Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.

Lemmings, the Internet and pornography.


Nature usually finds a way to balance populations. When there is plenty of food populations grow. An increased population means that there are more mouths to feed. This results in a reduction in the available food supply which in turn brings about a fall in the population.

Lemmings are renowned for being suicidal and jumping off cliffs. However this is not what is really happening. When lemming population density reaches a certain point, the population is triggered to migrate, and sets off in search of pastures new. No matter what is in the way they travel until they have found somewhere where food is plentiful. So, if they come to a cliff, they will swarm straight over it and head out to sea, to find new land or drown.

This headlong rush results in either finding a fresh supply of food to support the larger population, or a significant reduction in population so that the available food resources can support it. The cycle repeats itself over the years. This headlong rush to their doom is innate to the lemmings’ mind. A similar foolhardy rush to try new things seems to be inherent to humans, like lemming we seem oblivious to the inherent dangers in what we do.

The effects of internet pornography on the modern male are concerning, and the resultant changes in sexual function might be seen as nature’s answer to population overload in the twenty first century.

In 2006 a new type of website started to appear on the internet. These sites provide a selection of short pornographic clips that feature the climactic moments of the sexual act. They have become known as Tube sites, because, like YouTube, they contain short videos. Each clip lasts only a few minutes and can be organised so that they play one after the other, or can be clicked on in rapid succession. Through triggering the brains mirror neurons, this creates a high intensity stimulus to sexual arousal and the pleasure centres in the brain.

Sexual stimulation, and orgasm in particular, leads to the release of high levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine within the brain. Dopamine release is related to stimulation of the pleasure and reward centres of the brain. Dopamine has much the same effect as cocaine and several other drugs of abuse. Functional brain imaging shows that the same brain areas light up in response to both of these diverse stimuli. This may well explain the apparently addictive nature of many of the behaviours shown by regular pornography users.

Being exposed to multiple high arousal moments in such a short time period, both amplifies, and prolongs arousal, and at the same time leads to a need for increased stimulation. This need for greater stimulus often results in watching more “hard core” material, which includes shocking, often anxiety provoking content. The scenarios played out are often of highly abusive sexual encounters which feature physical violence, multiple partners and unusual sexual practices.

The very nature of these so called Tube sites allows a further, immediate hit of dopamine as soon as arousal starts to fall. This results in a search for greater and greater levels of stimulation with each return visit to the web.

Chronically high levels of dopamine play a significant role in many addictive behaviours and probably explains why some people present with a clear pattern of what could be called internet porn addiction.

There are many things in life that light up our brains’ reward centres and give us pleasure, from an ice cream cone to a job well done. The most potent stimulus remains that of sexual arousal (although some addicts are known to say that the hit they get from their chosen drug is even better than sex). This can be especially problematic for adolescents as the main physical task of youth is to reach maturity, especially sexual maturity.

Young brains are in the process of development. This development is aimed at bringing about the appropriate functioning for a normal adult life. Baseline dopamine levels are lower than in adults, and this goes some way towards explaining the boredom of a teenager’s life. Not surprisingly, the young brain reacts more strongly to stimuli, releasing more dopamine in response to novel situations, surprise and sexual arousal. A few well chosen clips and dopamine levels will remain high for prolonged periods. In this way exposure to pornography acts as it’s own reinforcement and may cause conditioning that can impair a normal developmental trajectory.

There are two main forms of conditioning, the first is conscious and the second is unconscious conditioning.

Conscious conditioning occurs when a young person believes that they are learning about real life adult sexuality. Believing that what they see is both what is expected of adults and what passes for normal human sexual behaviour. This form of conditioning will explain why, when researchers asked 16 to 18 year olds about anal sex, they discovered that many were doing this even though neither the boys nor the girls who they interviewed seemed to enjoy it. They reported that they felt compelled to do so as they believed, from what they saw on line, that this was normal. They assumed that everyone else was doing it as well and that it was de rigeur.

Conscious conditioning also contributes to the lack of awareness of what constitutes normal variation in the human physique. Breasts are not like a pair of soccer balls attached to the chest, and not all men have a penis that is thirty centimetres long. Such misinformation and other similar sexual myths are among the things that the UK’s Channel4 Sex Education Show was created to address.

Unconscious conditioning is a Pavlovian form of learning. Sexual arousal becoming paired with and dependent upon, screens, solitariness, voyeuristic experiences, and constant high level stimulation and novelty. This is significant enough to mean that when a young person actually finds themselves in a real life sexual encounter, with a person who is warm flesh and blood, that it feels like an alien experience and a major let down.

Recent reports in the medical journals show a reduction in grey matter, (the living cell bodies as opposed to white matter – the wiring) in the reward system in the human brain, following prolonged exposure to pornography. This would suggest that it is possible not only to overuse but also to wear out our brain’s pleasure systems. There have also been reports of otherwise fit, healthy young men showing significant symptoms of sexual dysfunction. These include inability to have an orgasm, erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and loss of attraction to real people in the real world. These findings have been supported by US military research showing high levels of erectile problems among soldiers under 40. (although no enquiries were made about pornography use)

In a recent survey in Canada on 16 to 21 year old males, over half complained of one or more of the above symptoms. This reflects a greater incidence of such sexual problems than are usually seen in middle aged men or women. Reports have also shown that many of these problems can recover if the sufferers can stop using internet porn.

In a 2014 survey in the USA, a third of males between 18 and 30 thought that it was possible that they were addicted to pornography.

A third.

It is exposure to the high intensity brain training provided by internet pornography that has played a significant part in the develpment of such difficulties. This social experiment may have gone on for too long, and seems to be in the process of bringing about significant detrimental changes, both physical and psychological, to the normal sexual functioning of the next generation. .

It remains to be seen what impact our lemming like rush to access new technologies, without fully thinking through their social impact and adverse consequences, will have on future generations and the human population as a whole. These findings should give rise to an urgent impetus to find solutions to this problem and to avoid the potential of significant harm befalling the next generation

To misquote the porter in MacBeth

Internet pornography provokes , and unprovokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.

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Author: SandySB

Child and adolescent psychiatrist. Parent. Blogger.

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