Teen stress and the link between cutting and porn

As has become more and more prevalent in the news, it is imperative for educators to address the impact internet pornography can have on adolescent development. Gary Wilson in his TEDx Talk entitled the Great Porn Experiment does a brilliant job of raising awareness about the individual risk factors for men, particularly young men, who bathe their developing neurological pathways in a constant stream of ever-variable pornographic video.

On a closely related but different note, Maree Crabbe addresses the interpersonal risks associated with this pervasive influence on gender, sexual gratification, consent, body image, and communication as featured in this article entitled, “The Problem with Porn”. Taking the two themes of individual and interpersonal costs of internet pornography, a colleague and I have developed a sub-section within our relationship unit to help educate high school students about the risks associated with the endless availability of free pornography.

Working more closely with our students on this topic a number of things have become evident. For one, it is highly relevant as there is no denying that the boys, in particular, are watching internet porn and that the girls, in particular, recognize the pressures potential or otherwise this media introduces into their appearance, identity, and relationships. For anyone who has visited the world of online porn it won’t surprise you to learn that for the past two years in a row middle school students have asked anonymously through a question box whether or not they should be shaving their pubic hair. In Grade 5 they learn these developmental milestones are positive and to be greeted with open arms. Three years later, they have been fed enough freshly shaven imagery to make them question this fairly recent part of their development into adults.

It has also become clear to me talking with my students that it is commonplace for boys to use pornography as a way to cope with stress in much the same way as some girls cut. When I brought this idea up to discuss with a boys group recently, I could see them struggle to get their heads wrapped around the idea that masturbating to pornography could be a problem. After all, if masturbation is a healthy part of development and, by definition, involves no one else, what harm could become of it?

Before going further, I should clarify that I am not on a crusade against pornography. I am not promoting masturbation as “self-harm” along with myths of blindness and hairy palms. At the same time, when masturbation to porn becomes the go-to strategy to create the endorphine rush from orgasm in much the same way that cutting does, this suggests to me that the two may be aligned as maladaptive ways of coping with stress. Both result in a similarly temporary chemical rush in the brain that relieves the symptoms of stress without reducing the predominant stressors nor increasing the individual’s ability to manage the stressors in their life. Taking it one step further, if Gary Wilson’s message is to be accepted, the main difference is that the scars from each result in different places – from porn left on a neurological level with erectile disfunction (ED) and with cutting on the arms, legs, stomach.

As a health educator, the information we have at this point with regard to the impact of internet porn leaves me with, at least, four main understandings that I would like my students to have so they can make the best decisions.

  • There are potential physical risks associated with internet porn that researchers believe occur on a neurological level. This is particularly relevant for adolescent males whose brains are still in the process of developing and pruning. 
  • There are interpersonal relationship costs that can result when one’s sex drive is curtailed by the use of pornography to the point where relationships with real partners ceases to be important. That drive for intimacy is a powerful force that motivates people to develop effective interpersonal communication and relationship skills that lead to success in the bedroom and success in the broader arena of life. 
  • Interpersonal relationships are also impacted by the practices and relationship scripts that pornography models that do not accommodate the needs of real people (particularly women in heterosexual pornography) in caring, intimate relationships, based on mutual consent and fulfillment.
  • While masturbating to pornography can temporarily relieve frustration and stress, it is important for people to recognize that the resultant reduction of stress is the product of the endorphine rush and, similar to cutting, is not a functional long-term stress management strategy. 

As people who I work with or those who read my blog know, resilience and coping are big themes that are critical for adolescents. Similar to the real food movement that sees more of us trying to eat foods with lower levels of processing, I see a case for us to advocate for real relationships or at the very least clarify and learn about the limitations of fabricated sexual experiences that mimic but fall far short of real intimacy and gratification. – AC

Some other great resources –

 

 

 

3 Comments

Leave a Reply