“Dude, did you see that rack?!”, “Look, look, look! She’s pulling up her leggings!”, or even “I’d be careful with a girl like that, you need to keep her under control and let her know her place.” Any of these sound familiar? Sexual objectification of women occurs all the time. Some are more vocal about it, others keep it to themselves. Though the majority of sexual objectification occurs by heterosexual men towards women, it also happens the other way around.
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Studies have shown that there may be a correlation between the viewing of pornography and the increase in negativity and sexual objectification from heterosexual men towards women. Though I have no information to support my thought, I suspect men are sexually objectified as often as women. This is not the only detrimental effect of viewing pornography. Pornography has increasingly become mainstream, though it is unhealthy and addictive. The use of porn causes detrimental effects to the brain, society, and relationships.
The brain is the most important organ of the body: it controls all functions. It was believed that the brain reaches a point where it was entirely developed. We now know that is not true; the brain is constantly changing, rewiring, creating new connections, and strengthening and losing neuropathways. It is commonly agreed that drugs are addictive. Using drugs releases dopamine, a ‘feel good’ chemical (Hilton 2013), that affects the neural pathways. This reward pathway is also involved in natural addictions like food and gambling.
A new definition of addiction is described as a chronic disease. This chronic disease affects major brain functions including, but not limited to, reward mechanisms, motivation, and memory systems (Hilton 2013). Though pornography is not directly comparable to natural addictions of food and gambling, drug use, natural addictions, and pornography can be placed under the umbrella of supranormal stimuli therefore granting the same label of addiction to pornography. Though pornography and natural addictions are not necessarily directly comparable, a more appropriate correspondence is between pornography and drug use.
Like drugs, watching pornography releases dopamine. J. M. Botswick and J.E. Bucci(2008) explain that the pleasure from the chemical creates the want or the desire to continue the behavior that releases dopamine, whether it be drugs or pornography. The brain receives a false signal when addictive substances are used. The brain cannot tell whether or not it is receiving a signal from drug related/forced stimulus or natural stimulus. The release of dopamine creates a craving for the false reward (Pitchers 2013). The more dopamine that is present and flowing in the brain, the more frequent and stronger the cravings become. The constant increase of dopamine levels from addictive drugs do not give the brain a break (Volkow 2016).
Just like addictive drugs, pornograph endlessly floods the brain with dopamine. Scientists have been aware that sexual interest and performance can be increased through introducing new positions or changing partners. This is due to the brain’s response to new sexual stimuli by releasing increased amounts of dopamine as drugs would (Banca 2016). Internet sites with pornography provide the same results that new sexual stimuli do. But with pornography, an individual is able to amplify dopamine production due to consumers’ ability to click a new video, search a new photo, and find pornographic content more intensely stimulating than the one previously observed before he/she has the chance to become bored. With drug use, the more an individual partakes of addictive drugs, the more tolerance one builds up against it. That is the cause of many drug overdoses: an addict has to take a higher dose of the drug in order to receive the same “hit” as the first time. Regular pornography consumers build up tolerances as well (Banca 2016), thus causing themselves to turn to porn more often, or turn to more extreme versions, in order to feel excited.
The tolerance build up is due to the limited resources in the brain. The brain has a cap on the number of neuronal pathways it has, because there is only so much space. Due to this limited capacity the pathways contest with one another, because those that do not get used will be replaced (Pace 2014). Pornography has a direct, negative effect on this normal brain function due to the ability it has to form long lasting neuronal pathways so strong that even sex with a real a real partner cannot compete with it. Dr. Norman Doidge, researcher at Columbia University, describes that pornography sets up ideal conditions for the release of chemicals that make lasting changes in the brain. These conditions are referred to by scientists as “flow”, a “deeply satisfying state of focused attention” ( Doidge 2007). The constant search for the most satisfying pornographic photo or video reinforces flow and the associated neuronal pathways. Flow causes an individual to be extremely focused to where he/she is able to recall that moment of flow for months and even years to come. The constant consumption of pornography burns those images into a consumer’s mind and causes the individual to remember them for a lifetime, resulting in other issues of the brain and behaviors.
The imprint of pornographic material in one’s mind is likely to affect their behavior. Have you ever been around someone long enough that you begin adapt some of their mannerisms or catch phrases they have? It happens all of the time. The constant exposure of an image or behavior will alter one’s behavior and/or thoughts, whether the individual is conscious of it or not. Adapting a few catch phrases from a friend is typically harmless. The same applies to pornography, right? Wrong. The behavioral effects of viewing pornography can be, and already are, detrimental towards women in some cases. These negative behavioral effects include objectification, sexism, and discrimination. The viewing of nonviolent pornography is associated with greater violence and sexual aggression towards women (M. Skorska, G. Hodson, M. Hoffarth 2018). This conclusion came from several experimental and nonexperimental studies explained by M. Skorska, G. Hodson, and M. Hoffarth. There is a question of if the type of pornography consumed creates different effects than others. Pornography has a vast range of categories, but there are four that can encompass all.
Violent, nonviolent, degrading, and non degrading are four major categories that most, if not all, pornography falls under. Physical aggression and violence towards women do not appear in nonviolent pornography, but the subject of the material may be degrading or non degrading. M. Skorska, G. Hodson, and M. Hoffarth describe degrading pornography as, “sexually explicit and degrades, debases, and dehumanizes people, generally women, in a fashion that endorses such degradation.” An example of degradation and dehumanization in pornography is the pornographic content often will conclude with the man ejaculating onto the woman, typically the face. Degrading pornography also creates this insatiable desire to satisfy the women in the video.
These scenes of ejaculation degrade women by showing they are beneath men, both literally and figuratively. It creates a feeling that these women are useless other than sexual fulfillment, a feeling that these women are nothing more than a dirty sex toy in which to expel bodily fluids on. Conversely, in erotica, a genre of pornography that includes nonviolent and non degrading depictions of consensual sexual activity, the sex is mutually enjoyed by men and women (2018). Though erotica may seem better than degrading and violent pornography, it is not. Erotica, like all other forms of pornography, is addictive and the constant viewing of it may promote men to search for more extreme pornographic content. Erotica also still portrays women as nothing more than sex objects to be exploited for the pleasure of men. The scenes still elicit women as submissive and men as powerful and in charge. The constant viewing of pornographic material coerces the brain into believing that that is what sex should be in order to feel aroused and it tricks the brain into believing that it is ok to treat your partner that way. The horrific reality is that no matter how much one tries to justify it, pornography is not ok and it is becoming increasingly mainstream.
Some would say the pornographic industry has a positive societal effect due to the highly lucrativeness of it with revenues estimated in the billions. Statistics of the site Pornhub, a popular site used to view pornography, is reflective of the vast numbers of individuals who view it. There are billions of individuals who visit the site. It is estimated that 25 billion searches were made, an average of 81 million daily viewers (with 28.35 billion visits), four million videos uploaded to the site, with a mean time spent on the site of 9 minutes, 59 seconds (M. Skorska, G. Hodson, M. Hoffarth 2018). Pornhub is an example of only one pornographic site, and there are thousands more on the internet. Pornography is not limited only to online presences, it is also prevalent in magazines, DVD’s, and tv shows which proves how mainstream it has become. International studies have found that between 50% and 99% of men view pornography (numbers varying from study to study) (2018).
Though the statistics have a large gap, lurking variables are not specifically identified. For example, the area the study was conducted plays a major role in the results. If the study was performed in an underdeveloped area where access to electronics is limited, then the percentage of pornography consumers would be lower compared to areas of increased electronic access. Regardless, pornography consumption is prevalent. But is the societal effect positive or negative? It is true that the pornographic industry is highly profitable, and the taxes paid from those earnings would benefit the economy. The benefits may be reaped, but at what cost? Pornography has a detrimental effect on society with the addictive and chemical effects in the brain as well as the negative attitudes towards women. The unfavorable news does not stop there. As if brain differences and sexual objectification are not enough, relationships are unequivocally damaged as well.
Many pornography consumers think that their viewing of explicit content only involves themselves and no one else. Very few people have a goal to destroy current and future relationships, cut themselves off emotionally, leave a significant other feeling self conscious or confused or rejected. Though this is not a goal for individuals, nor should it be, there is a plethora of research that indicates that those feelings of destroyed relationships, emotional isolation, and ill feelings of a partner are direct results of porn consumption. Women view the effects of pornography consumption differently than men. Both men and women can and do have addictive behaviors when it comes to pornography consumption, but studies show most women do not support or approve of its consumption within their own committed relationship.
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