Gary Wilson, creator of the (IMO) awesome video series Your Brain on Porn, spoke earlier this summer at TEDxGlasgow (above).
It’s likely that folks will have issues with his science, but conceptually, I’m intrigued by the parallels between porn and food addiction. We are evolutionarily driven in search of both sex and food via our brain’s reward system to insure survivability of the species. And if you believe Wilson, “extreme versions of natural rewards have a unique ability to capture us” both in terms of food and sex, leading us to patterns of overuse and addiction (6:00).
The Coolidge Effect
Wilson starts off talking about the Coolidge effect, a
phenomenon — seen in nearly every mammalian species in which it has been tested — whereby males (and to a lesser extent females) exhibit renewed sexual interest if introduced to new receptive sexual partners,even after refusing sex from prior but still available sexual partners.
Here’s a slide showing this behavior in animals (1:10):
And folks who have visited Wilson’s site will remember the story of Sooty: the guinea pig who impregnated every female he came in contact with!
Wilson points out that Internet porn is more problematic than porn of the past because it’s the Coolidge effect in action: it’s “not mere nudity but novelty” (:50) … and with a high-speed Internet connection, that’s a whole lot of novelty!
So … anyone besides me think this instinct for novelty sounds an awful lot like the tendency to eat dessert despite being full? Or overeating at a buffet? Hmmm.
Older vs Younger
As with compulsive overeating, there is a downside to Internet porn addiction. In the case of the latter, it’s erectile dysfunction. And as with overeating, abstaining from the behavior results in more normal reward response.
Curiously, Wilson notes though that for younger men, this can take twice as long (4-5 months) as it does for older men. He attributes this to the fact that younger men have been exposed to high-speed Internet porn at a much younger age, which apparently results in major changes to their brains at a more formative time. If true, this suggests why obesity in childhood may be a big, big (no pun intended) problem.
Life after addiction
Wilson talks at the end of the video about life after Internet porn addiction when energy isn’t focused on the addiction and is instead available for other pursuits (15:25):
This reminds me of Marc Lewis’ comment that turning his “energy to other highly absorbing, challenging, attractive goals was surely helpful to me” in overcoming drug addiction.
I think this is a missing piece that may explain why paleo is not a panacea for some of us (especially women). For some, eating the right foods and doing the right exercise and getting enough sleep (although all of those are fundamental) may not be enough. Some of us may need something more to resist the lure of falling back into old patterns. So it may also be critical to invest time and energy into other areas too.
The concept of “vitamin P” — or pleasure — is a bit hokey, but apparently is getting to be more popular. Getting pleasure from eating is a good start, but finding other outlets for pleasure (especially that resonate personally in terms of meaning or purpose) as well as other ways to cope are probably essential to overcoming overeating for good.