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Your Sexy Plastic Brain: Porn addiction can’t be blamed on biology

Last Updated: February 21, 2014

Sam Black

Sam Black joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist, serving as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines in six states. Sam is the author of The Porn Circuit, and he creates partnerships with like-minded organizations to strengthen the worldwide fight against pornography.

The following is an edited excerpt from Chapter 1 of the free e-book The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days.

Believe it or not, men are not born ogling the boobs of big-breasted brunettes or blondes or whatever a man fancies. Nor were women born excited by erotic stories, videos, or whatever a woman finds compelling.

Have doubts? Then why in some cultures do women walk around uncovered from the waist up and men couldn’t care less, while in most cultures cleavage is considered immodest or sexually tempting? The same is true of fetishes, which are essentially objects, such as a shoe, a foot, or lace or fur on a garment. Why does one person find an item of clothing or an object uninteresting, while others instantly think of sex?

It is learned.

You learn to associate sexual arousal with specific stimuli, writes Dr. Norman Doidge in The Brain That Changes Itself. Doidge explains that “human beings exhibit an extraordinary degree of sexual plasticity compared with other creatures.” By “plasticity” he means that our brains and our sexuality are molded by our experiences, interactions, and other means of learning, which is why people vary in what they say is attractive or what turns them on. The brain actually creates neural pathways that label a specific type of person or activity as arousing.

What we find arousing cannot merely be explained by evolution. Biological explanations are often too simplistic, Doidge argues. Strong muscles on a man might predict he can protect his offspring, but a woman may find a man’s voice more attractive than the surface of his body.

In past centuries, women in art were often large by today’s standards of super-thin fashion models. Doidge calls these preferences “acquired tastes:”

“Acquired tastes are initially experienced with indifference or dislike but later become pleasant — the odors of cheeses, Italian bitters, dry wines, coffees, patés, the hint of urine in a fried kidney. Many delicacies that people pay dearly for, that they must “develop a taste for,” are the very foods that disgusted them as children.

In Elizabethan times lovers were so enamored of each other’s body odors that it was common for a woman to keep a peeled apple in her armpit until it had absorbed her sweat and smell. She would give this “love apple” to her lover to sniff in her absence. We, on the other hand, use synthetic aromas of fruits and flowers to mask our body odor from our lovers. Which of these two approaches is acquired and which is natural is not so easy to determine. A substance as “naturally” repugnant to us as the urine of cows is used by the Masai tribe of East Africa as lotion for their hair — a direct consequence of the cow’s importance in their culture. Many tastes we think “natural” are acquired through learning and become “second nature” to us. We are unable to distinguish our “second nature” from our “original nature” because our neuroplastic brains, once wired, develop a new nature, every bit as biological as our original.”

This will come as sad news to many. The attraction, compulsion, and even addiction to porn are learned behaviors, which means people play a huge role in their own habituation. Don’t blame it on biology or evolution.

In “The Porn Circuit,” Doidge and other scientists will put those simplistic arguments to rest.

People hunt porn because they taught their brains that it is arousing, an outlet of sexual expression, and a means of escape.

  • Comments on: Your Sexy Plastic Brain: Porn addiction can’t be blamed on biology
    1. Anonimous Man Of Science on

      I can see where you’re coming from but I’m afraid I can only say that I only part-agree with you.

      For a start, any process to take place in the brain can be considered a biological process since the brain is not exempt from being a part of our anatomical biology. Yes, that includes thoughts and making cerebral ‘decisions’ to act on them.

      Also one does not simply unlearn something. One can sink into denial and rebel against certain thoughts and feelings but it does not erase the conditioning from which the thoughts and feelings were initially established. In addition to this, I don’t see any particular reason why one should need to break such a ‘habit’ unless of course it becomes so cumbersome that their life becomes disorderly due to it.

      If it was not natural, then why after certain physical changes in the brain, such as those that take place during adolescence, would people develop the initial instinct to be curious and seek out these ‘learnings’ and explore the things that satisfy the curiosity of their sexuality?

      Or is that not biological enough for you either? In which case I’m afraid I don’t completely follow.

      Reply
    2. Sam Black on

      Hi Anonymous Man,

      Thanks for your comments. Indeed, any process that takes place in the brain is a biological process. So, in that context I also agree with you!

      When discussing biology in this context, Dr. Norman Doidge is referring to our innate biology. For example, when you miss a meal, your stomach growls and and your brain says this body needs food. No human needs to learn that food is needed, babies cry when they are hungry.

      On the other hand, no one is born with fetish desires or a compulsion to regularly seek out and masturbate to pornography. Those are learned behaviors.

      As for the harm porn can cause, I suggest you read the full text of “The Porn Circuit.” You might also be interested in Dr. Doidge’s book, “The Brain That Changes Itself.” It is a completely secular and scientific read, and it is absolutely fascinating. Porn is only part of his discussion, so if you have any interest in discovering more about how we learn and how our brains function, you will not be disappointed with this book.

      Best regards,

      Sam

      Reply

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