As I See It: What Did You Do At Work Today, Daddy?
January 25, 2010 Victor Rozek
Spot Quiz: What’s not a drug, but is addictive? What contains no alcohol, but provides a buzz? What’s not smoked, but alters brain chemistry? What’s not food, but produces cravings. Hint: In recent years, it has become a silent workplace epidemic.
Every day millions of men (and to a lesser degree women) sequester themselves in offices around the country and, in an attempt to relieve stress, assuage boredom, or mollify intense biochemical urges, Google their favorite Internet porno site. “A whopping 25 percent of all daily Internet search engine requests and 35 percent of all downloads are for pornography,” report sex and relationship therapists Wendy and Larry Maltz. And statistics show that a mind-boggling 70 percent of Internet porn downloads occur during working hours. It gives new meaning to Blue Monday.
About one third of men and 13 percent of women admit to using porn online during working hours; apparently intent on refuting the notion that business and pleasure can’t mix. Porn users actually report feeling “safer” watching porn at work. At home, locked doors and frequent periods of sequestration are harder to justify, and disapproval lurks but a room away. But a closed office door suggests work is being done. Although 65 percent of larger corporations use software to monitor or block their employees’ Internet usage, many don’t. For others it’s simply not cost effective. And even those that do have no dominion over personal laptops and other hand-held wireless devices. Regardless, as far as the user is concerned, porn is like any compulsive behavior: the need for reward soon eclipses the reality of risk.
In times of economic stress, pornography use increases. Indeed, when more is being demanded of fewer employees, escape from stress and anxiety is cited as one of the foremost justifications for workplace pornography use. In one of the more unusual cases, James Pacenza, a 19-year veteran of IBM, is suing the company in federal court for firing him after he visited an adult chat site and neglected to log off before going home. Another employee at the East Fishkill, New York, research park saw the computer, was apparently shocked, shocked, I tell you, and tattled to management. Pacenza’s defense, as imaginative as it is nonsensical, was that he is entitled to visit such sites because he suffers from Vietnam-era PTSD and chatting about all things sexual relieves his stress. IBM no doubt argued that it was not paying Pacenza to conduct personal therapy sessions on company time. Perhaps the judge will suggest jogging.
Stress, however palpable, doesn’t explain compulsion. We are well aware of the addictive properties of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and even food. But little is generally understood about the addictive attributes of porn. Visually ingested, porn can nonetheless produce drug-like euphoria. The Maltzes describe the biochemical effects of porn in their groundbreaking book, The Porn Trap. “Porn stimulates an area of the brain known as the ‘hedonic highway,’ or median forebrain, which is filled with receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine.” Dopamine is released in the brain during pleasurable activities, and porn causes dopamine production to spike. “This dramatic increase in dopamine produces a drug-like high some researchers believe is most similar to the high caused by crack cocaine.” Small wonder users risk jobs and relationships. In fact, so altering is the dopamine hit, say the Maltzes, that “people in porn recovery take an average of eighteen months to heal from the damage to their dopamine receptors alone.”
And dopamine is only one ingredient in the feel-good cocktail. Adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin are also produced at elevated levels. As with addictive drugs, over time higher doses–or increasingly deviant images–are required to produce the same high. An IT employee, whose story is referenced in the book, reported spending up to four hours per day getting his porno fix.
Typically, heavy porn use requires isolation, secrecy, and deceit; qualities that will not be welcomed by the partner at home or the manager at work. And whether personal or professional, porn all but guarantees to have an injurious impact on relationships. For one thing, male porn users develop the dangerous belief that women exist solely for their pleasure; and regardless of how they are treated, will always be eager and delighted to endure whatever indignities are heaped upon them. Experiments with monkeys suggest that, saturated with pornographic images, a male’s testosterone level can climb up to four times its normal rate. The dubious appeal of simian pornography notwithstanding, excess testosterone, whether in man or monkey, has never been the wellspring of sound judgment.
There are many documented cases of testosterone-addled employees sending inappropriate pictures to fellow employees, not all of whom were amused. Aggressive behavior, sexual advances, and the use of sexually suggestive/abusive language are other common behaviors fueled by porn. As a result, numerous sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed claiming violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even accidental discovery of porn use can be interpreted as harassment, making a company liable for tolerating a hostile work environment. One in four companies report firing employees over inappropriate Internet usage.
At home, where at one time couples may have used porn to spice up their relationship, the relationship now is with the porn itself. Rather than arousing the partner, say the Maltzes, porn competes with the partner. And the person at home can’t possibly vie with the endless variety and physical perfection to be found on the Internet. Like drug addiction, porn addiction damages more than the user. Porn requires no intimacy, no giving, no shared journey, no trust. It is therefore easier than human relationships, but is also ultimately empty. Still, the Maltzes document that many users do not come to that realization until they have lost their family, or their job, or in some cases their freedom. Downloading child pornography is a criminal offense. Divorce lawyers report that in cases where compulsive Internet use was cited as the prime reason for separation, over half of the compulsions involved pornography.
Human sexuality is a complex tangle; a crucible of opposites. It is, at essence, paradoxical: both powerful and fragile, spiritual and animal. In different contexts it can be sublime or silly, compelling or disgusting, joyful or shameful, elevating or degrading; and its development is influenced by many factors, some of which we are just beginning to understand, including: genetics, biochemistry, upbringing, media, trauma, and need. In its capacity for creating joy and inflicting pain, it perfectly reflects the pathologies of the human condition.
A particularly distasteful expression of human sexuality has burrowed into the workplace. What 30 years ago took some effort to acquire and was confined to glossy magazines and plain-brown-wrapper videos, is now plentiful, anonymous, and instantly available. A new commercial pornographic video is reportedly produced every 39 minutes in the United States. Children are the fastest growing audience and the average age of exposure is eleven years old. Hard core porn is as much a fact of life for children as Playboy was for the Boomer generation. And things promise to get worse. With the advent of 3D Internet, porn use is likely to explode to a level we can’t begin to imagine.
Healing sexuality is a long process and one which, in most cases, requires help. The subtitle of The Porn Trap is: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. For anyone struggling with the addiction, it’s a good place to start.