Time to Explore the Links Between Porn, Testosterone, Sexual Behavior and Violence


Not satisfied with the high degree of correlation between porn consumption and sexual callousness, our opponents keep pressing us to elaborate the mechanism that links porn and behavior. It looks like a clue lies in the role of testosterone. This hormone has many good qualities, but it is also linked with aggression and promiscuity. The articles below suggest that watching porn can raise testosterone levels in men, as can the condition of being an uncommitted single man or having multiple sex partners, lifestyles promoted, encouraged, and catered to by porn.

First, Andrew Sullivan provides background about testosterone for The New York Times Magazine (4/2/00, emphasis added):
Men and women differ biologically mainly because men produce 10 to 20 times as much testosterone as most women do, and this chemical, no one seriously disputes, profoundly affects physique, behavior, mood and self-understanding. To be sure, because human beings are also deeply socialized, the impact of this difference is refracted through the prism of our own history and culture. But biology, it is all too easy to forget, is at the root of this process...

My own encounter with testosterone came about for a simple medical reason. I am H.I.V.-positive, and two years ago, after a period of extreme fatigue and weight loss, I had my testosterone levels checked. It turned out that my body was producing far less testosterone than it should have been at my age. No one quite knows why, but this is common among men with long-term H.I.V. The usual treatment is regular injection of artificial testosterone, which is when I experienced my first manhood supplement...

Because the testosterone is injected every two weeks, and it quickly leaves the bloodstream, I can actually feel its power on almost a daily basis. Within hours, and at most a day, I feel a deep surge of energy. It is less edgy than a double espresso, but just as powerful. My attention span shortens. In the two or three days after my shot, I find it harder to concentrate on writing and feel the need to exercise more. My wit is quicker, my mind faster, but my judgment is more impulsive...

And then after a few days, as the testosterone peaks and starts to decline, the feeling alters a little. I find myself less reserved than usual, and more garrulous. The same energy is there, but it seems less directed toward action than toward interaction, less toward pride than toward lust... It is only a few days later that I look back and realize that I spent hours of the recent past socializing in a bar or checking out every potential date who came vaguely over my horizon. You realize more acutely than before that lust is a chemical. It comes; it goes. It waxes; it wanes. You are not helpless in front of it, but you are certainly not fully in control.

Then there's anger. I have always tended to bury or redirect my rage. I once thought this an inescapable part of my personality. It turns out I was wrong. Late last year, mere hours after a T shot, my dog ran off the leash to forage for a chicken bone left in my local park. The more I chased her, the more she ran. By the time I retrieved her, the bone had been consumed, and I gave her a sharp tap on her rear end. "Don't smack your dog!" yelled a burly guy a few yards away. What I found myself yelling back at him is not printable in this magazine, but I have never used that language in public before, let alone bellow it at the top of my voice. He shouted back, and within seconds I was actually close to hitting him. He backed down and slunk off. I strutted home, chest puffed up, contrite beagle dragged sheepishly behind me. It wasn't until half an hour later that I realized I had been a complete jerk and had nearly gotten into the first public brawl of my life. I vowed to inject my testosterone at night in the future.

That was an extreme example, but other, milder ones come to mind: losing my temper in a petty argument; innumerable traffic confrontations; even the occasional slightly too prickly column or e-mail flame-out. No doubt my previous awareness of the mythology of testosterone had subtly primed me for these feelings of irritation and impatience. But when I place them in the larger context of my new testosterone-associated energy, and of what we know about what testosterone tends to do to people, then it seems plausible enough to ascribe some of this increased edginess and self-confidence to that biweekly encounter with a syringe full of manhood...

Species in which the female is typically more aggressive, like hyenas in female-run clans, show higher levels of testosterone among the females than among the males... Typical "male" behavior, in other words, corresponds to testosterone levels, whether exhibited by chromosomal males or females...

Female-to-male transsexuals report a similar transformation when injected with testosterone. One, Susan/Drew Seidman, described her experience in The Village Voice last November. "My sex-drive went through the roof," Seidman recalled. "I felt like I had to have sex once a day or I would die. ... I was into porn as a girl, but now I'm really into porn."

...A 1997 study took testosterone samples from 125 men and 128 women and selected the 12 with the lowest levels of testosterone and the 15 with the highest... The differences were striking. High-testosterone people "experienced more arousal and tension than those low in testosterone," according to the study. "They spent more time thinking, especially about concrete problems in the immediate present. They wanted to get things done and felt frustrated when they could not. They mentioned friends more than family or lovers."

...[T]estosterone is highly susceptible to environment. T levels can rise and fall depending on external circumstances--short term and long term. Testosterone is usually elevated in response to confrontational situations -- a street fight, a marital spat, a presidential debate--or in highly charged sexual environments, like a strip bar or a pornographic Web site...

Studies have also shown that men in long-term marriages see their testosterone levels progressively fall and their sex drives subsequently decline. It is as if their wives successfully tame them, reducing their sexual energy to a level where it is more unlikely to seek extramarital outlets. A 1993 study showed that single men tended to have higher levels of testosterone than married men and that men with high levels of testosterone turned out to be more likely to have had a failed marriage. Of course, if you start out with higher T levels, you may be more likely to fail at marriage, stay in the sexual marketplace, see your testosterone increase in response to this and so on...

This, then, is what it comes down to: testosterone is a facilitator of risk--physical, criminal, personal. Without the influence of testosterone, the cost of these risks might seem to far outweigh the benefits. But with testosterone charging through the brain, caution is thrown to the wind. The influence of testosterone may not always lead to raw physical confrontation. In men with many options it may influence the decision to invest money in a dubious enterprise, jump into an ill-advised sexual affair or tell an egregiously big whopper...

Men who are excessively testosteroned are not that attractive to most women. Although they have the genes that turn women on--strong jaws and pronounced cheekbones, for example, are correlated with high testosterone--they can also be precisely the unstable, highly sexed creatures that childbearing, stability-seeking women want to avoid...

[O]ver millennia, men with high but variable levels of testosterone were the ones most favored by women and therefore most likely to produce offspring, and eventually us. Most men today are highly testosteroned, but not rigidly so...

We are so used to associating testosterone with strength, masculinity and patriarchal violence that it is easy to ignore that it also makes men weaker in some respects than women. It doesn't correlate with economic power: in fact, as we have seen, blue-collar workers have more of it than white-collar workers. It gets men into trouble. For reasons no one seems to understand, testosterone may also be an immune suppressant. High levels of it can correspond, as recent studies have shown, not only with baldness but also with heart disease and a greater susceptibility to infectious diseases... The aggression it can foster and the risks it encourages lead men into situations that often wound or kill them. And higher levels of testosterone-driven promiscuity make men more prone to sexually transmitted diseases. This is one reason that men live shorter lives on average than women. There is something, in other words, tragic about testosterone. It can lead to a certain kind of male glory; it may lead to valor or boldness or impulsive romanticism. But it also presages a uniquely male kind of doom. The cockerel with the brightest comb is often the most attractive and the most testosteroned, but it is also the most vulnerable to parasites. It is as if it has sacrificed quantity of life for intensity of experience, and this trade-off is a deeply male one...

[A]s our economy becomes less physical and more cerebral, as women slowly supplant men in many industries, as income inequalities grow and more highly testosteroned blue-collar men find themselves shunted to one side, we will have to find new ways of channeling what nature has bequeathed us. I don't think it's an accident that in the last decade there has been a growing focus on a muscular male physique in our popular culture, a boom in crass men's magazines, an explosion in violent computer games or a professional wrestler who has become governor. These are indications of a cultural displacement, of a world in which the power of testosterone is ignored or attacked, with the result that it re-emerges in cruder and less social forms. Our main task in the gender wars of the new century may not be how to bring women fully into our society, but how to keep men from seceding from it, how to reroute testosterone for constructive ends, rather than ignore it for political point-making.

Harvard anthropologists have found that "marriage lowers testosterone" in these findings from 2002:
A man's testosterone levels drop significantly when he holds an infant. Even holding a baby doll can decrease levels of the male virility hormone.

Married men, whether fathers or not, have markedly lower testosterone levels than single males, according to one of the first studies of how the hormone changes when men marry and become fathers...

Researchers have long suspected that levels of the hormone largely responsible for fighting, competing, and mating decrease when men settle down and start a family. Other studies have shown that testosterone begins to decline shortly after marriage, but surges upward when unions end in divorce.

"It makes sense," notes Peter Ellison, professor of anthropology. "Lower levels of testosterone may increase the likelihood that men will stay home and care for their wives and kids, while decreasing the likelihood they will go out drinking with the guys and chase other women."

...The men also took written tests to indicate how much time each one spent with his wife and children... Those with higher scores on these "spousal investment" quizzes had lower testosterone levels.

"These results suggest that testosterone levels involve a trade-off between mating and parenting efforts," says [Harvard anthropology graduate student Peter] Gray. "Single men invest only in mating, while fathers decrease their mating efforts in favor of parenting."

Unmarried America adds: Gray suggests that married men don't produce as much testosterone after they shift from dating to parenting roles. "Married men, particularly fathers, are less likely to engage in dominance interaction and aggression," he said. "That means less risk taking, less conflicts or other behaviors that could lead, for example, to death by homicide."

Researchers at Canada's Simon Fraser University recently confirmed Harvard's findings:
A person is said to have a polyamorous lifestyle when he or she is involved in multiple, committed relationships.

The researchers determined partnered men and women had the lowest overall testosterone levels, while polyamorous men and women both had higher amounts of testosterone than single or monogamously partnered individuals.

The team of scientists theorises the hormone may be involved in "bond maintenance" and in preparing the individual for competition.

As we've noted before, porn use correlates with infidelity, prostitution, aggression and rape-supportive beliefs. This would seem to be entirely consistent with a theory that porn use, directly and indirectly, results in elevated testosterone levels in male viewers. The harm of porn could be seen as pushing natural systems out of balance. We hope to see more research in this area.

------------------ (added 3/4/07)

See also Mark B. Kastleman, "Dominance, Aggression, and Violence in Male-Centered Porn":
[T]he more cellular memories (biological and physiological processes) that pornographers can link their porn to throughout the male brain and body, the greater chance they have of addicting their viewers. And the more naturally occurring drugs/hormones (especially testosterone, but also adrenaline, epinephrine, and others) flowing in the male mindbody during viewing, the more narrow will be his focus, the more intense his sexual/mindbody arousal, the more deeply the images will be imprinted in his memory, and the greater his addiction.

Pornographers achieve this combination of a high number of mindbody links and maximum drug/hormone release by mixing sexual images with male dominance, aggression and violent images intended to shock and stimulate simultaneously. Porn scenes ranging from simple "male in control" to aggression, rape, torture and murder, abound in Internet porn geared to the male viewer.

These kinds of images link sexual arousal in the male mindbody with emotions of shock, anger, confusion, violence and domination which cause the male mindbody to release enormous amounts of additional testosterone, which further increase male narrowing, loss of reason, feelings of aggression, and sexual drive and arousal.

High amounts of adrenaline and other chemicals are released as the male mindbody switches into "fight or flight" mode. Why does this happen? Because the mindbody is experiencing so much stimulus and physiological activity at once, that it cannot adapt to it fast enough. In other words, the male mindbody goes into stress. Internet porn of this ilk creates a chain reaction in the male mindbody with hundreds of hormonal, chemical, emotional, physiological and biological processes all converging at once!

The male viewer is not only addicted to simple sexual arousal, but this arousal is linked to mindbody processes that would never be normally linked to the sexual process. Talk about addiction at a whole new level! This would be like a drug addict shooting up with a dozen different hard-core drugs all at once.

Mr. Kastleman is the author of The Drug of the New Millennium: The Science of How Internet Pornography Radically Alters the Human Brain and Body.

With Mr. Kastleman's observations in mind, take another look at the porn Capital Video sells:

Violent, misogynistic movies

Movies that promote infidelity, despair, call women "sluts" and "whores"

Capital Video's Magazine Rack: Bondage, Racism and More


----------------------- (added on 3/18/07)

The New York Times explores the biochemical basis of sex disorders in "How Do You Cure a Sex Addict?", 11/19/00. Along with studying the relationship of porn and testosterone, research into other sex-related chemical agents, such as serotonin, might give insights into porn's effects on its viewers.
In [Dr. Martin Kafka's] practice he sees about 40 patients a week, more than three-quarters of whom have what by current cultural standards at least are perversely heightened libidos. His most serious cases are sexual predators; his "lite" cases include the old standbys of masculine misery: compulsive porn-watchers, compulsive clients of prostitutes, men incapable of monogamy. The middle range is composed of guys we call creeps, the ones who peer in your bedroom window, the guy in the red raincoat parting the slicker's flaps...

We have heard, of late, so much about sex and hormones; testosterone shot slowly into layered, striated muscle; estrogen rubbed on labial skin. One of Kafka's most significant contributions to the chemistry of perversity may be that he has been able to look beyond the obvious culprits--our grease-based sex steroids--to the more nuanced chemical messengers and the complex roles they play in mediating our desires.

In a 1969 study published in Science, a scientist shoots up some rats with parachlorophenylalanine, a compound that lowers serotonin levels in both blood and brain. Within minutes of its administration there's a veritable drought of serotonin. What happens to the rats? They become sexually aroused. They mount each other compulsively. Conversely, feed rats a serotonin-laced snack, thereby raising their levels, and almost all sexual appetite disappears. "In other words, this isn't just about testosterone," Kafka says. "It used to be thought sexual deviants had just testosterone abnormalities, but they may really have serotonin abnormalities. It may be that the lower the serotonin, the higher the sex drive, or it may be something much more complex, that sexual deviance is linked to an as-yet-unidentified disregulation affecting the serotonin system."

Other studies on male animals bear this hypothesis out: before copulation, there is an increase in dopamine and a decrease in serotonin. Post-copulation, the opposite occurs. If this proves to be the case in the human species as well, afterward, when the man is smoking his cigarette or snoring as if he had chowed down a turkey dinner, he may be experiencing a serotonin surge. In a culture in love with the idea of "high" serotonin, it might surprise us to know that passion, and its distant cousin lewdness, may lie not in the dosed-up but in the dosed-down version of being...

"Of course it's complex," [Kafka] says. "All of these [biochemical] systems are interrelated. But because these men respond so well to drugs like Prozac or other S.S.R.I.'s"--selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors--which alter serotonin transmission in the brain, it's reasonable to point to that monoamine as central in sexual-impulse disorders..."

Common wisdom has it that the sexually compulsive or the sexually deviant were often themselves victims of abuse. "The fact is," Kafka says, "only one-quarter to one-third of my patient population suffered physical or sexual abuse, and many of them had unremarkable childhoods, as far as I can see." Which is why Kafka, who acknowledges the need for a multimodal approach and does refer men for psychotherapy, treats his patients with medication...

Why or how Prozac blunts sexuality is open to speculation. Animal studies clearly show a correlation between raised or altered serotonin and diminished sexual appetite. In addition, both serotonin and dopamine do an intricate dance with our hormones, priming neural pathways so that they can respond to testosterone...

[Vince, a patient,] started treatment with Carol Ball at New England Forensic Associates in Arlington, Mass. Behavioral treatment with paraphiliacs follows a fairly predictable pattern, including, among other things, what is called aversive reconditioning. Men are instructed to masturbate to their deviant fantasies and just prior to climax to take a deep breath of ammonia, meaning that they ejaculate in a clutch of coughs and cramps. Behavioral therapy can be highly successful. Two months after Vince started at the institute, Ball referred him to Kafka for a medication consult.

Vince credits Kafka, not Ball, with the bulk of his success. "I love Carol Ball," he says. "But it was the medication, definitely the medication, that really changed things for me..."

"The fetishisms were like all this static," he says. "Now the static's cleared away, and what's left is my real desire. My head feels like a whole new thing..."

[R]eductive or not, Kafka is doing something right. He appears to have "cured," or restored to better balance, hundreds of men, many of whom are dangerous, all of whom are, by their own standards at least, terribly twisted. Kafka's patients love him. "He is the guy," Jim says. "He saved my life," Bob says...

 
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Comments

  • 3/6/2007 10:29 PM Sotiredofthisjunk wrote:
    I don't understand; are you saying that there are more men perpetrating violent, degrading sex because of porn? Have the incidents of rape and murder significantly increased since the proliferation of degrading porn on the net? They clearly have NOT, in proportion to availability of degrading porn on the net, or there would be rape and murder around every corner. I think what your opponents are really saying is the conclusions you imply are totally inaccurate. I know that's what I'm saying, anyway.
    Reply to this
    1. 3/7/2007 8:52 AM NPNAdmin wrote:
      Actually, a more interesting theory to explore is whether underreporting of abuse and rape has been rising with the spread of porn, as pornographers and porn viewers try to convince their victims that these practices are normal, healthy, and should be enjoyable for them.

      The fact that an incident of abuse isn't reported does not mean that no harm occurred.


      Reply to this
  • 3/7/2007 6:51 PM Sotiredofthisjunk wrote:
    WHAT?! That's your most transparent obfuscation yet! You just made up the possibility that porn makes the victims of abuse less likely to report the violence, and then you called it a *theory*! Any scientists that might have the misfortune of falling upon your blog would groan at your use of the word "theory," to say nothing of the fact that what you're calling a theory is actually just a hair-brained idea. But, most importantly, you didn't respond to my point. I think the more honest and accurate answer to me would have been, "No, there isn't a rise in sexual violence commensurate with the availability of degrading porn, and it was folly for us to imply that there is."
    Reply to this
    1. 3/7/2007 7:45 PM NPNAdmin wrote:
      There is evidence that increased availability of porn increases sexual violence, so we will not concede this point. My main purpose in suggesting the 'porn silences victims' theory is to demonstrate that it is risky and unscientific to draw conclusions like 'Internet porn has no harmful affect on behavior' if reported sex crimes haven't risen in accord with Internet access. What people consider a reportable sex crime shifts over time, sex crimes are generally severely underreported, and porn itself affects people's perceptions.

      Here's another plausible theory to consider. As we show in the article above, there are hints that porn directly and indirectly increases testosterone levels in male viewers, and high levels of testosterone are well known to correlate with sexual aggression and violence. This theory explains well both the phenomena of secondary effects and the experience of porn victims. I hope you'll agree with me that this theory is worth testing in a scientific manner.

      Reply to this
  • 6/28/2007 12:35 PM Marnia Robinson wrote:
    Thanks for this information on testosterone. I think that a clearer understanding of the neurochemistry of orgasm (which is a cycle of extremes, highs and lows of various neurochemicals) would be very helpful to many porn users and heavy masturbators.

    The highs of orgasm seem entirely beneficial, and the media leads us to believe that this is so, but in fact, orgasm is only the beginning of a longer cycle, not all of which is satisfying. During the lows that follow, the changes in neurochemistry can create intense withdrawal symptoms, both emotional and physical. It is this discomfort that often drives a person to pursue his/her next orgasm, whatever it takes (and it can take increasingly intense stimulation because of the neurochemical shifts that follow orgasm).

    The ancient Chinese and even American sex-positive social pioneers of the last century found a way to manage sexual desire that instills equilibrium and balance, rather than "scratching the itch harder and harder." This alternative approach can be deeply satisfying.

    My husband and I have been experimenting with this approach (frequent intercourse, passing up orgasm) and have noticed health benefits and increased harmony. Among the health benefits my husband experienced were an end to chronic depression and the releasing of a long-term substance addiction. These results are also consistent with the observations of others who have advised this approach. Even thousands of years ago, Chinese sage Lao Tzu noted that this approach to sex heals cravings.

    Anyone tired of the treadmill of addiction may wish to learn more by visiting www.reuniting.info.
    Reply to this
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