Sex Life of the American Male

How new technology, new mores, and current events impact male sexuality.

The Male Brain and Technology: Sexual Implications

Is technology rewiring male sex and sexuality?

Last year's postings considered the changing ideal of masculine beauty in a multicultural world. This year we contemplate another force that is shaping male sex and sexuality: Technology.

There are abundant claims that technology is rewiring the human brain, particularly social media, video games, and the Internet (especially pornography). Ominous prognostications regarding technology's impact on the brains of children and adolescents are common media occurrences. For example, The New York Times ran a front-page article "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction" (November 21, 2010) examining the correlation between technology and short attention spans. A week later Philadelphia Magazine published "Is It Just Us, Or Are Kids Really Stupid?" It claimed that technology is causing today's youth to become, well, stupid. Several recent books promulgate the same thesis.

Since the brain is intimately involved in sexual desire, arousal, performance, and even satisfaction (and to a far grater extent than the external anatomy commonly associated with sex), neurological rewiring due to technology could very well impact all of these attributes. This would occur in two not mutually exclusive ways.
• Technology may lead to problems that mediate sexual behavior, including an inability to delay gratification and contemplate consequences, distractibility, and impulsivity. Obviously if technology is causing any of these characteristics to increase in the population, particularly amongst young people, sexual repercussions are not difficult to formulate. For example, an impulsive male who cannot consider the consequences of his actions is at higher risk for engaging in unsafe sexual activity.
•  Technology may also directly affect sexual behaviors regardless of (or in addition to) the aforementioned mediating factors. Patrick Carnes, for example, popularized the concept of compulsive online sexual behavior in which individuals become enslaved to Internet porn and/or other online sexual activities.

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Of course technological advances do not necessarily promote only untoward effects on sex and sexuality. More and more youth receive high-quality sex education through respectable Internet sources, and sex educators use similar resources as an adjunct to their standard curriculum. Also, as I described in last year's postings, Internet porn is advancing an acceptance of the varieties of masculine beauty in our multicultural world.

At present, there seems to be no consensus regarding the impact of technology on the brain, and as for its impact on sex, demagoguery supersedes science. The next several blogs will begin to extract fact from hyperbole.

Michael Shelton is a writer, therapist, and educator focused on male sex and sexuality issues.

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