Thursday, March 11, 2010


Strangely, for all the recent talk about Tiger Woods' supposed sex addiction, the Woods saga elicited very little talk about another form of potential sex addiction: pornoholism.

For the few alpha males who have access to a bevy of beauteous strumpets, there are millions of men who troll for trollops on the internet. These beta, gamma, and delta males can have the vicarious thrill of having a virtual harem, filled with women who are always available and always willing.

Sometimes the experience becomes so compelling and so exciting and so habitual that it turns into an addiction.

It makes sense to compare pornoholism to alcoholism. As I have said: Taken in moderation porn unclogs your arteries; taken in excess it eats your liver.

In some men excessive porn consumption seems to produce an unwelcome side effect, one that also accompanies excessive alcohol consumption: erectile dysfunction.

So reports Marnia Robinson in two articles posted here and here. For some of my own earlier views, see here and here.

I admire Robinson for collecting information from men who have written to her, because pornoholism is basically a taboo subject. However much our nation was once in the thrall of sexual censorship, that censorship has broken down to the point where people refuse to say anything remotely negative about porn, for fear of being labeled a psychosexual defective.

Anyway, pornoholics suffer two kinds of desensitization. First, they unlearn their normal response to the stimuli provided by real women. Second, they eventually become numbed to most of the effects of porn and seek out depictions of more violent and deviant acts in order to respond.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. For decades porn has been a major battleground in the culture wars.

Long before they selflessly took up the cause of Guantanamo detainees, our best and brightest legal minds had worked tirelessly to make the world safe for porn. For a comprehensive history of their work, see Edward de Grazia's book, Girls Lean Back Everywhere.

Whether or not obscenity laws were an assault on genius-- I find the claim overblown-- the lawyers who crusaded for the free access to pornography surely felt that they were fighting against sexual repression.

Little did they know that the internet would make the question moot. Porn is everywhere today. It has a visceral appeal to men. It is surely not an intrinsically bad thing. But that does not mean that we cannot address porn addiction.

It's almost a cliche to say so, but it's possible to have too much of a good thing.

As we all understand, porn is nearly always a male interest and preoccupation. Women tolerate it; they are bemused by men's taste for it. Invariably they do not like it and do not spend their time and money consuming it.

The best we can say is that women have adapted to a world where porn is ubiquitous. That does not mean that they are drawn to it or that they think it is always and in all circumstances harmless.

I can see good and bad in the fact that most young men in our culture get their sex education from porn. Some of them will learn advanced love-making skills, while others will gain unrealistic expectations about male and female sexual response.

And if life sometimes imitates art, I can also imagine that the current practice of hooking-up represents a way to make life imitate porn.

If porn represents anything, it represents hook-ups.

If sex has now become cheapened because it has been overexposed, because porn has wrung the mystery and modesty out of it, then perhaps we should ask ourselves whether it might not be a good thing for men to go on a porn diet.

That does not mean, no more porn. It does mean, porn in moderation, as part of a balanced diet.

[I want to qualify my last point. While it might make sense for some men to watch porn in moderation, the same does not apply to pornoholics. For a true pornoholic there is no such thing as moderation. It's like a recovering alcoholic who goes into a bar, resolved to only have one drink. You know and I know that this is a virtual impossibility. As 12 step programs insist, alcoholics need to stay out of bars, they need to avoid any haunts and associates who were part of their alcoholism. The same applies to pornoholics.]


Jason McClain said...

Excellent and considered post. And 'trolling for trollops' definitely has a ring to it :)

I would like to add something to your point about women and porn - "Invariably they do not like it and do not spend their time and money consuming it."

Female porn addicts are without doubt in the minority, but many have contributed their stories to my website. For example:

I am a woman addicted to porn

A woman's experience of porn addiction

(some of the comments are particularly insightful)


Old Guy said...

Women have their own forms of porn. We just don't consider Redbook, Cosmo or romance novels to be porn because women read them, but they fill the same purpose. While they may not be used as fodder for masturbation, they are still intended to titillate. For years, Redbook has saved the spot on the cover right below the magazine title for the headline of their monthly sex article.

As with many things in contemporary culture, what men and boys do naturally is considered unfortunate at best and what women do is normal.