and their unsavoury experiences of erectile dysfunction and delayed ejaculation. In a study on pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction, Zillmann and Bryant found that, over time, frequent porn users rated their partners as less attractive and described themselves as being increasingly less satisfied with their partners’ sexual performance.

Essentially, the porn your partner watches can actually keep them from being turned on by you.  How?

Academic author Naomi Wolf puts it this way: “An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your [partner], a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on.”

Every time you experience pleasure, your body releases a neurochemical called dopamine.  Excessive porn use kicks dopamine production into overdrive, causing your dopamine reaction to eventually become desensitised.  This effectively keeps you from being aroused by the same experiences as before, even with the help of Viagra. Newer, more extreme stimulants are required to reach orgasm once more and, if supplied, you may eventually find yourself in the insatiable cycle of an addict.

Neurological factors are at play here.

Prominent psychologists Zimbardo and Duncan have found that, through extensive pornographic exposure, young men’s brains are being rewired to demand unrealistic levels of novelty, stimulation, and excitement. Consequently, they are becoming totally out of sync with healthy real-world romantic relationships.  The capacity for emotional intimacy becomes impaired as sex is reduced to a set of idealized body parts and sexual acts void of love or genuine care for a partner’s wellbeing. The abnormal is normalized, so much so that

Wolf declares, “For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”

Prominent blogger Lauren Dubinsky writes about the regret and physical pain she felt after years of porn-inspired sexual experiences, saying, “I wish someone would have told me pornography would normalize things I wasn’t emotionally or physically ready to handle in my relationships with men, making me feel like I had no options or control over my sex life.” Just how safe or satisfying do we believe imitating porn to be?

Here we find ourselves in the same position as the famished student from the opening lines, looking for something amongst the array of available options that will truly sate our deep hunger for sexual fulfilment.

While porn promises an immediate pleasure-fix that may appear fairly harmless in the short-term, the evidence about its long-term impacts is stacking up- and it’s hardly favourable. It would seem that consuming more erotic content from a broadening selection of sources doesn’t necessarily equate to greater satisfaction in real-life encounters. Wolf would have us believe that the ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.

Perhaps it was this recognition- and not mere prudishness- that inspired Biblical poets of old to pen this encouragement: “rejoice in the wife of your youth; may her breasts satisfy you always; may you be always captivated by her love”.

Perhaps there may be something to the seemingly paradoxical argument that placing certain limitations on sexual expression actually enhances the overall sexual satisfaction of both parties involved.


In any case, if we’re going to make the claim that porn is educational, then let’s be sure to properly educate ourselves on the quality- or lack thereof- of the pornographic education we’re receiving.



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  1. Alexander Heyes says:

    Awesome article, Gracie. Very thought provoking! Always interested in hearing the stats around this, it’s so easy for this topic to be entirely anecdotal.
    Thanks for your cogency of argument, as well as a marvellously engaging piece! Love it.

  2. Kim Barker says:

    Hi Grace, Well done the story at the beginning is a great illustration it really draws you in. The content is great and addressing a issue that floats very much just under the surface all of the time. I have been saying for a while now it disturbs me how smart phones now mean younger teens, youth, young adults, adults etc carry around porn in their pocket. The ease of access makes it seem normal and acceptable, but i totally agree is has devastating effects long term. Well done I think this issue needs more of a voice if many marriages and long term relationships are going to survive these times, pornography needs to be out of the equation. I can testify that love that satisfies for a lifetime is possible without it.

  3. Wesley says:

    Excellent article — but if you included a reference list of your citations it would give it that extra credibility

  4. Mark says:

    Well said! Thanks for writing an informed article. Porn use leads to an abyss and it is hard to turn back.

  5. Codeman says:

    Great job, Grace. Well argued and a compelling are out forward.

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