This book was a very interesting and enlightening read. There are a few minor complaints, but overall I see it as a beneficial book to provide insight into the world of addiction as a whole and of pornography and sexual additions in particular.
The first portion of the book is dedicated to a scientific view of things. It explains in detail the chemical reactions that take place in sexual development and during sexual activities. It explains and explores the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur during "healthy" sexual activity (intercourse in a dedicated, loving relationship) as compared to "unhealthy" sexual activity (pornography, fantasy, lust, rape, etc). Kastleman also compares the physiological and emotional similarities seen when comparing cigarettes/alcohol/drugs/chemical additive behavior/activities with illicit sexual behavior such as viewing pornography. The chemical overload and the resulting "highs" and "lows" follow the same cycle and show stunning correlations between the two and highlight evidence that the viewing of pornography has the same addictive properties as smoking, drinking or doing drugs.
He further explores the differences between the male and female brain. He makes the distinction that females can become addicted to porn and sexual activities as well, but is careful to point out that the path to addiction is generally quite different between women and men due to the differences in their mental structures. I surely won't put it quite as effectively as he did, but from a high level the differences are largely that men are focused on the physicality while women are focused on the emotional. With that in mind, it may not seem logical that women can be addicted to porn since it is so focused on the physical and lacking the emotional…but that is based largely on the world view of porn which is based on the male model…Kastleman explains the different types of porn available (not explicitly or graphically, mind you) and points out how the porn industry has created porn for physically-minded men as well as porn for emotionally-minded women.
As part of the exploration of the notable physiological behaviors, Kastleman describes what he calls the "funnel" effect of 'sex' (meaning healthy or unhealthy sexual intercourse, lust, fantasy, pornography interaction, etc).
In describing a healthy sexual relationship, he showed how the preamble to sex is more than just "foreplay" but actually encompasses the relationship itself…the romantic interludes, the kind words, fun dates, courtship, etc. It then progresses to sexual intercourse which is the culmination of the courtship/romantic practice by bringing two people in love as close as they can become and allowing for a wonderful shared experience. Following the healthy sexual relationship beyond the sexual act, he points out that for a healthy sexual relationship, they come out of the sexual experience fulfilled and brought closer together and thus happier and more in love.
In contrast, viewing pornography (or other illicit sexual activities) remove the relationship aspect and narrow the "funnel" immensely, focussing solely on the act itself. The same chemical experiences occur, but without the appropriate emotional buildup or preparation. Furthermore, after the act itself is complete, the participant is left without any emotional (or even physical or mental) support and dropped from the "high" into a free fall out of the "funnel." In addition, the participant (depending on his/her moral background and other relationships) often feels guilt or shame at the act. Add to this the fact that his/her brain gets desensitized to the pornography and thus needs more and more extreme forms for the same "high" and the shame factor often increases as time goes on because the behavior/practice becomes more illicit/taboo/etc.
The result is a sort of emotional downward spiral. Add to this the general stigma put on 'unhealthy' sexual behavior, and the porn addict often finds him/herself floundering and alone. The guilt/shame factor leads the individual to become isolated or secretive, hiding the practice and unwilling to even seek help because of the taboo surrounding the behavior. In contrast, society as a whole presents tons of opportunity for sexual fantasy and sets a double standard…on the one hand promoting promiscuity and pornography as normal and acceptable…and on the other hand, presenting sexual addicts as heinously dirty and undesirable individuals. This polarity in opinion creates a divide in the mind of the addict and makes it even more difficult to find a path. The book spends some time explaining the nature of the porn industry and the way the Internet has made it even more accessible. It also explains the way society as a whole is growing more and more desensitized to the presentation of pornography (just look at all the near-soft-core porn on prime time network TV…to say nothing of cable TV).
In the last portion of the book, Kastleman presents his 'power principles' for escaping and/or preventing sexual addiction.
(I don't have the book in front of me right now, so hopefully I remember these correctly).
First, his focus is on adequately and accurately teaching the truth about sexual intimacy. He discusses the paradox we create when we teach kids that sex is 'dirty' or 'forbidden' and that they should avoid it…while at the same time telling them that it's a special experience they should 'save themselves' for their spouse. Sometimes kids only get ONE of these messages…if all they get is the "save yourself" message, then there's no real explanation as to what sex is about or why it's important to wait and be pure. If all they get is the "taboo" message, then when they feel the sexual stirrings of puberty, they suddenly feel like they are dirty, evil people. Kastleman focuses, from a religious perspective, that sexual intercourse is a great gift from our Creator to help us become "one" as husband and wife and to participate in the "creation" process ourselves.
In this section, I really liked his analogy…that LIFE is so sacred that we have huge consequences for someone who irresponsibly TAKES a life…but we are flippant about someone who irresponsibly GIVES life.
The second principle focused on is one of creating "true" intimacy in relationships…to help understand the difference in the emotional 'funnels' of healthy sexual behavior and unhealthy sexual behavior and to chose the former. He emphasizes that each of us as humans need and desire love and affection. A healthy, romantic, intimate relationship provides healthy, lasting and fulfilling state of love and affection. Conversely, an unhealthy, lustful 'relationship' with pornography simply provides fleeting "highs" and devastating "lows" that result in loneliness and isolation.
Finally, he proposes that we prepare ourselves. Society is a mess. Pornography and sexual complacency are more and more prevalent in the world. We need to recognize the dangers and properly fortify ourselves and our families. We need to be able to recognize in ourselves (and others) the "triggers" that can lead to unhealthy sexual desires so that we can avoid them and climb out of the hole before falling too deep. We also need to be aware of warning signs that someone is struggling with the shame cycle that comes with addiction and be prepared to help them in a positive way. We should also make appropriate physical safeguards in our home and environment (keep the computer in a high-traffic area, install Internet filters to protect web surfers, avoid situations prone to sexual presentation, etc.).
As I mentioned at the beginning, I found this book very informative and worth reading.
I did have (and have heard from others) a few minor complaints. My biggest personal complaint is that of an English major and frequent reader. This book desperately needs another pass or two by a copy editor. The grammatical errors weren't huge, but they were frequent enough that it was a distraction to me. Considering the amount of time required to gather and properly annotate the many research articles/books/etc that he cites, it wouldn't have been out of line to take a little extra time for an additional pass to check grammar/etc.
I saw online a couple of people complaining about Kastleman's religious comments. While he does not promote any particular religion in this book, he most certainly has a belief in God and has a definite moral compass that he follows. Probably the most specifically religious segment of the book has to do with his discussion of sexual intimacy as a sacred gift given us from God and intended as a kind of parallel with His act of creation. Since everyone has different beliefs, this concept in itself could be controversial. To those who are non-religious or atheistic, any concept of a Creator or a God is against what they want to believe. At the same time, I look to the "12 step" program created by Alcoholics Anonymous and adopted by many other addiction programs…their program doesn't preach any particular religion, but it definitely has aspects that looks to the divine and believes in a Creator or a God who is out there to help work through things. I'm not here to condemn anyone for not believing in God, but I think that using Kastleman's religious remarks as an excuse to dismiss what he presents is a pretty weak excuse.
The one other complaint that I heard from someone is that this book could actually act as a "trigger" to get someone into porn addiction. I've seen similar arguments made about books that talk about drugs, eating disorders, serial killers, etc. I do put some stock into the fact that some people are just SO prone to a particular kind of behavior that they could be unduly influenced by the presentation of data. However, I feel that this book was presented appropriately and clearly so as to provide factual data without inappropriately being alluring or glamorizing the porn industry. It most definitely did not condone indulgence in porn. What it did do was explain, from a high level without specific details, some of the general methods the porn industry tries to entice men, women and teens into the world of pornography. I don't personally see those descriptions as being potential "triggers" but I suppose some overly ambitious/curious reader may seek to "test out" the claims that innocuous paths can quickly become enticing traps laid by the porn industry.
So, overall, I felt that this book provided an intriguing and educational view of addiction from a scientific point of view…of the emotional, physical and mental changes that happen due to pornography…and provides good advice to help avoid or escape pornographic addiction. As a man in my mid-30s with my own sexual desires, I found a lot of value in the scientific exploration and in the advice given. Moreover, as a parent of 3 young children (my oldest being a 10-year old boy), I have been considering lately how to best protect my kids from the sexual wiles of an increasingly dangerous world. While this book doesn't provide all the answers, it at least gives me some ideas and paths to follow.
It's a pretty quick read and I can see this as being beneficial to almost anybody living in our increasingly sexual world.
4 out of 5 stars
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