Back to the books; the porn reader

BY ABBY STUDENT | Evergreen sex and relationship columnist

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As we settle into our class and extracurricular routine for the semester, I urge you to obey your professors’ instruction and read like a fiend. Hit the books harder than ever before, or at the very least, harder than you did last year.

While I’m sure you’ve already visited The Bookie and subsequently scoured Amazon for better deals, know that I am not actually referring to the materials your professor falsely deemed “necessary to pass the course.” Instead, I urge you to read for pleasure, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word.                                                                                             

I challenge you to broaden your horizons this semester by trading in your video clip for a well-formulated script. Take a leave of absence from mainstream pornography and explore erotic fiction. But don’t do it for me; do it for your brain.

A study published in the journal NeuroImage in 2006 revealed that reading fiction positively affects the brain by stimulating areas other than those used in language processing. Spanish researchers asked study participants to read both neutral words and those associated with a strong odor while they scanned their brain with a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI). When subjects saw the words “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex showed activity. However, when they read the neutral words “key” and “chair,” the area remained dark.

In 2012, researchers at Emory University arrived at the same conclusion when they found that vivid descriptions involving texture and movement stimulated the sensory and motor cortexes. Ultimately, brain scans verified that reading a rich description, interpreting a complex metaphor, or visualizing an interaction between characters positively affected the brain by forming neural connections. The participants’ behavior changed noticeably after the fact.

Expectedly, the same can’t be said for television consumption. While overall, traditional TV has been found to decrease the human attention span and lower intelligence, pornography presents an entirely new set of problems.

Scientists recently discovered that repeatedly viewing sexual images might pose harm to the brain. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found that the striatum, the part of the brain that activates when people experience motivation and reward, shrinks and works less efficiently in frequent porn users. As a result, people who consume a lot of pornography become desensitized over time and need more graphic images to achieve their baseline stimulation.

Recognizing that scientific data is rarely effective in driving human behavior, understand that there are practical reasons to explore erotic fiction.

Erotica writer and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel explained that erotic fiction allows the reader to visualize him or herself in the story, emotionally invest, and envision the physically impossible. Bussel has edited more than 50 anthologies and teaches workshops to writers in the genre. After reading an immense breadth of topics over the course of her career, she said she is confident that erotica can be written about absolutely anything.

“There is so much variety,” she said. “There is dinosaur erotica. There is erotica about foot fetishes. There’s very specific erotica and then there are longer novels that go more in depth.”

Overall, Bussel said erotica delivers more emotional depth than is possible with on-screen action. She clarified that this emotion doesn’t automatically translate to arousal either. While arousal is erotica’s primary purpose, readers can find themselves laughing or crying at different points in a storyline, she said.

“I love that the genre encompasses the darker side of sexuality,” Bussel said. “Erotica has room for satire and struggle. I’ve read erotic stories about homeless people, cancer patients and those going through a breakup. Those aren’t things that people necessarily want to see on screen.”

In her 15 years of experience, Bussel said she has found that more often than not, people who think they are open minded realize they are not as open minded as they thought they were after reading nontraditional stories.

“We frequently think ‘if I like it, everyone likes it’ and vice versa,” she said. “That’s often not the case, and there is an educational element to being exposed to sexualities that are different than our own.”

For those seeking erotica online, International Business Times ranked Literotica and Adult-FanFiction.org as the top two websites to read erotic and romantic fiction. Regarding novels, there are many to choose from. While the popular E.L. James “Fifty Shades of Grey” series garnered international attention, authors like Joey Hill, Cara McKenna, Shayla Black and Maya Banks have contributed great works to the genre during the last 20 years.

Regardless of whether you wish to combine erection and neural connection or remain faithful to your video routine, all I ask is that you expose yourself to a variety of pornography throughout your lifetime. Consume movies, pictures and written work on a variety of topics to keep your mind open and relieve sexual tension. While pornography generally misrepresents the human sexual experience, science has proven that it is good for the population on the whole. Researchers have found that countries with readily available pornography had a lower sexual assault rate than those without access.

For those who don’t read or watch it and declare pornography distasteful and violent, as the old adage goes, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”

Turn a page or two. Whether it’s dinosaurs or three ways, the world is yours to get off to.