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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

The lies pornography tells us.

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


The lies pornography tells us.

I completed my lecture and took my seat, nervously I awaited the reaction of my student colleagues. Normally pornography was not the subject of lectures. I was a senior at Wheaton College (IL) and had taken a class related to my psychology major, a course on neuroscience. Over the course of the last 30 minutes, I had spoken openly and candidly about the psychological and neurological implications of pornography use described in literature. I explained it’s addictive qualities, the way it rewires the brain, hijacks and exploits key deep brain areas. It was simultaneously a warning and a call to action. At the time the American Psychological Association didn’t recognize the addictive nature of the internet, let alone internet pornography. Over the next several days, requests from fellow students to meet with me to discuss this research meant I’d spend the foreseeable future talking about it over a series of lunches. I was disappointed in myself for the lack of concrete advice I had and often my meetings ended on a more somber note. I hated saying, “I wish I knew the answer”. I could present the data regarding activation of the reward pathways in the brain, describe how this both rewards in the moment and encourages future use but I had little to say when it came to what to actually do about it. I preached abstinence, of course, but alone it is about as effective as telling someone with any other addiction, “Just stop” as if they hadn’t tried that already. I scoured the internet for testimonials, many of which either lamented the writers current addiction or, if the author happened to be freed from pornography, would state something to the effect, “There’s no magic bullet but here are some tips”. Many of these strategies my colleagues had tried several times before. That is why, in this article, I will attempt to address pornography addiction not in the negative, How do I stop? but in the positive Why did I start? and Why do I continue? in the hopes of encouraging those behaviors and attitudes that eliminate the need pornography is attempting to fill. To be clear, there is a need innate to every man or woman that pornography promises to fill, one for authentic connection, to give and receive support, and to feel known fully and completely.

Pornography is readily ACCESSIBLE and EASY while authentic connection is HARD TO FIND and DIFFICULT to maintain.

I’ve written previously on the difficulties, presently, in forming authentic connection. Very little of our culture is built to support the kind of prolonged and meaningful human interactions that are life-giving. Our attention spans have shortened, our focus has turned inward, and the depth we are willing to go in conversation with another is becoming shallower. Contrast this to the ease and accessibility of pornography. It produces in the brain the same type of intimate connections we long for (and we do long, as humans, for both sexual and non-sexual intimacy) without the difficulty of overcoming an entire culture's attitudes toward authentic connection. But the connections made in pornography are short-lived, a substitute, akin to the drug ladled milk drank but the characters of Clockwork Orange.

Pornography helps us momentarily feel good about OURSELVES while true connection causes us to build up and support ANOTHER

There is also intense confusion regarding the purpose for the connections we build. We believe we build connection to meet a need in ourselves, in effect, to receive something. Paradoxically, we receive more fulfillment in giving to another than in receiving. Pornography, in its incredible simplicity fails to grasp this. It cannot see that authentic connection, both sexual or nonsexual, is fostered in building up, supporting, and giving to another. Yes, we receive pleasure, but this is both deeper and stronger when in the context of generosity.

Pornography provides a sense of feeling KNOWN while in effect producing ISOLATION

The greatest deception of pornography is the lie it tells the brain about being known when producing the complete opposite. The chemicals produced in the brain are those which stimulate connection but the person on the screen is soon to disappear, and we are left alone. We were made to live in community, and as such, isolation is both biologically and psychologically disastrous to our species. We feel it cognitively. Pornography promises to be the remedy to our lack of feeling known while producing the exact feeling of isolation we desperately try to avoid; creating a vicious cycle that encourages future use.

So whether your first exposure to pornography was as an adult or a child (as is becoming alarmingly common), its continued use is likely an attempt to meet a need, one that was placed in you by your Creator—that need to be known, authentically and deeply to give of ourselves and form connection. It won’t be as easy to acquire as pornography on the internet but what it produces in you is true and lasting and real. So if after repeated attempts to quit a terrible habit fail, consider turning instead to community; focus on generosity and be vulnerable. As the sociological shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown says, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

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