Bad lighting, bad acting, bad dialogue, awful music, and lots of sex. Pornography can be a very sensitive subject since there are many different opinions about it. Whether you like or hate it, we can all agree that watching pornography, like anything else, has an effect on your brain. But what does watching porn do, and how often do you need to watch for effects to take place? Let’s dive into the world of science to explain what pornography does to your brain.
Effects of Availability
When you think of porn, you might go right to the 70s with the shag carpets and pizza boy plot lines, but when we think of porn, the word “taboo” comes to mind. The fact that you’ve watched porn used to be something that was looked down upon and never spoken of, ya know like saying Voldemort’s name. Shoot.. I said it. Nowadays, it’s much less of an elephant in the room.
With the rise of the Internet, pornography, like most everything else, became much more available. In his 2002 book, Striptease Culture, Brian McNair states about half of all internet activity is sex related. Fast forward to 2004, MSNBC and Elle Magazine did a study regarding pornography where, out of 15,246 participants, 75% of the men and 41% of the women stated they had downloaded pornography via the Internet! In the 2008 book The Porning of America, they explain this phenomenon. Once porn became available “on-demand” and it didn’t risk a computer virus with every third click, more escalated topics were searched and more people watched porn in general. Less problems, mo’ pleasure.
Once smartphones came out, teenagers jumped on the bandwagon and boosted the numbers once more. It’s a mobile computer that can be taken out of adult supervision range. Kind of the perfect storm, if you think about it.
Effects on the Brain
In a study done by researcher and author Barrie Gunter, he found that teen males were more interested in more erotic types of pornography and wished they could experience it for real. It was also found that if the participant had a more positive or accepting opinion of pornography they would be more often aroused when watching. Well, duh… I don’t think we needed a study to tell us that last part… Anyway…
Patrick Fagan, Ph.D., compiled research on the effects of pornography on married individuals with families. Through his research, Fagan found that pornography can change someone’s opinion or perception of what sex is. He also noted that males who regularly watched pornography had a higher tolerance for some fun and weird stuff in the bedroom. Eh-hem, we see you Christian Grey. They also may have a higher tolerance for seeing someone as an object rather than a person with value.
Effects of Addiction
Like anything else, too much of a good thing can have negative effects, so moderation is key. Look, chocolate cake is amazing, but you can’t have a slice of decadent, sugary chocolate cake every day. Eventually, that can catch up with our physical health and bodies. The same thing can happen with your mind. In 2015, a group of researchers stated frequent pornography exposure hasn’t been fully studied. So, there may be a lot more to the picture than what we know now!
In 2011, Donald Hilton Jr. and Clark Watts did a study on pornography addiction. They found that the brain activity produced by cocaine addiction was identical to brain activity from pornography addiction. A similar study was done in 2004 with methamphetamines, and had similar findings. An addiction is an addiction is an addiction. So, your aunt with the shopping addiction who’s always ordering off of Amazon or home shopping networks all at the same time? Her brain might look a little something like this, too!
It’s Not All Bad!
We know that there’s limited information on the subject, and the majority of it sounds really awful. So, Gary Wilson came out in 2016 to remind us that we can’t just say “Oh, you watch porn? YOU SEE PEOPLE AS OBJECTS AND ARE A TRASH HUMAN!!” No, no, no. Pump the brakes, baby cakes. He found that the times we saw more extreme negative effects from pornography overuse, that same person also showed evidence and indications of mental illness, so there may have been other reasons as to why this person justified negative sexual preferences with pornography.
Also, in 2016, another study was done regarding acceptance of pornography in marriages. So for the rest of us, how do you feel about your spouse watching porn? In this study, it was found that the majority of the couples didn’t mind their spouse watching porn when they both engaged. Maybe not necessarily the same room – same time, but you get it. Specifically, wives in the study felt positively towards pornography as it is a way for them to gauge sexual satisfaction. You see something ya like, you try it out, might be a good time!
Pornography can still be a sensitive subject to some, but to others, it may be a part of their relationship or their self-care routine! No matter what our experience or relationship with porn is, one thing is for certain: if we consume it, it can affect our brain in some way. Have you noticed any changes in yourself after watching porn? Has watching pornography helped your relationship? Let us know in the comments below! As always, keep an eye on Psi for more Psych2Go content! See ya next time!
The studies and references used in and to create this video are listed below:
Brown, C.C., Carroll, J.S., Yorgason, J.B. et al. A Common-Fate Analysis of Pornography Acceptance, Use, and Sexual Satisfaction Among Heterosexual Married Couples. Arch Sex Behav 46, 575–584 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0732-4
Gunter, B. (2002). Media sex: What are the issues? Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Hald, G. M., Seaman, C., & Linz, D. (2014). Sexuality and pornography. In D. L. Tolman, L. M. Diamond, J. A. Bauermeister, W. H. George, J. G. Pfaus, & L. M. Ward (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology, Vol. 2. Contextual approaches (pp. 3–35). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14194-001
Fagan, P. F. (2009, December). The effects of pornography on individuals – marri research. Marriage & Religion Research Institute Center. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://marri.us/wp-content/uploads/The-Effects-of-Pornography-on-Individuals-Marriage-Family-and-Community.pdf
Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93
McNair, B. (2009). Striptease culture: Sex, media and the democratization of desire. Routledge.
Svedin, C. G., Åkerman, I., & Priebe, G. (2011). Frequent users of pornography. A population based epidemiological study of Swedish male adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 34(4), 779–788. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2010.04.010
Watts, C., & Hilton, D. L. (2011). Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.4103/2152-7806.76977
Wilson, G. (2016). Eliminate chronic internet pornography use to reveal its effects. Addicta: The Turkish Journal on Addictions, 3(2), 209–221. https://doi.org/10.15805/addicta.2016.3.0107