The Science Of Pornography Addiction (VIDEO)

“The issue is that continued exposure can cause long-term or even life-long neuroplastic change in the brain.” - ASAP Science on pornography addiction

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This intriguing ASAP Science video explores some of the neurobiological research into pornography addiction. Although ASAP generally does a great job with their videos and this one makes some interesting and perfectly valid points, I'm not fully convinced by some of its claims.

I should start by saying that this video is right on the money with respect to notion that porn can operate like a drug by affecting the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine. Furthermore, the “feedback loop” idea is one that makes a lot of sense based on existing psychological research and theory (i.e., porn causes a release of “pleasure chemicals” that stimulates a craving for more porn, thereby leading to more chemicals and more porn—and orgasm further reinforces this desire by creating a psychological linkage between porn and pleasure). There’s also definitely something to the idea that too much porn can make your real life partner seem boring in comparison (consistent with this idea, research has found that heterosexual married men report less attraction to their wives after viewing images of Playboy centerfolds).

That said, I’m a bit skeptical of the video’s claims that “long-term or even life-long” rewiring of the brain occurs as a result of porn exposure. A claim like this really needs to be backed up with a scientific source, because I’m not aware of any studies conclusively demonstrating that porn has such effects and I’d like to evaluate the evidence myself. I have seen some studies suggesting that people who watch excessive amounts of porn show signs of brain atrophy (i.e., wasting)—however, those studies are correlational and many of those porn viewers had histories of pathological behaviors, such as substance use [1]. Thus, we don’t really know whether porn is responsible for those effects on the brain, or if it’s due to something else.

For the most part, however, the science presented here is sound and it will give you some sense of what’s happening inside the brain when we watch porn—just hold off on drawing any conclusions about the long-term neurological effects until we have more data.

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[1] Reid, R. C., Carpenter, B. N., & Fong, T. W. (2011).Neuroscience research fails to support claims that excessive pornography consumption causes brain damage. Surgical Neurology International, 2, 64. doi: 10.4103/2152-7806.81427

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