5 Scary Ways That Porn Affects Your Brain 

  • Author: Sumit
  • Published: December 21, 2022
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Did you know the latest brain research suggests porn addiction can be as powerful as cocaine and heroin? Neuroscientists are finally admitting what millions of NoFap and PornFree community members have been raising their voices against for a long time.

Does that claim sound too dramatic? Well, here’s what your brain looks like when it’s stimulated by porn compared to what it looks like when you’re on heroin. Try spotting the difference!

You can barely tell the difference.

That’s because just like heroin, porn has the power to dramatically change the shape, size, and chemical balance of your brain. However, since internet porn was a recent invention, there was a lack of sufficient peer-reviewed scientific evidence to highlight its true impact.

Until now.

In this article, we’ll let the neuroscience do the talking to help you understand:

  • How exactly does porn damage your brain?
  • And more importantly, HOW MUCH brain damage can it actually cause?
  • And most importantly, is this porn-triggered brain damage irreversible?

You’ll find the answers to all these questions as we uncover the 5 scary ways that porn can damage your brain, which could hijack your motivation, memory, relationships, focus, and well-being.

All cigarette packs come with a warning label. Unfortunately, porn doesn’t. But you deserve to be an informed consumer. So think of this information like a friendly warning label to know what porn is doing to your brain the next time you click a new video.

But first, let’s understand the connection between your brain and porn a little better.

Understanding the Victim – Your Brain

Your brain is an unparalleled supercomputer. It’s packed with billions of neural pathways that govern how your body moves, what it digests, and the emotions you feel.

It literally defines what you call your personality.

The brain’s storage capacity is virtually unlimited. Yet that’s still not its greatest superpower.

That honor belongs exclusively to neuroplasticity!

Neuroplasticity is your brain’s lifelong ability to rewire its neural pathways to adjust to different environments and stimuli.

Your brain increases or decreases the number and strength of synapses that communicate messages to each other. This can speed up or slow down the flow of information across your brain.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the password to access this superpower is an open secret – REPETITION.

Your neural pathways follow a “use it or lose it” law.  The more often you do an activity, the more neural pathways will be created that make it easier for you to remember it.

Investigating the Accused – Porn AKA The Mind Virus

So why are so many psychologists and neuroscientists putting porn in the hot seat? Because they finally found out the real target of porn and the mechanism it uses to turn it into a weakness.

We’re talking about the hijacking of your brain’s reward systems.

What are reward systems meant for? Simply put, they are naturally wired to:

  • Avoid pain
  • Seek pleasure and novelty.

Porn hijacks the reward systems gifted to you by Mother Nature for finding a mate.

It fools your mind to believe you have a trillion supermodels begging for your attention, and sets off a ton of neurochemical fireworks in your brain.

It doesn’t matter if the object of your attraction is on a screen or lying in your bed. Porn triggers the same reward systems.

But sex isn’t available at the click of a button; porn is.

It’s not hard to see why repetition to build porn pathways is so effortless.

It’s free, fast, offers unlimited novelty, and can be consumed anonymously. There’s no effort or accountability involved in getting the reward.

https://youtu.be/1BHAREf9zmU

So you literally feel like you have nothing at stake to relieve your sexual tension when you’re approaching porn.

And what’s the fastest way to sexual relief without a partner? Masturbation!

Those who stand up to defend porn as harmless entertainment are missing the point. Most neuroscientists agree that it’s not the stimulation, but what we do with the stimulation that matters more.

It’s the porn-induced masturbation that creates a physically and emotionally charged explosion of neurochemical fireworks. This creates the blueprint for addiction.

Let’s understand exactly how porn spikes the neurochemical soup in your brain to manipulate your sexual responses:

Dopamine

Whether you watch porn or have sex, your brain automatically releases dopamine into the part of your brain governing emotion and learning. That’s where that sudden hyper focus and “I need it now!” craving comes from.

The next time you get the same craving, your brain releases a few more packets of dopamine that activates the memory of your last easy dopamine hit.

Norepinephrine

The fast-paced explicit action on screen also triggers your brain to release more norepinephrine, which makes you more alert and focused.

It doesn’t matter if you’re simply sitting on the couch masturbating. It’s preparing your body for the same intense action involved in sexual intercourse.

Oxytocin and Vasopressin

Your cells use these hormones released after your orgasm to build long-term memories. They can help you share a relaxing and bonding experience after sex with your partner.

When you masturbate to porn, your memories bond to digital fantasies instead of a real partner.

Endorphins

These natural opiates start flooding your body to make you feel high every time you have sex. Unfortunately, you only experience a small and sharp spike during porn-induced masturbation.

The high is more like hitting a speed bump on an already bumpy ride. Their effect is abrupt and wears off quickly.

Serotonin

If dopamine is the thrilling side of happiness, serotonin is definitely the calmer and more grounded side of happiness.

But your serotonin levels are nowhere close to the levels possible by sharing a sexual experience with a loving partner.

Short answer – you’re training your brain to ditch long-term happiness for short-term pleasure hunting every time you masturbate to porn.

https://youtu.be/sweychxDFlQ

Exposing the 5 Scary Effects of Porn On Your Brain

These neurochemical imbalances just look like a cheap and quick imitation of sex.

Yes. It doesn’t look so intimidating at first glance. But we haven’t even got to exposing the real damage yet.

What happens when these imbalances and attacks on your reward systems keep their momentum going?

So let’s dive into the 5 biggest crimes committed on your brain that porn is guilty of:

1. Your brain gets a porn “tattoo” that’s hard to remove

Your brain is designed to recall important events. Porn triggers your brain to believe that you watched something important.

When I quit watching porn, I was surprised how graphic visuals would still flash across my mind tempting me to masturbate to them.

Why was that happening? Because neurochemicals like norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin were working together to create lasting memories.

Little did I know clearing my browsing history online wasn’t going to be good enough to walk away from porn. The mind virus left a library of porn in my head that took a long time to wipe away.

2. It makes porn more arousing than your partner

The porn industry simply pitches it as a harmless way to simulate your sexual fantasies. But they left out the part where your fantasies eventually become more attractive than real sex.

That sounds abnormal. True! But the cause is actually supernormal.

Supernormal stimulus.

Did you know Nobel laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen did an experiment on birds, butterflies, and other animals to show they can be fooled into choosing fake eggs and mates?

For instance, butterflies preferred to hover around images of butterflies with more colourful wings even if real mates were available around them. Shorebirds abandoned their own smaller eggs to take care of larger plaster eggs.

Supernormal stimulus is nothing but an exaggerated version of what we’re naturally programmed to be attracted to.

That’s exactly what porn does.

It serves you a buffet of supermodels with enhanced bodies in over-the-top sex acts with clever edits.

Porn allows you to ride surge after surge of dopamine without any effort of building a relationship. But it doesn’t take too long for your brain to fatigue and stop dopamine production.

This is exactly why you end up trapped in a toxic paradox – you want porn more and more even though it leaves you ultimately unsatisfied.

Meanwhile, your partner can’t compete with the supernormal stimuli that your digital fantasies tempt you with. You feel like you’re seeing porn in color and your partner in black and white.

Now think about this. Do you know who the largest consumers of internet porn are?

Kids aged 12 to 17!

Children who may have never even kissed a girl are conditioning their sexual responses to exaggerated performances. All this is happening when the brain is still in its formative years. So when an opportunity to have sex actually knocks on their door, they can’t perform and need porn to feel aroused again.

It’s not a surprise then that youthful erectile dysfunction rates have gone up by nearly 1000% in the last 20 years.

You become desensitized to simple pleasures and intimacy in your relationships, which can lead to erectile dysfunction, premature or delayed ejaculation, emotional distancing, and risky sexual behaviour.

https://youtu.be/bjnXXN67plg

3. Porn makes your brain smaller

I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong by chasing bigger and bolder forms of arousal when I started surfing porn. No one told me this chase for ‘bigger and bolder’ thrills was actually making my brain smaller.

It’s not just speculation anymore. A number of research studies have come to the shocking conclusion that the brains of regular porn users are actually smaller than normal.

Want to know why the brains of porn addicts show great similarity to the brains of heroin users and alcoholics? In both cases, the ventral striatum which plays a big role in controlling your brain’s reward systems lights up.

A German study conducted to test the brain activity of 64 healthy men who watched between 4 to 20 hours of porn a week revealed some shocking results.

When they were exposed to sexual images their brain scans showed reduced blood circulation to certain brain regions.

Secondly, there was a significantly lower activation of the reward systems in their brains.

The ventral striatum along with other areas of the brain associated with motivation also showed a reduction in grey matter volume.

4. Porn takes your brain back to a juvenile state

You may be wondering – “Why does my brain still slip back to using porn despite feeding it with all this research and rationalization?”

Because porn has been corroding your prefrontal cortex — the CEO of your brain governing your morality, willpower and impulse control.

This damage to the prefrontal cortex is known as hypofrontality.

Remember those tantrums you would throw when your mother told you NO at the candy store? That’s because your prefrontal cortex was underdeveloped till your adolescent years, which made you more impulsive.

And porn is literally rewiring your brain back to that juvenile state.

Isn’t it ironic that the more adult content you watch, the more childish you become?

Porn-induced masturbation also weakens the cingulate cortex in your brain, which dictates the feeling of shame. No wonder this habit erodes your self-confidence and prevents healthy social connections.

5. Porn can lead to memory loss.

Let’s say you binged on 10 porn videos back to back the last time you masturbated. Can you recall what you saw in even 3 of those videos right now?

Probably not.

It’s hard to think how you’ll forget something that felt so exciting at the time.

But today, a number of studies are revealing that porn addiction can damage both verbal memory and short-term memory.

It’s hard to remember how a couple of minutes can turn into an hour once you give into your porn cravings. It also explains why many porn addicts forget to sleep, overlook job responsibilities and neglect social commitments.

https://youtu.be/r0o4UkzCf_4

Porn’s Ultimate Weapon – The Addiction Loop

I would call it an addiction noose based on my experiences with porn, but let’s focus on the science of addiction at play here.

There are 4 key changes in your brain that pave the gateway for all addictions.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a substance or a behavior that you’re enslaved to.

You’re essentially trapped in this 4-stage loop:

Sensitization

Regular dopamine spikes triggered by porn makes our brain hyper-reactive to it because of how rewarding it feels.

Your dopamine convinces your brain – “This is easy fun! Let’s do that again!”

In other words, your brain gets sensitized to porn. And the more porn we consume, the stronger the pull to come back to it becomes.

Desensitization

Has porn become the highest stimulation you can get in your daily life? Welcome to desensitization.

Doping your reward centers with dopamine for months with porn has backed your poor nerve cells into a corner. So they try to protect themselves by reducing the number of receptors and limiting the dopamine levels available for release.

Naturally, your pleasure response gets numbed and a decline in the number of neural pathways follows.

That’s why you feel like watching porn for longer hours or start looking for more intense genres of porn to feel aroused.

Hypofrontality

Remember when we brought up the fact that porn turns your adult brain into the brain of a juvenile? That’s the consequence of hypofrontality.

Your prefrontal cortex gets impaired by regular porn use.

So compulsiveness becomes your default mental state, overriding rational thinking, planning, reflection, and self-control.

Altered stress response

Porn is only an instant escape to find relief from an uncomfortable feeling. Your brain recognizes the low effort reward that porn offers.

So even minor stress triggers your sensitized addiction pathways.

Don’t panic if you feel exaggerated anxiety, fatigue, insomnia or mood swings when you try to quit porn.

It’s just your brain’s overactive stress system that is making you go through some temporary withdrawal symptoms.

Is It You or Is the Addiction Speaking Through You?

https://youtu.be/26_BGVm2M0k

Remember the last time you had a porn-induced masturbation relapse? You may have even read countless accounts of NoFap community members who go through this.

Let’s say you come across a confessional post like this:

“I swear this is my last time watching it and then I’m done. I don’t even like porn. It’s just the initial high that tempts me. It doesn’t even keep me aroused for long, but it’s still more fun than spending my work break doing nothing.”

Can you judge if this man is a casual porn user or still recovering from his porn addiction?

Let’s break down his statement line by line. The above short quote encompasses three of the major neuroplastic changes found in addictions: hypofrontality, sensitization and desensitization.

“I swear this is my last time watching it and then I’m done.

A casual consumer won’t be so defensive right off the bat or try to make a public vow. It reflects the possibility that his porn use had already become problematic and he recognizes the urgency to give it up.

“I don’t even like porn” 

This reflects his lack of impulse control, which is a consequence of hypofrontality. The prefrontal cortex knows it’s bad for you, but it’s too weak to fight off your cravings.

“It’s just the initial high that tempts me” and “it doesn’t even keep me aroused for long”

The first part clearly reflects sensitization while the second statement reveals the increasing desensitization that has messed up his reward systems.

“But it’s still more fun than spending my work break doing nothing.”

This is a combination of desensitization and his altered stress responses. Low dopamine and dopamine (D2) receptors have made everyday pleasures feel totally bland. And the first sign of boredom or stress triggers his porn cravings to find an escape.

Verdict – The porn addiction still has a strong grip on his behavior. The brain reboot is still incomplete.

https://youtu.be/9qJHRvHU8IM

Final Takeaway

The bad news is porn is definitely guilty of damaging your brain. And much of this neurological damage is still left to be uncovered by further scientific research since high-speed internet porn is a novelty that’s not too old.

The good news is this process is easily reversible without demanding bulletproof willpower. Try taking a 21-day NoPorn + NoFap challenge to reboot your brain.

By the end of it, most of your old addiction pathways will be weakened, while strengthening the pathways for natural sex.

Sumit is a chemical engineer and a motivational speaker. He is a regular contributor to MrMindBlowing.com.

Sumit


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