Pornography in China. Are you addicted?

In January, the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology published an article by Haifeng Hou et al. which found that internet addiction causes many of the same biological changes in the brain’s of internet addicts that are seen in the brains of those addicted to alcohol and drugs. The image on the left of the screen is an abnormal – i.e. addicted – brain.

The study was led by the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine and the trial subjects were male Chinese internet users. One of the primary drivers of internet addiction was found to be pornography. (For statistics on global porn use, see this Forbes article.)

China has been an early fighter against internet addiction (see Wired article on China’s internet addiction camps), but perhaps the leading crusader against internet pornography addiction is a man called Gary Wilson, “an anatomy and physiology teacher interested in the neurochemistry of mating and bonding, [who] is a co-author of Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships.”

In a recent Psychology Today article he quotes some statistics on internet addiction;

Although the questionnaire studies use somewhat different terminology (“addiction” “problematic Internet use” “maladaptive Internet use”), rates range from 8 percent to as high as 21 percent in young people. Moreover, in a study that reported addiction rates by gender, a quarterof the male university students tested were diagnosed as addicts—as compared with less than ten percent of female students.

He goes on to say that it’s hard to quantify the amount of internet time spent on pornography viewing, but that the human brain is not equipped to deal with internet pornography in a healthy way because of the way that it rewards the primordial novelty circuits of our subconscious reptilian brain:

Don’t let the fact that many use the Internet as a masturbation aid confuse you.  It is the characteristics that make Internet porn differentfrom sex—but very similar to videogaming or slot-machine gambling—which account for its ability to hook some users. These characteristics include novelty-at-a-click, effortless access, and constant violation of expectations via startling stimuli. All of these release the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward circuitry. Overconsumption can therefore dysregulate dopamine response in some brains, thus tampering with mood, confidence and ability to respond to pleasure.

The reason Mr. Wilson and others are raising the alarm is because the rewiring of the brain caused by internet porn may be tampering with males’ ability to mate with females in the real world, and, more generally, to be happy, functional members of society. These concerns are summarized in the excellent TED video be (TEDxGlasgow – Gary Wilson – The Great Porn Experiment). I urge you to check it out.

Is internet addiction one more way that globalization is making cultures less dissimilar (by proliferating diseases common to all)? For China specifically, will the Great Firewall will result in a lesser rates of pornography addiction on the Chinese mainland than elsewhere? If you were addicted to the internet, would you know? What about if you were addicted to internet pornography?

Speak out in the comments section.

Comments

  1. NEWSFLASH! says

    Wait… are you saying internet porn use rots our brains and damages our ability to have grown-up relationships with women??? Who knew???!

    (Sarcasm aside, the nuance in the second excerpt you quoted is quite interesting, re: masturbation.)

  2. Damjan Denoble says

    On some level research like this always has to get past the question, “Isn’t it obvious?”. In the case of internet pornography it’s been obvious for a long time that the amount of easily accessible pornography is having some sort of negative effect, but for the most part this intuition has been used as comedy foder and less as a basis of serious concern.

    Gary Wilson’s grouping of all the research on the subject into one presentation presents a very worrying picture. He succeeds in turning pornography from comedy foder into a policy and a societal issue. He does this by using hard data to crystallize many of our scariest societal intuitions.

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