"With advent of the computer, the delivery system for this addictive stimulus has become nearly resistance-free. It is as though we have devised a form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before, usable in the privacy of one's own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes. It's now available in unlimited supply via a self-replicating distribution network, glorified as art and protected by the Constitution"
- Jeffrey Satinover, MS, MD -
Invited Testimony before the United States Senate, Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, on "The brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction and the Effects of Addiction of Families and Communities" November 18, 2004
Without a doubt the most eloquent statement I have yet to come across on the reality of addiction, is the brief statement presented by Dr Jeffrey Satinover of Princeton University on the Senate Subcommittee addressing "the brain science behind pornography addiction..." Without permission I take the liberty of quoting his opening statement:
"It has always seemed self-evident that pornography is nothing more than a form of "expression". Its putative merits, lack thereof, or evils always therefore have been debated in terms appropriate to "expression", and our laws reflect as much. We argue over the "morality" of pornographic literature; its nature as "high" or "low" art; whether it has any "redeeming value". References to "works" of pornographic "literature" and "acts" of pornographic "dance" are enshrined at the highest levels of American constitutional jurisprudence - the words in quotation marks making it clear that the understanding of pornography as expression is foundational and unquestioned. Senator, distinguished members, I respectfully submit to this committee that modern science allows us to see that this is an illusion: Pornography is mere "expression" only in the trivial sense that a fall from the Empire State building is a mere stumble - since it's hitting the ground that's fatal. Or, that cigarettes don't cause cancer, it's the burning smoke that's the problem." November 18, 2004. The entirety of Dr Satinover's address can be found at http://commerce.senate.gov.
In one of my favorite movies The Insider, Russell Crowe portrays the real-life corporate whistle-blower Jeffrey Wiegand who blew the lid off of the tobacco industry in the United States in their public denial of the dangers and addiction of cigarette smoking. Weigand referred to cigarettes as being the "delivery system" for the ingestion of not just the tobacco but the myriad toxic and often unidentifiable substances they are laced with. This it was claimed, shielded the tobacco giants who testified under oath before congress, from actually lying when they said that CIGARETTES were not addictive, since they were merely the "delivery system" and by default, a delivery system cannot be addictive much like a needle as Satinover points out in his address, is not addictive. A needle is a needle. The HEROIN is what is addictive. So let us if only for a moment or two, stop all of the political meandering and stick with the actual SCIENCE. Let us take a look at the neuroscience of pornography so that we can see it for what it really is - and what it really does...
Heroin is addictive. Cocaine is addictive. Gambling is addictive. Alcohol is addictive. Which is not to say that everyone and anyone who drinks the Koo-lade is going to become addicted. But what it does mean is that anyone, not just those with a genetic or biological predisposition for it, will, under the right circumstances and with repeated exposure over time, develop an addiction. In the spirit (not to mention the science) of these known substances and processes, so too is pornography addictive. Period. That it may also be "art" or something "redeemable" or "protected by the Constitution" is totally and completely irrelevant to the science behind it, and does not change these facts one itty bitty smidgen of an iota. In fact, the very reason it is such a hot topic is BECAUSE it produces the neurochemicals that cause so much pleasure and anything that can produce that much pleasure will be worth fighting for if someone comes along and tries to take it away. Neurochemicals?
Be it sex, drugs, gambling, or cybersex, all of it hits the pleasure center of the brain lighting up the reward pathway like a pinball machine on steroids. Especially that last one. And it does so faster than you can spell it. In fact, nothing delivers such pleasure so fast and with such intensity. If you do it long enough, it will hurt like hell when you stop. You have built up a nice tolerance and your brains pleasure center will not tolerate you no longer slamming it with repeated hit after hit after hit. In actuality, it is not the heroine or even the flashy images that are addictive. Remember, these are the mere tools - the delivery system that enables those areas of the brain to ignite and explode like the fourth of July. We call it the "pleasure center" of your brain because when fed, these areas and these areas predominantly will come alive, and only certain kinds of highly pleasurable things will make this happen. Why is that?
Certain drugs or processes (like sex or gambling) produce certain neurochemicals and specific neurochemicals are made to travel to specific parts of the brain. It is like a key and locking system. These brain chemicals are only produced when certain things occur and when they are produced they are like keys that only fit the lock that they were meant to open. Neurotransmitters are specific messenger chemicals and neuropeptides are specific neurotransmitters. These messenger chemicals produced in your brain are produced in order to do something - to send a message from one area of your brain to another. When you open your eyes, "sensory neurotransmitters" send messages to the occipital lobe of your brain that say "eyes are open, begin seeing". We do not see just because our eyes are open. Your camera does not take a snapshot just because the shutter is open. You have to actually power it on and click the button. Similarly, when your eyes are open and you look at something, immediately a host of infra-rays shoot from your open eyes to the object your eyes have focused on, and back to your eyes where it relays a message to the sensory neurotransmitter which then speeds its way to the part of your brain responsible for vision (that would be the occipital lobe) and says "eyes are opening she is seeing something". Same thing happens with sex, only different kinds of neurotransmitters are used and they go to different parts of the brain. And the same thing happens with things that our brain has ASSOCIATED with sex.
When you actually have sex, certain chemicals are produced, like dopamine and vasopressin and oxytocin and others (s.f. prior posts in this blog). These are intensely powerful neurochemicals that shoot directly to the reward center of your brain, especially dopamine which is what sex is REALLY all about. As I mention over and over again, it is not sex that a sex addict is addicted to, it is dopamine. Dopamine is brain candy. Or Cheez-its. Dopamine makes you want to have more dopamine. Pure and simple. Like Pavlovs dog, we are are easily conditioned to actually feel pleasurable to things that are associated with pleasure, even if we don't eat it or touch it. I was walking across the street the other day minding my own business when something caught my eye. I looked down in the street to see a lone half-bitten moldy cheese doodle hanging out by the curb. Must have been there for a week (rats must be awfully discriminating around here - I'm thinking Ratatouille). Even so, I was pretty much done for the day. No matter how much I may have tried (and try I did) I knew it was just a matter of time before I was going to be scrubbing the orange off those little fingers (and no, could we have just a little respect, I did not pick it up from the curb).
Images of sex are associated with sex. As the kids would say, duh! Looking at sex makes us want to have it. Because we associate images of sex with actual sex, our brain begins to produce the same exact neurochemicals from the mere IMAGE or THOUGHT of sex as when we are actually engaging in sex. Think dopamine for one. Recent cutting edge research has demonstrated that our brain cannot distinguish the fake from the actual. You may be able to tell the cubic zirconia from the real deal, but trust me here, it is only because you have taught your brain to begin the cognitive process of thinking or wondering about the reality of the gemstone. To your brain, it simply goes "diamond". The minute our eyes look at something that we have associated with sex, we are off to the races. We cannot unring that bell. We cannot take it back. See the previous post on euphoric recall and you will learn about how our brain reacts not just to pictures, but we don't even need pictures, we can simple THINK ABOUT the pictures without even opening our eyes, and we are producing the neurochemicals that will make us want to have sex. Many people can resist the urge to engage, and move on. Sex addicts cannot resist the urge and just like the alcoholic, they are unable to move on. They have literally become stuck in the web.
In the same senate subcommittee hearing, Dr Judith Reisman stated that "Thanks to the latest advances in neuroscience, we now know that emotionally arousing images imprint and alter the brain, triggering an instant, involuntary, but lasting, biochemical memory trail." She goes on to state "Brain scientists tell us that in 3/10 of a second a visual image passes from the eye through the brain, and whether or not one wants to, the brain is structurally changed and memories are created - we literally 'grow new brain' with each visual experience". So you can say "art" all you want. May very well be so. Go ahead, have at it. But if you have a sexually addicted brain, you are eating a really nasty apple from the intensely poisonous tree.