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Internet use affecting teen 'relationships'

January 15, 2014 - Part 1 of a series on teen internet use.

An estimated 300,000 pornographic websites are online, and with just a click of a button, not only are relationships being adversely effected, a generation of America's youth is growing up with a skewed idea of what intimate relationships truly are.

"It's a very complicated issue," said Clarkston psychotherapist John Scharfenkamp.

Today people are more connected than ever thanks to the internet, changing society at a level comparable to the automobile.

"Structure of society and our culture has changed over the past generations because of things like the automobile and internet," said Scharfenkamp. "Changes have allowed us access to things we did not have before. Now we have very broad access with expanded limits of access to people."

Scharfenkamp said teens growing up viewing internet pornography may come to believe the acts and behavior they see is natural and expected behavior in real relationships. They may even come to expect this behavior from other as they grow to an age of sexual maturity.

There is no shortage of stories of "sexting", a conversion via text of a sexual nature because of pressure to perform in the way seen online.

Explicit images are posted on social media without so much as a second thought. Images that are everlasting, and can lead to a reputation damaged forever.

Throw in a webcam, and you have young people trying to compete for attention with sex industry workers. Kids are growing up to think this is normal and acceptable behavior. With compulsive behavior, like pornography addiction, parts of the brain part are effected and ultimately strengthened with repeated behavior, he said.

After the automobile was invented and people had more things to do, psychologists began seeing increased complaints of anxiety. Today, those same complaints have shifted to depression.

"Anxiety was the predominant concern people had in the 50's now that concern has shifted to depression," Scharfenkamp said. "If we look at individual members of society, our sexuality is intertwined with other sources of expression in ourselves. We never had availability of sex gratification like we do and people can have contact with each other immediately."

Sexual impulses can be acted on immediately too.

"Sex is a cornerstone of who we are as individuals, and when we can freely express our impulsiveness we are more likely to experience depression," said Scharfenkamp.

One of the greatest expressions and meaning in our lives is relationships and our connection to others, and sex is the most powerful way to express ourselves in an close intimate relationship, he added.

"Now sex has come to be viewed as a recreational sport. Without much meaning attached to it."

In times of instant gratification why put forth such great effort in a relationship when you can find it elsewhere immediately?

In olden days, society placed limits on free expression and relationships, like marriage, were significant milestones in life. Today people are growing evermore disconnected. The institution of marriage is dying a relationships are suffering.

"If I use sex as recreational sport I take away a very important aspect of a relationship," he said. "Having the expression of intimacy with partner. "

According to Scharfenkamp, nowadays people are less inclined to put forth the effort in personal relationships, that were once such a sacred and valued piece in society.

People are forgoing marriage and many more children are being raised without both a mother and father. "There are fewer commitments," explained Scharfenkamp.

Many times someone who is heavily involved in viewing pornographic material is less likely to make a commitment to another person because there is not as much incentive.

"This lack of connection can lead to depression because relationships don't have the same meaning in our lives."

Pornography can have many adverse effects from not being able to really connect with relationships, to a lack of impulse control. Being unable to control instant gratification, can also be tied to aggression, said Scharfenkamp.

Although society is more connected than ever-- it is also more isolated.

Families in the same house text instead of talk. Partners choose the internet over being close to their partner.

"It's like anything goes these days," said Scharfenkamp. "This is due to feelings of estrangement and isolation combined with no impulse control which for some unleashes aggressions."

In Part 2, impulse control and the internet.

Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.
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