Why Do Men Binge on Porn?
Posted on December 7, 2012 by Sam Black

Understanding the Neuroscience Behind Online Harems

A wife who stumbles on the Internet tracks of her husband’s porn tour is often shocked at the number of images and videos in this cyber harem. Why so many? Why so varied?

People, and even some scientific studies, have offered simplistic answers to explain the depth and breadth of a man’s cyber trough, but the real reasons lie in the neurochemistry of our incredible brains.

Simplistic Explanations

A prevalent explanation for the cyber brothel is that guys are acting on their evolutionary impulses to breed as many females as possible. This concept is based on a phenomenon known as the Coolidge Effect, which has been seen in testing a variety of mammals since the 1950s.

The scenario goes like this: a male rat is placed in a cage with a willing female with which he excitedly breeds until he is satiated. Though he’s no longer in the mood with the current female, as soon as another female is introduced he immediately overcomes his boredom and mates with the new gal. He becomes bored again, until a new female is introduced, and the scenario repeats itself until the male rat is physically exhausted.

Some analysts, citing these studies, believe that evolution tells guys, “Get it while the getting is good. You are exposed to a limited number of possible mates on the Savannah of life, so when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.” The same can be said of eating high fat foods and engaging other behaviors that propagate the species or ensures survival. And since this applies to other mammals, it must be all-consuming for people, too.

Similarly, another simplistic explanation is that guys are not designed to be monogamous in the first place. Evolution urged them to roam, find herds of women on the open plain, and compete to mate with as many as possible. That’s why guys skip through a multitude of Internet mates or are constantly targeting new females to breed; they are not designed to find a lifelong mate but to spread their seed far and wide.

One Australian study set men and women in a room and showed them the same porn film 18 times. Initially, they were aroused, but after watching the same movie over and over, they became uninterested. But lo and behold, when a new porn flick was introduced the subjects gained new interest. This test is similar to others, so to some analysts it proves that people get bored with the same mate and need to roam to keep sex interesting.

Advances in understanding

But more and more therapists and neurologists say these studies fall flat.

In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge argues that instincts, like that of the rat, resist change, and that human sexuality is not based on instinct. The human libido isn’t hardwired by biological urges, but rather it is often finicky and altered by an individual’s psychology, experiences, and sexual encounters.

“Much scientific writing implies otherwise and depicts the sexual instinct as a biological imperative, an ever hungry brute, always demanding satisfaction—a glutton, not a gourmet,” Doidge writes (p. 95). “But human beings are more like gourmets and are drawn to types and have strong preferences; having a ‘type’ causes us to defer satisfaction until we find what we are looking for, because attraction to a type is restrictive; the person who is ‘really turned on by blondes’ may tacitly rule out brunettes and redheads.”

Rats are only attracted by sight and scent, said Dr. Doug Weiss, an author of 23 books and a sex addiction therapist in Colorado Springs. But people have many ways to become attracted, such as sharing an affinity toward specific entertainment, politics, ideas, religion, and situations. Their childhoods and adolescence contribute to their sexual desires as do the rest of their experiences in life. People experience emotional and cognitive levels, including fantasy or imagination, that are unavailable to the rat.

“Every guy or gal reading this has seen a man or woman at a distance who they thought was attractive until that person opened their mouth,” Weiss said. “So attraction goes way beyond the physical for human beings.”

As for the studies that suggest familiarity lessens sexual interest, Weiss says, “I think the study is just flawed. There is no control group. It has no validity.”

What would a control group look like? Weiss suggests showing a Charlie Brown cartoon. Lots of people like to watch Charlie at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but show the same film 18 times and just about anyone would grow bored. Then introduce the movie Captain America and watch a group gain interest.

“Show me 12 red blocks and I’ll want to see a blue one,” he said.

So why isn’t one porn image enough?

People learn through life experience to be sexually aroused by body types, places, and situations, and this list of sexual interests can be very short or a mile long.

In the past, a single image would have been enough to arouse a man who now looks at a stream of Internet pornography to maintain the same arousal, says therapist Dr. Peter Kleponis of Integrity Restored. But overtime this man has neurologically attached his brain to be aroused when viewing a wide variety of images and acts.

“He conditions his brain to only really be sexually aroused to this constant parade of different women, of different sexual images,” Kleponis said.

The neuroscience behind porn

Indeed, the variety of porn on the Internet has an appeal. But the reasons behind it are more complex than a rat’s attention to a parade of new mates.

Doidge explains that “human beings exhibit an extraordinary degree of sexual plasticity compared with other creatures” (p. 94). By “plasticity” he means that our brains and our sexuality are molded by our experiences, interactions, and other means of learning, which is why people vary in what they say is attractive or what turns them on. The brain actually creates neural pathways that say a specific type of person or activity is arousing.

This may help explain why men combing through Internet pornography often delay orgasm until they find an image “worthy” of climax.

In fact, some porn addicts have no interest in variety.

“With over 25 years of working with sex addicts, there are some men—and women for that matter—who stick to vanilla, whatever vanilla is,” Weiss said. “They are neurologically attached to vanilla, and they never up that.”

This means some people who use pornography—even addicts—never sink deeper into porn than the models of Playboy or Playgirl.

So what about 32 flavors?

So why do some people who were once programmed for vanilla now entertain many more flavors at the ice cream bar? The brain likes novelty, Kleoponis said, especially if it perceives a possible release of dopamine or other neural chemicals that are natural rewards that provide feelings of comfort or euphoria.

“The immediate attraction will give you a little bit of a rush or a sense of novelty…but that will wear away quickly if it’s not reinforced by the neurological release of masturbation,” Weiss said.

The opiates released during orgasm help seal the deal that this new and novel sexual concept is not only arousing but worth returning for in the future. Add it to the shelf of hot stuff: this one is a keeper. With repeated interaction the arousal becomes more engrained, and with more exploration the brain adds more containers found to be exciting, even things a person once found disgusting.

Porn websites generate catalogs of common kinks and mix them together with images. Sooner or later the surfer finds a killer combination that presses a number of his sexual buttons at once. Then he reinforces the network by viewing the images repeatedly, masturbating, releasing dopamine and strengthening these neural networks. He has created a kind of “neosexuality,” a rebuilt libido that has strong roots in his buried sexual tendencies. Because he often develops tolerance, the pleasure of sexual discharge must be supplemented with the pleasure of an aggressive release, and sexual and aggressive images are increasingly mingled—hence the increase in sadomasochistic themes in hardcore porn (p. 112, The Brain That Changes Itself).

Why have pornographers added so much aggression and violence to today’s porn? Because they are trying to keep their customers satisfied. But apparently, it’s never enough.

Can’t get no satisfaction

So if a human masturbates to a wider range of images or videos, does that satiate? The simple answer is no.

Dr. Doidge explains that porn is more exciting than satisfying because humans have two separate pleasure systems in our brains: one for exciting pleasure and another for satisfying pleasure. The “exciting system,” fueled by dopamine and anticipation, is all about appetite, such as imagining your favorite meal or a sexual episode.

The satisfying system involves actually having the meal or having sex, which provides a calming, fulfilling pleasure. This system releases opiate-like endorphins, that provide feelings of peace and euphoria.

Pornography, Doidge writes, hyperactivates the appetite system. But the satisfying system is left starving for the real thing, which includes actual touching, kissing, caresses, and a connection not only with the body but also the mind and soul. The satisfying system releases oxytocin and endorphins that says, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, Baby.”

In a nutshell, porn is so addictive because:

  • the variation of porn online exposes men to more and more body types and scenarios;
  • through masturbation a man bonds neurologically;
  • these types and scenarios are added to the list of stimuli that his brain learns is exciting and they are associated with a neurochemical reward;
  • the neural pathways are formed that make the excitement easier;
  • and yet his appetite system is better fed than his satisfying system leaving him hungry for more.

Want to learn more?

Neurologist Dr. William Struthers, author of Wired for Intimacy, talks at length about porn addiction and the brain in this detailed interview, filmed at the Covenant Eyes headquarters.

Comments
  1. Cody Sweeny says:

    Great article! Thanks!

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