The big, bad Wolf on porn

By Tatiana von Tauber

Feminist Naomi Wolf asked a serious question in a recent CNN article: “Is pornography driving men crazy?”  I had to read it twice just to make sure I was understanding her claim.

In a nutshell, Wolf suggests that porn rewires the brain and hence creates impulses that are uncontrollable  while “desensitizing healthy young men to the erotic appeal of their own partners”.  She brings up neuroscience, sex addictions, dopamine and a slew of other interesting ideas best left for a good laugh.

Between the Republican dingbats Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin claiming capability of leadership and  sex scared feminists still finding new ways to bash pornography I’m thankful I left the American South.  I had a wonderful 4th celebration with my American friend here in Germany today and thought about my American roots but it’s just very nice to eat at the local currywurst stand and see this while I laugh with my daughter about the rough and horny part:

That's right, 'rough and horny' BBQ sauce. I won't say. You have to try it yourself.

Or walk with my kids for dinner and pass this on the pedestrian zone:

 But hey, at least we’re thrown a little measure for safety further down the street unlike in hypocrite states:

I can’t get this freely in the states.  Why?  Why must sex be so difficult in the U.S?   

I worry for American women.  Feminists lead a fear campaign with respect to pornography and conservatives lead a quiet, grassroots fight to abolish abortion. It’s a battle every day.  Neither truly focus on the positives of condom use or pornography as a tool for better sex lives because they’re so uncomfortable with sex, nudity and tits.  Apparently women have come a long way but I feel like in some ways we’re going backwards.  A woman’s view may be valid for “feminist” judgment but my concern as a woman isn’t whether pornography comes across my man’s hands.  It’s whether he treats me and his family right.  His porn is a separate world that doesn’t include me and I wonder if this is part of the mainstream feminist problem. Pornography means men fantasize about another woman.  There’s a slew of insecurities in that and most women don’t accept themselves enough to deal with that added anxiety.

I’m amazed at all the men I know who bathe in porn but still manage to be sane – not necessarily always in the right with their views towards women but they’re definitely not crazy, uncontrollable or violent as a result of too much porn, nor are they ‘desensitized’… besides, I only translate that to mean asshole and women should know better than to hang out with those.  I don’t believe in sex addiction either.  It’s a cop out.   In fact, “dysfunction”, “addiction” and “disorder” seem to be hot words for the fad of labeling what’s wrong with us as a society when what’s really wrong is that many just don’t want to take the time to see inside themselves or their partners.  Sex with a woman is complicated.  Men don’t always want that complication and porn fills that void well.  Why is this so difficult for women to get?   

Here’s my big question of the day: “If a husband is a “sex addict” with his wife, is he really a sex addict or a fucking hero?”

I just celebrated 8 years of marriage a few days ago and I married a hero.  Not only do we let off fireworks regularly (conservative translation: we have great sex often), he’s a U.S. Army vet who almost died while serving our country.  May freedom bless Americans.  Fantasy is all we have that’s truly free and don’t ever let some feminist bitch try to claim that precious gift away by trying to convince you of stupidity.  Porn is good.  Only bad character can make pornography bad.

Now, I suggest you read the scientific reasons as to why Wolf is wrong, an excellent post by Mind Hack blog.

4 Responses to The big, bad Wolf on porn

  1. Since I used to write porn (back in the days of porn novels) as well as read it, my personal outlook is clear. But the situation is not as simple as Tatiana seems to feel. I know an Iranian woman who likes to reminisce about her sex life in Iran. “Men were so repressed, my husband would become passionate just at the sight of my ankle,” she says. By comparison, in the US, she feels that men see so much porn, they are jaded and not easily aroused.

    She is an attractive woman, incidentally.

    I think she’s right, and I think it’s especially a problem as women get older. Does this mean we should institute a repressive regime in which porn is restricted? Of course not. But nor should we pretend that a problem doesn’t exist, just because it fits our ideological belief that “there is nothing wrong with porn.”

  2. TvT says:

    Charles, thank you for sharing your opinion and offering food for thought. I’m out of practice but I hope to express myself right on this.

    I purposely deleted the religion paragraph as I felt it only opens Pandora’s Box. Nonethless, since it’s been opened let’s dig in.

    First, I do not support, advocate or respect any culture or philosophy which minimizes the human right and celebration of sexuality. I do not find the idea of an ankle providing sufficient eroticism to be healthy unless there is some fetish going on. Islamic thought is simply the most oppressive one in existence and absolutely enslaves the erotic expression of the female, and in your description, males as well because for a man to be so repressed as to get excited by an ankle shot rather than a pink shot is extremely sad to his natural sexuality.

    Second, with all due respect to you and this Iranian woman, there is a level of truth to what she says which cannot be denied nor ignored but the basis from where she stands with her view and that of the “average American woman” is like comparing the Dark Ages to the new Millennia. The only ground to stand on when comparing the two realizing that knowledge brings advancement. Islamic thought is stuck in a dark age on the human body and punishment upon women. Both sexes suffer and as a substitute, culture in its need for eroticism thinks of new ways to stir the cock. Let me introduce you to the dancing boys: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/dancingboys/

    Third, religion is in fact the greatest threat to sexuality and let’s group porn under that umbrella. I agree we shouldn’t ignore a problem which exists but there’s a difference between a real and true problem versus a man created problem. The problem with porn is humanity has issues with sex and it all leads to religion and shame.

    Lastly, what do you mean “as women get older”? The bottom line on that, if I understand correctly, is a self-esteem/self-love and self-acceptance issue. Media sets women up for body issues with age and this in turn leads to sexual issues primarily by way of lacking confidence. All mothers experience this transition with body changes so it’s not only age.

    I sit on a different mountain where the human body is more beautiful and worthy of celebration than any woman covered up because of a dress code law for her God. I can’t imagine any God being so worthy as to hide the most beautiful expression offered by him in the first place! This is, of course, one main reason I do not believe in a religious god. Religion is a different stone in the pond of porn and the part of the argurment that allows nothing to get accomplished. Sexual morality simply MUST come out of the argument for there to be any chance of a solution.

    http://www.letsgoiran.com/iran-women-dress-code

  3. glarion says:

    I’m not sure who is more guilty of misusing addiction research, Naomi Wolf or vaughanbell.

    The impression one might get from the vaughanbell post is that dopamine is not involved in addiction, that desensitization is the same as habituation, that the reward circuitry is not involved in all addictions, and behavioral addictions involve different mechanisms from drug addictions. These would be false impressions.

    First the author states that habituation and desensitization are synonymous. This is incorrect, yet much of his post relies on this false premise. Desensitization refers to chronic changes present in addiction process that involve a decline in dopamine signaling. One very important, and often measured, aspect of desensitization is a decline in D2 receptors.

    -Volkow May Have Uncovered Answer to Addiction Riddle
    http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/content/39/11/32.full

    -PET Imaging Confirms Link Between Receptor Levels And Cocaine Abuse http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060716224517.htm

    He is correct in describing a declining dopamine response to stimuli as habituation. This is a normal response, for example with hunger. When one is hungry, dopamine rises in anticipation of taking that first bite of a burger. As lunch continues, dopamine declines and we become habituated (satiety). This normal process, which measures the salience or value of stimuli is quite different from the pathological change characterized by addiction researchers. Habituation happens thousands of times a day, desensitization occurs after chronic, usually long-term exposure.

    QUOTE:’It’s important to point out that this densensitisation research is almost always on the repetition of exactly the same images. We would clearly be in trouble if any sexual experience caused us to densensitise to sex as we’d likely lose all interest by our early twenties’.

    In the above quote he makes 2 points that militate against his thesis. First, he acknowledges that viewing the same images causes a loss of interest (decline in dopamine). I seriously doubt that a porn user would watch the same image throughout one session, let alone day after day. What makes Internet porn so appealing is the ability to move from one image or video to another, one genre to the next. Each new scene provides another possible spike of dopamine. Unlike drugs or food, there are no satiation mechanisms to inhibit porn viewing except orgasm, and many users forego it for hours, either because they want the dopamine buzz, or because they are having trouble climaxing due to brain changes from excess.

    Contextual Novelty Changes Reward Representations In The Striatum
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2838369/?tool=pubmed

    Second, the example of a young man becoming desensitized on sex is irrelevant (although most monogamous couples see a decline over time in sexual activity). Internet porn is not sex. As mentioned, the endless novelty that Internet porn provides allow one to seek (dopamine spike) a more exciting scene (dopamine spike), as soon as one becomes bored with the current scene (no dopamine spikes). Porn is somewhat analogous to gambling as vaughanbell described, except with the added incentive of sexual stimuli, and without the loss of money. It’s telling that the brains of pathological gamblers manifest alterations similar to those of drug addicts. Accordingly, psychiatrists are re-categorizing pathological gambling from ‘disorder’ to ‘addiction’ in the upcoming DSM-5.

    The neurobiology of pathological gambling and drug addiction: an overview and new findings
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2607329/?tool=pubmed

    QUOTE: “With regard to dopamine, it is indeed involved in sexual response, but this is not identical to the systems involved with gambling or cocaine as different rewards rely on different circuits in the brain – although doesn’t it sound great to lump those vices together?”

    I believe Wolf was suggesting that all addictions involve the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. Are you, vaughnbell, saying this is not the case? Perhaps cocaine and gambling are differentiated by activation of unique subsets of neurons, yet the “reward circuitry is without a doubt involved in both the salient and hedonic aspects of all addictions. Just for the record, the theory of separate circuits within the dopamine pathways coding for separate stimuli is not a settled matter. This recent study suggests there may be considerable overlap in neurons that code for reward value:
    How do dopamine neurons represent positive and negative motivational events?
    Masayuki Matsumoto1 and Okihide Hikosaka1
    Nature. 2009 June 11; 459(7248): 837–841.

    “It has generally been assumed that midbrain dopamine neurons form a unified functional group, all representing reward-related signals in a similar manner1. Our results are roughly consistent with this idea as far as the reward-related signals are concerned. However, clear heterogeneity was revealed when we examined their responses to aversive events.

    QUOTE: “Furthermore, Wolf relies on a cartoon character version of the reward system where dopamine squirts are represented as the brain’s pleasurable pats on the back. But the reward is not the dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical used for various types of signalling, none of which match the over-simplified version described in the article, that allow us to predict and detect rewards better in the future”

    It’s true that dopamine fires for potentially aversive and rewarding stimuli. In other words, for what is potentially salient or valuable. Dopamine is ‘wanting,’ whereas other neurochemicals, such as opioids are ‘liking.’ This is a straw man argument, however, as Wolf’s article was written for a lay audience, and vaughnbell’s point does not negate that dopamine dysregulation is involved with all addictions. Addictions are pathological wanting.

    -‘Wanting’ – Incentive Salience
    http://www.lsa.umich.edu/psych/research&labs/berridge/research/affectiveneuroscience.html

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