Two hundred years ago in the U.K., if you said you were going to a “gentleman’s club,” it was understood you were going to a private upper-class establishment where you could relax, read, play parlor games, get a meal, and gossip with others of your class.
Today, in the U.S., if you said you were going to a “gentleman’s club,” it is assumed you will be paying to see a striptease in a low-lit bar that smells like urinal cakes and hopelessness.
Interesting that we would call it a place for “gentlemen” and that we call porn “adult” entertainment—as if these are the activities that typify mature behavior.
We can probably congratulate Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, for introducing this into mainstream culture. Hefner really changed the public face of porn. To the public he advertised the magazine not as porn, but as a lifestyle magazine: it was about the lifestyle of the playboy, filled with articles about how to mix cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, how to set the mood with music, and how to engage a woman in quiet discussion about Picasso, jazz, and, of course, sex. All of this pretense was placed alongside pictures of naked women. This was the beginning of the mainstreaming of adult media.
But what exactly constitutes “adult” or “mature” behavior? Ask any neuroscientist what a “mature” human brain looks like, and he or she will likely talk to you about a region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. It is located directly behind the forehead and serves as the managerial center of the brain. It is responsible for our willpower, for regulating our behavior, and making decisions based on wisdom not just gut reactions or impulses. When emotions and urges surge from the midbrain, the lobes in the prefrontal cortex are there to exercise “executive control.” By the age of 25, this region of the brain reaches maturity in most men, meaning that our thinking becomes more sophisticated and we can regulate our emotions more easily.
Here’s why this matters to our discussion about porn: there’s actually evidence that watching porn over and over diminishes the capacity of the prefrontal cortex to function properly. You see, the brain is designed in such a way to respond to sexual stimulation. Surges of dopamine are released during a sexual encounter, including the watching porn, and this gives the person a sharp sense of focus and an awareness of sexual craving. However, scientists are now seeing that continued exposure to porn gives the brain an unnatural high and the brain eventually fatigues. It’s the same pattern we see when drugs are abused: the brain becomes desensitized and we see shrinkage in the frontal lobes of the brain.
So, what does this mean? This mean porn actually impacts us medically. We begin to lose impulse control. Cravings for porn start to grow and there are no neurological breaks to put a stop to them. Porn is, in a sense, making the brain not more mature, but more childlike.
Indulging in porn and other forms of commercial sex are hardly befitting of the adjective “adult.” Don’t be fooled. Actions speak louder than words—even when those words are five feet high, written neon, and contain the phrase “gentlemen’s club.”