No. 4 Autumn 2017


“The nights are fair drawing in” as they say in these parts during autumn. So to divert your attention to warmer ideas, here are a few stories and news items about The Reward Foundation and our activities in the past few months. We haven’t included everything we’ve done as you may have read the stories already in our weekly news items on the website or in our Twitter feed.

Wishing you a delightful festive season when it comes. Peace and love to you all from everyone at The Reward Foundation.

All feedback is welcome to Mary Sharpe [email protected].

In this edition

RCGP Accreditation for The Reward Foundation

The Reward Foundation has been accredited by the Royal College of General Practitioners to deliver continuing professional education (CPD) for GPs on the subject of the impact of internet pornography on mental and physical health. The warrant extends to members of any of the other medical Royal Colleges in the UK and Ireland.

We’ll deliver these primarily as one-day workshops. Each will be worth 7 CPD points. Psychologists, nurses, and therapists are welcome. As pharmacists will soon be required to deliver health advice to men seeking over-the-counter medicine for erectile dysfunction, we will collaborate with them too. The plan is to start delivering workshops in January. Watch out for details. If you’d like more information on the workshops in the meantime, please contact [email protected].

Your Brain on Porn by Gary Wilson

The second edition of this excellent and concise book is now available.

“Your Brain on Porn is written in a simple clear language appropriate for expert and layperson alike and is rooted firmly within the principles of neuroscience, behavioural psychology and evolution theory … As an experimental psychologist, I have spent over forty years researching the bases of motivation and I can confirm that Wilson’s analysis fits very well with all that I have found.”
Professor Frederick Toates, Open University, author of How Sexual Desire Works: The Enigmatic Urge.

In 2014, when Your Brain on Porn was first published, online pornography and other technological substitutes for human connection barely featured in public debate. Since then the wider culture has been slowly realising that staring at a screen or plugging into a VR headset is not the path to sexual liberation. The evidence points in the opposite direction. Graphic sexual content, available on demand, and in apparently infinite variety, may pose a significant threat to human wellbeing. Forty studies now link porn use to poorer cognitive function and mental health problems. Twenty-three studies link porn use to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli. Five of these suggest causation because the men being assessed healed problems by eliminating porn use.

“A new area of medicine” – RCGP Adolescent Health Conference

Contrary to popular opinion, adolescents do use the services of GPs as frequently as other age groups.  The GPs we presented to at this conference said they had not been asking the right questions of some patients when faced with certain conditions. One GP said the revelations about porn’s impact was “like discovering a whole new area of medicine or finding a new organ.” We were delighted that the presentation went down well and was relevant to their clinical practices. The doctors said they were committed to asking those more challenging questions in future.

This took place at the first ever conference in Scotland on adolescent health. It was staged in Edinburgh on 17 November and was organized by the RCGP with experts on adolescence coming up from London. There were over 40 healthcare practitioners in the audience.

TRF Research published

In February 2017, team TRF attended the 4th International Conference on Behavioural Addictions in Israel. This academic conference presented the very latest research into the various impacts of internet pornography on behaviour. Given the importance of this subject to the therapist community and to pornography research academics, we compiled an article to make this key research available to these communities.

Pornography and Sexuality Research Papers at the 4th International Conference on Behavioral Addictions was published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity online on 13 September 2017. It will appear in print in Volume 24, Number 3, 2017.  Free copies are available by request from [email protected].

Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice Appointment

Our CEO, Mary Sharpe has been made an Associate of the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ) based at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. We are delighted. Mary said “I hope it will help spread word of The Reward Foundation’s research and outreach work and enhance our contribution to the development of public policy in Scotland.” Mary will be speaking at the CYCJ event on 7 March 2018 in Glasgow calledGrey cells and prison cells: Meeting the neurodevelopmental and cognitive needs of vulnerable young people.

Relationships Scotland – Sex Therapist Training for Couples

There are many reasons why some couples use pornography. Whatever the motivation, more and more couples are seeking help from sex therapists at Relationships Scotland. According to Anne Chilton, head of training there, in the 1990’s pornography was an issue for around 10% of couples coming in for counselling. Today she says it is a problem for over 70%. Out-of-control pornography use is cited as a cause of divorce and relationship breakdown in an increasing number of relationships. She said, “they know about every sexual position but nothing about intimacy.”

To help therapists understand and deal with the new porn-saturated environment, TRF was invited to deliver some training to the latest cohort of therapists being trained. Sex therapists have almost exclusively been trained in psychology. Today an understanding of behavioural addiction and the neuroscience research underpinning it is a necessary part of any relationship therapy training. It helps for instance to understand how men in particular, who are the main users of online pornography, can escalate to new genres of porn and need a level of stimulation that no one partner can match. This is known as ‘tolerance’ a classic feature of addiction.

Edinburgh Medico-Chirurgical Society (founded 1821)

The seed was planted almost three years ago. At that time, our CEO Mary Sharpe had given a presentation to criminal justice professionals about the impact of internet pornography on the teen brain and its links to sex crime. In the audience was retired consultant psychiatrist Bruce Ritson of the Royal Edinburgh hospital and founder of SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems). He was astonished at the similarities between the impact of pornography and the impact of alcohol on the adolescent brain. Both are strong stimuli which, when used in excess over a period of time, can restructure the brain and its functions, especially in the immature brains of young people. Indeed the research demonstrates that the brains of young compulsive porn users light up in response to cues in the same way as the brains of cocaine addicts and alcoholics when shown equivalent cues.

As a result of that event and subsequent discussions, Bruce Ritson kindly invited us to deliver the opening lecture of the venerable Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh’s 190th session in October this year.

Doctors are at the sharp end of health care so they are always interested in any emerging area of mental and physical health. We were able to provide the latest developments in the research, including the papers that show that even ‘moderate’ use of porn (three hours per week) can shrink grey matter in key areas of the brain. Immature young brains are particularly vulnerable.

Society For Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH)

As a Board member of the American-based organization SASH, our CEO Mary Sharpe is required to attend the annual conference. It is no burden at all. It is a pleasure to meet and discuss the latest developments in the field with a wide range of clinicians, academics and healthcare professionals from all over the US and beyond. This year we were in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In addition to excellent speakers like Professor Warren Binford who spoke about the research on the lasting damage to victims of child abuse imagery (see her TEDx talk), we interviewed the President of SASH, Mary Deitch, a legally-trained psychologist about her experience in practice of dealing with sex offenders. We also interviewed a local young man, Hunter Harrington, (17 years old)  who is himself a recovering porn addict. He has made it his mission to help others who have been snared and where possible to prevent other young people from getting into strife. The edited interviews will be available on our website in due course.

Youth Theatre Group, Wonder Fools take on Porn in The Coolidge Effect

The Reward Foundation was a proud co-sponsor along with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland of youth theatre group, Wonder Fools, in their production of The Coolidge Effect. See here for our earlier story on it.

Live theatrical performances are a great medium for education especially for young people and concerns very close to their heart.

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