Porn on the Brain

Porn on the Brain

by Heather Kolb September 27, 2018


At Pure Desire, we often hear people say, “My porn use doesn’t hurt anyone,” or “It’s just porn.”

It’s NOT JUST PORN.

Pornography is one of the largest economic sectors on the Internet. Culturally, for both men and women, sexual activity on the Internet has altered our perception of human sexuality. Virtual connection allows for sexual exchange to happen through our imagination and fantasy, free from face-to-face interaction or any form of emotional attachment. This reinforces our addictive behaviors and our lack of true relationship, which leaves us feeling isolated and alone.  

Pornography use also changes our brain. Simply put, our brain runs on neural connection: the nerve cells in our brain and nervous system that communicate by passing along neurotransmitters from one neuron to another. Think of neural connection as the iMessage system of the brain. Today, scientists recognize that our brain is changeable, shaped by our environment and experience.  

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that creates a feeling of pleasure when we accomplish something. While many drugs can stimulate the production of dopamine, many of our behaviors can do the same thing. For example, running a race and winning can create the release of dopamine in the brain. Although our body is exhausted, mentally and emotionally we feel exhilarated, as though we could run the race again and win. The losers, who ran a good race but lost, feel grumpy, depressed, and exhausted.

In many ways, pornography use overrides and misuses our dopamine system: it provides the immediate release of our pleasure-giving neurotransmitter, but we didn’t have to work for it.

Why does all of this information matter to us? Because it’s clear that porn negatively affects our brain.

Here are three ways that pornography use affects our brain:


THE PORN BOND

When it comes to the neurological process of mating and pair bonding, the brain is very busy. As we enter relationships through dating rituals, our brain produces dopamine—making us feel really good—which results in increased energy, focused attention, and a decreased need for food and sleep. This is why new relationships feel so insatiable: we can’t get enough of it.

In relationships, through physical and sexual touch, and orgasm, bonding hormones are released: oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Behaviorally speaking, for men, this hormonal release causes them to become territorial and want to protect the object of this release; for women, this hormonal release creates strong feelings of contentment, causing them to want to stay put and “nest.”

Pornography use disrupts this bonding process. Many men and women who use pornography get to a place where they can no longer achieve orgasm with their real-life sexual partner: they have rewired their brain to only respond to pornographic images.     

Wendy and Larry Maltz, authors of The Porn Trap, write:



"Powerful human bonding hormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, are released with orgasm. They contribute to establishing a lasting emotional attachment with whomever or whatever you happen to be with or you’re thinking about at the time. The more orgasms you have with porn, the more sexually and emotionally attached to it you’ll become."


THE PORN MYTH

At a foundational level, pornography ignores and misrepresents the truth about real men and women and the human experience. Women are portrayed as interchangeable sex objects, or sex toys, who only exist to provide the ultimate sexual experience for anyone who crosses her path. Equally concerning is the way men are portrayed in pornography: engaged in an endless pursuit of sexual conquest, void of any genuine emotional connection.

Pornography creates a condition by which all real-life interactions suffer by comparison. In reality, since many of us don’t look or behave the way men and women are portrayed in pornography, it alters our ability to sustain lasting relationship.

For many young men and women who learn everything they know—or don’t know—about sex from pornography, they are continually confused and disappointed by their real-life sexual encounters. When things don’t go as expected—experiencing a deep physical and spiritual connection, passionate love making, and life altering orgasms—they are left feeling embarrassed, humiliated, and broken. This leads to shame, which can recreate the need for acting out through pornography.   

Although they may try and try to “get it right” in the context of a real sexual relationship, they will continue to be disillusioned by their experience. These failed sexual encounters will create negative messages in their brain: I will never be able to satisfy a real woman; I will never experience true love and connection; I will never be enough. This again leads to shame.

Contrary to what we see in pornography, many women desire a close, sexual experience, but typically require a period of foreplay before having sex; and many men want to feel valued and an emotional connection before having sex.


THE PORN BRAIN

Pornography use is highly addictive and creates lasting change to the brain. For both men and women, the sexual excitement derived from watching porn releases dopamine in the brain. This increases our sex drive, facilitating orgasm through masturbation, activating the pleasure centers of the brain.

Evidence suggests that pornography use—along with many other substance and non-substance addictions—can significantly alter the landscape of the brain. When we do things to stimulate the production of dopamine, through our behaviors or substance use, a protein called 𝚫FosB (pronounced Delta Fos B) is produced and accumulates in the neuron. In real person terms, this makes us want more porn, even crave it, but now it’s not as satisfying. Each time we act out in our addictive behaviors, more 𝚫FosB accumulates until it flips a switch: affecting how our genes are turned on or off, influencing their genetic expression. In the moment, we think that using pornography and masturbating is not a big deal, “Not hurting anyone else.” However, when we do things that change our genetic expression, we are potentially passing along our addictive behaviors to our kids. Even long after the substance use or behavior is stopped, the flipping of this switch can create persistent and permanent changes in the brain.

In many ways, pornography use changes our brain without our awareness. When we increase the production of dopamine through pornography use, it over saturates our reward system, creating extreme feelings of excitement, elation, and bliss. Pornography use, unlike other forms of sexual stimulation, increases an individual’s desire and alters arousal. Due to the nature and variety of pornographic material available online, many men and women are surprised at how quickly their sexual preferences changed, as their brain become conditioned by what they were viewing.

In The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge writes:

"The content of what they found exciting change as the Web sites introduced themes and scripts that altered their brains without their awareness."


Pornography use alters our brain. It creates a false sense of relationship through imagination and fantasy, inhibiting our ability to form intimate connections with real people. Pornography is a myth. In many ways, it portrays a world of self-centeredness, that sets us up for disappointment, dismissing the value of emotional connection in relationship. Pornography use heightens our arousal and neurologically perpetuates our addictive cycle in our brain. For many of us, we become hooked before we know it.

Pornography teaches us that relationship is not required for satisfying sexual experiences. The Bible teaches us that true relationship is the foundation for sex, reflected through amazing sexual experiences.

Don’t let your brain become pornography’s next victim.


1. Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
2. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc. 
3. Hyde, J. & DeLamater, J. (2006). Understanding Human Sexuality (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
4. Maltz, W. & Maltz, L. (2008). The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
5. Katehakis, A. (2010). Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot, Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addiction. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
6. Nagoski, E. (2015). Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
7. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.

         

Heather Kolb

Heather is the Content Editor and Neuroscience Professional on staff at Pure Desire. She has a Bachelor's in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Criminal Behavior. Heather worked several years as a college professor prior to joining Pure Desire. She is an integral part of our speaking team and is the co-author of Digital Natives: Raising an Online Generation.





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