Which is better porn or real sex

Jerking off or fucking - neither is possible

Photo: Megan Koester

Not so long ago, all young, devoted masturbators could still masturbate to complete exhaustion with absolutely no worries. Now, however, an awareness of a problem is slowly emerging that should have been obvious to anyone whose blood was not pumped away from their brains. Namely, that at some point it could be difficult to get aroused by a real, naked, breathing person who wants to have normal sex with you when you watch tons of videos full of limitless depravity. If it seems normal to you for someone to stick their big toe in someone's asshole, at some point making out can seem boring to you.

One of the people who started talking about this topic is Gary Wilson. His website, yourbrainonporn.com, is one of the first to look at what porn films do to consumers. Now he has summarized his findings in a book: Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.

I spoke to Gary about his new book and the porn addiction problem that affects millions of young masturbators around the world.

VICE: The main point of your book is that you can either watch porn or have sex. Both are not possible. Am I correct?
Gary Wilson: Of course, both are possible. But for some men it is difficult to reconcile one with the other. Because of internet porn, some men not only suffer from erectile dysfunction, but also show other symptoms such as inability to climax, delayed ejaculation, decreased libido with real partners, decreased interest in real partners. Often their sexual preferences, at least when it comes to porn, have also developed in a direction that they themselves find strange and questionable.

Can you watch some porn and still have a healthy love life? Is there a point up to which it's safe?
Pornography always affects you in some way. How much is difficult to say. We have had cases of men who were totally addicted and whose addiction profoundly affected their love life. It took you over a year without porn to get a real erection with a real partner. It is extreme. On the other hand, we also see men with boyfriends who watch porn movies several times a week. But the crux of the matter is: you will never know how big the impact is if you don't change the variables. So, for example, these guys take a bet and say, "Ok, I'll stop watching porn." And suddenly they find that their quality of life is improving. Real sex is suddenly much more arousing. Your wife or girlfriend suddenly looks much more attractive. They didn't think the porn was affecting their life in any way, but once they stop they realize it was. The effects of pornography are far-reaching.

Pornography has existed in various forms for generations. What caused the rise in erectile dysfunction (ED) cases? Is it just the ever-increasing bandwidths?
There has definitely been a surge in the past few years, and it was certainly caused by the Internet's delivery system. Second, today's adolescents have unrestricted access to hardcore video via streaming. But the fundamental question is why is the Internet so attractive? Just think of Facebook. There are studies that show that Facebook leads to addiction. It can cause changes in the brain that mirror changes in the brain of drug addicts. There are even 70 studies on the brain and the Internet that show this. The internet can increase the levels of arousal and dopamine in our brain. Dopamine powers the reward center in our brain and the internet is unique in this regard. Clicking on new pictures and words, sending messages, receiving messages becomes a novelty that increases the dopamine level in the reward system. The same thing happens with surprise, shock and fear. If you combine that with sexual stimuli, the greatest possible form of arousal, and then present a teenager with hardcore porn internet sites, they'll be able to keep their brain levels of arousal and dopamine consistently high. One can get the brain used to using these stimuli in order to be sexually aroused. If you keep watching these videos with real people having so-called real sex, it will completely replace your imagination at some point. You don't imagine anything anymore. You become a voyeur who just watches the action instead of having a picture and imagining the action yourself.

In your book you point out differences between younger and older generations, which make it clear that younger people are far more exposed to pornography than those who grew up with pornographic magazines. Is this a general rule or is there an overlap?
If you look at the studies, you get a completely different picture. Young people between 14 and 25 years of age watch significantly more porn than adults and of course the frequency decreases with increasing age. A recent UK survey showed that a large majority believe that porn use has a negative impact. Their opinion is based on their own experience as, say, 18-year-olds adolescents who are now seeing the impact porn has on their lives.

How would you answer the sexologists who disagree that porn use can cause ED?
You are just wrong. Well-known urologists have already started writing articles on the subject. There are also two neurology degrees from Cambridge University and one from the Max Planck Institute. The Cambridge studies found that drug addicts had the same changes in the brain, and that 60 percent of study participants had ED and loss of libido. The German study linked the weekly porn consumption in hours and the porn consumption over years with the structures in the reward center. They found a link that suggests that people who watch porn have less gray matter. Those who consumed porn regularly for years also showed less activity in the reward center. The scientists concluded that heavy porn use was linked to gray matter decrease and sexual arousal. And these were study participants who were not dependent. Many sexologists claim that porn "addiction" (they don't call it addiction) is caused, and is born with, a high libido. But the studies refute that, showing that those who consume porn excessively have decreased libido, which in turn causes problems like ED. So the results refute claims made by sexologists.

You write that we need more education on "sexual conditioning and addiction to pornography". Will education really stop people from watching porn?
Of course not. But it just happens that a lot of the men who showed up on the internet forums at one point weren't even aware that porn use can cause all of the problems they've developed, like severe ED. For this young generation, porn consumption and masturbation are synonymous. They read articles that say masturbating is healthy, so they believe that porn use is healthy. You're not making a connection. Education would be helpful here. In addition, sexologists fail to make a connection between pornography and adolescent brains, which are rewired for reproduction. Much larger dopamine surges occur in the very plastic brain of an adolescent, so this brain seeks thrills and new impressions that trigger these surges.

They propose a "system restart" through abstinence from porn. How effective is it? How hard is it to treat porn addiction?
The so-called restart means switching off all sexual stimuli. There are various reasons for this, for example ED or a weakened libido. Some men do it for other reasons too. You notice that friends on the forums who have quit are much more motivated, confident, and focused. Your perception changes after the "restart". Men between 40 and 50 with functional sexual disorders who grew up with porn magazines suddenly develop ED when they move their porn use to the internet. Younger men often need significantly longer for such a restart. Older men feel better after eight to twelve weeks. Some of the younger ones, between 20 and 24, take up to two years. They are currently at the peak of their physical performance, they have the highest testosterone level and still need longer. This is due to the fact that as teenagers, when their brain was incredibly plastic, they consumed a lot of pornography.

Do the problems also affect women?
Men typically consume significantly more pornography than women. If we look at the usernames in forums like NoFap, it is noticeable that women are often simply no longer aroused by their partners. They need porn to climax, they don't get wet, they are addicted. So women have similar problems. The only difference is that men have a yardstick, in the truest sense of the word. Women don't have a barometer. As a result, they often do not associate their problems with porn use.

What is our knowledge of the effects of porn use on the brain?
There's a huge gap, even a degree of suspicion, when it comes to figuring out how addiction to pornography affects our brains. Thanks to the work of numerous neuroscientists, addiction is the best studied mental illness. It has been induced in animals over the past 30 years in order to study changes in the brain on a molecular and genetic level. The results were then compared to the different forms of dependence in humans. So there are a lot of solid results. On the other hand, we are dealing with sexologists who do not examine the mechanisms in our brain, but instead, as sociologists, have questionnaires completed. They want to avoid being found addicted to pornography because they fear that once porn use is labeled harmful, sex will generally be labeled negative. But they don't want sexuality to be associated with shame in any way. Which is quite understandable, but they overlook the fact that sex no longer takes place in real life because of the consumption of porn, but only on the screen.

What do you think of websites that only contain “good pornography” and filter out “bad”?
This is a really worrying trend. An attempt is made to teach people the difference between "good" and "bad" pornography. As if there was such a thing. This idea is brought up by websites such as makelovenotporn.com, which is fine. Except that you have to pay for it and no young person will ever pay for pornography. Also, a 15 year old is assumed to say, "Oh, I was told there was good pornography on this site, so I'll stay on this site." And that's just ridiculous. Yeah, that's like sending a 15 year old to the supermarket and telling him. “Buy whatever you want, as long as it's healthy.” He doesn't go out and buy broccoli. Instead, he'll click on the most disgusting and weird stuff because that's how teenagers do it. So it just won't work. In addition, the question arises, what is “bad” pornography? BDSM, submission, anal sex? There is no answer to this question. Nor does it touch on the fundamental problem, namely that young men and women couple their sexual arousal to high-speed internet, clicks and constant news. It is actually the preparation and delivery that makes the difference these days.

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