The Coolidge Effect

Why We Have Made A Show About Pornography

In 2015 Wonder Fools began creating ‘The Coolidge Effect’ – a play about society’s relationship with pornography. The show is a new piece of contemporary theatre which uses a blend of storytelling, poetry and scientific dissemination to explore how pornography affects our mental health, relationships, and sexual experiences.

The play was first presented at Into The New Festival in association with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2016. Since then, we have had a work-in-progress sharing at the Glue Factory in December 16, before presenting The Coolidge Effect properly for the first time at Camden People's Theatre earlier this year. Following this, the show won a Special Commendation as part of The Suitcase Prize at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich during PULSE Festival. We are now incredibly excited to bring this version of The Coolidge Effect back to Scotland this Autumn.

Over a year ago we wrote a blog to accompany the launch of the ‘The Coolidge Effect’ and discuss why we were making this particular show. We shared it again for our work-in-progress last December and thought for this Autumn tour it would be a good idea to revisit some of the things we discussed in that blog again and the reasons why we are still passionate about the performance’s stories and subject matter.

The original process for ‘The Coolidge Effect’ saw Wonder Fools embark on a process disseminating the scientific theories around the mental health implications of pornography. Our aim in 2015 was to create a performance that sparked an open and honest dialogue about sex and the internet and that remains the case this time around too.

The research process included studying theses and essays; working closely with academics; and watching lots of documentaries and TED talks. In addition, we spoke directly to those affected by pornography and the people close to them. These conversations, along with our research, are at the heart of ‘The Coolidge Effect’.

The interviews we conducted with both scientists and real people spanned the globe, including people in: Quebec, California, Sweden, New York, Indonesia, Pittsburgh, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and London.

Wonder Fools’ programme has always been conceived to be as varied as it is dynamic: exploring different forms – verbatim theatre, historical theatre, participatory performance, performance installations – in tandem with wide-ranging subject matters – the Spanish Civil War, record-breaking athletes, nightlife culture and now pornography addiction.

As we did in 2015, we feel an urgency to talk about pornography and mental health. With an informed sensitivity ‘The Coolidge Effect’ will address these issues at their core. Let us be clear, this project does not condemn pornography, nor does it wish to pass judgement – we only want to bring awareness to the issues involved and start talking about them.

Here’s a few facts that started us thinking:

·      Every month people visit porn sites than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined (bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

·      Every second 28, 258 users are watching pornography on the internet (http://bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

·      The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old, on average (bit.ly/CovenantEyesStats)

·      40% of online pornography depicts violence against women (bit.ly/HGWdocu)

We’ll be sharing updates regularly throughout the process in the lead up to this tour of ‘The Coolidge Effect’. The show will be staged at the following venues:

Traverse Theatre - 20-22 September / Tron Theatre 27-30 September /Macrobert Arts Centre 20 October / New Diorama Theatre 18 November

Tickets: www.wonderfools.org

WF.

 

The Future of Intimacy

In 2013 the film ‘Her’, written and directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix, depicted a near-future world where a man falls in love with a computer operating system. The OS is intelligent, charismatic and has a female human voice (Scarlett Johansson). Last year in the film ‘Ex Machina’, an android with artificial intelligence, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, displays charm and seductive powers as ‘she’ tries to pass the Turing test – which determines whether a machine has an intelligence equivalent to that of a human. Both are films which present a science-fiction world where computers and robots have the ability to build relationships and express intimacy with humans. Emerging from the research of Wonder Fools’ latest project I have found that this fiction might soon become a reality.

Early in the 1990s, virtual reality was on the verge of being the next big technological advancement. Excitement began to grow about the possibilities of ‘another world’ but the hype was soon stunted by the reality that the technology was not yet ready. Fast-forward to 2014, where Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook acquired the leading developer of virtual reality, Oculus Rift, for $2billion. The money itself speaks volumes about the advances of VR technology since the early 90s and the significance Facebook places on it as the future of communication. On the day of the purchase, Zuckerberg himself wrote:

‘Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.’

Virtual reality is not just the future of gaming, as it is often dismissed as. Zuckerberg’s vision is that VR makes Facebook a place, a digital location. In addition, there are already companies scrambling to develop software for all kinds of different purposes: education, sports and even pornography. Developers in the porn world are creating experiences that were beyond the realms of possibility even 10 years ago. Fantastical scenarios, specific fetishes and even the opportunity for virtual sexual relationships. As the technology develops and grows even closer to reality, the question is: how will VR experiences affect our relationships in the real world?

The easy answer would be to say: ‘not at all’. However, for many people intimate experiences and relationships with computers, robots and VR could help fill a void in their lives. For people that are lonely or who struggle with the otherness of other people, virtual experiences offer an alternative to relationships that are hard to initiate let alone maintain in the real world. In addition, virtual reality or robots may allow us in the future endless options for customisation: we could build the perfect person for us, the person of our dreams. Some say the danger with this, and the answer to my question above, is that people become lost in the virtual world or dependent on their relationship with an android. Others would argue: if this makes them happy, is it a bad thing?

Another question that sprung to mind when researching was: is this all inevitable? Is the human race destined to a future in fifty or one hundred years time of having sex with robots and falling in love with virtual characters? In Japan, where there is a growing fascination with digital technology, there is a “flight from human intimacy” – a third of all under 30s have never dated. In South Korea, a goal has been set with the aim that every household in the country has a domestic robot by 2015. Sex toy company True Companion has developed a robot called Roxxxy. Designed for sexual purposes, the robot is just recently on sale for $6,995 – in May 2015 there were already over 4000 pre-orders. Daniel Levy, the publisher of ‘Love and Sex with Robots’ argues that just like same-sex marriages have been recently accepted, in the future relationships with robots will become part of the norm. A Sunday Time article quotes industry insiders concurring with this, stating that by 2050 intimate relationships between robots and humans will be accepted as everyday.

Most indicators point towards a future where intimacy and relationships with robots and in virtual worlds are real possibilities and an option for many. But whilst the technology is still being developed and this future is still 10, 25 or 50 years away there are still a lot of questions. Will human relationships ever be replaced altogether? Will the intimacy of a human loved one always prevail? Furthermore, there are ethical questions to be raised such as is virtual sex with a virtual person cheating? Robert Weiss, an expert on intimacy, sex and addiction in the digital age (who Wonder Fools had the pleasure of interviewing as part of the Coolidge Effect research process) believes that nothing will ever beat the feeling of human touch and interaction. This is my personal view: that nothing will ever better the real thing. That said, as discussed in this blog I can see the benefits that virtual relationships could have for other people. One thing is certain: that the science fiction of films like ‘Her’ and ‘Ex Machina’ may soon be just science.

 

Further Reading and Watching:

Article: Sunday Times “Is the future of intimacy A sex robot?” - bit.ly/timesrobot

Article: The Guardian “Sex, love and robots: is this the end of intimacy?” - bit.ly/guarobots

Article: The Guardian “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?”- bit.ly/guarticle

Article: The Verge “Voices From A Virtual Past” – bit.ly/vrhisto

Robot: True Companion “The Roxxxy Robot” – bit.ly/roxxxybot

Documentary: Vice “Digital Love Industry” – bit.ly/vicedocu

Why We Are Making A Show About Pornography

The Coolidge Effect’ sees Wonder Fools embark on a process disseminating the science and theories around the mental health implications of pornography. Our aim is to create a performance that sparks an open and honest dialogue about sex and the internet.

Our research process has included studying theses and essays; working closely with academics; and watching lots of documentaries and TED talks. In addition, we have been talking to those who have been directly affected by pornography and the people close to them. These conversations, along with our research, are at the heart of ‘The Coolidge Effect’.

So far in the interviews we have conducted we have spoken to people across the world in: Quebec, California, Sweden, New York, Indonesia, Pittsburgh, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and London.

We understand that this project is completely different from our work thus far. But that’s why we are doing it.

We feel an urgency to start talking about pornography and mental health. With an informed sensitivity ‘The Coolidge Effect’ will address these issues at their core. Let us be clear, this project does not condemn pornography, nor does it wish to pass judgement – we only want to bring awareness to the issues involved and start talking about them.

Here’s a few facts that started us thinking:

· Every month people visit porn sites than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined (bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

· Every second 28, 258 users are watching pornography on the internet (http://bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

· The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old, on average (bit.ly/CovenantEyesStats)

·     40% of online pornography depicts violence against women (bit.ly/HGWdocu)

We’ll be blogging regularly throughout the process in the lead up to the first performance of ‘The Coolidge Effect’. The show will debut as part of Into The New Festival at the Pearce Institute, Govan, on the evenings of Tuesday 19th and Thursday 21st January.

WF.

 

The Great Porn Experiment

One of the major influences for Wonder Fools at the beginning of ‘The Coolidge Effect’ is Gary Wilson’s TED talk ‘The Great Porn Experiment’. In his 16-minute-long lecture, Wilson outlines the basic theory behind what has become known as the Coolidge Effect and its psychological and physical impacts on the human body.

The theory behind the Coolidge Effect is complex and can be tricky to wrap your head around, particularly to begin with – this blog attempts to address that!

In his TED Talk, Gary Wilson gives an example of the Coolidge Effect. The experiment was originally conducted with rats by American ethologist Frank A. Beach, which you can learn more about in our blog ‘1955 – The Coolidge Effect’. The diagram below shows this experiment using mice. Wilson gives the example of one male mouse having sex with another female mouse. As they continue to mate repeatedly, the male takes longer to ejaculate. However, when presented with a new female, the time for ejaculation reduces considerably.

This is the Coolidge Effect: it demonstrates that sexual arousal increases when presented with new prospective partners. It appears to denounce monogamy but in fact it does not, the theory merely poses that it is variety not the act of sex that is crucial to maintaining sexual interest. (WF Edit: This variety can be achieved by simply “spicing up your love life”). Gary Wilson predominantly evidences the Coolidge Effect in young men but we believe its psychological and physical impacts can affect any gender.

What interests Wonder Fools about the Coolidge Effect is what happens when pornography gives us an unlimited supply of variety. The internet has exploded our options. We can access pornographic videos and explicit images anytime anywhere. In the original Coolidge Effect experiment, Frank A. Beach concluded that the rats would never stop mating as long as new females were introduced. In his TED Talk Gary Wilson asks: if the variety never stops what happens next? Wonder Fools’ ‘The Coolidge Effect’ attempts to investigate this.

This blog covers the Coolidge Effect on a very basic level. If you are interested in the topic, please see the TED Talk at the bottom of this article for Gary Wilson’s full lecture. In addition, if you want to find out more information or have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact Wonder Fools.

Gary Wilson is a physiology teacher with a particular interest in the latest neuroscience discoveries. Wilson is the host of www.yourbrainonporn.com, an online community which offers support for those affected by internet pornography. You can watch the full TED Talk here: bit/ly/greatpornexperiment

 

Porn's Effect on the Brain

What is porn’s effect on the brain?

When people view pornographic videos online this activates the chemical dopamine. Dopamine surges adrenaline through the body and to the brain which releases Delta Fos B. Delta Fos B is what creates addictive traits in our bodies. When we eat fatty burgers and want more calories? Delta Fos B. Addiction to drugs? Delta Fos B. 

When Delta Fos B is constantly reactivated – i.e. when constantly watching pornography - the addiction becomes habitual and the binging cyclical. The more pornography that is watched, the more Delta Fos B accumulates in the brain and eventually this causes the brain to rewire  completely.

These brain changes can cause three things:

1.    Numbed pleasure response

2.    Hyper reactivity to pornography

3.    Willpower erosion

These are symptoms of arousal addiction which can cause both psychological and physical damage to the human body and brain. The implications include: erectile dysfunction, social anxiety, depression and – unfortunately – many more. If men, particularly young men, and women become addicted to watching pornography it is very hard to break the habit.

Only last year at Cambridge University, Dr. Valerie Voon used MRI scanners to conclusively prove that people can be addicted to porn in the same way they can be addicted to drugs. The experiment used 20 healthy male volunteers as a control group and 20 male participants aged 19-34 who claimed they were addicted to pornography. The subjects of the study were shown explicit porn to see if the reward centres of their brains would respond in the same way that it would for drug addicts. When the data was analysed the results were astounding. The control group were clearly, as you would imagine, excited by porn but the compulsive users’ brains were around twice as active. The hyperactivity that showed up in the MRI scan was almost identical to addicts responding to drugs or alcohol. This experiment concluded that porn addiction exists, and affects the brain in the same way any other addiction would.

That all said, there is a long way to go in this under-researched field. If you’d like to learn more about the effects that pornography can have on the brain and see the MRI scans in action, follow this link: bit.ly/VoonScan

Paralyzed and Imitators

In this blog I’m going to discuss a school of thought that places porn addicts into two categories. Throughout our research we’ve heard these categories be referred to using varying terminology but for the purpose of this blog I’ve chosen: paralyzed and imitators.

The first category is the imitators.

This is the belief that when people watch porn, they act out the behaviours of porn in real life. This is backed up by what’s known as a “social learning model”, which is the theory that when behaviour is rewarded within a fictional reality, like porn, it is learned as acceptable by the person watching. It suggests that people who watch more sexually violent forms of pornography can be prone to re-enacting them in real life. There have been very similar arguments used against explicit films and video games to varying degrees of success. 

This theory is also used to argue a positive correlation between porn and violent crime. The prolific serial killer Ted Bundy infamously claimed in his final interview before his execution that pornography had driven him to rape and murder almost 30 women. This is an extreme example of an imitator but an imitator nonetheless.

The second category is the paralyzed.

This is when people watch so much porn that they become desensitized both physically and emotionally. The paralyzed become numb. This theory can be backed up by using Gary Wilson’s interpretation of the Coolidge Effect experiment. Wilson discusses how pornography can lead to conditions such as erectile dysfunction, social anxiety and depression. An enlightening account of someone suffering with these issues is the story of man called Brian, which you can find at the bottom of this blog.

These two categories, the paralyzed and the imitators, are schools of thought. Some people believe this is how porn affects how we act as human beings. I think they both have merit but the issues itself is much more complex than these two categories.

If you’d like to see Ted Bundy’s final interview, follow this link: bit.ly/TedBundyInterview

If you’d like to read Brain’s story, follow this link: bit.ly/BriansRecovery

NoFap

NoFap is an online community which supports people who have become addicted to porn. The website was founded by Alexander Rhodes in 2011 on the social media site Reddit. Since its creation, NoFap’s community has grown to almost 500,000 members – a number which is growing all the time.

The NoFap community helps people in a number of ways. Primarily, there is a forum which contains thousands of posts from users about their experience either combatting or overcoming porn addiction. On the website there is a section called the NoFap academy – the users of the website are dubbed ‘Fapstronauts’ – which includes videos, e-courses and guidance to help people on their way to recovery. NoFap advises porn addiction sufferers to abstain from masturbating to overcome their addictions. There is a panic button on the website which links to a downloadable app with inspirational content for those who feel as if they are about to relapse.

As part of the research process for ‘The Coolidge Effect’, Wonder Fools had the pleasure of interviewing NoFap’s founder and community leader, Alexander Rhodes. We want the show to be based on the experiences of real people who have had to deal with the issues in the piece first-hand. Therefore, speaking to Alexander was thoroughly enlightening and to hear directly both how porn addiction affects people and how NoFap can help was a unique insight that greatly aided our process.

NoFap is one of a number of sites that aim to help people with a porn addiction. Other websites include Your Brain On Porn, which is another forum based website which posts tips and articles focusing on how porn affects the brain. Gary Wilson, who WF blogged about in ‘The Great Porn Experiment, is one of the leading figures behind the website.

Throughout our research, WF have heard many accounts about how websites like NoFap and Your Brain On Porn helped people overcome their porn addiction and gave them a community in which they could talk to others about issues they wouldn’t be able to elsewhere. For more information or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact Wonder Fools and please take the time to visit the websites below to find out more.

 

LINKS

http://www.nofap.com

https://www.reddit.com/r/NoFap/

http://www.yourbrainonporn.com

1955: The Coolidge Effect

1955.

A male rat is placed in a box with several other female rats.

Following its natural instincts, the male begins to mate with the different females repeatedly until sexual exhaustion means it can no longer continue. Despite renewed attempts at intimacy from the female rats, the male cannot respond until a new female is placed into the box.

The presence of this new mate immediately sparks the male back into life and it begins to mate again, solely with the novel female, until it tires once more.

Another new female is then introduced and the process repeats.

This is an experiment by Frank A. Beach, an American ethologist. The experiment later became known as the Coolidge Effect.

The theory that it is not the act of sex that dominates the male rat’s arousal but variety in its sexual experience. It is a biological and psychological phenomenon that has occurred in the evolution of mammalian species including humans.

In recent years the Coolidge Effect been re-appropriated to explain human behaviour in relation to pornography, which you can find out more about in our blog: “The Great Porn Experiment”