The societal messages about the relative status of men and women and their comparative value in our culture are probably nowhere more pervasive and apparent than in the profusion of porn that is available on the Internet. A recent article in TIME (April 11, 2016) describes the phenomenon as follows:
A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning. The results of the experiment, they claim, are literally a downer. (p.42)
The article goes on to state that, whether one considers the preoccupation an addiction or not, the negative consequences include the possibility of ED, difficulties in finding and maintaining relationships with real women, damage to marriage or other ongoing relationships and increasing social isolation. As they attempt to withdraw from the habit young men report experiences of sleeplessness, joylessness, diminished libido and other symptoms similar to withdrawal from chemical addictions.
Is there a treatment? Is there a cure? The consensus at this point in time that it is more a habit to be managed rather than eliminated entirely. The idea of eradicating porn or removing all access to it is draconian and probably not realistic. So what can be done? The TIME article reports that young men who are affected are themselves attempting to fight back through the use of online communities, educational videos, blogs and podcasts that provide a forum for discussion and support in the efforts to manage what many view as a destructive habit.
Are there things that parents can do to inoculate their children from what can become a potentially destructive preoccupation for the developing child and the real relationships he will eventually develop? (I am consciously using the male pronoun because boys and men are the primary users of porn and girls and women, the objects of its use.) My best guess is that talking, talking, talking about sexuality is going to be the most effective approach. When families can speak together freely about sex in a loving and respectful manner, children will have the greatest chance of managing the urge to interact with porn in all of its forms.
Sex education in the schools may be helpful but it is always so fraught with conflict about what to teach and how to teach it, that it is not likely to be a venue in which children are free to express their concerns. But in the safety and privacy of families children can ask the questions they need to ask. It means, of course, that parents must be comfortable speaking about these matters and that in itself may take some doing. Wow! I am getting uncomfortable already! Let’s talk about that next week
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.