James Deen’s Porn Problem

Porn star James Deen is having what the Atlantic magazine is calling “a crisis of conscience.” Faced with a culture beset by a growing porn addiction, with younger and younger kids now consuming porn (according to Dr. Drew the average age is now eight or nine), and with female porn stars who are having increased difficulty on film faking the intimacy that is supposed to be a part of sex, Deen, a rich porn mogul, is having doubts.

The Atlantic reports that in a recent podcast, Deen had this exchange with therapist Dr. Drew:

Deen: In the last 10 years we have had more free pornography at your fingertips than ever before, to a point where people are no longer learning about sexuality… This is something that is made for a purpose, this is not an example of what sex is, this is people having sex for entertainment.

[It used to be that] you’re getting the tape from your older brother, who stole it from the dad, or the neighbor, or whatever. You’re passing it around and everyone is excited to see this magazine or whatever. And you have to wait until you are older to really dive deep into the dark areas where people are peeing on each other and [an even more graphic act] and all sorts of stuff.

Now, a child, an 11-year-old child, anyone at any age could go to a myriad of places on the internet and be exposed to endless amounts of content.

Dr. Drew: The average age of exposure now is eight or nine.

Deen: Which is not okay! Granted, I’m sure there is an 8- or 9-year-old in existence of all time who was able to deal with what that content was. But I would say very confidently that 8- or 9-year-olds are not able to properly process what this is. Especially when it’s not just, “Here are two people kissing and some standard sex.” It’s some crazy stuff. And I think now that people… they are getting their sexual education and stuff, and I’m sure it’s better—or so I’ve been told by people who have kids—it’s better than it was when I was a kid, but they’re still seeing these examples, regularly, for years and years and years, of what they believe to be sex.

As the great social critic Richard John Neuhaus once wrote in addressing the liberal attempt to deny facts about human sexuality until it’s too late: “What a long, long way we are taking to get back to the obvious.” Human sexuality triggers something very pleasurable in the brain and creates a connection in the soul. Something so intense is not meant to be gorged on any more than doughnuts are. As Conor Friedersdorf notes in the Atlantic piece, before the digital porn revolution there was only a small amount of erotic material to be had, and a lot of that was pretty tame: “The centerfold in the first Playboy I saw wasn’t so different from the swimsuit model spreads featured once a year in Sports Illustrated.” Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was inspired by the female pinups of the 1940s, which today can pass for genuine art. Furthermore, any behind-the-scenes look at how porn is made reveals terrible manipulation, phony camaraderie, drug abuse, and depression.

Deen’s comments come at the same time as the arrival of The Porn Myth, a book by Matthew Fradd. Fradd has spent years compiling evidence of how pornography affects the brain. In one study, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge looked at brain activity in nineteen male patients affected by compulsive sexual behavior and compared them to the same number of healthy volunteers. The patients had started watching pornography at younger ages and in higher proportions relative to the healthy volunteers. “The patients in our trial were all people who had substantial difficulties controlling their sexual behavior and this was having significant consequences for them, affecting their lives and relationships,” explained Dr. Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge. “In many ways, they show similarities in their behavior to patients with drug addictions. We wanted to see if these similarities were reflected in brain activity, too.” They were. They also found that addictive porn viewership can alter our brains, making it more difficult to respond to a real person.

No one wants to be a prude. Everyone has sexual desire, and everyone at some point has taken a peek at porn. But that glance at dad’s Playboy has become an online torrent that is causing genuine biochemical and moral damage to generations of young people. “People are no longer learning about sexuality,” Deen laments, like the drug dealer telling his customers that shooting up is bad for their health. A long way back to the obvious, indeed.

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