Does Men’s ‘Bond’ with Porn Ruin Them for Real-Life Sex?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Sheer Photo, Inc/Getty Images

Men’s obsession with Internet porn is affecting their libidos, and making it impossible for real women to satisfy them. That’s the thesis of a fascinating feature in a recent issue of New York magazine. Writer Davy Rothbart describes his own experience of having to fake orgasm with a woman, because his overuse of porn had made reaching climax during intercourse nearly impossible.

(More on Time.com: 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)

Rothbart goes on to tell the stories of several other men who’d had similar difficulties. He writes:

Porn is not only shaping men’s physical and emotional interest in sex on a very fundamental neurological level, but it’s also having a series of unexpected ripple effects — namely on women. … For a lot of guys, switching gears from porn’s fireworks and whiz-bangs to the comparatively mundane calm of ordinary sex is like leaving halfway through an Imax 3-D movie to check out a flipbook.

The fact that porn-raised men develop a skewed view of sex is no secret. But Rothbart’s reporting on the effects of porn on a “neurological level” misinterprets the science. In the piece, he asks if porn could be causing men to “detach from their partners in more profound ways,” and he answers the question this way:

[S]cientists speculate that a dopamine-oxytocin combo is released in the brain during orgasm, acting as a “biochemical love potion,” as behavioral therapist Andrea Kuszewski calls it. It’s the reason after having sex with someone, you’re probably more inclined to form an emotional attachment. But you don’t have to actually have sex in order to get those neurotransmitters firing. When you watch porn, “you’re bonding with it,” Kuszewski says. “And those chemicals make you want to keep coming back to have that feeling.” Which allows men not only to get off on porn but to potentially develop a neurological attachment to it. They can, in essence, date porn.

But that’s not how oxytocin — which is involved in feelings of love and lifelong bonding — actually works. If it was, men wouldn’t seek a variety of porn; rather, they’d be “monogamous” with whatever material they first found enjoyable. (And women would fall in love with their vibrators.)

While it’s quite clear that human beings have an ongoing desire for sexual variety, that’s the opposite of the attachment that is triggered by oxytocin. You can’t get “attached” to novelty, and novelty is what guys like about porn. “Most of the men I interviewed admitted having a … habit of jumping quickly from porn clip to porn clip (which explains the rise and popularity of … montages and other rapidly edited compilations),” Rothbart writes. You might call it the difference between love and lust. (More on Time.com: Can an iPhone App Save Your Marriage?)

There is still much about oxytocin that isn’t known, but there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s involved in the desire for sexual novelty. In fact, the discovery of oxytocin’s social effects came from studies of two species of voles, one monogamous and one promiscuous.

Oxytocin was found to affect the pleasure systems of the brain mainly in the monogamous voles. Indeed, it was as though the chemical wired their brains to associate their mate — and only that particular mate — with pleasure. It “addicted” the partners to each other, and made the release of other soothing chemicals like endorphins (the brain’s own opioids) contingent in part on their partner’s presence.

But in the promiscuous voles, oxytocin (and vasopressin in male voles) wasn’t found in the brain regions that would allow this type of wiring to occur. So, it doesn’t seem to be involved at all in the pleasure of variety, as far as is currently known.

Of course, it’s certainly possible that porn is affecting men’s libidos in deleterious ways and that this is, consequently, hurting their partners as well. But whatever’s going on, the problem with porn isn’t that men are bonding with it. It’s that opportunities to satisfy the lust for variety have never been more available — while there is more stress than ever on loving relationships.

More on TIME.com:

What We Can Learn from The Dutch about Teen Sex

Survey Says:  He’s Just Not That Into Being Single

Is Oxytocin Racist — or ‘Choosy?

0 comments