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Thu Dec 18 04:22:24 SAST 2014

How porn is rewiring men's brains

The Daily Telegraph | 18 November, 2013 00:00

There's a scene in Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's new comedy about a womanising New Jersey stud with a rabid porn habit, in which Julianne Moore's character gently breaks it to Jon that the sex they had was, well, not that good.

That, actually, she felt like Jon was pretty much masturbating, using her instead of his hand.

Jon is stunned, mortified and finally completely confused by his sex life. Because, the truth is, he's not enjoying it much either. Porn is what he really loves. Porn, porn and more porn.

Jon's not alone in his love of porn. Statistics are superfluous, but here are some anyway: 97% of boys and 80% of girls between 16 and 20 who responded to a survey by the UK's University of East London said they had watched porn.

In the US, one in three women regularly watch porn and 70% of men aged 18 to 24 visit porn sites at least once a month. The world's most enthusiastic market for porn is Pakistan.

The question is: does it matter?

"It's a disconnection from what's really in front of you," said Gordon-Levitt, who directed, wrote and stars in the film.

"Rather than engaging with a unique individual and listening to what the other has to say ... we put people in boxes with labels. We objectify each other."

The consequences of this are worse than you might think. The thin end of the wedge is less enjoyment of sex.

Jon's dissatisfaction with real-life sex is something he has in common with a lot of habitual porn users. In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, the psychiatrist Norman Doidge writes about a phenomenon he began to notice among his male patients in the mid-1990s. They watched porn - "everybody does", they told Doidge - and were experiencing "increasing difficulty being turned on by their actual sexual partners". They found themselves having to fantastise about porn scenes to get turned on.

That's because, along with a great number of porn users, they had rewired the arousal pathways in their brain. The more often you watch porn and get the dopamine hit it delivers, the more the activity and the sensation become entwined in your brain.

A related problem is the need for more of a given stimulant (harder and weirder porn) for the same amount of gratification.

In the end, the result is what Doidge politely calls "potency problems". Compulsive pornography users become unable to maintain their erections.

Porn is wreaking havoc in the bedroom. Last year, American GQ's sex columnist, Siobhan Rosen, complained about the "pornified sex" men seemed to expect - not in a relationship, when trust has been established, but from the very first. She wrote about men she had just started seeing who brandished ball gags, ejaculated on to her body and used really nasty language during sex.

"A lot of girls don't speak up" about not enjoying a new partner's aggressively porny approach," said Rosen. The men get dump ed but "most of the time they really don't know they're doing anything wrong. All they know is that girls keep breaking up with them."

US porn star and sex educator Nina Hartley said: "Watching porn to learn to have sex is like watching Vin Diesel movies to learn how to drive."

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