By Rick McKain, MAC, LPC
One of the men in the group a couple weeks ago asked what I considered an excellent question as we discussed the Unit on Cybersex that night. I made a comment about early exposure to pornography being traumatic.
His question was, “Why do you consider early exposure to pornography traumatic?” That is the question.
I have always considered early exposure to porn as traumatic pretty much since I’ve been doing the BBR group [and all the other group names from the past] 15 years. I probably need to define my terms and then explain why I believe what I believe. Before I do this, it should be noted that whole books have been written on what is actually considered porn and what isn’t. Also the same could be said about trauma – again the area of trauma is a whole specialty in the clinical psychology realm. So I will not take a huge amount of time to define these two things – “porn” and “trauma” as I will be brief.
When I think of “porn” which I’m using as short for pornography throughout this article, I’d like to acknowledge that it has changed over the years. When I saw what I considered porn in about 1965 – it may not be considered porn by today’s viewers. It was a centerfold of a “Playboy” magazine. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that. The closest thing to that in my experience was the Sears or J.C. Penney catalogue but they had clothes on. By todays standards [and I use the word standards loosely] that would have been considered “soft porn” at best.
So porn to me is anything visual that is sexual arousing to me. It can be something I see as spontaneous, or something I seek out and view that sexually excite me. Some sort of visual image that increases my arousal and may be used to lust after and to take action toward. It is still in the category of porn for me if I view it only and don’t take any other action regarding it.[/vc_column_text][divider line_type=”No Line” custom_height=”20″][vc_column_text]What do I mean by trauma? The terms trauma and abuse are often used in conjunction with one another. Abuse is something that happens to me – something I experience. For instance, if a person beats me – that is abuse. What I may experience as a result of that beating is trauma. In the case of physical abuse the trauma is often experienced in a traumatic way, and most often has lingering effects. If someone was beaten as a child, then later in life if someone hits them or is aggressive toward them, the damage done from the original beating will revisit the experience and they may be re-traumatized. In popular Christian writing today, many authors use the term woundedness to describe the more clinical term abuse. The trauma is the result of having experienced or endured the abuse or wounds from another.
So the term trauma the way I understand it – is the result of anything we experience, visually, experientially, or physically that has a potent and lasting effect on our perceptions and ability to function personally and in relationship.
I asked three different counselors at MARR if they considered early exposure to pornography traumatic. Doug Brush, Paul Feuerzeig, and Dave Devitt all said yes they do. Doug said early exposure to porn begins a fantasy process among boys that isn’t real. This process is carried into adulthood, as well as the process of objectifying women. These early experiences continue the fantasy life of unreal images and objectification that gets carried into relationships and negatively affects intimacy throughout their life.
Paul Feuerzeig said early exposure to porn first impacts and affects the arousal template – which is set from about age 6 – 10 years old. It will impact what arouses an individual, and then it will take extreme stuff to arouse that impacted person. Therefore the typical and healthy progression is gone. The effects on future relationships are ongoing.
Paul continued by saying this early exposure to porn often leads to an extreme sense of sexual insecurity, both in observing and comparing the physical of what is viewed on the monitor with the person’s own physical characteristics – leaving the person with a “less than” self-perception. Additionally, there is an insecurity of performance anxiety – so the person is left with the feeling of “less than” regarding his personal self-expectation. The young viewer of porn is left with the transition of wrongfully equating sex with intimacy.
Dave Devitt said pornography trauma is, “too soon too much too often.” Pornography seems to assail the God-given structure of the human arousal template. The pornography may compromise the arousal template. Continuing to view porn or frequent viewing of porn, especially in young viewers, exacerbates the sensitivity and the response demand of the neuronal network. The brain becomes blunted and almost oblivious to reality – and only responds to unreality. This demonstrates the progressive nature of the brain demanding more and more stimulation just to function normally.
All three of these counselors have answered this question from their perspective and their own personal work with many men over the years who have no doubt been traumatized by pornography. I agree with their conclusions and appreciate their willingness to share their views. It is interesting to me that each counselor believes that early exposure to porn is traumatic.
Part of the problem that men have trying to understand that early exposure to porn is traumatic is because young boys and young teens don’t remember their first porn experience as a negative, bad, or “traumatic” experience. Every man I’ve talked to who reflects on his first viewing of porn remembers it as a memorable or pleasurable experience. For them trauma and pleasure aren’t synonymous. For them pleasure = feel good, and trauma = feel bad. And since they did not feel bad while viewing porn, they conclude how could that be a traumatic or bad experience?
Let’s say a 10 year old boy views porn on the Internet. He may have a number of reactions to it. But let’s say he is intrigued, fascinated, and aroused by it. After the experience is over he may have many conclusions. He may conclude that he wants to view more of that kind of stuff. He may be confused. He may think that he will return to view more at a later time. In this example, none of his conclusions are negative or experienced as traumatic to him. But the impact in his life, and the impact on his life, and the many unforeseen consequences are the traumatic part. His perception of how women behave, what they are on earth for, how he is to relate to them, what they are interested in, and what arouses him, have been drastically altered – after viewing the porn. He cannot go back and un-see what he has seen. Some damage has been done, and more viewing of porn is bound to do more damage and produce more trauma. He is, in a sense traumatizing himself, although he thinks he is doing what feels good and maybe even getting by with something. The consequences are there. They are extensive and traumatic.[/vc_column_text][divider line_type=”No Line” custom_height=”20″][vc_column_text]I wish I could shield every young boy from porn. I wish I could eradicate it from the earth. In my opinion, it serves no good purpose, and I regret that I ever saw any. I worry about my grandsons. My oldest is 7 years old. Some of you men saw your first porn when you were 6, 7, and 8 years old. That breaks my heart for you to have been exposed to the damaging effects of pornography.
I hope this blog provides some answer to the astute question – Why is early exposure to porn traumatic?[