By Graham Ormiston
The first time I can remember seeing a pornographic image is etched into my memory. About ten years old, I was stood open-mouthed staring at page three of a newspaper that my best friend had pinched from the corner shop. It showed a twenty-something woman loitering on a bed with malicious intent; her naked form juxtaposed with an unlikely quote about the politics of the day. I was transfixed. My friend, a freckled Just-William style criminal of a ten-year-old, was next to me nonchalantly munching on a Mars bar (also stolen) and smirking at my sheltered, childish reaction.
Fast-forward twenty-five years (sigh) and the days of eagerly catching a peek of a boob or two in your mate’s newspaper might seem laughable. Today’s kids are subjected to far more gratuitous images—often at a much younger age—that will be vibrant in their still-forming minds for who knows how long. The ninety-seven billion dollar a year pornography industry has become more acceptable than ever, no longer a taboo industry resigned to seedy shops.
We live in a world where some people are paid to scan videos posted on platforms like Facebook and Youtube to check whether their AI algorithms are accurately blocking pornographic or violent images. Can you imagine if your job involved watching hardcore nudity, child pornography, and decapitation on a daily basis? Is this a Brave New World? Humanity is broken, and the internet is a dark mirror that can serve to reveal this.
We are slowly waking up to the damaging effects of super-stimulating pornography, including real-world, physical problems such as impotence, erectile dysfunction and a marked increase in sexual violence and abuse in relationships. Sexual activity releases dopamine, like eating food does, but more profoundly. But, unlike eating, porn users can consume for hours with continuously elevated dopamine levels. This results in our brains being rewired by this bombardment of sexual activity.
Perhaps it seems prudish to talk about putting limitations on our sexual experiences in this day and age. What does it matter what we do if it’s in private, behind closed doors? But even the famous sex-maniac John Mayer lamented on the effects of pornography:
Because of all the porn I’ve watched, I’m now enamoured with what I call ‘the third kind.’ It’s not male, it’s not female. It’s a new creation by way of the hundreds of (porn) films I’ve seen.
Another multi-billion dollar industry that made an impression on my ten-year-old self was the computer games industry. Intense immersion, role-playing, exploring other worlds—it was pure, stimulating adventure. My young self soon discovered the dopamine-inducing combination of computer games and sexually graphic images when playing Duke Nukem 3D, an alien shoot-em-up with a secret strip-club level where the pixelated dancers sometimes take their clothes off (if you knew the correct key combination of course).
We’ve been throwing money at these two industries for so long—and now the two are colliding. We should be very cautious. The future doesn’t always need to be doom and gloom, but combining pornography and hyper-realistic gaming can only lead to trouble. It’s been prophesied in films; most recently in Blade Runner: 2049, where we saw a lonely man falling for a beautiful virtual woman. The cliched, slow-motion about-to-kiss-in-the-rain scene is rudely interrupted by the woman ‘freezing’ for an incoming phone call from his boss. How romantic is that? Even with the ‘perfect’ companion, the man is left miserable and unsatisfied (like some die-hard fans of the original Blade Runner film after seeing the much-hyped sequel).
If you’re thinking it all seems a bit Sci-Fi, the company VirtualRealPorn has been producing VR adult films for five years already. This isn't just cartoons, anime or computer graphics (though computer-generated models run their own Instagram accounts right now). We’re talking about three-sixty-degree and three-dimensional immersive films of real porn stars—closer and more intimate than we could ever have imagined. Combine this with the ‘Internet of Things’ (connecting everyday devices to the internet), and we have digital sex toys that can connect to hyper-realistic visual experiences.
When we begin to reach the point where virtual sex may soon be considered to be better than the real thing, you have to ask the question: is physical connection with another human worth all the effort, the difference of opinions, the arguments, just to eventually reach a potentially despondent malaise of routine with no option out?
At the heart of it, you might be justified in thinking that the problem with pornography is lust. After all, the more you feed desire the larger an appetite it commands. However, I would argue that lust isn't the root issue here: I believe it’s selfishness. We want pleasure, without hard work. We want sex, but without the mess of a relationship, without the effort of conversation. We want it now. We're forgetting how to wait, and we hate to hear ‘no’.
There must be something more than manufactured sexual activity that is scientifically designed to take your money. Pornography may give us a dopamine hit, but it will never truly satisfy in a lasting way. It will leave us dried up, lonely and ashamed; alienated from those we once cared about; unable to look at even our closest family members in the same light as our brains become wired to view the world and each other through a damaged lens.
Porn addiction leads to an inability to see the opposite sex in our lives for their true value, and people begin to view sexual attractiveness as something to achieve at all costs, evidenced by the fact that people are dying through invasive plastic surgery and liposuction treatments. Relationships are being torn apart by the desensitising effects of porn. We were made for more than this inauthentic reality.
As the organisation Fight the New Drug succinctly puts it: ‘Porn Kills Love’. Sex is like fire. When safely contained it provides pleasure, comfort, warmth and life. When it spreads out of its bounds it can be a devastating force, destroying entire homes.
Real sex is an incredible union of two people for life. That is how God has designed it: as a couple grows older together, their standard of beauty is always their other half. Sex serves to unify the relationship, a glue that reinforces their commitment to each other in a safe space. Porn can never stand up to the beauty of this reality.
Our dissatisfaction with real sex—something so intrinsically beautiful in its nature—points us to a deeper problem. Our hearts are restless and this restlessness manifests itself in an incessant searching for new realms of possibility in our most basic pleasures. The fact that this itch clearly cannot be scratched by our technological advances or sexual experimentation perhaps suggests that this cannot be the life we were made to live. The question is, will we settle with the bleak conclusion that the future of humanity lies in our hands and ours alone? Or is there a possibility, buried within the distorted rubble of yet another disembodied sexual experience, that maybe we need saving from all of this?
If you’re interested in reading more on the subject, I’d highly recommend checking out Your brain on Porn, Fight the New Drug, and Fortify to be informed of the real dangers of this modern addiction, and for practical steps on how to overcome.
Alternatively, you might be wondering why so many Salt articles are about sex. If that’s you, come along to our Salt Live event on April 30th near Waterloo Station, cannily titled ‘Why are Christians so weird about sex?’.