You Will Not See Adult Videos The Same After Hearing Brother Ali’s New Song (Audio)

Yesterday (May 5), Brother Ali released All The Beauty In This Whole Life, an LP which unequivocally continues the Rhymesayers MC’s career-long history of addressing the personal and universally relatable through his music. This time around, the Minnesotan keeps it 100% about being the white father to a Black son, being an American Muslim at home and abroad, and about addiction – not only to substances as we traditionally think of them, but also those of the more modern variety.

Namely, “The Bitten Apple” tackles porn addiction, an issue that has only grown more aggressive with the advent of the Internet and mobile technology. Though experts continue to disagree about whether or not viewing pornography has the same chemical effect on the brain as do drugs like cocaine, the number of those claiming to be addicted has reached an amount that cannot be easily dismissed.

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In the first verse of the song, which features Idris Philips, Ali raps:

Self-hate feasting on our deepest darkest secrets
Warning signs that read help needed, too ashamed to seek it
Seems so easily deleted when you’re browsing
But can’t erase the history of what your eyes allowed in
The intimately profound ecstasy that gives life’s
Stripped of all its meaning ’til it eats you from the inside
The big lie, you just do this to get you through the slim times
One click at a time ’til you prefer counterfeit kind
Seen so many scenes that it would seem you’re desensitized
Just to get your fix, you begin dipping into the sick side
Seeking to feed a demon that you no longer recognize
If you swear it off, you’ll never find a place you can hide
Inside your pocket lies a portal to your inner battle
Children of Adam still grappling with that bitten apple

He gets more explicit in verse two:

You create specific demand whenever you click it
Whatever it is you’re into someone’s got to fill it
Have their lowest moments frozen to be shown infinite
You watch the porn get savager
Box office movies nastier, the TV get trashier
School girls are flashing the camera
Profile pic look just like the next amateur

In a recent interview with Ambrosia for Heads, Ali explained the song’s meaning and the spiritual importance he places on our collective desensitization caused by pornography. “Everyone basically has some sort of relationship with porn. You know what I mean? It’s not even something that you have to, like, seek out. It comes to you,” he says before adding “there’s an addictive nature to it.” For him, pursuing a life of virtue and spirituality meant absolve himself of addiction of any kind, with one of his spiritual teachers telling him that watching porn “is not conducive to the spiritual path.” Ali says that’s because of “all of the lies that we have to tell ourselves to make that okay,” suggesting that, when watching porn, we are lying to ourselves about what we are actively contributing to by creating the demand for such content.

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He went on to say “[Porn is] a drug. There’s no question about that. It’s a drug. Some of the studies that are starting to come out really say that, that it’s a straight-up drug. It’s a thing that happened in our brains. Before, during, and after [consuming porn], [our brains] are exactly the same as with drug use…[Porn] really turns our attention from the big things in the world. ‘What are these bigger issues?’ It just makes us focus on hitting the pleasure button, and whatever way we choose to do that. Hit the pleasure button. Hit the pleasure button. Hit the pleasure button. And, ultimately, that’s the connection between spirituality/the spiritual path and politics. Not living lives that are driven [by] and rooted in virtue means that we just do whatever…we’re just interested in being pleased. So we have unchecked egos and unchecked desires, and unchecked lust for whatever’s gonna please us in that moment.”

Though Ali didn’t mention any of those studies by name, there are some scientific and academic investigations that do indeed seem to suggest that our brains are quite literally being rewired to react to the instant satisfaction porn provides in ways very similar to an injection of cocaine or similar stimulant. Furthermore, that alteration in brain chemistry, even if we don’t actively realize its existence, begins to affect our social and interpersonal behaviors.

For example, in 2014, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a report titled “Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption,” more colloquially referred to as “The Brain on Porn.” In it, it’s explained that past studies have respectively found that “boys with daily consumption showed more interest in deviant and illegal types of pornography and more frequently reported the wish to actualize what was seen in real life,” “a decrease in sexual satisfaction and a tendency to adopt pornographic scripts have been associated with frequent Internet pornography consumption,” and “accessing pornography online was predictive of compulsive computer use after 1 year,” though “the brain correlates associated with frequent pornography consumption have not been investigated so far.”

The JAMA study in question acknowledges that “pornography constitutes a prewired, naturally rewarding stimulus and that high levels of exposure result in a downregulation or habituation of the neural response in the reward network,” which Ali refers to in “The Bitten Apple.” JAMA goes as far as to say that “the brain is hijacked, becoming less responsive to pornography,” and so they “set out to investigate the neural correlates associated with frequent—not necessarily addictive—pornography use in a healthy population to explore whether this common behavior is associated with the structure and function of certain brain regions.” But in its conclusion, the study argues that, although “one may be tempted to assume that the frequent brain activation caused by pornography exposure might lead to wearing and downregulation of the underlying brain structure and a higher need for external stimulation of the reward system and a tendency to search for novel and more extreme sexual material,” the increased brain activity could “likewise be a precondition rather than a consequence of frequent pornography consumption.”

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A year after that JAMA report came out, Gary Wilson published Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction, a book which earned him enough notoriety that he was invited to give his very own TED Talk, the title of which was “The Great Porn Experiment.” In his speech, which can be seen in full below, Wilson says the reality is “researchers don’t know much about the effects of Internet porn,” and provides several reasons for his argument. 

Firstly, it’s difficult to study addiction in a group of people – in this instance, college-age males – when it’s impossible to find people who don’t engage in the addictive substance or behavior. “So the first serious dilemma is that studies have no control groups,” explains Wilson. “Now, this creates a huge blind spot. Imagine if all guys started smoking at age 10 and there were no groups that didn’t. We would think that lung cancer is normal for all guys.” A second problem, he argues, is that researches haven’t focused closely enough on the similarities in symptoms of so-called porn addiction and other conditions like ADHD. Researchers haven’t asked porn users about social anxiety, depression, concentration problems, performance anxiety, OCD and a host of others. As he puts forth, “healthcare providers often assume that these conditions are perhaps the cause of addiction but never really the result of an addiction. As a consequence they often medicate these guys without really inquiring about if they have an Internet addiction. Guys never realize that they could overcome these symptoms simply by changing their behavior.” Lastly, Wilson says, the third problem that prevents us from being able to fully understand porn’s addictive nature and its neurological effects on the brain “is it’s hard to believe that sexual activity can cause addiction because sex is healthy.” However, he says, “Internet porn is not sex. Internet porn is as different from real sex as today’s video games are from checkers. Watching the screen full of naked body parts won’t automatically protect one from arousal addiction.”

Nevertheless, we can easily recognize that porn is addictive, even if we don’t yet fully understand the manifestations of the addiction. As Wilson explains, Internet porn is addictive because it involves our “reward circuit,” which “evolved to drive us towards natural rewards such as sex, bonding and food. As a consequence extreme versions of natural rewards have a unique ability to capture us. For example: high-calorie foods or hot novel babes give us extra dopamine. Too much dopamine though can override our natural satiation mechanisms.” Once those dopamine levels have been elevated to such a degree that the brain becomes addicted, we experience “a numbed pleasure response.,” which means “everyday pleasures really don’t satisfy a porn addict.” As such, “everything else in porn user’s life is sort of boring, but porn is super exciting.” In fact, Wilson says, men are becoming so addicted to Internet porn that they are beginning to suffer from erectile dysfunction. In short, “Internet porn is killing young men’s sexual performance.”

In conclusion, Wilson points to “gradual desensitization” and “widespread youthful erectile dysfunction” as proof positive that, at the very least, Internet porn addiction is a troubling phenomenon with troubling,  noticeable effects on our brains. But will that have an effect on your porn consumption habits?