Thursday, October 26, 2017

Why they can and we can't

Emmanuel Macron (Wikicommons: French government)

This week, Bill 62 became law in Québec. People now have to show their faces when giving or receiving public services. And that last term is interpreted broadly. If you're riding on a bus or going to a clinic, you're using a public service. Although the words niqab and burqa appear nowhere in the legislation, the intent is to remove the most extreme forms of Islamic dress from public space.

Elsewhere in North America such a law would be unthinkable, even among conservatives. Indeed, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Patrick Brown, condemned it in the strongest terms. So it is all the more surprising that this law was passed by the Liberal Party of Québec, whose electorate, membership, and campaign donors overlap considerably with those of the Liberal Party of Canada ... led by Justin Trudeau. This was undoubtedly a factor in his muted response.

So what's going on? What makes such a law possible in Québec but impossible in English Canada? One reason is language. The French language reduces the inflow of American cultural norms via books, magazines, movies, videos, TV programming—all of which condition us to think that some things are possible and others aren't.

Conversely, the French language makes Quebec much more open to the cultural norms of the Francophone world. And those norms have been increasingly hostile to niqabs and burqas. In 2011, France banned them in all public places, after passage of a similar law in Belgium the year before. Similar bans have been imposed or are being debated in francophone Africa, including some Muslim-majority countries (Chad and Senegal). There is a real fear in France and elsewhere that Islamic dress, like public prayers in the street, is part of a conscious effort by Islamists to dominate public space—to create the impression that this is their space and that "strangers" must act accordingly.

And the current French president, Emmanuel Macron? What does he think?

The burqa must be banned. I don't think it's necessary to go further. I'm for secularism. A complete ban at school and in public services, and in society a ban on some signs like the burqa that disrespect gender equality and the civility that exists between men and women in French society. (Coquaz 2017).

Secularism is there to say, "I don't want society to be submitted to a religion's hegemonic temptations." Yesterday, the Catholic religion. Today, for many of our fellow citizens, the Muslim religion. It's very important to enforce the neutrality of the public service. Religion cannot be present at school. Nonetheless, I hear few people upset when the consequences of this debate send more and more children to faith-based schools that teach them hatred of the [French] Republic, dispense teachings essentially in Arabic or, elsewhere, teach the Torah more than basic skills. (Dély 2016)

Respectable opinion in Québec tends to follow respectable opinion in France. If a goodthinker like Macron1 thinks the burqa should be banned, who's to argue?

Another factor is the social distance between the elites and the common people. It's a lot smaller in Québec, the rich and powerful being no more than one or two generations away from Jos Bleau and Johanne Bleau. So they feel a stronger sense of commonality with the average man and woman. And if they don't, they soon get told to remember who they are and where they come from. This is, incidentally, a common complaint among Québec celebrities. No matter how famous you become, you’ll always be that snotty kid who had trouble tying up his hockey skates.

So when the governing party does an about-face on a controversial issue, it's not because some policy wonk told them to do so. It's because they've been harassed by their constituents, including friends, relatives, and neighbors. In this case, there was a groundswell of feeling to get burqas off the streets. In English Canada, politicians would simply turn a deaf ear. In Québec, they tried doing that but were brought into line by public opinion.

Societally speaking, Québec is more like Israel or Eastern Europe, where the elites are less differentiated from the common people, either because the country itself is recent (Israel) or because the original elites were eradicated by socialist regimes (Eastern Europe).

As coincidence has it, this past week also saw the election of a nationalist party in Czechia, on the heels of a similar election win in Austria (October 15). There is now a large bloc of like-minded countries in central and eastern Europe: Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, and Hungary. The thinking used to be that nationalists would first come to power in France. After all, they're stronger and better organized there, aren't they? Well, yes, but so are the elites. And those elites have strong links to elites elsewhere.

Some people will attribute Québec's Burqa ban to a third factor: Québec nationalism, specifically the nationalist movement that reached its peak back in the 1970s. To be honest, not much remains of that movement even within the Parti Québécois, which has become a post-national party like the SNP in Scotland. In any case, the Burqa ban is supported by 73% of people in Québec, whereas support for the Parti Québécois is only about a third of the popular vote (TVA Nouvelles 2010). This is an issue that seems to transcend traditional party loyalties.

In sum, it looks like nationalist parties have a better chance where:

- English isn't widely used

- Culture is locally produced

- Elites are more strongly linked to the local population than to elites in other countries, particularly the globalist elite based in the United States and the United Kingdom.

In other countries, nationalists may have better luck advancing their arguments outside the political process. In France, the Front National has failed to gain power but it has widened the bounds of acceptable discourse and acceptable policy, as seen in Macron's position on the burqa.


1. During the election campaign, Macron criticized another law that banned wearing of the hijab (which covers only the hair and not the face) in public primary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools. To date, he has not tried to repeal that law.


Brown, P. (2017). Neutrality is not enough. If feds won't lead Canada, and this racist law passes, ON must support a Charter challenge. October 20

Coquaz, V. (2017). Hortefeux invente une ambiguïté de Macron sur la " burqa ", Libération, May 23

Dély, R. (2016). Emmanuel Macron : " La République est ce lieu magique qui permet à des gens de vivre dans l'intensité de leur religion " Marianne, October 1

TVA Nouvelles (2010). Les Québécois contre la burqa en public, July 28

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Virtual polygyny?

Polygyny is accepted to varying degrees around the world. In some countries it is permitted by law (dark blue) or by customary law (medium blue). Or the law may permit polygyny if the marriage has been performed in another country (light blue). (Wikicommons)

In my last two posts I presented evidence that repeated exposure to porn desensitizes the male brain, eventually causing atrophy in those areas that process erotic stimuli. In addition, porn seems to influence psychosexual development differently in young European American males and young African American males.

If porn is virtual polygyny, the male brain should tolerate porn overload to the extent it has coevolved with polygyny. The threshold for desensitization would therefore be higher in cultures with generalized polygyny (20-50% of all marriages) and lower in cultures with limited polygyny (less than 10%).

The ‘virtual polygyny’ hypothesis was first put forward by Shepher and Reisman (1985):

Pornography creates a world of polygynous fantasy, in which there are always sufficient consenting females who unhesitatingly display their naked bodies, or body parts, thus signaling their preparedness for immediate sexual intercourse.

This fantasy world is very different from real life, especially where monogamy is the norm:

Of course, this fantasy world of unlimited numbers of young, beautiful, seductive females, eagerly and enthusiastically engaging in every sort of sexual and violent activity, contrasts sharply with everyday reality. (Shepher and Reisman 1985, p. 107)

It is even different from real life in polygynous cultures:

No power struggle, no competition between males for sexual access to a specific female is involved, because mass production makes the pornographic dream easily available to everyone. (Shepher and Reisman 1985, p. 108).

As a result, porn leads to desensitization and a desire for more and harder porn:

The result of fantasy-directed expectations may be a deterioration of male-female relationships, perhaps a deterioration of heterosexual comradeship and even love. Surely many males become disillusioned with their female partners' ability to arouse them. Any consistent use of pornographic magazines could also find readers thus disillusioned with their partners and their own sexual performance. The consequence for males may be, among other dysfunctions, conditional impotence. (Shepher and Reisman 1985, p. 110)

[...] habitual viewing often seems to result in a loss of arousal. We have found then, not illogically, that pornography is pushed to seek novelty: oral sex, anal penetration, sex with children, bestiality, pseudolesbianism, and sadistic sexuality. What this extension of repertoire tends to do to the male-female relationship is not difficult to imagine. (Shepher and Reisman 1985, p. 110)

[...] Arguably, as pornography use grows, male-female relationships deteriorate, aggression against women increases, sexuality is pushed towards more and more extravagant forms, more and more detached from sexuality's basic function in human life. (Shepher and Reisman 1985, p. 112)

Given that the incidence of polygyny varies considerably among human cultures, could some human populations be less vulnerable than others to porn desensitization? The two authors seem to raise this question:

Among 847 human cultures, 708 (83.4%) were found to condone polygyny, 137 (16%) monogamy, and 4 (0.47%) polyandry' (Murdock 1967). About half of the polygynous cultures permit polygyny, but actually not many males are married polygynously. The other half practices systematic polygyny.

This is a classic sample of coevolution: natural selection working on the individual favors polygyny; cultural selection working on the group favors monogamy. The most "successful" cultures, in the sense of their having the largest populations (Europe, the Americas, Japan, China, India), are monogamous, and most individuals in polygynous cultures are monogamous as well. (Shepher and Reisman 1985, p. 112)

Shepher and Reisman (1985) don't pursue this line of reasoning. One reason may have been the view, common in evolutionary psychology, that human nature has evolved very little since the Pleistocene. Because the high incidence of polygyny in sub-Saharan Africa is associated with agriculture (African hunter-gatherers have a very low incidence), and because agriculture began to develop there only some six thousand years ago (Vansina 1994), Shepher and Reisman might have concluded that the male brain never coevolved with generalized polygyny in sub-Saharan Africa. But why, then, the reference to coevolution? I suspect they simply floated this idea in the hope that someone else would pick it up. Or perhaps they had discussed this idea at greater length in their original manuscript ...

Shepherd and Reisman were writing in the 1980s, at a time when porn desensitization was probably much less common than it is today. Malamuth and Billings (1986, p. 93) reviewed the literature at that time:

Varied studies conclude that repeated exposure to erotica will, under many circumstances, result in less sexual arousal to and reduced interest in such materials. These studies include both experimental and survey research.

The first clear experimental study demonstrating habituation was conducted as part of the research of the commission [on Obscenity and Pornography] (Howard, Reifler, & Liptzin, 1971). This study found that repeated exposure of male college students to erotica for 90 min a day, 5 days a week for 5 weeks, resulted in a reduction in sexual arousal to erotic stimuli as well as reduced interest in such pornography. Following 2 months of nonexposure, however, there was a recovery in sexual arousal to levels that were not significantly different from those prior to the repeated exposure procedure [...]

Malamuth and Billings (1986) noted that this study had been criticized on the grounds that the levels of exposure were not "realistic." Today, such levels are common. According to a study of 16-year-old boys in two Swedish towns, 10% of them viewed porn every day, and about a third of these frequent users viewed porn for more than ten straight hours several times a week (Mattebo et al. 2013). In addition, young men are viewing porn for much longer than five weeks.

With the current high levels of porn consumption, more research is needed on the ‘virtual polygyny’ hypothesis, especially on its prediction that some human populations are more vulnerable than others to erotic desensitization and atrophy.


Malamuth, N.M. and V. Billings. (1986). The functions and effects of pornography: Sexual communications versus the feminist models in light of research findings, in J. Bryant and D. Zillmann (eds) Perspectives on Media Effects, Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Mattebo, M., T. Tyden, E. Häggström-Nordin, K.W. Nilsson, and M. Larsson. (2013). Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden, Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 34, 460-468.

Shepher, J. and J. Reisman. (1985). Pornography: A sociobiological attempt at understanding, Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 103-114.  

Vansina, J. (1994). A slow revolution: Farming in Subequatorial Africa, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 29-30(1), 15-26.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The unexplored confound

First page of an underground porn comic, c. 1930s (Wikicommons). Pornography is now much more available and better in quality.

My last post presented a German study whose findings suggest that prolonged exposure to porn atrophies those portions of the male brain that process erotic stimuli (Kühn and Gallinat 2014). On the other hand, the arrow of causality might point the other way. Perhaps a man will seek out and view more porn if he already has less of the gray matter for sexual arousal.

The jury is still out. In this debate, we should keep in mind that people have argued against porn for different reasons. Refuting one argument doesn't necessarily refute the others.

Historically, porn has been condemned for three reasons:

It incites men to commit rape and other forms of sexual abuse. This is the oldest argument and is still used.

It objectifies women and causes men to treat women with less respect. This is the feminist argument of the 1960s and 1970s.

It desensitizes men to erotic images and causes them to seek more porn and harder porn to achieve the same effect. This argument is recent.  

The first argument has always been problematic. A recent review article concludes that "[i]t has been found everywhere it was scientifically investigated that as pornography has increased in availability, sex crimes have either decreased or not increased" (Diamond 2009).

The second argument likewise seems weak. A Danish survey found that porn actually seems to improve male attitudes toward the opposite sex:

The self-perceived effects of "hardcore" pornography consumption were studied in a large representative sample of young adult Danish men and women aged 18-30. Using a survey that included the newly developed Pornography Consumption Effect Scale, we assessed participants' reports of how pornography has affected them personally in various areas, including their sexual knowledge, attitudes toward sex, attitudes toward and perception of the opposite sex, sex life, and general quality of life. Across all areas investigated, participants reported only small, if any, negative effects with men reporting slightly more negative effects than women. In contrast, moderate positive effects were generally reported by both men and women, with men reporting significantly more positive effects than women. (Hald and Malamuth 2008)

Of course, this is self-report, which often reveals not what people think but rather what people think they're supposed to think. Self-report showed that Trump was going to lose the 2016 election. In a liberal society, male respondents might think twice before saying their attitudes toward women have worsened. For this reason, it's interesting that similar results have been obtained from a sample of university students in Indonesia—a conservative, Muslim majority country with strict anti-pornography laws (Mulya and Hald 2015).

With regard to the third argument, two American studies have presented findings that seem to contradict those of the German study. In the first one, male and female participants were exposed to erotic and neutral images, and their neurological response was measured during the first second of exposure. Hypersexuals (heavy consumers of porn) showed no signs of habituation or desensitization to erotic images in relation to neutral images (Prause et al. 2015).

The other American study likewise found no signs of desensitization:

Data from a large sample of men (N = 280) across similar studies were aggregated to test the hypothesis that consuming more VSS [visual sexual stimuli] was related to erectile problems. These men answered questions about their sexual behaviors and feelings, including their consumption of VSS, and viewed sexual films in the laboratory. Those who reported viewing more VSS in their own life reported higher sexual arousal to films in the laboratory. Self-reported erectile functioning with a partner was not related to the hours of VSS viewed weekly. Finally, those who viewed VSS more also reported higher desire for both partnered sexual behaviors and solo sexual behaviors. This pattern suggests that those who view more VSS likely have a higher sexual drive and experience a stronger sexual response to standardized VSS than those who view less VSS. Sexual arousal responsivity may not be impaired by viewing more VSS at home, as it actually was related to stronger desire and sexual arousal in two of the three relationships tested. (Prause and Pfaus 2015)

Some of these findings are compatible with those of the German study. The latter study looked for long-term effects of porn consumption and found evidence of atrophy in some areas of the brain. Viewing porn in a laboratory won't produce any measurable atrophy because the time spent viewing isn't long enough (the films varied in length from 20 seconds to three minutes). The same kind of objection holds for the other American study discussed above, which found that porn consumption didn't reduce sexual arousal during the first second of exposure to an erotic image. Perhaps porn consumption makes sexual arousal less sustainable even though the initial response remains as strong as ever.

On the other hand, it's harder to dismiss the self-report data from the second American study: men who viewed more porn had a higher level of sexual desire than those who viewed less. So what gives?

Perhaps the two groups of men were different to begin with. This is plausible because the pool of participants was much more diverse in this American study than in the German study. The latter study excluded participants with psychiatric, medical, and neurological disorders or with substance abuse problems, whereas the American study had much weaker exclusion criteria. Furthermore, the German study had German participants, whereas the American study had participants who were 53.3% white, 23.1% Hispanic, 16.0% black, and 7.6% other or unknown (Kühn and Gallinat 2014; Prause and Pfaus 2015).

No one seems to have considered that ethnic/racial background might be confounded with sexual arousal or hours spent viewing porn. It's not as if this kind of confound is unlikely. Brown and L'Engle (2009) found higher porn consumption by young African Americans than by young European Americans. Ybarra and Mitchell (2005) reported that "Hispanic youth were almost three times as likely to report online seeking versus offline seeking behavior versus otherwise similar youth of non-Hispanic ethnicity (p = .02)." Price and Miller (1984) found that African Americans were also more likely than European Americans to use sexual fantasy to achieve arousal.

Just as importantly, according to a recent review article (Collins et al. 2011), erotic content in music, movies, and magazines seems to have different impacts on the development of sexual behavior in young white and black Americans:

Brown and colleagues subsequently expanded on this work by linking exposure to sexual content in a broader variety of media to intercourse initiation and advances in noncoital behavior. They surveyed 1,017 North Carolina youth when they were 12-14 years old and again two years later. Sexual content exposure in television, music, movies, and magazines predicted advancing sexual behavior, even after other variables were controlled for statistically, but only among white youth, who comprised about half of the sample. No relationship was observed among African-American teens, who made up the other half of the study sample. 

Most recently, Hennessy and colleagues analyzed web surveys of 506 Pennsylvania teens aged 14-16 years at baseline and followed them annually for a total of three surveys. They examined television, music, movies, magazines, and video games with a sexual content exposure measure. Data were analyzed using growth curves, testing whether changes in exposure to sexual media over time are correlated with changes in sexual behavior during the same period. They found that changes in exposure to sexual content were associated with changes in behavior among white teens (the r = 0.46 correlation just missed statistical significance, perhaps due to the small sample), but there was no association among African-American youth.

Whether these differences between white and black Americans are innate or learned is beside the point. These differences exist, and they should be controlled in any study with a mixed pool of participants. Otherwise, it’s no longer clear which way the arrow of causality points. In this case, the American research team found that porn consumers have a higher level of sexual desire. They concluded that porn consumption increases a man’s desire for sex. Well, perhaps. Or perhaps there is a subset of men who consume lots of porn because they have a stronger desire for sex.

In any study of this sort, the pool of participants should be as homogeneous as possible, i.e., it should be limited to people who probably shared the same potential for sexual arousal when some of them began viewing porn.


Research on the harmful effects of porn is shifting to the hypothesis that excessive consumption desensitizes the male brain. It seems, however, that this effect varies from one man to another, both within racial/ethnic groups and between them. It may be that porn desensitization is a greater problem for men whose ancestors were overwhelmingly monogamous, i.e., from Eurasia. For them, porn has created something entirely novel that their ancestors never experienced and never had to adapt to: a virtual environment where a man can have sex with as many women as he wishes. In contrast, porn may be less problematic for men with ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa, where polygyny has long been the norm (Goody 1973; Pebley and Mbugua 1989).


Brown, J.D., and K.L. L'Engle. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with U.S. early adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit media, Communication Research, 36, 129-151.

Diamond, M. (2009). Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: a review, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 32(5), 304-414.

Collins, R.L., S.C. Martino, and R. Shaw. (2011). Influence of New Media on adolescent sexual health: evidence and opportunities, Working Paper, Rand Health, April 2011

Dupanloup, I., L. Pereira, G. Bertorelle, F. Calafell, M.J. Prata, A. Amorim, and G. Barbujani. (2003). A recent shift from polygyny to monogamy in humans is suggested by the analysis of worldwide Y-chromosome diversity, Journal of Molecular Evolution, 57, 85-97.

Goody, J. (1973). The Character of Kinship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hald, G.M. and N.M. Malamuth. (2008). Self-perceived effects of pornography consumption, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37(4), 614-625.

Kühn, S. and J. Gallinat. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption. The brain on porn, JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827-834.  

Mulya, T.W. and G.M. Hald. (2014). Self-perceived effects of pornography consumption in a sample of Indonesian students, Media Psychology, 17(1), 78-101.

Pebley, A. R., & W. Mbugua. (1989). Polygyny and Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa. In R. J. Lesthaeghe (ed.) Reproduction and Social Organization in Sub-Saharan Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 338-364.

Prause, N. and J. Pfaus. (2015). Viewing sexual stimuli associated with greater sexual responsiveness, not erectile dysfunction, Sexual Medicine, 3(2), 90-98.

Prause, N., V.R. Steele, C. Staley, D. Sabatinelli, and G. Hajcak. (2015). Modulation of late positive potentials by sexual images in problem users and controls inconsistent with "porn addiction," Biological Psychology, 109, 192-199.

Price, J.H. and P.A. Miller. (1984). Sexual fantasies of Black and White college students, Psychological Reports, 54(3), 1007-1014.

Ybarra M. and K.J. Mitchell. (2005). Exposure to Internet pornography among children and adolescents: a national survey, CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8(5), 473-486.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The canary in the coal mine?

Magazine rack in a Japanese store (Wikicommons - Corpse Reviver)

Hugh Hefner's death has ended an era that actually ended around the turn of the millennium. Gone are the days of porn in limited supply. During my teen years Playboy wasn’t sold in my town. You had to go to a drugstore 15 kilometers away and buy it in person, while hoping the cashier wouldn't blab to others. Then you had to find a place to hide it. Videocassettes were starting to come on market, but they had to be bought even farther away, and there was still the problem of finding a hiding place.

Fast-forward to the year 2017. From my computer I can access porn of almost any description in almost any quantity. And the access is fast, free, and anonymous. There is no comparison to the world of my youth, and even less to the world of 1953, when Playboy made its debut. That same year King Farouk of Egypt was described as a "self-indulgent playboy" with "carloads of erotica" (Gunther, 1953, p. 205). Carloads? That's nothing. Today, anyone with an Internet connection can stash away thousands upon thousands of erotic images.

This is a new sensory environment for humans. An analogy would be the increasing availability of food to native peoples in the far north. In the past their environment offered meat in limited amounts, and sometimes none was available. Hunters were thus highly motivated to seek out food and not let any go uneaten. Now fast-forward to the present. High-calorie snacks are available in any store, and they’re tasty with lots of salt, sugar, and fat—the very nutrients that were once in short supply. As a result, obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the North.

No surprise really. And should we be surprised to learn that the increasing availability of porn today may have similarly adverse effects?

This question was addressed by a recent study on how porn consumption affects the male brain. Sixty-four men had their brains scanned, and the results were compared with the number of hours they spent viewing pornography per week. The results? Prolonged exposure to porn seemed to atrophy those portions of the brain that process erotic stimuli. The volume of gray matter was smaller in those subjects who viewed the most porn, and functional connectivity was likewise reduced. They seemed to require more porn (or harder porn) to achieve the same stimulation.

Taken together, one may be tempted to assume that the frequent brain activation caused by pornography exposure might lead to wearing and downregulation of the underlying brain structure, as well as function, and a higher need for external stimulation of the reward system and a tendency to search for novel and more extreme sexual material. This hypothesized self-perpetuating process could be interpreted in light of proposed mechanisms in drug addiction where individuals with lower striatal dopamine receptor availability are assumed to medicate themselves with drugs (Kühn and Gallinat 2014)

This interpretation is supported by a recent review of the literature:

Some internet activities, because of their power to deliver unending stimulation (and activation of the reward system), are thought to constitute supernormal stimuli, which helps to explain why users whose brains manifest addiction-related changes get caught in their pathological pursuit. [...] In short, generalized internet chronic overuse is highly stimulating. It recruits our natural reward system, but potentially activates it at higher levels than the levels of activation our ancestors typically encountered as our brains evolved, making it liable to switch into an addictive mode.

[...] previously established brain maps for "natural" sexuality cannot compare to the newly developed and continuously reinforced maps generated by continued compulsive watching of Internet pornography, and thus the addicted individual progresses to more explicit and graphic Internet pornography in order to maintain the higher level of excitement. (Love et al. 2015)

Of course, the arrow of causality might point the other way. Perhaps a man will seek out and view more porn if he already has less of the gray matter for sexual arousal. Only a longitudinal study can tell us which is causing what.

Let's suppose the first explanation is the right one. What can we do? Frankly, I'm pessimistic about legislative solutions. Give politicians the power to ban Internet porn (or Islamist extremism), and they'll use it to ban … the Alt-Right. Our political class lives in another age and sees reality through the lens of yesterday's issues and yesterday's priorities.

A second problem is that politicians try to ban child porn much more than the adult stuff. This is a classic case of going after a soft target that is secondarily important and perhaps not important at all. If porn has a desensitizing effect, it should cause pedophiles to lose interest in real children and focus on electronic images, since only the latter can be viewed in sufficient quantity to cause sexual arousal. So what’s the problem?

We should worry more about porn desensitization that disrupts relationships between adult men and women. A similar phenomenon has been noted with TV viewing: the more people watch TV, especially programming with romantic content, the more dissatisfied they feel with their marriages (Reizer and Hetsroni 2014). We may be becoming too good at creating virtual alternatives to reality.

The Japanese case

This desensitization may be most acute in Japan. In comparison to the United States, porn is more freely available there and less "compartmentalized":

Nudity is evident in both sexually identified and general circulation magazines. For instance, the weekly general-interest magazines will often include several photographs of nude women (plus ratings of local massage parlors). Although such magazines are oriented predominantly for businessmen, the inclusion of sexual photographs is also assumed to interest the business audience. In this regard, it is apparent that rigid boundaries do not exist for the publication of sexual material. In fact, nudity or sexual themes appear in Japanese teen magazines, sports magazines, fashion magazines, and so on. 

[...] Japanese public television is also different from its American counterpart. Overtly sexual material and nudity are permissible. For example, a Japanese television program known as the 11 P.M. Show can feature a strip tease, bare breasts and buttocks, reportage on massage parlors, expert authorities on sex, and so on. Similarly, the Japanese public-access movie channels can feature R-rated movies such as Emmanuelle (with some air-brushing). Finally, even Japanese commercials and advertisements have more flexibility in sexual content. (Abramson and Hayashi 2014, p. 179)

This ubiquitous porn is viewed by Japanese men, who are less polygynous than most human males and have lower blood levels of 5a-reductase—the enzyme that converts testosterone into the more physiologically active DHT (Ross et al. 1992). Lower testosterone activity seems to be an adaptation to monogamy and high paternal investment:

Numerous studies reveal a negative correlation between testosterone concentration and paternal care in diverse mammals including nonhuman primates and humans. Several researchers suggest that spousal investment accounts for the lower testosterone of married men compared to unmarried men, but findings that the lowest testosterone levels are observed in married men with children implicate paternal care as particularly relevant. Thus testosterone reduction may reflect a facultative shift in male reproductive strategy from intrasexual competition and copulation to care of young. (Shur et al. 2008)

Some Japanese authors have reached this sort of conclusion, seemingly echoing J. Philippe Rushton (although the book in question predates his publications by several years):

Finally, a number of Japanese authors (e.g., Komatsu, 1974) have also suggested that Asian populations are less sexualized than Caucasian or black populations. They cite secondary sex characteristics (less public hair, smaller breasts, etc.) as evidence. Unfortunately, the data on sexual frequencies (intercourse, etc.) are not particularly reliable, and it is not clear whether competing responses (such as nurturance) are mediating sexual expression. (Abramson and Hayashi 2014, p. 182)

Japanese men and women may thus be especially vulnerable to porn consumption. More and more couples no longer have sex, the percentage rising from 31.9% in 2004 to 36.5% in 2008 and to 47.2% in 2016 (McCurry 2017; Moriki 2012). The major reasons given are "tired from work," abstention from sex after a birth, and "sex is too troublesome" (Moriki 2012). These reasons are probably proximal, and in any case it is far from clear why they would be growing in importance.

There is some indication that the Japanese realize that porn is becoming a problem. But it’s not clear where this realization will lead. In this, as in many other things, they follow the lead of other Western countries, especially the United States. Concern about porn is thus limited to child porn.


Abramson, P.R. and H. Hayashi. (1984). Pornography in Japan: Cross-cultural and theoretical considerations, in N.M. Malamuth and E. Donnerstein (eds) Pornography and Sexual Aggression, pp. 173-184, Orlando: Academic Press.

Gunther, J. (1953). Inside Africa, New York: Harper & Brothers.

Kühn, S. and J. Gallinat. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption. The brain on porn, JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827-834.

Love, T., C. Laier, M. Brand, L. Hatch, and R. Hajela. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet pornography addiction: a review and update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433.

McCurry, J. (2017). Record numbers of couples living in sexless marriages in Japan, says report, The Guardian, February 14

Moriki, Y. (2012). Mothering, co-sleeping, and sexless marriages: implications for the Japanese population structure, The Journal of Social Science, 74, 27-45.  
Reizer, A. and A. Hetsroni (2014). Media exposure and romantic relationship quality: A slippery slope? Psychological Reports, 114(1), 231-249.

Ross, R.K., Bernstein, L., Lobo, R.A., Shimizu, H., Stanczyk, F.Z., Pike, M.C., and Henderson, B.E. (1992). 5-apha-reductase activity and risk of prostate cancer among Japanese and US white and black males. Lancet, 339, 887-889.

Shur, M.D., Palombit, R.A., and Whitten, P.L. (2008). Association between male testosterone and friendship formation with lactating females in wild olive baboons (Papio hamadryas anubis). Program of the 77th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, p. 193.