Is porn bad for you?

Man sitting in front of glowing computer screen

In our digitally connected world, it’s easy to find sexually explicit material. But is porn just harmless eroticism or can it have harmful effects?

By Zoe Cormier

As anyone who has been on the wrong end of an unfortunately phrased Google search can attest, pornography is easier to access than ever. Thanks to the proliferation of the internet, explicit videos and images are now no more than a few key taps away – it’s simply a fact of modern life.

It’s little surprise then, that studies show most of us have seen pornography of some form at least once. There are some of us, however, that can’t seem to get enough and watch upwards of several hours a week.

What effect is this having on those people? Is it all just a bit of harmless titillation or is there a more sinister side to watching pornography? The research seems to suggest there is.

An experiment by Dr Valerie Voon of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge found that people with ‘compulsive sexual behaviour’ show different patterns of brain activity when viewing erotic images compared to ‘healthy’ controls. These are similar patterns to those seen in drug abuse. So could pornography actually be harming us?

Potential harm

Voon and her team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to probe deep into the anatomy of the brain. They found that there was greater activity in three distinct regions of the brain in people who exhibit compulsive sexual behaviour.

These are implicated as being more active in people with substance problems when shown ‘cues’ linked to their drug of choice.

The ventral striatum is involved in handling reward and motivation, the dorsal anterior cingulate with anticipating rewards and craving, and the amygdala with processing emotions.

There has long been concern about the potential damage of consuming porn.

In 2014, certain acts were restricted in British-made porn films, leading to highly publicised protests in London © Getty Images
In 2014, certain acts were prohibited in British-made porn films, leading to highly publicised protests in London © Getty Images

In 2014, certain acts were prohibited in British-made porn films, leading to highly publicised protests in London © Getty Images

For years, salacious newspaper headlines have screamed: “Porn addiction messed up my life”, “Brain scans find porn addiction” or “My husband’s porn addiction almost ruined our marriage”.

And Voon’s research is not the first to find differences in the brains of people with above average porn habits.

Many studies have hinted at measurable differences in the brains of people who watch a lot of pornography, suggesting addictive and possibly harmful impacts.

A 2014 paper in the journal JAMA Psychiatry titled Brain Structure And Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain On Porn found decreases in activity in many areas of the brains of regular porn viewers. The researchers even suggested porn can hijack the brain and alter its function.

However, they did note that these differences could be pre-existing characteristics in the brain that predispose some people to find viewing pornography more rewarding than the average person. Nevertheless, the results raise some big questions: does porn change your brain? And is it addictive?

Is porn addictive?

Without a doubt, the most active and controversial area of research on pornography today is whether or not porn can be addictive. News reports routinely use the language of addiction, describing ‘cravings’, ‘tolerance’, ‘need for more hits’ and ‘withdrawal’.

“We are still in the very early stages of understanding these processes on a neurobiological level,” Voon says. “What we do know with porn is that there are some patterns that are consistent with an addiction – but some that are not. We need much larger epidemiological studies to know for sure.”

As yet there are no officially recognised diagnostic criteria for ‘porn addiction’.  Attempts to include ‘hypersexuality disorder’ in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) – the so-called ‘bible of psychiatry’– were unsuccessful due to a lack of clear and consistent evidence.

Brain scans comparing the brain activity of 'healthy' people and compulsive porn viewers. The compulsive porn viewers show much more brain activity in some regions © UCLA
Certain regions of the brain are more active in compulsive porn viewers (bottom) than ‘healthy’ people (top) © UCLA

“Pornography ‘addiction’ does not look like other addictions – full stop,” says Dr Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist formerly at UCLA but now founder of sexual health start-up Liberos LLC.

According to Prause, so-called porn and sex ‘addictions’ look similar to other addictions, such as gambling and drugs, in that they activate reward circuitry. But they do not look like them in other important ways…

more…

https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/is-pornography-harmful/

F. Kaskais Web Guru

One thought on “Is porn bad for you?

  1. Pornography is highly addictive. It is also very destructive to kids and children who use the internet and accidentally watch porn sites. Many parents do not activate parental controls and therefore their children watch everything.

    Like

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