I remember about 10 years ago coming across a magazine article in a popular periodical that included a reference to a 'Porn Culture.' I never picked up the magazine to read the article, but it did get me thinking about how pornography has become such an accepted part of modern culture that it could be used in the same phrase as the word 'culture.'
It seems the last 20 years have seen such a rise in the proliferation of pornography via the internet that it has become much more commonplace than in previous times. This has so much been the case that one local radio personality has spoken about how the age of 'paper porn' has come and gone. This time period has also seen the average age of initial pornography viewing and use descend to between 10 and 15 years old, at least in boys. With so many young people being exposed to pornography at such a young age, it necessitates asking the question 'How young is too young?' as well as prompting the need to look at the consequences of pornography use in general.
The answer to the first question would range anywhere from the onset of puberty to the age of majority, or somewhere in between (if at all). Certainly adolescent hormones will serve to push the envelope to younger ages of looking at sexual imagery; but the younger children look at it, the more potential negative consequences to sexual development there are. One noted clinician in the state, Ava Profota LCSW, has talked about how children who view pornography run the risk of not developing arousal to real people in their sexual development if they are initially stimulated by pornography viewing. I tend to side with her in this respect. Moral judgments aside, it is clear that children can be dramatically affected by media exposure. This is particularly true for violent and graphic images, sexual imagery fitting into at least the latter of the two categories.
If we look at adult pornography use and viewing through brain imaging technology, such as through fMRI scans, it shows that the brain behaves much the same way as people with shopping, gambling, and video game playing does just in the anticipation of viewing such imagery. Stephanie Buehler, PsyD, CST points this out in her book What Every Mental Health Professional Needs to Know About Sex. It ties into the reward centers in the brain and in this respect can lead to what she calls 'problematic pornography viewing behavior,' or PVB for short. She avoids the use of the term 'sex addiction' because of the moralistic and/or stigmatizing nature of the terminology.
Regardless of what you call it, this behavior can lead to a skewed perception of sexuality that is tied more into fantasy than what is real sexuality, as well as a tendency to 'objectify' the subject that is being viewed. If this happens at an early age, it can have far-reaching consequences for the person engaging in the behavior. It can also create in the individual a 'detached attachment style' that is more associated with what I just described above where people tend to be viewed more as objects than individuals, and sexuality is more about fantasy than reality. It can create relationship difficulties when a person is seeking to have real relationships and has to try to get his or her sexual needs met though another person rather than by looking at pornography and masturbation.
Signs of Possible PVB (Problematic Pornography Viewing Behavior):
- The individual is looking at pornography for increasing amounts of time, or the amount of time is significant in relation to other daily activities.
- Interpersonal relationships tend to suffer due to the behavior.
- The individual looking at pornography experiences a significant degree of emotional distress from the behavior, either during use of afterwards.
- There is a degree of secrecy to the behavior, i.e. they tend to keep it to themselves.
- The behavior tends to be an alternative to experiencing and processing unpleasant emotions in healthy of functional manners.
If you feel you, a friend, or family member suffers from PVB I can be of help. I employ a variety of strategies and techniques that can help alleviate the problem. I am also planning to start a therapy group this fall that can be extremely helpful for men who are struggling with PVB. It is a problem that starts with isolation, and part of the antidote is connection with other people in a supportive environment. Don't let it take you or someone you care about to a place you don't want yourself of them to go.