Norman Doidge, MD: “Acquiring Tastes and Loves: What Neuroplasticity Teaches Us About Sexual Attraction and Love”

The Witherspoon Institute has gathered a number of valuable papers together in The Social Costs of Pornography Consultation (2008). We particularly recommend a paper from Norman Doidge, MD: “Acquiring Tastes and Loves: What Neuroplasticity Teaches Us About Sexual Attraction and Love” (PDF). Some excerpts:

The current porn epidemic gives a graphic demonstration that sexual tastes can be acquired. Pornography, delivered by high-speed Internet connections, satisfies every one of the prerequisites for neuroplastic change.

Pornography seems, at first glance, to be a purely instinctual matter: sexually explicit pictures trigger instinctual responses, which are the product of millions of years of evolution. But if that were true, pornography would be unchanging. The same triggers, bodily parts and their proportions, that appealed to our ancestors would excite us. This is what pornographers would have us believe, for they claim they are battling sexual repression, taboo, and fear and that their goal is to liberate the natural, pent-up sexual instincts.

But in fact the content of pornography is a dynamic phenomenon that perfectly illustrates the progress of an acquired taste. Thirty years ago “hardcore” pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse between two aroused partners, displaying their genitals. “Softcore” meant pictures of women, mostly, on a bed, at their toilette, or in some semiromantic setting, in various states of undress, breasts revealed.

Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes of forced sex, ejaculations on women’s faces, and angry anal sex, all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation. Hardcore pornography now explores the world of perversion, while softcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago, explicit sexual intercourse between adults, now available on cable TV. The comparatively tame softcore pictures of yesteryear—women in various states of undress—now show up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.

Pornography’s growth has been extraordinary; it accounts for 25 percent of video rentals and is the fourth most common reason people give for going online…

When pornographers boast that they are pushing the envelope by introducing new, harder themes, what they don’t say is that they must, because their customers are building up a tolerance to the content…

The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act…

Dopamine is called the reward transmitter, because when we accomplish something—run a race and win—our brain triggers its release… By hijacking our dopamine system, addictive substances give us pleasure without our having to work for it.

Dopamine, as we saw in Merzenich’s work, is also involved in plastic change. The same surge of dopamine that thrills us also consolidates the neuronal connections responsible for the behaviors that led us to accomplish our goal… An important link with porn is that dopamine is…released in sexual excitement, increasing the sex drive in both sexes, facilitating orgasm, and activating the brain’s pleasure centers. Hence the addictive power of pornography…

Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it…

Because plasticity is competitive, the brain maps for new, exciting images increased at the expense of what had previously attracted them—the reason, I believe, they began to find their girlfriends less of a turn-on…

Because [the porn user] often develops tolerance, the pleasure of sexual discharge must be supplemented with the pleasure of an aggressive release, and sexual and aggressive images are increasingly mingled—hence the increase in sadomasochistic themes in hardcore porn…

Whereas dopamine induces excitement, puts us into high gear, and triggers sexual arousal, oxytocin induces a calm, warm mood that increases tender feelings and attachment and may lead us to lower our guard…

Oxytocin’s ability to wipe out learned behavior has led scientists to call it an amnestic hormone. Freeman proposes that oxytocin melts down existing neuronal connections that underlie existing attachments, so new attachments can be formed…

The rewiring of our pleasure systems, and the extent to which our sexual tastes can be acquired, is seen most dramatically in such perversions as sexual masochism, which turns physical pain into sexual pleasure…

Robert Stoller, M.D., a California psychoanalyst, did make important discoveries through visits to S&M and B&D (bondage and discipline) establishments in Los Angeles. He interviewed people who practiced hardcore sadomasochism, which inflicts real pain on the flesh, and discovered that masochistic participants had all had serious physical illnesses as children and had undergone regular, terrifying, painful medical treatment. “As a result,” writes Stoller, “they had to be confined severely and for long periods [in hospitals] without the chance to unload their frustration, despair and rage openly and appropriately. Hence the perversions.” As children, they consciously took their pain, their inexpressible rage, and reworked it in daydreams, in altered mental states, or in masturbation fantasies, so they could replay the story of the trauma with a happy ending and say to themselves, This time, I win. And the way they won was by erotizing their agony…

Children are born helpless and will, in the critical period of sexual plasticity, do anything to avoid abandonment and to stay attached to adults, even if they must learn to love the pain and trauma that adults inflict…

As for the patients who became involved in porn, most were able to go cold turkey once they understood the problem and how they were plastically reinforcing it. They found eventually that they were attracted once again to their mates. None of these men had addictive personalities or serious childhood traumas, and when they understood what was happening to them, they stopped using their computers for a period to weaken their problematic neuronal networks, and their appetite for porn withered away…

See also:

“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 co
ntrol” 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.

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

What Porn Is: Selections from Mainstream Porn (explicit language)
[Robert Jensen:] …Given the ease with which video can be edited, why did the producers not edit out those expressions [pain, shame, despair]? There are two possible answers. One, they may view these kinds of expressions of pain by the women as of no consequence to the viewers’ interest, and hence of no consequence to the goal of maximizing sales; women’s pain is neutral. The second possibility is that the producers have reason to believe that viewers like the expressions of pain; women’s pain helps sales…

National Feminist Antipornography Movement
“As Jerome Tanner put it during a pornography directors’ roundtable discussion featured in Adult Video News, ‘People just want it harder, harder, and harder, because like Ron said, what are you gonna do next?’ Another director, Jules Jordan, was blunt about his task: ‘[O]ne of the things about today’s porn and the extreme market, the gonzo market, so many fans want to see so much more extreme stuff that I’m always trying to figure out ways to do something different. But it seems everybody wants to see a girl doing a d.p. [double penetration] now or a gangbang. For certain girls, that’s great, and I like to see that for certain people, but a lot of fans are becoming a lot more demanding about wanting to see the more extreme stuff. It’s definitely brought porn somewhere, but I don’t know where it’s headed from there.’

Research Paper: “Cruelty’s rewards: The gratifications of perpetrators and spectators”
Deliberate infliction of pain, as with any other decisive manifestation of interpersonal power, enhances the status of the perpetrator. Accordingly, the initiation and coordination of punishment in the family-level and local group would have facilitated the emergence of a leadership figure, whose willingness to injure would have created a reputation for ferocity with significant resource access benefits for that individual… Today as in the past, aggression linked to a readiness to inflict pain is a route to prestige, leadership, and social mastery that entrains survival and reproductive benefits… Cruelty attributions may elevate status, leadership, and sexual attraction ratings more, for example, than attributions of physical strength or intelligence…

As the neurobiology of predation predicts, blood and death have erotic force. Barton (1993) writes that the raging sexuality of the arena came to a focus in the gladiator’s scarred body, and Rome’s prostitutes gathered at the arena exits, where they did a brisk trade… Bondage Porn Gone Chillingly, Cheerfully Corporate (explicit language)
“Our powerless girls scream as they are tied up and forced to have sex over and over. Are they screams for help or do they really just want more?”

Rick Porras, Capital Video Executive, Would Rather You Not Know He Is a Pornographer (explicit language)
Photo Caption: “The look in her eyes tells us that she would like this bo
ndage session to end pretty soon. Forget it, girl!”

Photo Caption: “Her Master has told her, ‘Don’t you dare move.’ She’s finding that immobility is in itself a form of torture.'”

Photo Caption: “Because her body is beginning to ache, she writhes on the carpet. It makes watching her even more arousing.”

Photo Caption: “Tied to the post, Tracy takes a fearful whipping.”

Childhood Spanking Linked to Coerced Sex and Risky Sex in Adulthood; Milks Pain for Profit (explicit)
the porn industry embraced this ‘abuse niche’ some time ago, harnessing pain for profit. The industry may or may not have a conscious strategy to promote dysfunctional relationships within and between generations, but it does have a financial incentive to do so. As Jill Manning observes, happily married people consume relatively little porn: “…according to data from the General Social Survey in 2000 (N = 531), people who report being happily married are 61 percent less likely to report using Internet pornography compared to those who also used the Internet and who had completed the General Social Survey in 2000.”

The following movies are on sale now at

Pain 25
Remember when your daddy would come home from work and beat the living shit out of you? Remember how your
flesh bruised and bled at the end of his belt? Some days you thought your worthless life was over. My how you
begged and cried. Good times. Damn good times. Well now you can relive those special moments. Take Pain #25
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Herbert, Brooks and Osayande on Misogyny, Money and Power;’s War on Women and Blacks (explicit)
Extreme Audition #6
What happens when you have a tiny little blonde walk into your studio? Well a lot of fun for Michael Kahn. This pretty little thing was in tears by the end of this video. She had no tolerance for pain and so it was great fun to beat her little ass.

Now Showing at The War on Privacy and Consent (explicit)
Blame It On Daddy
Look what daddy made them do. These chicks are fucked up and they just can’t get enough. Adopt these sluts today make them call you daddy and see what they won’t do!

Corrines Painful Examination
Pretty 19-year-old Corrine submits to a painfully thorough very sadistic medical exam at the hands of Nurse Lolita
and the wicked “Doctor” Savage.

Medical Pain Sluts
Medical pain sluts goes behind closed doors to reveal…sex craved nurses and their helpless charges! Tender pussies are spread = clamped vibed and shocked. Heavy tits are roped groped whipped and tortured Sexy sluts cum and…

Painful Pleasures
Slave Derek Da Silva is put through an unbelievable set of pain adrenaline and endorphin pleasures that you just have to see to believe! Hard belly punching electric dildoes electrified needles and howling cumshots.

The Science Behind Pornography Addiction
Permission-Giving Beliefs are a set of beliefs that imply that my behavior is normal, acceptable, common and/or doesn’t hurt anyone so I have permission to continue to behave in the way that I am. In all types of violence and addiction, Permission-Giving Beliefs are involved. Examples would include “All men go to prostitutes”, “Women like sex mixed with violence” and “Children enjoy sex with adults”. These particular Permission-Giving Beliefs are also common in pornography…

Abusive Relationships and Porn: The Similarities (explicit language)

Video Presentation: A Content Analysis of 50 of Today’s Top Selling Porn Films (explicit language)
A number of porn defenders claim that anti-porn activists harp on unusual, violent, women-hating examples of porn, and unfairly downplay the existence of ‘artistic’ porn on sites like Suicide Girls. anthonyjk_6319 believes that porn sites like “Gag on My Cock” and “Anal Suffering” are the “exception”, and that the “overwhelming majority of porn (something like 99.8%) deals only in consenting nonviolent sex acts.”

To clear up confusion about what porn is generally about, academic researchers Robert Wosnitzer, Ana Bridges, and Erica Scharrer, together with coders like Michelle Chang, analyzed 50 recent top selling porn films selected from lists compiled by Adult Video News, the leading trade journal of the porn industry…

Testimony in Massachusetts: Porn Confuses Young Men about How to Behave
I travel around the country and speak to college audiences, both male and female, and mixed audiences, and one thing I find over and over again, in frank discussions, is that pornography is extremely influential in the lives of young boys growing up today, and girls, but specifically I speak to guys. This blizzard of images of women in degrading and humiliating positions, guys just come to think of that as normal.