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The Brain’s of Porn Addicts

  1. Statistics on Porn Use
  2. Reasons to Use Porn
  3. Psychological Effects of Porn Use
  4. Porn's Effect on the Brain

Pornography: Helping or Harming Our Brains?

Over the past decade there has been much debate about the merits and risks of viewing pornography. Anti-porn advocates often argue that viewing erotic images can alter the brain and result in porn addiction. In this article we take a look at some of the recent research to better understand what the data tells us about pornography, psychology, and the brain.
Pornography: Helping or Harming Our Brains?

Statistics on Porn Use

porn

One does not have to go very far to obtain pornography; there are literally millions of websites at an internet user's fingertips. Estimates of the amount of internet use devoted to pornography range from 4% to 46% (of all internet use), according to the media.

Research on porn paints a more precise picture, including the following statistics:

  • 46% of men and 16% of women between the ages of 18 and 39 intentionally view pornography in a given week. [1]
  • In a study of people ages 18-26, roughly two thirds (67%) of young men and one half (49%) of young women agree that viewing pornography is acceptable.
  • In that same study, nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) young men and nearly one third (31%) of young women reported using pornography. [2]
  • Among the elderly, while sexual intercourse decreases, masturbation and the use of pornography increases. [3]

Most people who use porn do not spend that much time on it. Some highlights, derived from the data collected through a survey conducted by the Kinsey Institute, reveal that:

  • 66% of porn users view it for 5 hours or less a month.
  • Another 16% of porn users view it for less than 15 hours a month.
  • 6% use it for more than 26 hours a month and 3% use it for more than 50 hours per month. [4]

One research study identified associations among pornography acceptance/use, emerging adults' risky sexual attitudes and behaviors, substance use patterns, and non-marital co-habitation values. [5]


Reasons to Use Porn

women sad

Why do so many people use porn? To some extent, its availability certainly explains the increased use. A person who might not have been motivated to make a trip out to an adult store to buy a porn magazine, or pursue other avenues of obtaining pleasure and satisfaction, perhaps would be inclined to click a mouse.

As porn use has become more widespread, the reasons for its use have diversified. There are both benefits and risks associated with pornography. The availability of porn has made it possible for a number of individuals who might have felt insecure or guilty about their sexuality, or sexual desires, to be able to gain familiarity and comfort with practices that are closer to their realm of experience. Some examples include:

  • Monogamous couples seeking greater sexual satisfaction in their relationship.
  • People living in remote areas, far from meaningful social networks. [6]
  • People who seek to satisfy fantasies in which their partners and spouses do not wish to engage; pornography provides a way to mitigate potential frustration while remaining committed to their relationship.

For some users, pornography provides a way to cope with the difficulties they might be facing, such as stress, depression, or loneliness. Problems can ensue when use accompanies impulsivity, or when users do not feel they have control over their use.


Psychological Effects of Porn Use

Whereas porn can be used in ways that are beneficial to sexual health, approximately 9% of viewers indicate that they are unable to refrain from viewing pornography. [7] Problematic internet pornography use can lead to and exacerbate existing psychological issues with which the user may be struggling. There is a fair amount of research that substantiates the idea that problematic pornography use correlates with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety:

  • More than half of men who use porn have acknowledged that their porn use has caused them problems in life, with the majority experiencing psychological and behavioral repercussions. [8]
  • Compulsive and at-risk cybersex users experience guilt, depression, and anxiety. This may both result from pornography usage and perpetuate further behavior. [9]
  • Personal factors such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, or interpersonal stress may contribute to the ease of conditioning to a pleasurable experience like porn as the behavior alters a negative mood. [10]

Additionally, a growing body of research exists that supports the argument for a correlation between internet pornography use and impulsive behaviors. Initial findings suggest that impulsiveness extends to all internet pornography users and not only to problematic use. [11]


Porn's Effect on the Brain

Recent research has shown that non-drug addictions such as gambling, binge-eating, and sexual activities affect brain function in ways similar to alcohol and drug addiction. [12] Many addiction studies focus on what is referred to as the pleasure/reward circuitry and their corresponding neurotransmitters - chemicals that are responsible for the communication between neurons. One of the neurotransmitters frequently identified as central to addiction is dopamine. A behavior or drug that produces pleasure induces a rush of dopamine that ultimately "reinforces" that behavior, making it more likely to occur. The amygdala, basal ganglia, and other reward centers play a role in the reinforcement of the activity that produces pleasure.

brain

Changes in the brain's neural pathways are referred to as "plasticity"; and "synaptic plasticity" refers to changes among neuronal connections [13].

  • Research substantiates the idea that porn addiction can alter brain plasticity.
  • Non-drug addictions, like internet and pornography use, may lead to changes similar to those reported with long-term drug use. [14]

Additionally, increased pornography use is associated with:

  • Smaller volume and less activity in the striatum- a region involved in processing rewards- although it is not yet clear if this is due to greater time spent viewing porn, or if people with reduced striatum volume will tend to watch more porn.
  • These individuals also tend to have less connectivity between the striatum and areas of the prefrontal cortex, indicating reduced judgment, decision making, or control over impulsive behaviors. [15]

Conclusion

As researchers strive to clarify the possible similarities and differences between substance abuse disorders and problematic behavior, such as excessive porn use, clinical evidence increasingly suggests overlap in both predispositions and their impact on psychological issues and brain structure. Whereas most people who view porn do so in a controlled manner that may contribute to greater sexual health, persistent, impulsive and excessive porn use can begin to look like other addictions.


[1] Regnerus, M., Gordon, D., & Price, J. (2015). Documenting Pornography Use in America: A Comparative Analysis of Methodological Approaches. Journal of Sex Research, 18,1-9.

[2] Carroll, J.S., Padilla-Walker, L.M., Nelson, L.J., Olson, C.D., Barry, C.M., Madsen, S.D. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, January 23, 6-30.

[3] Kontula, O. 2009. Sex life of the elderly is active and satisfying. Duodecim, 125(7), 749-756.

[4] Calculated from data found in: Kinsey Institute. 2002. Survey: Do you use porn?

[5] Carroll, J. S., et. al.2008. Work cited.

[6] Waskul, D.D. Readings on Sex, Pornography and the Internet, as cited in Andreas G. Philaretou, et. al. 2005. Use of Internet Pornography and Men's Well-Being. International Journal of Men's Health, 4(2), 149-169.

[7] Kinsey Institute. 2002. Work cited.

[8] Twohig, M. P., Crosby, J. M., & Cox, J. M. 2009. Viewing Internet pornography: For whom is it problematic, how, and why? Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 16, 253-256 as cited in Wetterneck, C.T. et. al. 2012. The Role of Sexual Compulsivity, Impulsivity, and Experiential Avoidance in Internet Pornography Use.The Psychological Record, 62, 3-18.

[9] Benotsch, Kalichman, & Cage, 2002; Cooper et al., 2004; Cooper, Putnam et al., 1999; Cooper, Scherer et al., 1999; Delmonico, 1997; Lane, 2000, as cited in Andreas G. Philaretou, et. al. 2005. Use of Internet Pornography and Men's Well-Being. International Journal of Men's Health, 4(2), 149-169.

[10] Twohig, M. P., Crosby, J. M., & Cox, J. M. 2009. Viewing Internet pornography: For whom is it problematic, how, and why? Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 16, 253-256 as cited in Wetterneck, C.T. et. al. 2012. The Role of Sexual Compulsivity, Impulsivity, and Experiential Avoidance in Internet Pornography Use.The Psychological Record, 62, 3-18.

[11] Wetterneck, et. al. Work cited.

[12] Olsen, C. M. 2011. Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity, and Non-Drug Addictions. Neuropharmacology, 61(7), 1109-1122.

[13] Robinson, T.E. and Kolb, B. 2004. Structural plasticity associated with exposure to drugs of abuse. Neuropharmacology 47, 33-46.

[14] Olsen, Christopher M. Work cited.

[15] Simone, K. and Gallinat, J. 2014. Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated with Pornography Consumption.JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827-834.

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