Can sexual fetishes be developed by pornography?


A sexual fetish is a paraphilia (para=beyond the norm; philia=love) where the person achieves arousal and orgasm in the presence of a particular object.

So can pornography cause paraphilias to develop in users of porn?
According to psychology and neuroscience, the answer is yes as fetishes can be developed through psychological conditioning processes called operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

These scientific findings support the confessions by those who have been arrested for sexual misconduct, such as this 2018 case where a Canadian animator for the popular child franchise, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Littlest Pet Shop, got arrested for possessing sexually explicit child images. From this case, we can draw an example of how operant conditioning drives addictive behaviours:

“In a pre-sentence report, presented to court, [the MLP animator] Wysom told a probation officer that he developed an addiction to adult pornography about a decade ago, but slowly became desensitized to it and ‘needed something more.’ He turned to child pornography, Wysom said, which became a way to deal with his clinical depression and other medical issues.”

These cases have become so common to the point where a police chief in the United Kingdom reported that there is currently a growing number of young males developing behaviours of pedophilia as their porn addiction escalates. These males too initially have zero desire to watch sexually explicit images of children until after they grew desensitised (numb) or bored towards legal porn.

As for classical conditioning, let’s say a person has a sexual fetish for door knobs (which is possible as there are a few people with this fetish).

Question is, how did this person develop a sexual fetish to door knobs?

The situation: According to an anonymous person’s case, his door knob fetish all started when he was in his pre-teens to early teens and at home. He had a strict-religious mother who stigmatised any topic related to sex, so during that time he would masturbate in his bedroom with his hand always tightly holding onto the door knob of his door in case his family members open his door (we would assume there was no lock on his bedroom door). After that first incident of masturbating while his hand was tightly clenching onto the door knob, he developed a sexual fetish towards door knobs and has a collection of them hiding underneath his bed.

Now let’s determine how this fetish of his developed through classical conditioning: 

US (Unconditioned Stimulus: Masturbation) —> UR (Unconditioned Response: Sexual Arousal & Orgasm)

Pretty basic cause and effect. Now let’s add in the neutral stimulus, which in this case is the door knob.

Neutral Stimulus (door knob) + US (Masturbation) —> UR (Sexual Arousal & Orgasm)

Now let’s remove the unconditioned stimulus (US) and replace it with the conditioned stimulus (CS). 

CS (Conditioned Stimulus: door knob) —> CR (Conditioned Response: Sexual Arousal & Orgasm) 

As you can see, the neutral stimulus (door knob) has become the conditioned stimulus that leads to the same or similar result. The conditioned stimulus has, in a sense, replaced the previous stimulus or unconditioned stimulus. Masturbation is no longer needed to achieve sexual arousal towards that particular object. Seeing images of the object alone is enough to elicit a sexual response (activate sexual arousal).

Pedobear with a mouthful of candy

Now let’s apply this same concept of classical conditioning to these stimuli: porn and pedophilia (another sexual fetish). Already there are few people who privately or anonymously admitted that they developed a sexual interest towards children through viewing child porn or child-themed porn (i.e. “barely legal”, “daddy’s little girl”, schoolgirls, “teen” porn genre).

US (Porn) —> UR (Sexual Arousal & Orgasm) 

Neutral Stimulus (child, teenager, childlike adult) + US (Porn) —> UR (Sexual Arousal & Orgasm)

CS (child, teenager, childlike adult) —> CR (sexual attraction/pedophilia)

*Note that the unconditioned response and the conditioned response may not be the exact same though are similar.

Conclusion: Given that our brains are neuroplastic (changeable), it is actually possible to unlearn or remove a conditioned response by undergoing certain psychological procedures. Of course, there may be other variables besides porn as to what may cause sexual fetishes but we definitely shouldn’t ignore these logical findings, reports from criminal cases, nor people’s valuable anecdotes (personal experiences). Sexual fetishes are worth doing research and quasi-experiments (ethical but unreliable experiments) on as they can lead to answers as to why people commit certain sex crimes or why they have an immoral/socially unacceptable fetish. This allows us to figure out solutions on how to reduce sex crimes and to even help prevent relationship problems from happening.


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