Pixabay metoo-2859980_1280 The Missing Link Between Sexual Harassment and Internet Porn Habit

The Missing Link Between Sexual Harassment and Internet Porn Habit

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Has the media missed a trick? Although the Damian Green story was sparked by the finding of a large haul of legal pornography on his parliamentary computer, where are the stories linking the two factors together – a porn habit and sexual harassment? The focus has been on abuse of power that is most likely only a symptom of a deeper problem. Hollywood celebrities Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have been seeking treatment for ‘sex addiction’, a disorder that often includes a serious porn habit. Let’s see what most journalists have been missing.

How does internet pornography affect behaviour? Hint – it’s very different from gentlemen’s magazines and erotic DVDs of old. Seven million sessions of internet pornography are delivered in the UK every day by the largest provider alone. Regular viewing of internet pornography is strongly linked to sexist and misogynist behaviour.  At least 10% of adult men in the UK admit to using hard-core internet pornography at work. Some women are not averse to it either. The resignation of Damian Green and the sexual harassment scandal around Hollywood celebrities is only the tip of the iceberg. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

There are three good reasons we have to invest in brain-focused education and training about the impact of internet pornography today.

First, internet pornography is emerging as a behavioural disorder. It is not just chemical substances that can cause changes to brain function and connectivity. The next edition of the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases in 2018 is poised to introduce a new category called “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder”. This will include compulsive use of internet pornography. Despite its use in popular language, the word “addiction” is no longer applied in medical digests. Whatever the term used, the outcome is the same; the inability to stop using, despite negative consequences

The whole basis of the new multi-billion dollar internet “attention economy” is to make us reward ourselves now rather than later. Instant gratification. It’s even better when the thrill is accessible, affordable and anonymous. Nothing excites our primitive brain’s reward system more than the prospect of a willing sexual partner, even if it is just a make-believe version.

The bad news is our brains haven’t evolved to cope with the supernormal levels of arousal that internet pornography provides today. Too much stimulation of the reward system over time, even moderate use of up to 3 hours a week, literally shrinks the grey matter in the executive part of the brain. We need a strong executive function to put the brakes on craving-induced, risky behaviour. Sirens are luring many an unwary internet surfer onto the rocks wrecking careers, relationships and health.

Unlike an alcohol or drug disorder, compulsive viewing of internet pornography is harder to spot, but its effects are no less harmful. Delusions of power, entitlement and invincibility may be an aspect of the disorder too. Younger men are particularly vulnerable to compulsive use, and now increasingly, younger women. Older men are certainly not immune to it, as we have witnessed.

Second, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has written to the Chairs of all FTSE 100 companies asking for evidence of their sexual harassment policies and plans to reduce its incidence. Sexual harassment is an issue that is affecting society as a whole. Hypermasculised aggressive behaviour towards extremely passive partners typifies hard-core pornography. Traditional sexual harassment policies do not get to the heart of the matter. It is better to train staff about why certain stress coping mechanisms such as porn watching are potentially harmful and can lead to legal liabilities for the employer as well as the employee when use becomes (unconsciously) compulsive.

Third, and most worryingly, a key characteristic of any compulsive use disorder is tolerance. That is, a person needs more of a substance or behaviour to get a ‘high’ or relief from anxiety. With drugs, it means more of the same. With porn it means new and more shocking or risky material, which the multi-billion dollar internet pornography industry is only too keen to provide. This means some users escalate from legal porn to illegal porn, in particular child abuse material. The number of child abuse reports has grown by 80 per cent in the past three years, with police England and Wales receiving an average of 112 complaints a day. Crown Prosecution services in the UK are currently overwhelmed with such cases. The Chief Constable of Norfolk Police, Simon Bailey, estimates there are tens of thousands of men who are interested in sexually abusing children.

According to a senior member of the Crown Office in Scotland, the case load of serious sex crime being tried in the High Court of Justiciary has gone from around 20% twenty-five years ago to over 75% today. There are many reasons for this including better reporting, wider definitions of rape and a desire to improve access to justice. But the high level of complaints is suggestive also of a change in society. Internet pornography is clearly a driving force in impulsive and compulsive sexual behaviour. Prevention of sexual abuse through education is both feasible and necessary. We have the knowledge, let’s make it as widely known as possible.

If we hope to improve trust between men and women, reduce the mental and physical health impacts of compulsive porn use and cut rates of sexual offending, we have to invest in education and awareness raising society wide.

 

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