Does pornography harm sexual libido?

Does Pornography Harm Sexual Libido?

Does Pornography Harm Sexual Libido?

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Oct. 1 2015 7:13 AM

Does Pornography Harm Sexual Libido?

internet porn.
A lot of ideas about the effects of porn are rooted in a pop-psych, grade-school understanding of the brain.

Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez. Photo by Thinkstock.

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Answer by Franklin Veaux, author of the BDSM erotica novels Nineteen Weeks, Elicitation, and Evocation:

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Short answer: No.

Long answer: I'm answering this question while I'm at a conference for sexuality researchers, at a panel on which sits a guy whose area of academic expertise is human sexuality.

There is an enormous, extremely profitable industry that has grown up around the supposed harmful effects of porn and so-called sex addiction. Patrick Carnes, the guy who made up the idea of sex addiction, has become fabulously wealthy selling “cures” for sex addiction.

And one of the things you see in this lucrative anti-porn and anti-sex industry, over and over, is a bunch of people with either little or zero actual background in human sexuality. (Carnes has a degree in counselor education. He has no background in human sexuality.)

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A lot of ideas about the effects of porn are rooted in a pop-psych, grade-school understanding of the brain, leavened with a heaping tablespoon of pseudoscience and a lot of science-sounding words. Like the notion that watching porn causes a “dopamine overload” that “burns out” the brain's dopamine receptors—something that makes anyone with a background in neurobiology roll his or her eyes and laugh. (News flash: Eating chocolate, listening to music, petting kittens, and watching sunsets all cause dopamine spikes. You know, just like drugs do. Ooh! Scary! Watch out!)

And clinicians tend, by and large, to come from a heteronormative, monogamously centered, conservative idea of what sex is “supposed” to look like. So you'll get, say, therapists who talk to couples who are having problems, and one of them (or both of them) look at porn, and the therapist says, “See, look, the porn is causing these problems!” But the reality is that they're using porn because they have problems. The problems aren't caused by the porn; the porn is being used because the problems exist, and watching porn is easier than letting go of fear and shame and just talking about sex directly.

No, there is no evidence that porn causes repressed libido. However, all kinds of relationship problems can make porn seem like an easy out.

People with healthy relationships with healthy communication skills look at porn without difficulty. People who are not in healthy relationships who do not have good communication skills do all sorts of things that are dysfunctional, because ... well, they're in dysfunctional relationships and don't communicate well. Duh. The solution isn't to make porn go away; that's like thinking you can treat a gunshot wound by changing your shirt (because if there isn't a hole in your shirt, how can you have a gunshot woundt?).

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But there's a lot of money to be made in convincing folks that porn is a problem and they need to pay for treating that problem. And it's brilliant! It's a great system, because if you're focusing on the porn, you're not solving the actual problem, and if you're not solving the actual problem, the client keeps coming back for more therapy. Cha-ching!

There are legitimate critiques of people's relationships to porn. Porn is not education. Watching porn to try to figure out how to run your sex life is like watching James Bond movies to try to figure out how to be a spy—it's stupid. We know that when it comes to James Bond movies, but people screw that up about porn because we don't talk about sex in healthy ways. But that's not porn's fault. If people are looking to porn for their sex ed, something has come off the rails ... and that's not porn's fault.

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