The impact of porn from a doctor’s perspective, Dr Robin Choong

Wednesday 16 May, 2018

The impact of porn from a doctor’s perspective
On Wednesday 16 May 2018, the Warrane boys had a visit from Dr Robin Choong - a Paediatric Intensive Care Physician with a specialist interest in neuroscience and the interaction between the human brain and its environment. He came to talk to the boys about an important topic: the impact of pornography on the brain. 


And the doctor’s opinion? “There is nothing good that comes out of porn - to society, to yourself physically...and certainly to you emotionally and spiritually,” he said. 


Dr Choong told the boys that statistically, most of them would have engaged in or been exposed to pornography to some degree. In a world with over 24 million porn sites and over 30,000 people watching porn every second, this is not surprising. So although pornography has existed for thousands of years, the intensity with which it is readily available now is making it a larger problem. 


“Before the internet, you had to go to a bit of trouble to get porn,” said Dr Choong. “When I was your age, I couldn’t just pull out my smartphone and click on it for free. I’d have to run down – or sneak into – an adult bookshop somewhere down in Haymarket, or go to a newsagent’s and under the counter they’d have paper bags with R-rated magazines and that was the only way you could get to it. And it cost you money. But nowadays, you can see it’s free, you can do it at any age, as long as you’ve got a smartphone or a computer or any access to internet. It’s happening every day, all the time, and it’s as weird as you want.”


“But that’s not the end,” he continued. “That’s what’s happening now. I think the next stage, which I really worry about, is virtual reality porn, which is already here. Because it is total immersion into the situation – there is no distinction between reality and fantasy... and that has an enormous effect upon your brain.” 


How porn changes the brain
Dr Choong warned the boys that pornography is easily addictive because of the way it behaves with the brain. Some of the signs of addiction would include not being able to stop watching it, hiding the fact that it’s being watched, and getting angry when it’s not watched.


And for Warrane boys - who are all about strong character and solid values, and who want to form a strong families and a strong society, and live fulfilling lives – there is just no room for something like this, as the doctor pointed out. 


Dr Choong told the boys how the brain uses mirror neurons which learn by watching and imitating. Therefore when watching an activity on the screen, the brain is firing as if the person is performing it. This is how humans learn and empathise, but with porn it proves to be a dangerous thing. Couple this with oxytocin (the bonding hormone) which is released with orgasm when viewing porn; and dopamine (the reward hormone) which makes a person feel good and makes them want to repeat an act to feel pleasure again – and there you have it: the addictive nature of pornography. He explained how pornography use therefore actually changes the rewiring of the brain and erodes the power of the will, leading to dependency and the desire for a bigger hit.  


“Porn destroys your willpower,” said Dr Choong. “The brain changes associated with porn addiction start off with first of all, the addiction phase – so you want to come back for more and more. Then the escalation phase so you need even MORE... And it gets a bit more kinky to get the same high. But after a while that’s not enough, and you get to the desensitisation phase, because then you become desensitised to what you’ve seen before. And that’s when you’re starting to get to areas of even paedophilia and things like that. A lot of the people who are paedophiles, do you think they just grew up one day and they were paedophiles? ... No, quite often, it started off with much more vanilla sex and with repeated viewing led to increasing tolerance of aberrant sex... And finally, the worst part, is acting out... because you’ve been watching this activity on the screen, you think it’s alright... you start thinking that’s normal, and then the next step isn’t very far – you may start doing it. So just beware, because once you get onto that emotional ride, it’s very hard to break out of.”


He told the boys how pornography plays on two of the strongest human instincts or drives: curiosity and reproduction. So once the brain is rewired in this way, there is less and less room for real, genuine love and relationships – not to mention actual physical effects such as erectile dysfunction because real-life sex isn’t good enough anymore. 
“Most of you here will probably get married. I’m sure you want fulfilling married lives. But engaging in porn – with the release of oxytocins every time you have an orgasm, bonding with what you see on the screen – your ability to bond with someone real is adversely affected,” said Dr Choong. 


Overcoming porn addiction
“But the good news,” said Dr Choong, “is that the brain is malleable; you can mould it... you can heal.”


“Not everyone is a porn addict, quite often there are sporadic porn users. Often it’s used as an emotional reaction to a stressor. So you’re particularly vulnerable to porn when you’re hungry, when you’re angry, when you’re lonely and when you’re tired. So that affects everyone in this room...willpower is obviously low when you’re feeling that way as well.”


He continued: “It’s a vicious cycle – you’re feeling shame when you do it, you view porn to feel better, you act it out in secret and it goes around and around and around – a vicious cycle.”
He told the boys how quitting porn results in temporary withdrawal symptoms (like any addiction), such as emotional upheaval, and the loss of sexual drive for a time. But he also gave them five steps to self-discipline:


1. Remove temptations – deleting any content in possession, putting blocks online
2. Develop healthy sleeping patterns and keep physically fit
3. Find other things to keep busy with 
4. Celebrate victories
5. When you trip up, forgive yourself 


Dr Robin Choong ended with some words of wisdom for the boys: “Where your mind goes, you go. So what you focus on determines your destiny,” he said. 
“Thoughts determine your words, words determine your actions, actions repeated develop your habits, habits repeated develop your character, character determines your destiny – it’s a very simple equation.”


(Photographs from the evening are available here)

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