The consequences discussed in the previous two posts pale in comparison to the consequences of heavy interaction with pornography.
Based on my review of the research, I strongly believe use of porn — more so than any other digital interaction — is the largest source of repeated cognitive overstimulation and desensitization to stimulation for most people. As a result I believe it explains the increase in states of apathy, ADHD, and depression today that is otherwise hard to explain. Because men heavily use pornography more frequently than women, this also explains why men have comparatively higher rates of these symptoms than women. And it is possible that the acute overstimulation and large resulting magnitude of desensitization to stimulation may explain the higher suicide rate for men as opposed to women. With the level of desensitization that the vast majority of guys experience from repeated, acute overstimulation from consuming large amounts of porn in single sittings, many are simply unable to derive sufficient stimulation from life to maintain enthusiasm with existence.
Interaction with today’s TV shows, movies, and video games results in more cognitive stimulation than those of the past. There’s no confusion there. But interaction with pornography today results in a super amount of stimulation. The stimulation delivered from other forms of media mentioned pales in comparison to the stimulation that can be delivered by pornography. Thus the degree of reduced receptivity to stimulation, or excitement, or reward, and the resulting mental health consequences from that reduced receptivity, is far more with porn. For most people, I believe porn is THE greatest driver of desensitization and resulting depression from not deriving enough stimulation from normal life. It is THE greatest driver of ADHD: where we constantly seek more stimulation to maintain engagement with a less stimulating life.
Having intensely reviewed the topic of mental health issues, it is really clear to me and undeniable that interaction with porn is the most powerful underlying cause of many mental health issues, particularly depression and ADHD. I dig into why it can be more stimulating than sex, and how porn can also contribute to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, in my book.
But quickly, I’ll share how pornography results in overstimulation.
When people are watching porn, they are often guzzling novel sexual stimulation: watching multiple videos in one sitting. This results in an incredible amount of stimulation, enabling an artificially heightened rate of masturbation and ejaculation. This leads to an artificially heightened depletion of sexual energy. We may feel more drained and more apathetic. Furthermore, the supernormal mental stimulation from heavy exposure to novel visual sexual stimulation from porn may lead to reduction in sensitivity to mental stimulation and a worn down reward system.
It’s difficult to measure, but around 80% of young adult men are consuming porn frequently and around 30% of young adult females are, and I believe those numbers are understated from response bias. Many of these people feel like they are addicted, unable to change their behavior despite recognizing its bad for them. Addiction would be explained by the addictive loop from desensitization mentioned in the previous post: porn makes us less stimulated by normal life, making us more in need of blasts of stimulation from porn.
I now want to talk about the study that motivated my entire exploration into this topic. The name of the paper is Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption.
In July 2014 this paper from the Max Planck Institute (published in the prestigious journal JAMA), reported increased use of pornography was associated with reduced grey matter volumes in the mind. Grey matter volumes are responsible for sensitivity to stimulation, receptivity to reward. More volumes result in more sensitivity, less volumes result in less sensitivity and thus more symptoms of depression and ADHD. With porn, people are repeatedly exposing themselves to periods of very acute overstimulation, resulting in heavily reduced receptivity to stimulation and reward.
The association found between more porn use and less grey matter may be explained by genetics: people with less grey matter may be less stimulated normally and are more hungry for blasts of stimulation from porn. But I think the correlation suggests there is something causal — in that more or less overstimulation can reduce or improve receptivity to stimulation.
Since this study found more pornography to be associated with less grey matter volumes, this study found more overstimulation was associated with less receptivity to stimulation. The other way too: less overstimulation was associated with more receptivity. This can come from using porn less and engaging in low stimulation solitude. With more receptivity, we find greater stimulation in the real world (less depression), and less need for distractions to provide more stimulation (less ADHD). We improve our cognitive state.
The problem is that, with porn, TV shows, movies, video games, and constant loud EDM, young adults are repeatedly, acutely cognitively bombarding themselves with overstimulation, wearing down their receptivity to stimulation, to pleasure. They are unable to engage in the activities needed to restore sensitivity to stimulation — engaging in low stimulation existence through focused meditation or even just digitally-unaided solitude — because the reduction in sensitivity to stimulation from all the overstimulation makes those periods of low stimulation experience too painful to endure.
Instead of going to the bathroom and decompressing, people walk to the bathroom while unnecessarily texting or listening to music. Instead of eating lunch and taking a moment to just exist, we recoil, because to just exist without any additional artificial stimulation means that we are so far away from the baseline level of stimulation that we are used to and expect. Without desensitization to stimulation, we would be fine with that low level of stimulation. But we continually shoot past the pleasure ceiling, and as a result our sensitivity to stimulation is reduced, heightening the baseline level of stimulation that we must get from normal life to maintain engagement with it. We need more stimulation to receive the same amount of pleasure from life as before. So we turn to our devices for constant distraction and stimulation, preventing us from focusing.
In addition to withdrawing from pornography, increased meditation is associated with more grey matter volumes. In meditation, people are exposing themselves to periods of low levels of stimulation, which may improve receptivity, and in turn combat symptoms of depression and ADHD. It is possible that naturally having more grey matter volumes enables people to meditate more easily: having more receptivity from the increased grey matter volumes, they can more easily sustain less stimulation. But it is also likely that cutting ourselves off from unnecessary stimulation can improve our receptivity.
I think the negative consequences of our relationships with digital media (particularly social media and especially pornography), and the importance of reshaping those relationships are terribly undervalued.
In trying to spread awareness about mental health issues, awareness should be spread about these underlying causes of mental health issues that I have mentioned. Addressing these underlying causes will help people better tackle their mental health issues. Understanding interaction with social media, and understanding sensitivity to stimulation and how interaction with porn impacts sensitivity to stimulation, can lead to people first recognizing those underlying problems, and then taking more action addressing those underlying problems, beneath the symptoms.
In my book, I pursued these topics in more depth and provide recommendations for changing one’s behavior to most effectively negate the negative consequences.
If people can understand and improve their use of new forms of digital media (particularly social media and pornography, and perhaps artificial stimulation across the board), lives may be improved.
They can become more.
Torches, burning with life.