Why We Crave Porn. ~ Josh Merel

Via on Nov 5, 2012

Porn exists and it will continue to be used heavily in Western society.

Why? Like other cultural products that have become pervasive, porn satisfies a want felt by many men, women and children. Porn is neither good or bad per sé; rather, consequences of porn use in certain contexts may lead to happier or less happy people. Discussion about porn use should honestly consider why porn is so appealing to many, and in what contexts porn can have good and bad affects.

Human animals desire sex; we crave it viscerally. But sex is somewhat complicated to acquire. In the broadest sense, grouping masturbation in with sex, humans have the option to have sex by themselves. Nevertheless, despite the comparatively simple option of solitary masturbation, most people prefer to engage in erotic experiences with others.

Scientifically it is no mystery why we crave sex with other people—we reproduce by sexual intercourse—though admittedly this is not usually in the forefront of one’s mind when one thinks about erotic experience (it is what scientists consider an evolutionary cause, rather than a proximal cause).

As soon as the “will” of other individuals becomes part of sex, having sex becomes something less trivial than simply deciding one wants to … right now.

The fact that the will of more than one individual is involved yields all the various agreements we have come to with respect to regulating sex; among the many forms are marriage customs, prostitution and internet pornography, but there is tremendous diversity, which I don’t wish to minimize by omitting here.

Point 1: The extent to which there is a real relationship between the performer and the porn viewer is under-appreciated . This is not just to say that the porn performer is a “real” person—such a point has been made many times. Slightly more subtly, I want to emphasize the fact that there is a relationship, ranging from a simple transaction to a  possibly emotional connection, between the viewer and the performer.

In biological sciences, there is often an attempt made to learn about healthy people by studying diseased people. Without being too judgemental of those people (usually men) extremely interested in pornography, one might hope to do the same here. We can likely learn a great deal about “regular” porn users from the “extreme” users. I am not an expert on porn addiction, but one relevant feature of serious porn viewers is that they may have, what are to them, highly meaningful relationships with specific porn stars. While most porn viewers may not be able to immediately relate to this, regular porn viewers will still have preferences for appearances, behaviors and communication habits of the porn “characters” they watch.

Point 2: For those couples who both find porn use acceptable within the context of their monogamous relationship, porn is likely beneficial to that relationship. However, whether the relationship remains truly monogamous becomes more suspect.  Even while in a relationship, many men and women will continue to find other people attractive. Nevertheless, they may genuinely desire to suppress those feelings in “real life” in order to hold to certain commitments to themselves and or their partner with respect to their sexual freedom. This argument can be formulated in various flavors, but when used in defense of porn consumption boils down to the overly simplistic point that porn isn’t real and doesn’t affect the monogamous relationship.

I think that this is practically true for many porn users, but by way of reference to Point 1, I wish to complicate this point. Porn use involves a human interaction with another person, the performer. I think given the predominance of monogamy in contemporary western society, this fact about pornography has been actively played down. That is, as a monogamous and capitalist culture, we prefer to think of porn not as an interaction between people, but as a purely commercial product to be consumed.

With respect to monogamy, porn use can perhaps be lumped into a broader class of release-valve theories—individuals who might have struggled to be completely monogamous get a little bit of a release by interacting in a controlled and socially acceptable way with pornography. The salient point that distinguishes porn performers from prostitutes with respect to monogamy is the stronger asymmetry in the relationship.

In conventional pornography there is no interaction directed from the user to the performer, and for many people in relationships this probably feels less threatening. A husband might be as likely to be with a porn star as with a famous Hollywood actress, so the porn remains in the realm of fantasy. Increasingly interactive forms of pornography (one-on-one shows) might be considered similar to visiting a prostitute, as the nature of the relationship between performer and viewer becomes more bi-directional. Such interactive porn likely requires additional ethical negotiation, especially within the context of a monogamous relationship.

Point 3: There are almost certainly healthy ways of interacting with pornography, but any approach where the viewer is not fully honest with himself is likely unhealthy. It is easy to say that watching porn and masturbating is relaxing, but should such an answer suffice as justification?  Most people face sexual tension at times, and perhaps porn is well-suited to certain such situations (perhaps even very regularly), but how many people use porn to escape non-sexual stressors?

Some of these rhetorical questions might be best answered systematically with statistics, but even before a survey would make sense, individuals might find such self-reflective questions difficult to answer honestly for themselves. When constraints are placed on the behavior we are allowed to publicly express, we will want to satisfy our cravings elsewhere.

Does porn help a user take a break, or does it act like a narcotic, inhibiting the user from addressing other fundamental issues related their relationships and their life? Each individual likely has their own answer.

Humans have wants, and satisfaction of many such wants depend on productive interactions with other individuals. If an adolescent boy is embarrassed to gawk at a scantily-clad woman, perhaps porn will help him to learn about his urges, or perhaps it will encourage him to objectify women. How the porn is presented and its content will likely affect which. If a man in a committed monogamous relationship consumes porn, perhaps porn will serve to de-stress him and release some sexual tension, or perhaps porn will encourage dissatisfaction with his relationship. Again, the context within his relationship in which he uses porn and and the kind of porn he consumes will play a role.

It is meaningless to simplify porn as bad or good, rather we should seek to understand this new component of our culture with an interest in personally reconciling our own behavior.

I have tried to analyze some of the complications related to porn use and the discussion surrounding porn use while trying to avoid inserting too many of my own personal values. Borrowing language from Freud, but using the terms somewhat figuratively, the desire for porn reminds us of the internal struggle between the id and the superego. Our individual wants with respect to sex, as well as other cravings, may inherently conflict with regulations encouraged by our society and our close companions.

How individuals deal with balancing their desires against what they know to be the desires of others with whom they interact is deeply personal. More than simple, sweeping solutions, a healthy interaction with others (including porn-performers) requires honesty, introspection, and communication about why we engage in certain activities and whether we personally find them acceptable in the context of our own relationships.

 

(This is a bonus eighth piece (in collaboration with the Good Men Project) addressing the question: Is Porn a Good Thing? For GMP’s recent posts in the series, check out The History of Porn  and How Not to Become a Male Porn Star.)

 

 Josh Merel is a PhD candidate with research focus in computational neuroscience at Columbia University. Outside of neuroscience, he has broad ranging interests spanning robotics, literature, philosophy, society and most everything else.

 

 

 

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Editor: Anne Clendening

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4 Responses to “Why We Crave Porn. ~ Josh Merel”

  1. kindasketchy says:

    i have a 'broad ranging interest' in gettin Josh Merel's numba!

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  4. Cholo says:

    "porn satisfies a want felt by many men, women and children." Children? Yuck.

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