People sometimes criticise my blogs when I raise scientific subjects, on the grounds that I know nothing whatever about science. That’s unfair; I once, very briefly, did something called “General Science” at school. But you don’t need to be a (rocket) scientist to know there is a fundamental difference between the questions raised by physics and those raised by metaphysics. It is only when science strays outside its own legitimate territory and thinks it knows the answers to theological questions that one has to point out that it doesn’t. I won’t mention names.
Anyway, it is good to be able to report that occasionally the two disciplines complement and support each other in their findings. Moralists and religious believers have long said that accessing pornography is morally and spiritually degrading; even if it doesn’t lead to actual criminal behaviour (though some in the legal profession, including some judges, do think there is a link), it is harmful to one’s humanity, one’s integrity and one’s self-respect. It is an ignoble activity.
Now a report on LifeSiteNews for 25 September by Kirsten Andersen, entitled “Porn activates the same addiction centres in the brain as alcohol and heroin” suggests that science has begun to endorse the harmful effects of pornography that spiritual directors and priests have known about for a long time. A study shortly to be published by Cambridge University researcher, Dr Valerie Voon, seems to confirm that porn use can become a physical addiction. Dr Voon studied 19 men aged 19-34 who had tried to relinquish pornography and failed, even after losing relationships and jobs because of their habit. She scanned their brains as they watched erotic imagery and found that “they displayed the same addiction responses as those of alcoholics shown ads for booze or drug abusers shown images of dealers”.
She stated, “We found greater activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum which is a reward centre, involved in processing reward, motivation and pleasure. When an alcoholic sees an ad for a drink their brain will light up in a certain way and they will be stimulated in a certain way. We are seeing this same kind of activity in users of pornography.”
Andersen comments that “Similarities between the compulsive behaviour of porn users and those struggling with chemical addictions have long been noted by the mental health community, but Voon’s study is believed to be the first of its kind to study the actual physical signs of addiction in the brain in response to pornography exposure.”
Voon’s study is part of a documentary to be shown on Channel 4 later today called “Porn on the Brain.” The documentary will be presented by Martin Daubney, the former editor of the lads’ magazine Loaded from 2003-2010. An item on SPUC news for 28th September quotes Daubeney as saying that “an entire generation’s sexuality has been hijacked by grotesque online porn”. His documentary will examine how some people have lost their jobs, failed their exams or got into serious debt through using porn.
Daubney is now ashamed at the part he played when editing Loaded in encouraging young men to access hard pornography. The most interesting detail for me in this news item was Daubney’s admission that becoming a father and turning 40 had radically changed the way he looked at things. Becoming 40 is to enter middle age, often a time to reflect on one’s life so far and to change direction. And becoming a father is as overwhelming in its own way as becoming a mother: encountering the mystery of a new, unique life and the responsibility for shaping and raising it can be a Damascus road event – and I am not talking religion here anymore than Dr Valerie Voon is in her Cambridge study.
One of the most heart-warming stories I heard on this subject was related to me by a friend. When her two oldest sons were very young she asked her brother-in-law, an alcoholic, to babysit for them one evening. The experience of being responsible for these two innocent little boys for an evening made him reflect on his own shambolic life with its many shameful episodes- and he decided there and then to give up alcohol. This was many years ago and he has not touched a drop since.
I applaud Daubney’s courage in acknowledging publicly his own past failings – especially in an area as controversial as pornography.