Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Surgeon General Has Determined Pornography Is Harmful to .... Nothing Yet!

There are more than 400 million pages of pornography on the Internet. Commercial pornography websites, magazines, books, DVDs, and cable television generate more than $97 billion annually worldwide, which constitutes an increase of 70% during the years 2003 to 2007. Just how big of an industry is pornography? Pornography revenues are larger than all of the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises.

Despite the extraordinary growth of sexual material on the Internet, very little has been written about about the effects of pornography on the health and well-being of consumers of internet based pornography --- especially children and teens. Internet pornography does not come with a warning from the Surgeon General. Internet pornography does not come with a set of instructions to guide us in how to safely use pornographic material. The explosion of pornography on the Internet, which has been combined with new technologies such as live WebCams, simply outstrips our understanding of pornography's influence on our behavior. Most of us still have images of Playboy or Penthouse -- or adult bookstores and pornographic DVDs -- when we think about our relationship to pornography.

The most pressing concern is the unprecedented access children and teens have to pornographic material on the Internet. There has been a great deal of attention brought to the risks of being on the Internet with respect to sexual predators. The overwhelming conclusion of current research on predatory behavior on the Internet is that it represents a relatively small risk compared to other risks related to sexual content on the Internet. The opportunities for children and teens to be exposed to  endless variety of sexual images, images that include sex with animals, bizarre fetishes, and violence against women, has created an extraordinary threat to the development of healthy emotional and sexual relationships.

Early exposure to pornography, exposure that can be repeated over and over by virtue of the internet, can quickly turn into compulsive behavior. Rather than look through a Playboy magazine, children and teens now can click through hundreds, even thousands, of images per day that include streaming video and live WebCams featuring children and adults. The intensity and frequency of exposure to explicit sexual images, including liberal access to child pornography, produces states of both fear and euphoria. It has been well-established pornographic images result in an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with states of intense pleasure. By simply clicking on image after image, children and teens can experience high levels of dopamine as well as other powerful hormones and neurotransmitters such as testosterone and serotonin.

Once images have been viewed, and paired with intense sexual stimulation, children and teens carry those images and experiences with them wherever they go. The images become part of their psyche. The behaviors displayed in pornography also become part of their sexual development and sexual education. The explicit messages from pornography are clearly damaging to healthy psycho-sexual development. Pornography openly communicates that women are sexual objects, that indiscriminate sex is provocative and interesting, that sex disassociated from love and tenderness is a source of power, that women should serve men's sexual desires without asking for anything in return, and that women should look and act like porn stars. Teens can quickly become acculturated into the porn industry and adopt a set of sexual preferences and sexual values that can forever impair their capacity to have meaningful erotic, sexual, and emotional relationships.

Pornography's power comes from the way it provides immediate sexual gratification. With this type of gratification comes the ability to escape from the stress of daily life. Children and teens can use the intense sexual stimulation and the resulting experiences of euphoria to deal with the daily stressors of growing up. Rejection, isolation,insecurity and social anxiety can be erased with a click of a mouse.Pornography can become a powerful, mind altering, drug that is free, highly accessible, and largely impossible to control.

It is, indeed, unfortunate therefore, that the Surgeon General or the National Institutes of Mental Health or other organizations and think tanks have not provided parents and educators with clear guidelines about how pornography affects children and teens.

A discussion of these guidelines will be the topic of my next blog.

1 comment:

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