Porn: A Psychiatric Perspective
The following is an interview with consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Samir Parikh, MBBS, DPM, MD. Dr. Parikh did his graduate and post-graduate work at Civil hospital in Ahmedabad. He is an international speaker and is one of the leading academic experts in the field of mental health. He serves as the Chief of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Max Healthcare.
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Dr. Parikh, have you personally counseled people with problems resulting from viewing pornography? Do you know other psychiatrists who have?
People coming to us with problems associated with pornography have grown in numbers, whether they are children, adolescents, or adults. This growing trend has been noticed, not just by me, but also by a number of my colleagues who are fellow psychiatrists and clinical psychologists helping individuals deal with issues related to pornography in terms of impulse control and obsessive thoughts and ideas.
In your professional opinion, how does repeated exposure to pornography online shape one’s personal and sexual development?
Repeated exposure to pornography on the Internet has a profound impact upon the individual’s personal and sexual development. Depending upon which age group the individual belongs to, the effects would be different. For children and adolescents who have consistent and unsupervised exposure to pornography without an understanding of sexuality and sexual behaviors, it may lead to the development of false beliefs and propagate sexual perversions that are exhibited in erotic forms. The impact of this continued exposure tends to affect the child or adolescent’s sleep, socialization patterns, and academics. As for adults, viewing of internet pornography becomes a hindrance, especially when the individual wants to practice that which is demonstrated in these porn videos, which can have a particularly detrimental effect upon the individual’s relationships. A case in consideration tends to be the existence and prevalence of paraphilias which can lead to the development of psychological symptoms in the self and the partner as well.
What concerns you most about teens who are secretly turning to Internet pornography over and over?
The teenage years are especially sensitive years for an individual. The primary contention being that this is the time when the adolescent wants least supervision and prefers to do things the way he or she considers correct; concurrently, the adolescent has a unique tendency to break and avoid all rules and regulations. Thus, when it comes to viewing Internet pornography, the fact that porn propagates something that does not conform to the rules and regulations of society makes porn an especially attractive proposition. Thus, when an adolescent gets hooked on Internet sites that promote pornography, it is a matter of great concern as it is something that is engaged in at the cost of one’s physical, emotional and behavioral health patterns and causes significant disturbances to his/her life and relationships. The issue is not with the display of normal sexual behavior, but of the glorification and glamorisation of sexual perversions which cause disruption.
Can pornography use become compulsive? Can someone be “addicted” to pornography?
By definition, a compulsion is any behavior that is repetitive and disruptive to an individual’s daily routine activities and has an effect on his or her overall well-being. Viewing pornography can take the form of a compulsive behavior pattern in which the individual is compelled to engage in this behavior regardless of the constraints that may be there, despite efforts to try and avoid it. Pornography can become an addiction too, and the term computer scatalogia has been coined to denote the addiction to Internet related pornography wherein Internet pornography becomes a potent form of an addiction like any other and causes significant harm to the self and relationships.
Can pornography use harm intimacy in a marriage? How?
The difficulty arises when we look at its impact on marriages and relationships when the indulgent individual expects (and many a times forces upon the other partner) the need and desire to carry forth the activities depicted in the pornographic videos and literature. This, though consonant with what he or she may want to do, may be completely against the wishes, desires, beliefs and the self-structure of the other individual in the relationship and cause significant harm to the relationship. Also, many partners may consider indulgence in pornography a form of infidelity which can also bring about destruction in the relationship.
Dr. Al Cooper is famous for talking about the “Triple-A” engine of Internet pornography—it is Accessible, Affordable, and Anonymous. These, he states, pave the way for cyber-sexual compulsivity. Do you agree with this? Would you add any further thoughts about why the Internet escalates pornography related problems in people?
It is true that the easy availability (and the fact that most pornography sites have free videos) make pornography an attractive proposition. At the same time, most of the sites do not require the individual’s demographic details (and even if one were to make up fictitious details, it would be impossible to verify them), which makes it all the more easier for individuals to engage in internet pornography. Anything that is taboo and is not viewed favorably by society or the family becomes an object of desire as it piques one’s curiosity and makes one feel a sense of accomplishment in that one could fool everyone around and engage in that which is anathema.
How do you recommend someone break their Internet pornography habits?
In the case of children and adolescents, parents would need to play a significant role. Healthy, open communication between parents and children and teens is a key safeguard; parents’ ability to discuss aspects related to adult life with their teens helps, and schools need to promote media literacy. Media literacy, where teenagers are able to apply their filtering ability (when exposed to various forms of media) to ensure that damage is not done, is one of the most important aspects. Schools need to educate children on the non-real element of the Internet, and schools need to impart responsible education to children related to aspects of family life education. When it comes to an adult for whom it becomes a matter of impulse control (and at times even a compulsive behavior), exerting self-will could be helpful, but many a times the problem takes a turn for the worst, and it becomes pertinent that the individual seeks professional help. This becomes particularly the case when the individual’s relationships, family, and professional life begin to be impacted.
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