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Can Porn Change the Way You Experience Healthy Human Connections?

By November 12, 2019 No Comments
Portions of this post were originally posted on NBC News by Sarah DiGiulio. 6-minute read.

This #NoPornovember is all about recognizing the individuals who inspire themselves, their relationships, their communities, and our world to be porn-free. Click here to check out what this month is all about, and remember that Change Begins With One.

We’ve got Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit… All of these social platforms were designed to pave the way to more connections with real people on the other side of the keyboard. But are they really, actually connecting us?

And forget about social media for a moment, where you’ve likely met at least a few of the people whose images you’ve “liked”—what about porn, where consumers are about as personally connected to porn performers on screen as one follower is to a celebrity’s Instagram account? In other words, there’s no actual connection there—it’s all surface and shallow.

The reality is, none of these digital, alternative options truly fulfill our biological and psychological need for other people. And in fact, porn especially can fuel loneliness and isolation in consumers. After all, we hear countless stories and see many studies that detail how the ease of turning to porn when someone is in need of feeling connected to someone—anyone—can become the default, rather than turning to someone real to talk to or be with.

Related: 6 Reasons Why People Who Don’t Watch Porn Are More Satisfied With Life

But what’s the big deal? Why do people need other people so much, and what are the benefits of surrounding yourself with real, living, breathing humans who can have face-to-face conversations with you?

There are a lot of benefits, actually, compared to what porn offers. Let’s break a few of them down.

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Humans work better when we’re not alone

“Human beings are an ultra-social species—and our nervous systems expect to have others around us,” Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at The University of California, Berkeley, tells NBC News BETTER in their report. In short, according to biology, neuroscience, psychology, and more, our bodies actually tend to work better when we’re around others, and not alone.

Being lonely has been linked to worse physical and emotional health outcomes and poorer well-being. Plus, according to the report, a lack of social support can directly affect our potential for experiencing happiness, explains Simon-Thomas, who studies the biology of our emotions and thinking. “We’re built to really seek social companionship and understanding.”

Does porn honestly offer either of those things?

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Being around other people can make someone healthier

According to the NBC report, physiologically, not having a social support system is actually a source of chronic stress for the human body, Simon-Thomas explains. Studies show that when people feel lonelier they have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And that type of chronic stress raises risk of cardiovascular disease and other challenges to health and wellness, Simon-Thomas adds. Conversely, relationships can encourage behaviors that are good for us, too (like eating right and exercising).

So it makes sense that studies show having fewer social ties is associated with more heart disease, cancer, and impaired immune function, as well as with worse recovery when it comes to those health problems.

Related: A Teen’s Brain Hasn’t Fully Developed Yet, So How Does Hardcore Porn Affect It?

But what does porn have to do with having fewer social ties and becoming more lonely?

“The more one uses pornography, the more lonely one becomes,” says Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with porn addicts for the last 30 years. [1] “Anytime [a person] spends much time with the usual pornography usage cycle, it can’t help but be a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing kind of experience.” [2] The worse people feel about themselves, the more they seek comfort wherever they can get it. Normally, they would be able to rely on the people closest to them to help them through their hard times—a partner, friend, or family member. But most porn consumers aren’t exactly excited to tell anyone about their porn habits, least of all their partner. So they turn to the easiest source of “comfort” available: more porn.

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The human brain works better when someone is with another person

There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests our brains actually function better when we’re interacting with others and experiencing togetherness, according to the NBC report.

In fact, research shows that listening and participating in a two-person conversation is actually less mentally taxing for the brain than giving or listening to a monologue, even though what we understand about how we process language would suggest otherwise.

And on the flip side, what is the brain doing when a consumer is watching porn, with only their laptop or phone as company?

It’s building strong neural connections between the consumer and what they’re seeing on screen, rewarding them with an overload of pleasure chemicals so they’ll keep going back again and again to their habit, hidden away from other people.

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We can overcome life’s challenges better when we’re not alone

The NBC report unpacks how experiments have shown that simply holding someone else’s hand lessens an individual’s emotional response in the brain to a perceived threat. (The effect was even greater if the person’s hand you were holding was a spouse.) Another experiment found that individuals actually perceived a hill to be steeper if they were standing at the bottom alone compared with when they stood at the bottom with a friend, Simon-Thomas notes. “Just having another person there and present, who you trust and feel safe around makes the world look like a less challenging place,” Simon-Thomas.

Related: Looking To Get Healthy In 2019? 7 Reasons To Add Quitting Porn To Your List

How does that compare to how porn makes the consumer feel?

According to researcher Dr. Ana Bridges, as a porn consumer withdraws from his or her relationships, they experience “increased secrecy, less intimacy and also more depression.” [3] Studies have found that when people engage in an ongoing pattern of “self-concealment,”—which is when they do things they’re not proud of and keep them a secret—it not only hurts their relationships and leaves them feeling lonely, but also makes them more vulnerable to serious psychological issues. [4] For both male and female porn consumers, their habit is often accompanied by problems with anxiety, body-image issues, poor self-image, relationship problems, insecurity, and depression. [5]

Long story short: being with people can really help someone overcome life’s challenges, while a porn habit can often add to the difficulties of life.

Watch: Fight the New Drug’s second episode of “Brain, Heart, World” discusses porn and relationships

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Porn offers loneliness, not love

Based on these selected research studies, it’s clear that what porn offers doesn’t measure up to what real people and real relationships offer. Of course, a porn consumer doesn’t spend all of their waking hours, dazed in front of airbrushed images and isolated from the entire world at all times—people who watch porn can have friendships, relationships, and family connections too. But consider how porn can drive a wedge in between these important relationships, while focusing on building real connections, in reality, can only strengthen them.

The kind of relational intimacy porn offers is nothing more than sexual titillation. Real intimacy with real people offers so much more.

Real intimacy is a world of satisfaction and excitement that doesn’t disappear when the screen goes off. It’s the exciting risk of being vulnerable with another human being. It’s inviting them not just into your bedroom if they’re a romantic partner, but into your heart and life. Real intimacy is about what we give, not just what we get. It’s other-centered, not self-centered.

Related: 4 Lifestyle Changes That Helped Me Quit Porn And Take Control Of My Life

Intimacy is understanding someone at a level porn never attempts, and having the life-altering experience of having them listen—really listen—to you in return. It’s seeing yourself through other eyes, and caring about others as much as you care about yourself. It’s the astonishing, baffling, wonderful experience that artists and philosophers have been trying to describe ever since our lonely human tribe began.

It’s the opposite of loneliness. It’s love—it’s connecting to real people, in reality.

Real people need real love in real life. Porn only drives a wedge in these real connections, while research shows how our bodies and brains actually function better when we’re living life alongside someone real.

Citations

[1] Brooks, G. R., (1995). The Centerfold Syndrome: How Men Can Overcome Objectification And Achieve Intimacy With Women. San Francisco: Bass. Cited In Yoder; V. C., Virden, T. B., & Amin, K. (2005). Internet Pornography And Loneliness: An Association? Sexual Addiction And Compulsivity, 12, 19-44. Doi:10.1080/10720160590933653
[2] Interview With Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.
[3] Weir, K. (2014, April). Is Pornography Addictive? Monitor On Psychology. 45(4) 46. Retrieved From Http://Www.Apa.Org/Monitor/2014/04/Pornography.Aspx
[4] Laird, R. D., Marrero, M. D., Melching, J. A., And Kuhn, E. S. (2013). Information Management Strategies In Early Adolescence: Developmental Change In Use And Transactional Associations With Psychological Adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 49(5), 928–937. Doi:10.1037/A0028845; Luoma, J. B., Et. Al. (2013). Self-Stigma In Substance Abuse: Development Of A New Measure. Journal Of Psychopathology And Behavioral Assessment, 35, 223–234. Doi:10.1007/S10862-012-9323-4; Rotenberg, K. J., Bharathi, C., Davies, H., And Finch, T. (2013). Bulimic Symptoms And The Social Withdrawal Syndrome. Eating Behaviors, 14, 281–284. Doi:10.1016/J.Eatbeh.2013.05.003; Frijns, T. And Finkenauer, C. (2009). Longitudinal Associations Between Keeping A Secret And Psychosocial Adjustment In Adolescence. International Journal Of Behavioral Development, 33(2), 145–154. Doi:10.1177/0165025408098020
[5] Flisher, C. (2010). Getting Plugged In: An Overview Of Internet Addiction. Journal Of Paediatrics And Child Health 46: 557–559. Doi:10.1111/J.1440-1754.2010.01879.X; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In Stoner, J., & Hughes, D. (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Kafka, M. P. (2000). The Paraphilia-Related Disorders: Nonparaphilic Hypersexuality And Sexual Compulsivity/Addiction. In Leiblum, S. R., & Rosen, R. C. (Eds.) Principles And Practice Of Sex Therapy, 3rd Ed. (Pp. 471–503). New York: Guilford Press.

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