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addiction
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How X-rated movies hijack sexuality: ‘I need to think about porn to have an orgasm’

Teenagers relate to experiences that make them sexually aroused much more quickly and clearly than adults

Pornografía y jóvenes
Pornography is available on all electronic devices.EKIN KIZILKAYA (Getty)

“Before I quit [porn], I had a really hard time coming. I had no choice but to close my eyes and think of a porn scene to reach orgasm. In a way, I used my girlfriends’ bodies to masturbate.”

This is one of the testimonies collected by Gary Wilson, who authored the bestselling book, Your Brain on Porn.

“We can distinguish between addiction to cybersex, addiction to pornography and addiction to sex. We’re talking about a compulsive sexual behavior that’s already being described as a mental disorder,” emphasizes Dr. José Luis García, a psychologist and sexologist.

“Who’s going to educate our children? Us or pornography?” García asks rhetorically in an interview with YONKI. “Porn is an instruction manual for sexual relations for our boys and girls. They validate it as normal. They have no other model of sexual conduct.”

According to García, children’s psychological, physical and social characteristics make them very vulnerable to the consumption of pornography: “They have great sexual desire and the attraction to risk is part of their DNA – they want things now!”

We know many of the consequences that come from the compulsive consumption of pornography. This is also the case with alcohol abuse: we have lots of information, but we always think that “the worst” isn’t going to happen to us. And yet, it does.

A young person on Twitter discussed the severity of this issue with me in a private chat: “In the [rehabilitation] center, most of the people are there because of alcohol or drugs… but they tell me that the guidelines [for pornography addiction] are the same.”

I receive weekly messages from men who don’t know how to stop their compulsion – who suffer from what they’re living through and try to hide it. I always say that stigma is the most relevant risk factor in addictive behaviors: it makes it impossible to ask for help.

Can families ensure that their children don’t consume porn or, at least, do so responsibly? My female friends have repeatedly explained to their children that consuming pornography isn’t healthy – it’s not real. The use of violence, humiliation and submission aren’t acceptable – any sexual practice that somebody wants to carry out always requires consent.

They’re right, of course. But what do we do about the impact that pornography has on unconscious learning? In the same way that Pavlov’s dog learned to salivate when he heard the sound of a bell, our children can learn to associate an erection with completely unexpected stimuli.

There aren’t many studies on sexual response conditioning in humans. The few that exist, however, do show that arousal can be conditioned – especially before one reaches adulthood.

For instance, there’s an old but striking example: some men who viewed pornography alongside common objects – such as a jar full of coins – later become aroused with the jar alone. There was no longer a need for porn to get an erection.

Teenagers relate to experiences that make them sexually aroused much more quickly and clearly than we adults do. They’re very vulnerable – and their reward circuit is on steroids! When they’re in front of a screen watching naked people, their brains produce very high peaks of different hormones. At the same time, they get bored easily. It’s like a dopamine roller coaster.

The adolescent phenomenon of “neural pruning” is a process that determines which neural connections will survive and which will be discarded. If our offspring use this type of stimuli (pornography) too much, they run the risk of dispensing with others.

There is another rather impressive example of conditioning – this time with rats. The researchers mixed virgin males in the same cage with sexually receptive females that had previously been sprayed with cadaverine – a substance that produces the smell of putrefaction in decomposed meat. Rats avoid rotten meat – it’s an innate behavior. In fact, they usually bury their dead friends.

What do you think happened to those hairy youngsters in the experiment? Well, they mated and ejaculated repeatedly, without any qualms. Later, after a few days, the males received a “toy” – a small piece of wood covered with cadaverine. The result was the same as when they were given the wood smeared with vaginal secretions: they nibbled and played as they would in any other courtship.

In another, more recent study published in Nature, researchers showed male participants pornographic images. These young men were dealing with compulsive porn consumption. A symbol – consisting of a tree and a chair – was displayed just before the sexual images were projected.

After several rounds, the men consciously and unconsciously associated the symbol with sexual arousal. By the end, all of them quickly conditioned their arousal to the tree or the chair. But the incredible thing is that there was a control group of men who didn’t suffer from addiction and who took much longer to see themselves conditioned. Essentially, the compulsive male user of pornography associates the stimuli surrounding pornography more quickly with his own arousal.

In Your Brain on Porn – specifically in the chapter dedicated to conditioned behavior – Wilson writes that “these studies allow us to explain why when [a teen] unlocks their smartphone or hears their parents leave the house, they feel a tingle [in their] crotch.”

The revolution in the way that we are experiencing sex shouldn’t be taken lightly, because this experiment is being carried out on children and teenagers.

Oihan Iturbide is a clinical biologist with a graduate degree in bioethics. He is the editor of Next Door Publishers and Yonki Books.

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