The psychoanalysis of porn culture and trends

David Kelly

Porn trends have been evolving in various ways over the years.

When it comes to porn, everybody has different opinions and concerns. Pornography was recently a topic in Blindboy Boatclub’s renowned podcast held in DCU. Within this, the application of psychoanalysis to pornographic trends was discussed.

Psychoanalysis was established by Sigmund Freud and is a therapeutic discipline related to the study of the unconscious mind. The unconscious comprises the automatic and unavailable processes of the mind, including thought processes, memories and interests.

The mind can be thought of as an iceberg, with most of its contents (the unconscious) existing unseen beneath the water. As Freud posited that childhood is a critical stage in sexual development, sometimes more so than adolescence, porn taste is consequently a manifestation of the unconscious.

Having an interest in ‘MILF’ porn, in accordance with Freud, would most likely be a result of an unresolved Oedipus complex; the young man is far more attracted to ‘the mother’ than he is consciously aware of. Incidentally, this is resolved by ‘identification’ with the father in childhood.

Sexual taste is an extremely malleable phenomenon, a result of our ‘plastic’ brains. During the early periods of Freud’s ‘psychosexual development’, we can acquire sexual tastes that are wired into our brain and remain a powerful influence for the rest of our lives.

Porn is often advertised as a liberating, natural force, an industry in opposition to taboo and stigma. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, disagrees. He cites the changing nature of porn as supporting his argument.

Proponents of porn define it as a natural consequence of the human sexual desire. People have sexual urges, so they will relieve them with sexual imagery. However, if this was true, porn would be static. The same imagery would be equally arousing across time.

30 years ago, hardcore porn was sexual penetration, while softcore porn was nudity or partial nudity. Today, hardcore porn is leaning more towards degradation, humiliation and sadomasochism, while softcore porn is sexual penetration at least. If porn is merely there to satisfy natural urges, why has it evolved to fit acquired tastes?

Blindboy was asked by a crowd member: “how much masturbation is too much?” He replied that there is no definitive amount, rather, like anything that’s addictive, it depends on your relationship with the thing. How is it impacting your life?

Doidge adds to this thought in ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’, a book that discusses psychoanalytic ideas informed by neuroscience. Porn users develop a tolerance to porn like those suffering from any other addiction.

Dopamine is released during orgasm. This spritz of dopamine strengthens the connections made between the porn watched and the satisfaction. The plastic brain changes, and because plasticity is competitive, what was previously satisfying is expended with.

As a porn user continuously masturbates to porn, they may discover a category or combination of categories that really arouses them. These may be related to repressed tastes acquired during psychosexual development, such as the Oedipus complex.

When these deeply rooted sexual desires are strengthened by persistent masturbation, the porn user’s libido is rebuilt into what Doidge refers to as “neosexuality”. Perhaps this is the reason for the rising popularity of family-centred porn in Ireland.

While ‘MILF’ and ‘lesbian’ remain the most popular categories in many counties, ‘step-mom and son’ is on the rise. Is this the unconscious mind developing a neosexuality? Are men’s oedipal complexes being strengthened? Time will tell.

David Kelly

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