Part 3: What is pornography really?
When people find out that you’re actually trying to quit pornography for good, you’ll probably hear something like this: “Watching porn is just expressing a natural drive!” or “Suppressing these sexual urges is unhealthy!” Have you heard something like that before?
It’s not a new idea. Nearly a hundred years ago, Freud was saying the same kind of thing. Fifty years later, that Kinsey guy we mentioned was pushing the idea that all sexual urges should be followed. Because the body has a built-in appetite for sex, the argument goes, pornography use is natural and normal. Is that true?
What would you think if we told you that eating Twinkies is simply reflecting a natural drive that should not be resisted because the body has a built-in appetite for food? What do you think about that? The food industry has figured out that by combining certain ingredients (especially sugar, fat, and salt), they can trigger a huge chemical rush in your body and produce a dopamine punch to the cranium—enough to make us feel our body needs and wants it.
In fact, one researcher spent a whole year tracking down every ingredient that went into the Twinkie—all thirty-nine of them. They include the preservative ascorbic acid (derived from natural gas), artificial colors, and flavorings formulated from petroleum. Cellulose gum, Polysorbate 60, and calcium sulfate are also ingredients—these are also used in sheet rock, shampoo, and rocket fuel. And it’s limestone that makes Twinkies lightweight. That’s right, there are skeletons of marine microorganisms and coral in every bite.
Bottom line, while the Twinkie is a finely crafted product that packs a punch in its taste, it is only barely a food— with almost no nutritional value of any kind.
Are you seeing the pornography comparison here? Stay with us: Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel uneasy after eating junk food? Although the body may get an initial buzz off this food, the product has been so significantly altered from its natural form that your body has a difficult time recognizing it as food. When substances are that unnatural, your body can actually switch into attack mode where white blood cells fight the “food” you eat as an invading enemy!
How does this apply to pornography? Like an appetite for food, sexual feelings are of course a normal part of physiology. When two people come together in a real sexual relationship, giving themselves to each other fully, the intensity of pleasure is powerful. That is natural and normal.
What isn’t normal is the complex system that different industries have developed to capitalize off our sexual appetite. The same way smokers get hooked on cigarettes, when we take the pornographic bait, our bodies get a buzz from a finely crafted product—one designed to maximize an immediate rush of pleasure. And yet, have you ever wondered why a dose of pornography sometimes leaves you empty or sickened?
In pornography, healthy sexuality has been cut from its original form, soaked, filtered, boiled, synthesized, and wholly exaggerated, all with an aim of creating the biggest chemical rush possible in your system. That is why we talk about porn being a drug. Can you see how something destructive might actually feel like a positive experience?
Now, when we say “pornography” in this discussion, recognize that there are many forms of synthetic sexuality. Pornography can be visual (pictures or videos), it can be written (blogs, books, or articles), and it can even appear in music. It can also be interactive, such as online chatting or talking over the phone. What unites all of these is the fact that they’re all a form of artificially enhanced sexual stimulation. Just as Twinkies are an artificially enhanced and modified food that really isn’t good for you, pornography is an artificially enhanced and modified sexual experience that isn’t good for you either, and your body and mind both know it.
This should help if you ever start to wonder, “What’s the difference between the experience of a healthy sexual relationship with a partner and the sexual experience of pornography? They’re both sexual, so it’s just two kinds of the same thing, right?”
Not even close. It’s a pretty good question. Like Twinkies and whole grain bread, while they may look similar from the outside, they result in very different experiences. Imagine for a moment being lost in a blistering desert. After two days of wandering without any food or water, you come across an abandoned village on the beach of what seems to be the ocean. Your attention immediately focuses on the massive body of salt water crashing on the coast only a few hundred meters ahead. In the corner of your eye you also notice a fresh water pump next to the nearest structure in the abandoned village, but all you can think about is drinking that cold ocean water. You think to yourself, “Water is water, isn’t it? Whether I get it from the ocean or find it in the village doesn’t really matter, right?”
Actually it does. You see, what you might not know is that drinking that salt water would kill you faster than if you didn’t drink any water at all. Even though fresh water and salt water look nearly identical, their effects couldn’t be more opposite. One replenishes and strengthens your body, and the other harms your body. In a similar way, sexuality is expressed in many forms—forms that can look similar from the outside. Depending on the details, however, they can have totally different effects. So what are those details that make such a difference? Let’s start with the biggest: the presence of another actual person. In a pornographic sexual experience, rather than interacting with another human being, your physiological system is being manipulated to respond to an image, with the body provoked by someone who is not really there. As this happens, your brain releases oxytocin, which is referred to as the “bonding chemical.” This chemical is meant to create a sense of connection or bond between two loving individuals. In a pornographic experience, however, that chemical is being released in association with a hollow image behind a computer screen or on a magazine page. That is pretty confusing to the brain and over time your ability to bond with another real, actual person weakens.
Basically, pornography is a counterfeit—a lie. What it teaches you about sex and those you are attracted to is not only false but in many cases it’s also destructive. It won’t bring you a sense of connection, acceptance, or love. It won’t vitalize or strengthen a relationship. It will slowly change your perceptions of women and men and distort your ideas of what a healthy sexual relationship should look like.