Your Brain on Porn. Same as Drugs.

Let’s talk about porn. And not just porn addiction, because often addiction is the extreme and most people discount their own activity if they don’t feel they are addicted. Pornography consumption, in non addictive levels, impacts the brain and our relationships in negative ways. In fact, it runs on the same pathways in the brain as cocaine and other hard drugs. As the levels of consumption and even addiction to this increase, neuroscientists have began studying the brain through functional MRIs to see the impact of porn consumption (of all levels) on the brain.

Brain-on-porn1

What we know based on that research is that porn changes not just the function, but the structure of the brain. Parts of the brain actually begin to shrink with its use and others become desensitized. So like an alcoholic builds up a tolerance for alcohol, people who use porn build up a tolerance. The result is not just increased use, but increased levels of what would be considered deviant use – higher levels of fetish or extremes in porn are needed to continue the same level of excitement and dopamine release in the brain. And with that, porn users begin to find less interest in their real life partners and more preoccupation with increasing the level of newness in both partners and extremes to simulate pornography in real life relationships. Male porn users have higher levels of erectile dysfunction including ability to orgasm than non porn users as a result.

The battle against this science is similar to any addictive substance. We are fighting dopamine in the brain – which for anyone that has had a previous addiction, there are tightly woven pathways for any addiction and lower impulse control to resist. Dopamine is the chemical in your brain that says not just “yay this feels amazing” but also says “gotta have it gotta have it gotta have it… right NOW”. The more unhealthy activities are used to supercharge dopamine in the brain, the more prone to addiction of all kinds a person will be and their impulse control will continue to diminish as that part of their brain shrinks. So will the part of their brain wired up for intimacy and emotional connection… it’s not used during porn and like a muscle – what’s not used in the brain atrophies, and what’s used more frequently gets stronger.

The other uphill battle from these chemical and structural changes in the brain is indignation. If it feels good to me, if I like it, then I will find a way to justify it so that I can continue to use it and I resent anyone or anything that tries to take it away from me (which is in fact a precursor of addictive behaviour). Indeed, sugar runs on the same channels as cocaine too – and many find it hard to stop consuming it as a result. They like it. But look at the scan below… Porn…heroin… healthy brain. So many holes!

Here’s the bad news folks… not everything that we like or that feels good… like alcohol, drugs, sugar, and high risk activities… is good for us. Many will argue that their porn use doesn’t impact their brain, relationships and isn’t addictive or damaging. Even when shown brain scans of all levels of porn users and what’s happening to their brains – with science that really shows with great definition that porn consumption is not healthy and is as addictive and damaging as other substances – often they will deny the science in favour of what turns them on. Or it their relationships and sex life aren’t suffering right now, then they say, that they are the exception to the science and are not impacted whatsoever. Not every fantasy, not every thing that turns our crank or lights up our dopamine centres is good for us. We know that by now right?

There are healthy ways of increasing dopamine levels and making you feel good that don’t cause shrinkage in the brain (or in the pants). Exercise is one of them, but there are many others.

Keeping in mind that the average porn use starts at age 11 and the highest level of use is between 11 and 17, these growing brains are growing concerning pathways in the brain very early on. For any part of the lifespan however… the use of porn should be cautionary. For both sexes, there are dramatic areas of brain shrinkage and a ripple effect of issues not just sexually as far as erectile and climax issues, but in people’s ability to enjoy healthy, connected sex with a real life partner and maintain satisfaction and joy within relationships.

And there’s a human cost…historically over 90% of adult porn stars were sexually abused as children. In psychology, this is called re-enactment. Often their fathers or other male relatives forced them to perform sexual acts or watched them as children – they are replaying what they know. For many parents, someone watching our daughter in these films would be unacceptable, but we somehow find a way to bypass that for other people’s daughters in an industry tainted with abuse, addiction, and mental illness that we choose to support, including their abuse, with every press of the play button. Healthy individuals – emotionally and mentally – are not drawn to lifelong dreams of being sex for hire in any way no matter how lucrative. This multi billion dollar industry has somehow encouraged us to turn a blind eye to the behind the scene costs to young girls and boys everywhere that find their only worth in this profession.

In a perfect world, everything that we get high off of would be good for us – in this world, there are healthy ways to feel high – but there’s a lot of really damaging ways to get it too, and this is one of them.