BUT... let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Dude's been a neuro-surgeon for fourteen years.
Well... actually, before I get to the brain chemistry discussion, maybe it's important to talk about whether or not we should do coalition with anti-pornography or anti-prostitution activists who are in it for reasons of religious fundamentalism. That's a good question. I remember in 1986, when Reagon commissioned the Meese Report on pornography, this issue was really "up" for feminists.
During the Vietnam War we had some pretty strange bedfellows... so to speak. There were the Jehovah's Witnesses. They were conscientious objectors because they took literally the injunction to "love thy neighbor." Most of us anti-war activists embraced a wide range of liberation politics, including Women's Liberation. Obviously, this was not on the Jehovah Witness agenda. But they were part of the anti-war movement. They resisted the draft. Sometimes they got off, and sometimes they went to prison.
For me, anyone who is in the fight against child sexual abuse and who is telling the truth and researching pornography addiction is useful as an ally. It's important for me to be very specific in the "Venn diagram" of our overlapping and non-overlapping agendas. Usually these folks are virulently homophobic and anti-feminist.
Okay... that said, can we get back to the brain?
A lot of research has been done on addiction. It does affect the brain, and the brain changes occur whether or not the addiction is to a foreign substances like alcohol or cocaine, or to food or gambling.
Three things occur:
1) Cortical hypofrontality
2) Downgrading of the mesolimbic dopaminergic systems
3) Production of oxytocin and vasopressin associated with use of pornography
Let's take them one at a time:
The frontal lobes of an addict shrink, or atrophy as a result of addiction. This damage can mimic the results of frontal lobe damage from head trauma. What are these results? According to Dr. Hilton: "First, these patients are impulsive, in that they thoughtlessly engage in activities with little regard to the consequences. Second, they are compulsive; they become fixated or focused on certain objects or behaviors, and have to have them, no matter what. Third, they become emotionally labile, and have sudden and unpredictable mood swings. Fourth, they exhibit impaired judgment."
In other words, not good.
Downgrading of the mesolimbic dopaminergic systems:
Dopamine is a drug, related to adrenalin, that is produced in the brain. It's the drug that makes us move. It's a motivator. It's a crucial neurotransmitter in the reward/pleasure system of the brain. What happens in the brain of an addict is that this system becomes overused. The dopamine cells begin to atrophy. The dopamine receptors on the pleasure cells downgrade also. Craving sets in. The addict has to "up the dosage" of the addictive substance in order to achieve the same pleasure or "high." This is why the pornography addict gravitates toward more and more shockingly violent and bizarre imagery, including child pornography. And, of course 85% of men arrested for child porngraphy have histories of sexually abusing children.
Production of oxytocin and vasopressin associated with use of pornography:
Okay, now this is weird. The addict "falls in love" with the images of pornography. Remember, we are a species of ape whose evolutionary circuitry never took into account the possibility of visual sexual cues completely divorced from the presence of a potential partner. The erotic arousal from viewing the pornographic images triggers the "bonding" brain chemicals of oxytocin and vasopressin. The addict's relationship to the pornography is, biochemically, that of a person to a lover. Which is why so many partners of addicts experience the addiction as a form of sexual and emotional infidelity. Because that is exactly what it is.
At this point, our right-wingnut neurosurgeon veers into apocalyptic prophesy of global annihilation due to falling birthrates from "porn impotence" (which is a real thing) which he attributes to the sexual revolution of the 1960's. In fact, falling birthrates in the West are a direct result of public accessibility of birth control, and specifically the empowerment of women in terms of controlling pregnancy. He's not that specific, but I suspect that his panic may have something to do with racial concerns... you know, fewer of "us" and more of "them."
But... back to the science... It does not matter to the brain that the drugs are exogenous or endogenous... an outside job or an inside job. The effect, in terms of neurophysiology and addiction, is the same. By far, my concerns and focus are on the women and children who are used in pornography... but it is important to incorporate all the harms... and, sadly, the percentage of women addicted to pornography continues to rise with the increasing ease of access from the Internet.
And so ends Day Two of my 5-Day Blog-off with Deb Randall! Please let me know how I'm doing!