porn

Nova Scotia Wants to Know How Much Porn Is Too Much

Honestly, we have no idea. But a new Nova Scotia government-funded mental health initiative is trying to answer that.

by Hillary Gillis
Nov 8 2017, 2:33pm

There's no question that when it comes to ubiquitous internet porn, the jury is still out on its impact on society, be it positive or negative. So, it's hardly surprising that governments and health professionals are grappling with how to deal or not deal with this still not-safe-for-the-6-PM-news issue.

Recently, the discussion of porn and whether it has any negative mental or physical side effects was tabled in the House of Commons, after Conservative MPs put forth the motion last December. It was the Canadian government's first time looking at porn (as in issue, heh) in more than 30 years—and that was back in the days before the internet; when indulging in some smut usually involved a back-shelf magazine at a 7-Eleven, or a risqué rental from the curtain room at a local video store. Now, porn is just anywhere we want it—and we still can't seem to decide if that's a good or bad thing.

Certainly, for some people, internet porn has led them down a problematic road of over-usage. Here in Nova Scotia, the government has recently funded an initiative—aptly titled, the Porn Diet—to begin a conversation around the general populous' consumption habits and how to tell if it might be a detriment to their health.

Hosted by workers with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Porn Diet had its first session in September and have held several sessions around the province since then. I attended the Porn Diet talk in Halifax at Dalhousie University last month, because as someone who's fascinated by both sex and the internet, it seemed fitting. A whopping four people showed up—myself included—along with three live-stream attendees. It was my first time sitting in on a lecture in that university since 2011. The room was clean and clinical looking—with handouts placed neatly at each (empty) chair, and complimentary coffee and donuts lumped lonesomely in the front of the room. Yes, there was an AA-vibe.

During the talk—which touched on the evolution of porn, psychoanalytic theories, erectile dysfunction and abusive behaviours— the Porn Diet organizers tried to answer the one of the great looming questions of our time: how much porn is too much?

"It's a tricky question," mental health worker Sonja Svensson told VICE. "It's too much porn if it's interfering with your regular life. So, whatever that is from one person to another, specifically, in [terms of how many] hours or videos, that varies—but it really is just a matter of: if it's starting to interfere with your life, that's problematic use for you."

"If it's damaging your relationship, if it means that you're missing school or work or it's interfering with how you interact with people, then that's a problem."

Though maybe perceived by some as a smidgen puritan in its approach, the initiative aims to provide statistics and research on how internet porn has changed the way we live.

Photo by the author

There are numerous, competing statistics out there but most say that somewhere between 5 and 15 percent of the internet is porn-related. But serious studies about the effects of porn—if any—are few and far between. It was only in 2014 when an academic journal devoted to porn research was created.

During the session, one of the studies that was mentioned was one reporting lower amounts of grey matter in males that consume more hours of porn per week. (Although, that study has been criticized for not showing any causal relationship there.)

Also discussed during the Porn Diet talk was the "Triple A engine" of anonymity, affordability, accessibility—a term coined by sex researcher Alvin Cooper to describe the three key factors that come into play in the wake of increased online sexual activity.

When watching porn, the brain releases dopamine, which is the same chemical released when you have great sex, eat a rockin' slice of pizza, or do meth or whatever. It makes the user feel good, so they get pulled into the reward cycle: want something, get something, feel good, come back. And so on. Along with this addictive trajectory, the implications of excessive internet porn use can often extrapolate into real life, affecting personal relationships. Some of today's porn is violent and degrading and definitely not focused on women's pleasure—so it could also be unknowingly teaching a lot of young people a lot of wrong things about what relationships or consent should look like. According to the Porn Diet organizers, it's also contributing to a growing number of men who experience erectile dysfunction on a regular basis, since they've become so accustomed to cyber stimulant overload that when given the opportunity in real life with another person, they can't get it up (there's even an entire online community -- "Reboot Nation" -- dedicated solely to providing resources and support for "porn-induced ED"). That said, some researchers have thrown serious cold water on the ED theory as well.

By the time I had finished chatting with Svensson after the meeting had ended, the three other attendees had already left. So I asked a couple other people what they thought about porn, the volume of it which we regularly consume, and if they felt it's ever had any significant effects on their life, for better or worse.

Graham, 22, told VICE he's never considered himself addicted to porn, but said he did go through a period when he would reconsider how often he watched it. "I used to watch a lot of porn, and then my friend told me that you your brain will eventually crave more stimulating or engaging sexual images," he said. "And that often results in people looking up more violent sexual images and people end up watching more violent porn because they aren't stimulated by boring vanilla shit."

James, 27, has been steadily consuming internet porn since he found out it existed—not unlike the vast majority of us—and sometimes it causes him to be late for work. But he doesn't see it as an issue—he says he just really likes it. "[It's] never affected a relationship," he told VICE. "I was, like, 15 minutes late for work today because I was watching porn, but I'm the boss, so I'm kind of allowed to be late."

In Svensson's books, however, as soon as it starts interfering with your life—be it professional or personal—that could be a sign of problematic porn use (or, PPU). "Most things in mental health come down to that," she said.

According to Svensson, there are, however, good uses of porn.

"Healthy use of porn would be in cases like if you bring it into your relationship and they're both agreeable, or it can have some medical benefits for people who have had prostate surgeries recently. I mean, as long as you're using porn in a way that's not interfering with your normal functioning life, it can be OK."

Porn can also be a really helpful vessel for people to find comfort or seek self-relevance, instructional guidance or a sense of affirmed identity, specifically for those who fall outside of the heteronormative population, which, the Porn Diet organizers admit is the population that the sweeping majority of public research is based on.

The Porn Diet organizators claim they aren't about debating the morality of porn, but more so about debating the functionality of it. "Again, if it's consenting adults and it's agreeable and it's not otherwise affecting your life, then have at it."

"[The goal] is to start a conversation with people about internet porn use—specifically, problematic internet porn use. Even if you don't agree with what we say here, as long as people are talking about it and starting a conversation about it really, then we've accomplished our goal here."

The Porn Diet meetings will continue at locations across Nova Scotia until the end of the month, and will have a fully-functioning website launched in the coming weeks. Svensson says, for those who feel like they may consider their porn use problematic, there are resources. "You can find [resources] that are non-judgmental to any kind of lifestyle […] and there are clinicians who are comfortable talking about these kind of things."

We really don't know what types of sociological or psychological impacts excessive porn use may have on us long-term. And, us being the first generation to grow up with the internet at large, legislation regulating usage has yet to be drawn up -- whether it's watching porn, scrolling social media or trolling someone in a thread. So, maybe we just take advantage of this free-for-all time while we have it, because it certainly won't last forever—and maybe that's a good thing?

Hillary Windsor is a writer living in Halifax. Follow her on Twitter @hillarywindsor.

Tagged:
Sex
Nova Scotia
Halifax
too much porn
Dalhousie
sex research