Watch what you watch

How porn can affect us socially, psychologically and psychically

Pornography has been around forever. But in an era where XXX material is one keyboard misstep away in a Google search bar, we have to ask ourselves if this naughty underbelly of the Internet is affecting us as humans.

Think of your first brush with sexually explicit media. Something deep within the psyche lit up. Ever heard that the brain is the biggest sex organ?

According to Steve Smith, PhD and neuroscience professor here at the University of Winnipeg, there are a number of studies that have reported activity in visual and attentional centres in the back part of the brain when viewing erotic stimuli, suggesting our brains pay more attention to sexy information.

“Pornographic images and videos have a number of effects on the brain,” Smith says. “Most studies show activity in the hypothalamus, a brain area related to many bodily responses, and the amygdala, a structure involved with emotional arousal. Interestingly, both of these structures have also been linked to sexual behaviour in other animals.”

Of course it’s natural that all animals are interested in reproduction - insert Darwin reference here - it’s a matter of survival. Maybe that’s why people feel the need to watch porn, to satisfy a primitive craving to bang. Or maybe craving sex is much more complex than instinctive urges from the basal ganglia.

Dr. Reece Malone, certified sex therapist and sexuality educator from Four Rivers Medical Clinic, says there are many positive reasons for watching porn.

“People access sexually explicit media for several reasons,” says Dr. Malone, “including wanting to ramp up their libido with themselves or with partners; to explore and broaden the possibilities of sexuality; to feel less isolated in what they erotically enjoy; to help in experiencing orgasm; and act as a coping strategy to relax and escape from stressful life issues.”

Erotica and sexually explicit media can be a useful tool in finding comfort with one’s own body and to help prosper sexual relationships because everyone is absolutely entitled to an O-mazing moment.

But what about violent porn? There are mounds of images and videos that display hostility and graphic struggles in sexual acts. Are these genres of porn diminishing respect between people? Roselle Paulsen of Sexuality Education Resource Center Manitoba considers violent porn to be concerning.

“Tying violence to sex can create a warped sense of 'relationships' and expectations, especially among young viewers,” Paulsen says. “One needs to have a strong sense of their own sexuality and of societal influences in order to put the 'fantasy' of porn into perspective with real life.”

Being able to maintain the distinction between fantasy and reality depends on the viewer.

“Consumption without open and non-judgmental dialogue can contribute to unhealthy understandings about human sexuality including relationship dynamics amongst the sexes.” Dr. Malone says.

Porn will always exist. What’s crucial is that we handle this explicit information with care as it affects our brains, our relationships and the societies we live in.

Samantha Sarty studies psychology and English at the University of Winnipeg. You can find her sitting in the front row at an afternoon movie.

Published in Volume 69, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 18, 2015)

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