Is Porn the New Smoking? A look at how harmful porn addiction really is.Is porn the new smoking? Our culture seems to be very nonchalant about porn addiction. Here’s an honest look at it. Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about the slippery slope of our culture.

Plane rides as a young child were always filled with trepidation for me. It wasn’t crashing that I was afraid of. It was being assigned the first row in the “no smoking” section–meaning that the row right in front of you was lighting up. In the 1970s half the population smoked.

A few decades earlier King George VI was even told to smoke for his health. It would keep him less stressed, and would help his stuttering problem. Unfortunately, he died in his fifties of complications from smoking.

It wasn’t too long ago, then, that smoking was considered harmless, and even kings did it.

It was cool, it was fun, and it helped you relax! Today if you smoke you’re a pariah. Don’t you care about your health?

Smoking was once cool and widespread, but now it’s in disfavour. I wonder if porn will follow the same trajectory, because it has all the same ingredients. People think it’s cool. It’s a way to relax! It’s harmless.

And yet, drip by drip, little by little, researchers are starting to realize how destructive it can actually be, both to relationships and to the person using porn him or herself.

Porn rewires the brain so that what becomes arousing isn’t a person; it’s an image. And pretty soon arousal requires that stimulus. Being with a live human being isn’t enough anymore.

In fact, sex and relationship counselor Ian Kerner reports on a new term for this–Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder, or SADD. Consume enough porn, and not only do you find making love with a person boring; often men aren’t even able to function without the external stimulus.

Pornography actually works in the brain very similarly to the way cocaine does–except that it’s more addictive. Using porn releases the naturally occurring “pleasure” hormones dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and serotonin in high levels. The dopamine spike in the brain from porn lasts even longer than regular sex–even longer than cocaine. So you go from craving a real relationship to having a porn addiction, at an even greater intensity than drug users crave drugs.

And unlike other drugs, which do leave the system, those images are imprinted there. Once you see something, it’s hard to get it out. Even if you want to just be romantic and concentrate on your spouse, these pictures flood back.

Those pictures give a dangerous message, too: sex is only about the physical, and never about an emotional connection. I worry that people are losing the ability to make love, and all they’re doing is having sex, with porn videos running through their heads the entire time. That’s not loving someone; that’s using someone.

Porn addiction is like any other addiction: eventually your body becomes accustomed to the stimulus, and you need more and more of it to achieve the same high.

What started off as just watching women in bikinis can progress to watching violence, rape, and even child porn. Last month Ontario’s former deputy education minister, Benjamin Levin, who also worked on Premier Wynn’s transition team, was arrested on seven charges related to child pornography. This isn’t something that affects only the “seedy underside” of our society; it’s the well-connected and wealthy, too.

People who use porn are more likely to be unfaithful in marriage; more likely to start up an online “cyber affair”; more likely to lose their jobs; more likely to go bankrupt; and more likely to become severely depressed. And so perhaps it’s no surprise that, as Dr. Jill Manning testified before the U.S. Senate, porn use is now implicated in 56% of divorces.

Maybe you really think porn isn’t that bad. It’s fun, and only uptight people criticize it! Well, that’s what they used to think about smoking. And there’s a reason people stopped.