Sex Obsessed: Is the Average Teen Brain Ready for Porn?

PHOTO: While most teenagers have seen some form of pornography online, some scientists argue that porn can be traumatizing to teenagers.
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For a new generation of young people, pornography is just a click away, but some experts have been asking, is the average teenage brain ready for porn?

In a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70 percent of teenagers said they accidentally stumbled across porn online. Some experts say pornographic videos and images can color a teenager's ideas of what sex should be like even after they start experiencing it for themselves.

Gail Danes, the author of a book called "Pornland," said for the average young teenage male, his first formative impression of sex is porn he might find on the Internet.

"You average teen, when he clicks on 'porn' in Google, what does he think he is going to see, breasts maybe? In reality, he is catapulted into a world of sexual violence," Danes said. "He doesn't have a reservoir of experience. He has probably never had sex."

Danes argues that pornography, which has never been easier to find and view, is "sexually traumatizing an entire generation of boys."

"[Porn] is his introduction to sex, so I think he's assuming that this is all about arousal," she said. "[He is] being introduced into sex by 'gag me and then f**k me.'"

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And it's not just boys. Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, who appeared in the 2012 indie documentary "Sexy Baby," said she was only 12 years old when she admitted she had seen porn and understood all its innuendos.

"We're getting messages from everywhere that are saying if you dress this way, you are going to be either treated well or you are going to feel powerful," she said. "Sex is power."

Bonjean-Alpart is part of a new order of teenagers brought up in an era where explicit images can be found just about anywhere.

"We're like the first generation to have what we have," she said. There is no one before us that can kind of guide us. I mean, we are the pioneers."

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Calum, a young man living in England with a long-time porn compulsion, spoke with English journalist Martin Daubney for the British Channel 4 report, "Porn on the Brain." In the report, Calum told Daubney that sex with real women didn't compare to masturbating to porn.

"It's not as good because they're not as good as the porn, obviously," Calum said. "The porn girls have done it a lot more. They're more confident."

For Calum, his porn addiction crept up on him.

"At first I didn't know the limits and the bounds of what was extreme," he says in "Porn on the Brain. "I would speak to my friends and find out how much they watched, and it just didn't compare. Like, every bit of spare time I had in the day was watching porn."

Calum went on to tell Daubney that he can't find a way to stop. He gets a glimpse of Calum's hard-fought struggle when they drive past a pretty girl and it triggers an immediate reaction for Calum, who has to get out of the car and slip off to the bathroom.

But could Calum's Internet porn compulsion be the same as true clinical addiction? While the American Psychiatric Association has not yet classified pornography as a listed addiction, some professionals working in the field are treating it as such.

Dr. Valerie Voon, a neuro-psychiatrist and a global authority on addiction, is working at Cambridge University in England on this very topic. She found 20 young men ages 19 to 34 who said their lives were controlled by porn. Voon's study participants didn't want to be identified but were willing to have their brains scanned and analyzed to see if the pleasure centers in their brains would react to porn in similar ways that a drug addict or alcoholic's brain reacts to their substance of choice.

When Voon's data was analyzed, the results were astounding. Compared to the control group, the compulsive porn users' brains were twice as active in the pleasure center known as the stratum, mimicking the responses seen in brains of drugs and alcohol addicts.

"Compulsive pornography users do have parallels with substance abuse disorders," Voon concluded.

Of course, one study is not definitive and the Free Speech Coalition, a trade group for the porn industry, says that "unlike drugs and alcohol, adult content is not and cannot be a chemical addiction no more than compulsive shopping, gaming or hoarding."

But for some of those who believe porn addiction is real and could even be harmful, a few have tried to produce porn that is more like actual sex.

Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive turned entrepreneur, started a website called "Make Love Not Porn," a kind of YouTube video streaming channel online in which real-life couples post their homemade sex videos. Her goal was to give porn users a destination where they could see real love making instead of hard-core porn. "Make Love Not Porn" went public in January and already has more than 100,000 users.

"Children are viewing hard-core porn years and years before they ever have their first sexual experiences and it's shaping their view of what sex is," Gallop said. "That is why what we're doing is so important."

Others, such as pornographic director and producer Jincey Lumpkin, are making porn videos that show what they say are softer, more relatable depictions of sex that are more realistic and less harmful to young people.

"Porn is a fantasy that can't ever stand in for sex education," Lumpkin said. "The way that it is put out there, often times you just feel like a woman is nothing but an object or a hole, and I try to offer an alternative to that."

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