'A Billion Wicked Thoughts' Is Only A Snapshot: Longitudinal studies are needed to reveal morphing porn tastes

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Longitudinal studies are needed to reveal morphing porn tastes

Ogi Ogas, Ph.D.
This post is a response to The Truth about 50 Shades of Grey and Futanari Porn by Ogi Ogas, Ph.D.

 
We'd like to begin our response to your above post by clarifying some points that you have misunderstood in our post.
 
1. You've completely missed the main concept of our post

As a consequence, most of what you've written has nothing to do with our primary point: Porn tastes that have morphed as the consequence of addiction-related brain changes tell us little about such users' fundamental sexual tastes. Unless research tracks the Internet porn tastes of individual users over years, it cannot possibly refute the point we made in our post. Yours did not.

Addiction-related brain changes occur over time. For example, most of the men whose self-reports we analyze are in their twenties and they have been using porn for 8-12 years.

The 3-month histories you analyzed could not have revealed the phenomenon our post addressed because short histories wouldn't be sufficient to pick up the kinds of changing tastes users are reporting. Therefore, those who rely on your analysis are not considering an important potential confound: escalation to new genres due to addiction-related brain changes. 

Just to clarify, we did not suggest that most men look at lots of different genres in a single session (although some do, as you point out). Our point is that many porn users' tastes no longer represent their fundamental sexual inclinations.

We don't doubt that when porn users open a lot of tabs during a session, those tabs are generally related to their fetish-du-jour. However, in our view you should be hesitant to conclude that porn tastes are therefore stable over time.

Incidentally, most all porn searches are a search for novelty. If this weren't so, users would continue to watch their carefully bookmarked/archived favorites. Many men report compiling massive porn collections...and never watching them because the lure of novelty is so strong. Heavy web-cam use is a perfect example of a novelty fix—although we would point out that the men are still interacting with screens, not people.

Keep in mind that when addiction takes hold of an Internet porn user there are two different ways to escalate: 1) viewing more of one's preferred genre and 2) viewing novel genres. Seeking (searching), novelty and surprise all release dopamine, quite apart from the dopamine released in response to  erotic themes.

2. You place too much faith in outdated research

You mention the abundant research supporting your conclusions that tastes are unchanging. Has any of it investigated highspeed Internet porn users? We track the research in this area and haven't seen anything current enough to be relevant, given that the Internet is proving addictive (for some users) in a way that porn of the past was not. (Relevant Internet addiction studies are collected here. Some include porn use.) More important, have you seen any research that follows Internet porn users' sexual tastes over time?

You are right that we endorse Norman Doidge MD's view that tolerance is playing a role in today's porn use. His clients' experience accords perfectly with self-reports from across the Web. It's tragic that researchers have been so overconfident of the concept that "sexual tastes are immutable (at least in men)" that they haven't yet uncovered the dynamic we and Doidge have observed.

However, if you'd like to undertake the necessary research, we'd be happy to refer you to forums across the Web in many countries where men are reporting this morphing-tastes phenomenon with alarming regularity. This research will, however, require questionnaires and analysis free of biased preconceptions.

In fact, reddit/nofap produced a member survey, which found that over 60% of its members' sexual tastes underwent significant escalation, through multiple porn genres.

Q: Did your tatstes in pornography change?

  • My tastes did not change significantly - 29%
  • My tastes became increasingly extreme or deviant and this caused me to feel shame or stress - 36%
  • My tastes became increasingly extreme or deviant and this did not cause me to feel shame or stress - 27%

3. Snapshots have serious limitations where supernormal stimulation is involved

Your discussion of women is merely another snapshot. Again, we're not writing about who seeks novelty within a session, or even within a short period. We are talking about an addiction process called tolerance, which occurs over time as the consequence of related brain changes.

The slippery slope of addiction-related tolerance is related to down-regulation of dopamine signaling in the brain and a search for more stimulation. It's not surprising that women also seek their fixes. Nor is surprising that they prefer a different mix of stimulation. Some have already reported that their porn use has desensitized them too.

Your snapshot model doesn't explain what many men describe: The inability to get off to one's current porn genre and the need to move to something unfamiliar to climax...rinse and repeat. Your book simply denies that it can happen—and yet it is happening. As far as we know, only the brain plasticity model explains this now familiar pattern.

You dismiss the concept of desensitization, but research has already shown that it occurs in Internet addicts. See Reduced Striatal Dopamine D2 Receptors in People With Internet Addiction and Reduced Striatal Dopamine Transporters in People with Internet Addiction Disorder Please see this post for other addiction-related brain changes found in Internet addicts: Recent Internet Addiction Brain Studies Include Porn.

4. You have mischaracterized our mindset

We were surprised to read your spin implying that our post was based on moralizing or calling any particular porn "deviant." That was Seltzer's word. Our point was that porn tastes, which are morphing due to an addiction process, are a symptom of a pathology—whether vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. After all, the nucleus accumbens registers neurochemical impact, not content.

We know it's fun to believe you are defending sexual freedom from 'evil moralizers,' but lest any readers be misled by your words, here's that section of our post:

Seltzer writes:

"One of the most helpful things that A Billion Wicked Thoughts accomplishes is normalizing many sexual preferences that to this point may have struck you (and maybe most people) as deviant. Obviously, the more widespread a predilection, the more difficult it is to simply dismiss it as “sick”—especially if there are psychological and biological causes that convincingly explain it."

What if some of these so-called 'deviant' tastes are solely due to addiction and tolerance (the need for stronger stimulation)? If enough people experience evidence of a pathology [escalation] it may become the norm, but it doesn't mean their behavior isn't "sick." [addiction-related]

Addiction epidemics have occurred before in humanity's history and they did not make the symptoms the addicts suffered "normal" in the sense of "free of pathology."

Not one word of our post was judging particular content. Only the symptom of tolerance was under discussion in this section.

Could you clarify what "moralistic ideas about addiction" might be? We often check our posts with leading addiction experts, and neither we nor they are motivated by a desire to moralize as far as we know.

You also say we lump all erotica together and say it "inevitably provokes a dangerous 'escalation to bizarre porn.'" This mischaracterizes what we've written in our post. The phrase 'escalation to bizarre porn' clearly referred to porn addicts, not all porn users. Escalation is a function of brain changes whether someone is overconsuming vanilla or fetish erotica.

Not all brains experience addiction-related brain changes, of course, and this should have been evident from our post. We do stand by our suggestion that for those slipping into addiction, escalation to bizarre porn is most likely a symptom of a pathology rather than an indication of underlying sexual tastes.

We do agree that, prior to highspeed, men's sexual tastes were more fixed than women's. We believe that the right research will reveal that Internet porn has weakened that assumption, at least where porn tastes are concerned.

Let's get to the bottom of the extreme symptoms users are now reporting

Your 'snapshot' research could not have revealed the phenomenon we're pointing to. However, it's also likely that it was not as widespread back in 2006 when you gathered your data. Only in the last five years have we been hearing self-reports of the severe symptoms we write about: sexual performance problems, morphing sexual tastes, uncharacteristic social anxiety, lack of attraction to 3-D potential mates, and so forth.

It appears that these symptoms are associated with duration of highspeed access and how early in life someone starts using it. We think it wise to warn those, like Seltzer, who rely on your analysis, that your analysis may be insufficient for today's porn users and their caregivers.

If we're right, then it behooves all of us to stop bickering about the fine points of research that is now six years out of date and did not address the possibility that tolerance might be at work, and start researching the truly alarming symptoms now being widely reported and their fundamental cause.

A good place to begin is with a thorough understanding of the implications of recent addiction neuroscience on the effects of today's increasingly potent delivery of cyber stimulation. The real issue here may have little to do with erotica and everything to do with novelty-at-a-click. Here's a user's own historical account of the remarkable dynamic of Internet porn. It just appeared today.

"Pornography" [was once] little more than Playboy, maybe some softcore stuff on cable access, but for the majority of boys the only way to get that excitement [was] to pause your VCR at JUST THE RIGHT TIME (remember that?? Holy sh*t!! Just thought of it while typing this). Pornography - after a very important Supreme Court ruling - [was] totally protected by the First Amendment, unless it [was]  rape or kiddie porn or something. Now, you have people who hate porn, but take the "I don't like what you say but I'll defend to the death your right to say it" mentality, seeing any attempt to infringe pornography as "Un-American"/regressive/repressive/reactionary. Hell, even feminists [begin] to say that porn can be empowering for women (and even the pornstars).

However, nobody thinks ahead to the mid to late 2000's, when Johnny and Lisa can access every disgusting fetish and -philia in High Definition in a nanosecond with high speed internet access (Oh man... remember waiting like 5 minutes for a single PICTURE to download in the late 90's??? Damn, writing this is taking me BACK!). Hell, today most MIDDLE SCHOOLERS can access every sick twisted fetish that has ever existed in seconds with a device that they can fit in their f-ing pocket.

A lot of "good" intentions gone wrong. Principles that exist in a vacuum don't always make sense in the real world, and technology changes things.