Desensitization refers to a natural phenomenon in which humans produce less emotional or physical response to a repeated stimulus. Whether the stimulus is naturally-occurring or brought on by an external force, the result is the same. This is very similar to the concept of Diminishing Returns.
In Psychology, Systematic Desensitization is used to treat certain phobias. In this form of treatment, the affected person is exposed to his fears in a systematic fashion until he is able to overcome his fears altogether. For example, if a person presents with a fear of snakes and is unable to control his anxiety even when thinking of snakes, would have to go through a series of therapy sessions in which he will be exposed to his fears starting with thoughts of snakes and ending with holding a snake in his hands. The stepwise progression is systematic and tailored to the fears of the person, hence the name Systematic Desensitization.
Desensitization and Muslims
It may not seem this way but many problems faced by Muslims are due to Desensitization. For example, pornography addiction is a direct result of Desensitization. The real concern is in the covert and subtle nature of this process making it very difficult to deal with properly. A person who goes from watching PG-13 movies to pornography does not realize how he got there just as a person progresses from having one drink to becoming an alcoholic.
Allow me to illustrate by using a multi-phasic process even though this does not occur in a phase-like manner.
A child begins to watch TV and is introduced to children’s programming such as Sesame Street. In these programs, the child subtly becomes used to looking at women who would be considered “exposed” according to the conditions set forth in Islam (sleeveless shirts, shorts etc). Therefore, the child finds it normal to see people wear these “revealing” clothes.
The young teenager has reached puberty and is now aware and confused about his sexuality. He does not watch Sesame Street any longer but his parents allow him to watch The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Why? Because these channels are supposedly “suitable for children.” Through this, he is exposed to even more “revealing” women. Moreover, the young teenager begins to learn about inappropriate and un-Islamic relations with the opposite gender.
This teenager is now in high school, the most challenging time of his life. He also has Facebook and Twitter accounts exposing him to even more content on the internet. He has also been following his favorite stars from those “children’s shows” as they’ve become full models and celebrities. Watching people kiss on TV or in high school is not a big deal. Seeing women wear inappropriate clothes is an everyday occurrence. Through the internet or other sources of media, he has probably already seen pornographic images as well.
Shall I continue? At this time, I am certain that you have understood my point. This slow progression from sleeveless shirts to bikinis happens so subtly that we don’t notice it. Similarly, the progression towards pornography and beyond also occurs at a slow rate for most individuals. A client of mine once explained to me how he progressed through his pornography addiction. According to this 17-year-old, he began by watching “normal” pornography as he was “too ashamed” to watch hardcore pornography. But as time passed, he was unable to achieve the same level of pleasure from this level of porn, therefore he progressed further. This went on and on and, according to him, he went from watching straight pornography to gay pornography, then even pornography involving animals and little children. According to him, at his level of extreme pornography, he is unable to achieve any pleasure from the average hardcore pornography. This is Desensitization and how it affects us.
It is important to mention here that Desensitization can also occur in a positive manner. For instance, a person may begin by donating a very small portion of his income to charity and if he continues to perform the act, he will find himself being able to donate a large portion without feeling any remorse.
Quranic Point of View
When considering this subject, I was in search of verses that explained the natural tendency to become Desensitized. In my opinion, the best description of this phenomenon comes up in (92:5-10):
“As for he who gives and fears Allah, And confirms the truth. We will make the easy path easier for him. But as for he who withholds and considers himself free of need, And rejects the the truth. We will make the hard path easy for him.”
In these verses, Allah (SWT) is stating that if you accept and confirm the truth, He will make the right path easy for you but if you deny and reject the truth, He will make the difficult path also easy for you. Therefore, this ease of being able to accept or reject the truth is from Allah (SWT). This is why we see that most “good” people get better and better overtime and most “evil” people become worse and worse over time. If a person chooses to take a route that ends at pornography or other addictions, then Allah (SWT) will make that route easy for him to follow. On the other hand, if a person chooses to do good in his life, little by little, Allah (SWT) will make that route easy for him to follow as well.
I have just two words: prevention and education. Prevent yourself, your family members, and children from having access to ideas and things that are detrimental to them. If you don’t want your child to end up with an addiction to pornography, be cognizant of what programs your child watches on the television. Moreover, educate them about the harmful effects of their actions and what Islam teaches and how we should live our lives as Muslims. Proper and appropriate sex education should be an integral part of your child’s early education. If you avoid the topic or your child’s questions, he will find the answers elsewhere, most likely on the internet. Try searching “sex” on Google and see where it can take you.