Friday, April 16, 2010

"CNN: Porn for the Blind" --> What do Blind People See?

So I decided to finally break down and join the blogosphere after reading my friend, Spencer's (check him out - blog. In any case, I plan on posting on things that I experience and/or find intriguing.

I stumbled across this video on CNN a solid while ago. While I found myself giggling at times, as the immature adult that I can be, I found this to be fascinating once I began to think about the nature of arousal. On the most basic of levels, arousal is a mixture of physiological and psychological response to stimuli. Since it has been more than a few years since I last sat in my Physiological Psychology class, I had to consult with my learned colleague: The Internet.

There are many different neural systems involved in what is collectively known as the arousal system. Four major systems originating in the brainstem, with connections extending throughout the cortex, are based on the brain's neurotransmitters, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. When these systems are in action, the receiving neural areas become sensitive and responsive to incoming signals. (Thanks, WorldWideWeb!)

Arousal is a crucial component for our existence as it is responsible for motivating certain behaviors, such as mobility, the pursuit of nutrition, fight-or-flight, emotion, and sexual activity, among others. Referring back to the video, the sexual aspect of arousal becomes interesting, in relation to blindness. According to Masters and Johnson, there exists a four-stage model of physiological response to sexual stimulation: (1) excitement phase, (2) plateau phase, (3) orgasmic phase, and (4) resolution phase. The excitement phase occurs as the result of any erotic physical or mental stimulation. It would be in this category that pornography could/would be used. However, would this new pornography for the blind only be useful for blind individuals that were previously able to see, and thus relate to past experiences, or could it also be used for people that have been blind for their entire life? For example, would a blind man be able to distinguish what would excite him about a pornographic image of a woman if he had never seen one with his eyes? Or would the other senses take over for the man and allow his imagination to fill in the (brail) dots?

It is widely known that once vision fails, the brain compensates by reorganizing networks in a kind of...cortical re-mapping. This plasticity accounts for the heightened alertness of other senses as a different one fails or other connections are formed. In terms of sexual arousal, blind individuals clearly have other stimuli to work with, just as people with perfect vision do. External stimuli such as varying degrees of touch, taste, smell (pheromones), etc. clearly dominate vision in the sexual stimulus arena (sounds like Viagra sponsored a sports team). However, would it even be useful for a blind man that has never seen a nude woman/man to "look" at this new pornography for the blind?

I suppose this question delves deeper than sexual arousal. However, it does become an interesting vessel to question the reality of those that cannot see. For most of us, vision is the basis for which we formulate an opinion on the external stimuli that surrounds us for our entire lives. It is truly intriguing to ponder what someone would "see" when vision isn't the basis for thought.

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