March 23, 2019

Pornography – It Changes Our Brains, It Changes Us

“It all started for me at a pretty young age. It was all innocent enough. My neighborhood friend found his dad’s stash of Playboys and he showed them to me. Naturally, I didn’t plan on being addicted. However, like all addictions, it started small and snowballed out of control. It started with Playboy, but when that wasn’t enough, I started looking at Penthouse, when that wasn’t enough I went to harder and harder material. When the internet came around it was over, I could look at whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.”

This is one man’s personal story of his spiraling addiction to pornography, and how it impacted his brain, his relationships, and his very outlook on life. As we progress further and further into a world dominated by technology, we are seeing the increasingly detrimental effects pornography can have on our brains. This particular man was shown pornography by his friend in their childhood, jumpstarting years of heartache, risky behaviors, and addiction. Why is pornography so dangerous? Research is showing that pornography actually changes and harms the brain.

Our brains are what make us who we are. When our brains are changed, we change as well. Since 2011, there have been over 30 peer-reviewed studies showing pornography negatively changes the brain. Most of that research points to what is known as the “addiction model”. Similar to substance addiction, men with problematic hypersexual behavior, often characterized by heavy porn use, matched brain patterns and alterations to what has been observed in drug addicts. When compared to men classified without compulsive or hypersexual sexual behavioral problems, several brain changes were observed. The two biggest alterations seen in the study were greater amygdala activation and decreased connectivity between the reward center of the brain and the prefrontal cortex. What this means is these men with sexual behavioral issues, including excessive pornography use, were becoming increasingly conditioned to react to pornographic images consistent with other brain addiction studies.

This fact, that viewing pornography can warp and alter the brain to look like a drug addict’s, is reflected in the personal story from the beginning. He states:

“I had some bad fetishes. I just wanted to see two or more naked people engaged in sexual activities. Viewing porn started to affect my ‘real life’…I no longer knew who I was.

Pornography was literally altering this man’s brain and changing who he was, taking over his life from the inside out. This hijacking of the brain due to constant sexual stimuli has other detrimental effects. Because the amygdala, the brain’s reward center, can be enlarged, a person’s decision-making abilities are distorted. This is again consistent with substance addiction. The flood of dopamine the reward system gives in natural response to a reward like sex can be easily abused with the vast selection and prevalence of pornography today. Higher sexual compulsivity scores in one study showed increased distraction during tasks as well as desensitization of the pleasure response.

In the personal testimony, this distorted personal decision-making and distraction is echoed in the man’s inability to show up on time due to pornography use, having many partners including married women, and even eventually contracting an STI due to unprotected sex. Desensitization was clearly affecting this man as he felt compelled to seek out “harder and harder material”. Research also supports this man’s experiences: Internet pornography consumption, in particular, has been linked to increased engagement with sexual behaviors that increase the risk of STIs. Pornography becomes a cycle that never ends and can have devastating health and personal effects.

It is clear from this man’s story and the many examples from research that pornography is a public health crisis. It has seeped into every corner of daily life–not even children are safe from the unprecedented epidemic of sexual harm that comes from pornography. Like the man in the story, it only took one seemingly innocent glance with a friend to change his life forever. It changes our very brains, and so it changes us. To learn more about the public health crisis, visit our page here. Looking for resources on ending sexual exploitation? Go here.

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National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

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