Fake News: Porn Is a Good Friend During Isolation

Right now, because of COVID-19, the majority of the population is stuck at home. For individuals who are single, that results in profound isolation. Even for married individuals with a family, the effects of isolation from this season are significant. Increases in life challenges produce a corresponding intensity of temptation.

The goal of this article is to better understand a few effects of isolation and how they can increase the temptation towards pornography. Before we engage that discussion, let’s make a distinction between several terms that are often used as synonyms.

Solitude is the intentional experience of being alone. It has often been a spiritual discipline for creating clarity about unnecessary cares of this world that cloud our minds and hearts when we are flooded with people. Even if we steward this season for the benefits of solitude, we will still experience the detrimental impact of isolation and loneliness.

Isolation is a lack of social relationships or emotional support. We might say isolation is the unintentional, unwanted, or disruptive experience of being alone. As social creatures, made by God to live in relationship, isolation is not our natural state. Isolation for humans is like a tropical environment for polar bears.

Loneliness is a craving for social interaction. When we describe our craving, we often used words like sad, empty, lost, unmotivated, or that life feels meaningless. Like any emotional experience, loneliness can vary in intensity and is described differently by different people.

4 Ways Isolation and Loneliness Can Draw Us to Porn

Health experts detail many physical effects of isolation and loneliness. They describe the experience as having a comparable adverse impact on our bodies as obesity or smoking. But our focus is on the cognitive and emotional impact of isolation and loneliness. We will consider four impacts.

Isolation creates more “airtime” for negative thoughts.

When we are alone, we have more time to think. Rarely do our thoughts drift towards positive and uplifting thoughts. Even in times with less social and political unrest, our thoughts don’t naturally migrate towards edifying and encouraging subjects.

In a previous article I wrote, I discussed how “if we don’t know how to be sad, we will be bad.” Having more time to wrestle with anxious, sad, or frustrated thoughts increases our temptation towards behavioral escapes, like pornography. During this time, we will need to grow in our negative emotional tolerance and ability to process unpleasant emotions without succumbing to destructive behaviors.

Isolation creates less interaction with “real” people.

There are many unnoticed benefits to social interaction. We’ve all noticed that it is easier to be more upset with someone when we argue with them via text message or email than in actual conversation. Seeing a real person mitigates our more aggressive impulses and invites us to more readily consider their perspective.

Pornography creates a fantasy world without “real” people. There are only professional sex athletes who have been fed a script intended to entertain and stimulate. The less we interact with real people in the real world, the more these fictional characters in a fictional world seem appealing.

Isolation creates greater uncertainty about the future.

We watch the news and, more than usual, have no idea what’s going to happen next. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the word “unprecedented” to describe current events in the last month, I would be able to reboot the economy myself.

When we face the unpredictable, we like to retreat to the predictable. We know what’s going to happen in any pornographic narrative. We are going to be wooed and seduced. We are going to be deemed desirable. There is going to be a happy ending, at least until a sense of shame brings us back into the real world and we have to face all the same challenges that existed before with an added sense of guilt.

Isolation impairs executive functioning in the brain.

Isolation results in a decreased functioning of the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain right behind your forehead where problem-solving thinking occurs). This helps explain why relatively smaller challenges feel so much bigger now. Our problem-solving capacity has been negatively impacted.

Too often, we treat pornography like a solution, when it’s only a stall tactic. But it’s easy and doesn’t require much thinking, so we become more willing to retreat to it. You may remember cramming for a final exam at midnight. It wasn’t ideal. Learning was harder at that time of night because of fatigue. But you put in the extra work and found a way to learn. When we face challenges during isolation, we will have to engage with problem-solving thinking in a comparable manner.

The False Promises of Porn (and How to Combat Them)

We have already been alluding to how pornography would seize upon isolation to become ensnaring again. But it may be helpful to identify three promises that pornography makes.

1. Porn promises the opportunity to meet new people.

Watching pornography is not meeting new people any more than watching Braveheart is meeting Mel Gibson. This is a false promise. Like any false promise, it is only convincing because we want to believe it.

Instead of trying to hug a hologram of community, call a friend or family member. Schedule a group chat with your small group. Listen to real people. Be heard by real people. Don’t let the only options you consider be isolation or pornography. Take initiative towards the legitimate desire for connection you are experiencing.

2. Porn promises to always greet you with a smile.

These are unhappy times. Pornstars never appear to be sad (at least when they are on camera). We like the mirror reflex that occurs in our brain when we see someone happy. It stimulates a pleasant emotion in us.

Again, let’s take the initiative towards the good desire we’re craving. Make a list of people you can encourage. Think of things that would bless them. Do those things. Bring a smile to the face of real people you really care about. Experience the mirror reflex of pleasant emotion without the aftertaste of guilt.

3. Porn promises a predictable world where you are the hero.

When we feel powerless, we want to feel powerful. Being wanted feels powerful. But that world doesn’t last. The predictability of the routine (ritual is a part of every additive process) is only temporarily satisfying. When it’s over, you must face uncertainty with a sense of shame to only reinforces your loneliness.

Instead, create satisfying and enriching rituals. With the limits of stay-at-home orders, this requires creativity. But take the connecting and encouraging activities you brainstormed above and find ways to work them into daily and weekly rhythms.

As we conclude this article, here is what we’ve done.

  1. We’ve put hard things into words, so we feel less bad feeling bad.
  2. We’ve identified what makes hard things harder, so we can be more strategic.
  3. We’ve put false promises into words, so that these promises are less convincing.

The best thing you can do now if you resonate with these materials is to forward this article to a friend and ask, “Can we talk?” There is nothing more effective for decreasing the temptation towards pornography and the effects of isolation.