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Does watching porn make you psychic?

I think a lot about porn. It’s fascinating to stop and consider that we’re living in a time where within seconds you can search for and see a naked stranger engage in sexual acts tailored to your preferences.

As much as we all like to believe we’re not primitive chemically driven animals, our brains are not much different to that of cavemen and women who lived tens of thousands of years ago. Sure, we’re great at adapting to the latest smart phone, and achieving our high scores in Candy Crush, but our brains are not used to nor have they evolved for the onslaught of information that comes from watching porn. For all of humanity, the acquisition of sex has been our number one goal. Our entire evolutionary journey is based on who can adapt to their environment well enough to stay alive and do the horizontal tango with a fertile partner. This involved effort; primping, preening, strength, intelligence, a bit of Machiavellianism, and bravery. I’m not suggesting that humans don’t do this anymore. Go to any club on a Friday night and you’ll see this in action (usually sans ‘intelligence’). Our brains were made for this. I also believe that there is a part of our brains that was made for porn.

The concept of mirror neurons seems like pseudoscientific rubbish. They are neurons that fire only when you see another human or animal perform an action, eg scratching their arm. Your brain recognises that this other being is engaging in this behaviour and fires the same somatosensory cortex neurons associated with that behaviour. The only reason you don’t act out these actions is because your visual system kicks in and tells you that your eyes/occipital lobe have not reported that same sensation on your arm. Therefore, your brain receives no message from the skin on your arm telling you that it’s being scratched.

Essentially, mirror neurons are empathetic neurons, helping you connect with other humans and animals by inadvertently feeling what they feel. This is why you wince when you see someone get hurt. For a tiny fraction of time, your brain thinks you were also harmed in the same way. I believe it’s the closest that humans come to being psychic.

It’s not difficult to see how these mirror neurons may be employed whilst watching porn. An fMRI study was conducted with a sample size of 10 healthy heterosexual men (I acknowledge that this is a small sample) where their physical erectile response and their brain activity was measured whilst they viewed pornographic videos. Unsurprisingly, eight out of ten of the subjects experienced an erection, but the more scientifically exciting results were that of their brain activation.

‘The level of activation of the left frontal operculum and of the inferior parietal lobules, areas which contain mirror neurons, predicted the magnitude of the erectile response. These results suggest that the response of the mirror-neuron system may not only code for the motor correlates of observed actions, but also for autonomic correlates of these actions.’ (Mouras, et al., 2008)

Isn’t that incredible?! Pretty sure I had a nerdgasm when I came across this journal article (no pun intended). Of course all studies need to be properly reviewed, and limitations considered, and this is no different, but I just can’t help but get a bit excited when I read studies like this. These scientists have found mirror neurons that activate and predict an erectile response. This means that when you’re watching porn, your brain actually thinks that you’re engaging in these sexual acts. Before your frontal lobes and ‘common sense’ can tell you that you’re really alone and just watching a video of other people, your ancient primitive brain is making you feel like you’re really there!

This adds a whole other level to understanding why porn is so enjoyable for most humans. Objectively it shouldn’t be very pleasurable; you don’t get to join in and it may even further remind you that you’re forever alone. Yet ever since humans could create scratchings on cave walls, we’ve been depicting each other having sex. Pornography is not new, what’s new is our immediate access to it. There are many who cry that porn is bad for you, it degrades women, and it makes men slobbering idiots. I think they’re worrying too much about what people do in their own time. My view is that if all parties are consenting adults (the person viewing the porn and the people featured in the porn) and it’s not hurting anyone else, then go for it. For those who insist that porn is the devil because it’s so addictive, I dare them to find something that cannot become addictive. Addiction occurs when the brain fires reward based chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline) whenever the behaviour occurs. If the behaviour is repeated too much, the brain needs to work harder to release these chemicals. Technically, you can get addicted to anything. Do you LOVE model train sets? Bubble wrap? Vegemite? If you get a big enough ‘high’ from using these things, you can become addicted. A behaviour only becomes a problem if it is maladaptive. If porn is interfering with your ability to work or maintain relationships, then you may need help. Other than that, I believe that porn is just another fun thing that humans have discovered that they enjoy.

Science has come through for us again. Sure, it’s not time travel or a solution to world hunger, but it’s an amazing insight into the goings on inside the most complicated structure in the universe; our wonderful brains.



Aforementioned study:

Ironically, my favourite characters in HBO’s ‘Girls’ were the men

I’d heard a lot about HBO’s ‘Girls’, so I decided to give it a crack. From what people had been raving about, I expected it to be a funny, warm yet realistic representation of life for early 20-something women trying to make their way in the world. I thought ‘Hey, I’m a 21 year old woman I should be able to relate to these women and their stories’. I was bitterly disappointed and a bit frustrated that I’d been promised this great show and was instead stuck with a series I kept watching just in case it got any better.

The series opens with the main character Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) having dinner with her parents. Her parents then have the AUDACITY to tell her that they’re going to stop funding Hannah’s life, which is what they’ve been doing since she graduated college 2 years ago. Hannah promptly throws a hissy fit (remember, she’s in her early 20’s) and tries to explain to her parents that she’s going to be a fabulous writer and the ‘voice of a generation’. I vomited a little bit in my mouth when she said this. She then goes home to bitch and moan to her equally vapid friends about how she needs a job, yet when it’s suggested she work for McDonald’s, she vehemently declines. She is of the mistaken and arrogant mindspace that beggars can be choosers and that she’s ‘too good’ to work at McDonald’s because she has a writing degree. So even from the start, because I’m not a spoilt brat, I had nothing in common with the main character. Sure, I receive some financial support from my parents, but I also pay rent, actively apply for jobs, am completing an Honours degree, and volunteer in my spare time (I know, I’m fantastic).

We’re then introduced to Hannah’s roommate Marnie who is whinging about her boyfriend loving her too much. Then ‘worldly’ Jessa who looks like she googled ‘How to dress bohemian hipster’. Finally, Shoshanna who is Jessa’s cousin, and a neurotic ditzy Sex & the City fan. Don’t you want to totes be BFFs with these girls?!

I watched the first episode, was put off by all the characters, and couldn’t relate to any of their first world, petty, spoilt problems, but I persevered. Maybe it was just finding its feet and the characters would soon blossom to become normal and likeable? By no means do I expect television characters to be gorgeous, witty, charming and all round fabulous, but I do like to feel some sort of connection, I want to root for them.

I finished season 1 last night. It was a relief to say the least. Why did I keep watching? Ironically, because my favourite characters in Girls, were the men.

We’re introduced to Adam in episode 1 as Hannah’s semi boyfriend/friend with benefits. She antagonises over how many times he’s texted her (something I unfortunately can relate to), whilst he is completely unaware of how much distress he’s causing her. He walks around topless, makes useless things in his workshop and is very sexually expressive. He’s your everyday young man. He displays slight autistic qualities such as saying strange things at inappropriate times, but this just makes him more endearing. He doesn’t try hard to be anyone, he doesn’t care. He’s the complete opposite of Hannah. Throughout the series, Hannah explains to him that he’s not treating her well and blah blah blah, so he changes. They turn into a real couple. He cares for her deeply and eventually tells her he is in love with her. Apparently this is too much for Hannah, who if I remember correctly, WANTED EXACTLY THIS. She spills a boring monologue about how insecure she is and how hard her life is. Yeah, it must be really hard having lovely parents who support you all the way through college then for two years after while you live in a nice apartment in New York working on your ‘writing’. Where do I donate to your charity? Adam calls her out on her spoilt white girl shit and then breaks up with her. I wanted to high five him.

Next likeable guy is Marnie’s boyfriend (then ex) Charlie. His problem was that he loved Marnie too much. Now, where did I put my tiny violin?… After 3 years together, she breaks up with him. Fair enough, some relationships can fizzle out. I can understand that. He is heartbroken and finds solace in another girl’s arms a fortnight after their break up. Marnie finds out and gets all mopey and looks through Facebook photos of him and his new girlfriend. An appropriate response in today’s modern age. If anything, this situation is the one in which most women can relate to. But what annoys me is that Marnie is just boring. There’s no spark to her. She has no ambition. Charlie isn’t the most developed character, but I feel sorry for him. I decided I liked him because unlike the other female characters, I don’t cringe when I watch him.

Finally, my favourite character in Girls; Thomas-John. He is played by the adorable and hilarious Chris O’Dowd and only appears in 2 episodes. However, he gave me the first and only genuine laugh in this supposed comedy series. He is introduced as a dapper businessman sitting at a bar, who hits on Marnie and Jessa and asks them to come back to his place for a bottle of wine. Now for anyone with a third of a brain, this can be decoded as ‘I would like to attempt to sleep with you two’. I assumed the girls knew this, and were okay with it. So they went up to his apartment, he turned out to be a wannabe DJ and while the girls lied on his carpet (what?) he tried to initiate a threesome. Marnie and Jessa act offended and indignant. How dare this man who obviously wanted sex suggest we have sex?! Then, because Marnie wants to be more crazy and loose, she starts to passionately kiss Jessa. Yawn. Thomas-John starts to become annoyed as they are ignoring his advances and goes on a hilarious tirade which includes my favourite line of the series ‘WHO WEARS A BOWLER HAT?!’. He rips them to shreds for being try hard rich daddy’s girls and angrily asks them if they’ve ever worked hard in their lives (Enjoy the rant

Many might say that Thomas-John is a pig, but I don’t see it that way. It was blaringly obvious that he was interested in sex with Jessa and Marnie. They could have easily said no. But to have led him on, make him believe they liked him, then to laugh in his face, I’d say that’s cruel on their part.

To sum up, don’t watch Girls unless you’re an entitled, arrogant, naïve, spoiled white 20 something year old living in New York. Or watch it if you want to feel better about yourself because you actually strive to achieve in life instead of moping around feeling sorry for yourself.