Trusting How I Feel

Submitted by The Fonz on
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This blog post is a bit of a distress signal. I just relapsed and now I feel horrible.

I am a frequent reader of psychologytoday.com, and today I came across these two recent blog posts on it. I don't think I necessarily agreed with the articles, but they caught me in a vulnerable state of mind. See, after going a week and a few days without masturbating to porn, I started having some cravings. Then, hoping to find some interesting reading material to distract myself from the cavings, I went to psychologytoday.com, and came across two blog posts that kinda said that masturbating to porn is OK. I classify myself as a porn addict; so, me reading these articles was somewhat like a drug addict coming across articles that say doing drugs isn't so bad for you. Even if, deep down the addict knows it is bad for him, he may use a Timothy Findley type of scholar as an excuse to abuse LSD. I used these guys' posts as an excuse to relapse.

I'm not a scientist, so I can't scientifically say which side is right and which side is wrong. But I think I'm just going to trust how I feel. And when I abstain from porn and masturbation for a while, I feel great. And right now, after a relapse, I feel awful.

Marnia, feel free to delete this post if you feel that your work is under attack in the links that I posted. The second post in particular seems to be directly addressing your work. I don't post it to upset you, just to make you aware of what some of the dissenting voices are saying, so that you can maybe reassure me and other fellow porn-addicts that it's worth trying to abstain from porn. But don't feel like you have to defend yourself if you don't want to. Like I said, I am well aware that I feel crappy after this relapse, and that, just a couple of days ago before my relapse, I felt sky high. I'm sure a lot of other men on this forum can look to their own personal experience when making a decision.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/women-who-stray/201007/watch-out-wom...
"Is pornography addictive for men or women? No more so than any other pleasurable activity. Use of pornography triggers the release of neurochemicals into the brain, the neurochemicals that relate to sexual activity, that cause the physiological arousal responses of lubrication, erection, flushing and increased heart rate. Pleasurable neurochemicals like oxytocin and dopamine are released into the brain. These are all the ways our bodies work, to get us to do things that serve our bodies, and our species. We get similar bursts of "happy" neurochemicals when we accomplish something difficult, like climbing a mountain, getting a new car, or killing an animal to provide dinner for our families. The things that feel good are things that through history, our species survived by the success of these activities. Why does sex feel good? So that we do it, as often as possible, to spread our genes and preserve the human race. Labeling the functions of our normal neurochemical activity and sexual desires as pathological or addictive is just moralism. Not therapy."

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-big-questions/201007/porn-and-ma...
"If you read certain authors on this site, you might reach the conclusion that masturbation and pornography are the end all of the universe."

Well I'll say those articles

Well I'll say those articles seem more like personal opinion and conjecture than conclusions taken from studies or surveys. And the authors seem to have gone to the Glenn Beck school of mass debate. Personally I've never got the feeling that this site or any of Marnia's articles are on a crusade against porn or anything like that.

"We get similar bursts of "happy" neurochemicals when we accomplish something difficult, like climbing a mountain, getting a new car"

Except that we don't climb mountains or get new cars every day or week? And getting hold of porn isn't actually something difficult, so why get such a hit of "happy" neurochemicals for accomplishing something with a couple of clicks?

It's fine to post these

And yes, my work has been under attack by some of my fellow PT bloggers. It means we're making them think.

There are a couple of standard arguments that sexologists (who are often sociologists or psychologists with much less brain science in their background, than, for example psychiatrists) make...and have been making for 50 years, whenever someone veers from the "Masturbation is normal, therefore porn is harmless" scripture (of their profession).

One is to attack the motives of the person challenging the scripture as being a "rabid, moralizing, anti-porn crusader," regardless of the facts.

Another is to claim that sex is no different from any other activity indulged in a lot. This is simply wrong. The real issue is the neurochemcial impact of superstimuli...whether it's porn or junk food. This they simply haven't grasped yet. I explained this to one of them who posted on my blog this way just today:

His comment:

this is not a personal problem that i am dealing with, but i appreciate the advice - thanks. the problem i have is that women are unable to admit any sort of interest in erotic literature or pornography, and that your response is riddled with self interest. i'm sorry if i come across as blunt, but please evaluate your own response, and tell me that is it not an eloquent circumnavigation around saying, yes you might be onto to something.

in my opinion, any kind of 'unnatural' reconfiguration of pleasure pathways is likely to result in some sort of dissonance, regardless of sex. i may be wrong, but i do not think that this issue is based on sex.

women view masterbation as liberation (opinion based on conversation), whereas men view masterbation as a sin (opinion based on fact). perhaps clergy, and public opinion leaders, such as yourself, are responsible for the maladaptive effects of masterbation that you project upon male populations.

in science the aim is objectivity, and this article is a perfect example of the many biases that poison psychological research today. the great wisdom of the points you raise in this article is polluted by your positional stance... at least to me. but i dont hold a phd?

My reply:

Blunt is fine

And you are indeed correct that the dissonance you describe can be a problem in other (select) areas of our lives, too. I think of this point in slightly different terms. For example, here's how a UCLA biology professor who has written a book on the brain's reward circuitry describes the issue:

"All excessive stimulations of the reward circuitry of the brain that are not tied to the behaviors for which the circuitry originally evolved are problematic. While this has become appreciated for drug addiction such as cocaine (and for issues relating to food), it is not yet appreciated for porn.
We need to understand who we are as a species and why we have self-control problems. Internet porn is another manifestation of "mismatch," the phenomenon of our modern world deviating from the world to which we became adapted over evolutionary time."

In short, the question may come down to, "Does a particular stimulation (at a brain chemical level) far exceed what our ancestors' brains would have evolved to cope with?" Today's extreme porn is only one example of problematic stimulation, but that doesn't mean every activity is equal. See?

You misjudge both my views on erotic literature and my degree of "bias." The goal of my posts is to help raise awareness of how extreme stimuli appear to affect the brain, so that men who *do* develop unwanted symptoms can correctly assess their source, experiment for themselves, and return to balance. Such information is especially important right now because the counseling experts haven't caught up with the issue of porn's potential effects on the brain. Like you, they still think the issue here is masturbation and "sin."

Due to general ignorance on this topic, the necessary research hasn't been done. With all due respect, this has led to a mainstream "bias" that results in people resorting to accusations of moralizing when what is needed is an honest discussion of the substance of the effects of superstimuli on the human brain. That seems to me to be the only way to move beyond the perceived biases. Name-calling, false assumptions of motives, and spin really add nothing to this much needed debate.

Our work, Ralph, has been endorsed by two psychiatrists who know a vast amount about the reward circuitry of the brain. One's a doctor who works with sexual addiction at Vanderbilt Univeristy. The other is in England and has special advanced degrees (in addiction to his MD) in brain science. It has also been endorsed by a UCLA professor who wrote a book on the reward circuitry. (He's also the source of the above quotation.)

So, we may be wrong, but some very well educated minds don't think so. The PT bloggers still believe they know the truth, when it's quite evident from the actual experiences here, that they are in denial about the reality of the depth of misery and the underlying reasons for it.

Make your own judgments and experiments, but realize that the people writing those things may themselves be struggling with the same challenge you are, and very anxious not to see the true impact of their actions.

Great post.

Sock it to 'em Marnia.

[quote=Marnia]

The PT bloggers still believe they know the truth, when it's quite evident from the actual experiences here, that they are in denial about the reality of the depth of misery and the underlying reasons for it.

[/quote]

These guys aren't trying to discover the truth about what this does to people. The guy couldn't even spell masturbation properly so I question his writing credentials. It's not a moral argument from some puritanical point of view. It's about simple well being and living in way that is consistent with one's values. Some people are simply not comfortable deriving sexual pleasure from the exploitation, degradation and humiliation of women. It is is a positive and noble act to refuse to take part in pornography of any kind. I believe these "sex positive" people are simply PR men for the status quo and the porn industry in particular. Their denial probably also covers up lots of their *own* porn use if they are really about getting at the truth.

Marnia's real motivations

Marnia's real motivations are that she doesnt want anyone to have fun. She's tired of seeing other people have fun and her and Gary wear catholic robes and pope hats and sit on the computer and blog.

Psychology is doing something different than psychiatry. Psychiatry is and neuroscience is more of what you guys are thinking about. the brain chemistry of this. Psychological theories are interesting, but the hard science is what makes this paradigm special.

Courage is knowing what not to fear.
-Plato

haha

Yeah we are nothing but a bunch of prudes who don't like sex. That's the funniest joke if you read the detailed descriptions of Karezza. It's just a different kind of sex.

Awesome!

"Name-calling, false assumptions of motives, and spin really add nothing to this much needed debate."

Great response, Marnia. I'm more Team Marnia than ever before, haha. I really admire the poise in which you dealt with it. If my work was under attack, I'd probably get defensive and resort to name-calling, haha.