Attack of the porno-zombies

zombies.jpgThe Guardian reports on psychologist Judith Reisman, who argues that pornography is an ‘erototoxin’ that damages the brain, impairing cognition and rational thought:

“According to Dr Judith Reisman, pornography affects the physical structure of your brain turning you into a porno-zombie. Porn, she says, is an “erototoxin”, producing an addictive “drug cocktail” of testosterone, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin with a measurable organic effect on the brain.”

In the first instance, she’s right. Pornography does physically affect the brain. In fact, everything we experience physically changes the brain in some way.

What Reisman is trying to do, is portray this physical effect as ‘damage’. Furthermore, she argues the damage could be so severe, that an affected person would not be rational enough to engage in ‘free speech’ (notice the leap?).

Unfortunately, her self-published paper The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech (PDF) is highly selective when reviewing the published neuroscience research.

Many of her arguments are based on one-reference claims, and some only on what she calls “extensive documentation”. One unmentioned implication is the fact that, if sexual arousal from pornography causes ‘brain damage’, then so will real-life sex!

Critics note that Reisman is associated with the Lighted Candle Society, a right-wing Christian organisation aiming to promote ‘moral values’ and fund anti-porn brain scanning studies.

Ironically, her paper is prefaced by a note saying it is restricted to adults over 18, as it contains ‘graphic images from mainstream pornography’.

Link to Guardian piece ‘Sex on the brain’.
PDF of ‘The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech’ by Judith Reisman.
Link to critical piece on Reisman’s work.
Link to story from Desert News on the funding of anti-porn MRI studies.

6 Comments

  1. cmpalmer
    Posted July 20, 2005 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m still reading the referenced PDF, but ignoring the political and religious agenda, I think there may be some merit to the idea, although I wouldn’t classify it as physical brain damage.
    The book “In The Palaces of Memory” had an idea that stuck with me. It was talking about the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The author went on to say that broken bones can heal quite nicely, but once neural pathways are established, they are likely to stay with you forever.
    While I feel that the average person can easily distinguish what is right and “moral” and can identify the difference between simulation or sexual fantasy and reality, prolonged exposure to concepts such incest and child abuse in a pornographic setting can cause permanent brain changes that, even if counteracted by rational thought, make the idea of these practices continue to be sexually arousing. So, in effect, it can cause brain changes that might be viewed as “damage” by some.

  2. colin
    Posted July 21, 2005 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    From the Desert News story Reisman states that Visual pornography should not be defended as a First Amendment right, because visual pornography reaches a different part of the brain than speech, “a brain that is visceral, nonspeech, right hemisphere.”
    She sure does like to distort the facts doesn’t she. Even ignoring the fact that the right side of the brain handles pitch and inflection (like the overtones of a seductive voice). This would imply that the 1st amendment doesn’t cover any form of media that uses imagery or music. Advertizers would never let her get away with that.
    Also from the same article about their plan for using MRIs: “The goal now, though, Harmer says, is to prove once and for all a causal relationship between the viewing of pornography and eventual anti-social behavior.”
    Not quite sure how they plan on using MRI studies to prove a causal relationship instead of just a weak correlational one — sounds pretty impossible to me. In my opinion, they are just using the aura of the big toys of science as a way to scam more money from people for their pet cause.

  3. biogadfly
    Posted July 21, 2005 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    This article reflects a more literal interpretation of this blogs title, for it is indeed ‘Hack’ work on the ‘Mind’, thus the author is clearly a ‘Mind Hack’. As a neuroscientist with a background in neuroimaging it can be fair to say that the author has little to no understanding of the commonly used modalities and totaly misuses the literature.
    As an example I cite the authors description of SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography!):
    “With the advent of the SPECT scientists can finally see what happens in different parts of the brain ‘when you activate them’”.
    As stated already above it is almost a truism that pornography effects the brain. But the psychopharmacology of sex is far more potent than that of voyerism, with all the same neurotransmitters and hormones being released in greater concentrations. It follows that if the author is correct, then sex is deadly!

  4. Grant Barrett
    Posted July 21, 2005 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Take a good look at Reisman’s bio. She has no formal education as a psychologist. Her two degrees, in fact, are in communications, which is the degree you take when you study public relations.

  5. Posted August 6, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I do not thing that Dr Judith Reisman is right. Pornography does not physically affect the brain. It is documented

  6. Mr COncerned
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Interesting how an opposing view takes a statement and makes an assumption never intended by the author while disreguarding the obvious.

    ” One unmentioned implication is the fact that, if sexual arousal from pornography causes ‘brain damage’, then so will real-life sex!”

    So lets look at the possibility that while sex with a real person involves a chemical transfer, and a human touch. Is it possible that this being totally different than a interaction with an image is quite different. One being real the other being an imagination.

    Is it possible that an imagination lacks a key element in the thing we call love? While the selfish thing created in imagination is unreal and destructive, like all lies.

    Everyone knows its bad to tell a lie, even worse to live one.


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