published Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Baumgardner: Pornography rewires boys' brains, research says

By Julie Baumgardner

Invited to speak at a Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference, Dr. Phil Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford University, discussed the demise of guys, stating that boys are flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women.

At another TED conference, in response to Zimbardo's talk, Dr. Gary Wilson, who has spent more than a decade pouring over research concerning the neuroscience of reward, sex and bonding, presented an explanation for why guys are flaming out and what we can do about it.

According to Wilson, most boys seek porn by age 10, when they are driven by a brain that is suddenly fascinated by sex. Thanks to high-speed Internet, a boy has access to unending novelty. With each new image, his brain releases dopamine. As long as a guy can keep clicking, he will keep going.

Eventually his brain wires itself to everything associated with porn such as: Being alone, constant clicking, voyeurism, shock and surprise. This conflicts with learning about real sex, which involves interaction with a real person, courtship, commitment, touching, being touched and emotional connection.

In 2009, a Canadian researcher attempting to conduct research on the impact of porn could not find any college males who weren't using porn and therefore had no control group for his research. He asked 20 male students who had been using porn for at least a decade if they thought porn was affecting them or their relationships with women. All said they didn't think so. However, many of these males were dealing with social anxiety, performance anxiety, depression and concentration problems.

"Of all the activities on the Internet, porn has the most potential to be addictive," said Wilson. "Everything in the porn user's life is boring except porn."

Interestingly, there are thousands of men, young and old, who are giving up porn because it is killing their sexual performance.

A guy in his 20s told Wilson: "I have been to psychologists and psychiatrists off and on for the last eight years. I was diagnosed with depression, social anxiety, severe memory impairment, tried numerous medications, dropped out of college twice, have been fired twice, used pot to calm my nerves, and have been approached by women, but they quickly left because of my weirdness.

"I have been a hard-core porn addict since age 14. I stopped porn completely two months ago. It has been hard. I have quit all of the medication I was taking. My anxiety is nonexistent. ... My memory and focus are sharper than they have ever been, and my erectile dysfunction is gone. I feel like I have been given a second chance at life."

Wilson said "widespread youthful erectile dysfunction has never been seen before. This is the only symptom that gets their attention."

High speed Internet has taken porn to a new level, and it is messing with our children. As a result of watching porn, boys' brains are being digitally rewired into a never-ending desire for change, constant arousal, novelty and excitement. This creates real issues when it comes to romantic relationships that grow gradually and subtly.

Do your children know what healthy relationships look like? Have they been taught about the perils of the Internet? Are you paying attention to their computer use? It's time to take back our boys. Their health and future relationships are hanging in the balance.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org

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