What Does Porn Do to Your Brain?

  • Author: Sumit
  • Published: December 21, 2022
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If you’ve managed to come across this article, there’s a good chance you’re on the fence about some of the choices you’ve been making in regard to how you spend your alone time. Odds are you’ve encountered a pornographic video or two, and maybe it’s occurred to you that it might be becoming a bit of a thing. Maybe you’ve even tried cutting back on your personal playtime. That’s good!

Despite what you may have heard, the “first step” is not some grandiose confession – the first step to improving your life is to entertain the possibility that a better way of living is available to you. Maybe you’re already there. In order to continue to take the next steps, it helps to understand the situation a bit more deeply.

Why Quit Porn?

There seems to be a consensus that there are benefits to quitting porn. These benefits can come in the form of physical and psychological improvements. They can manifest in your personal life through increased confidence and a better relationship with yourself. Simply put, you will begin to like yourself more if you aren’t hooked on porn.

The benefits can also also be realized through improved social and romantic relationships. Not to mention there’s the obvious benefit of having more time available to do cool and productive things that make you feel good about yourself, as opposed to spending time doing something that leaves you feeling… well, not good about yourself.

The Science of Addiction

There are some studies available on the effects of porn on the brain, and they support the conclusion that pornography is an addictive substance similar to drugs and alcohol. Therefore, it is reasonable to compare the effects of watching internet porn to the effects of other addictive substances, which share a common effect on the biochemistry and neurophysiology of the brain.

Whether it is porn, gambling, shopping, you name it, all addictive behaviors trigger the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Dopamine

Dopamine is a chemical messenger your brain creates and releases in response to things you find pleasurable. In fact, it’s not just addictive behaviors that will trigger the release of dopamine, all pleasurable behaviors cause the brain to synthesize and secrete more dopamine.

All this dopamine will then not only flood your brain with pleasure, but it will also help you to remember when and where you were doing whatever it is you were doing to cause this neurological response. This makes dopamine one of the major players in the brain’s “reward system”.

The Reward System

From an evolutionary perspective, the reward system of the brain exists to help reinforce optimal behaviors. Behaviors that are beneficial for the survival of the specimen and the continuation of the species – things like eating and mating – are designed by nature to be pleasurable and rewarding so that individuals will be motivated to perform those behaviors as much as possible.

In an attempt to complete dopamine’s ability to influence and drive behavior, nature also ensured that dopamine played a major role in learning, memory, mood, attention, arousal, and movement.

Basically, for any beneficial behavior, dopamine is designed to make you want to redo it and ensures that you are equipped to do it better and more easily the next time. Our minds and bodies then become more willing and able to do the things that are good for us… or at least things that would be good for us at reasonable levels available in nature.

How Things Go Wrong

The problems begin to occur when, through the brilliant ingenuity of man, we are given access to more and better stimuli than nature ever intended. When we overindulge, we create an unnatural spike in dopamine.

The two things that make certain chemicals or activities so potently habit-forming are that they are readily available and have the ability to generate a tidal wave of dopamine. This is opposed to the natural spikes of dopamine associated with healthy, positive behaviors.

From an evolutionary perspective, there are supposed to be limits to the availability of things that can trigger an intense dopamine response; and those things are supposed to be difficult to accomplish or find. In the natural world, animals do not have access to excessive stimuli which would cause addiction. In our modern world of technology and overabundance, these limits do not exist.

How Nature Intended

Seeing an attractive woman causes arousal in your brain and initiates the dopamine cascade, which nature had intended to end in a natural spike of dopamine during sexual climax.  This reinforces not only this particular moment of ecstasy but also all the behaviors which led up to a man achieving an orgasm with (or more typically through) a woman.

Many of these behaviors have nothing to do with sex but include all of the things that are associated with attracting a woman like:

  1. Eating healthy and exercising to present an attractive masculine physique;
  2. Working hard and earning money to be able to support and provide for a family;
  3. Living an authentic life of integrity to develop the confidence needed to interact with a woman you find attractive;
  4. Becoming educated and sophisticated enough to stimulate a woman intellectually so you can pique and maintain her attention;
  5. And many other healthy and productive things that help guys pick up girls.

Mother Nature is Not Just a Cock Block

All of these barriers to entry were intended, by nature, to prevent you from being able to get down to business until you’ve both proven yourself worthy and earned the opportunity. To overcome these barriers, you would be motivated to perform all of those healthy, beneficial acts regularly.

If you were nature’s ideal man, you would be able to do these optimal behaviors better than most other men on the planet in order to attract the most women, copulate, procreate, and spread your seed across the planet.

That’s the game nature designed to ensure that only those men who were lucky enough to have the best genes and were wise enough to make the best decisions were able to gain access to the regular dopamine spikes generated by frequent orgasms with multiple partners. Of course, that’s not quite the game many of us are playing.

Life on God Mode

Modern internet pornography is the ultimate cheat code. You type in the password and bypass all the carefully crafted laws which were put in place to govern a stable, functioning reality. Playing in god mode, you no longer have to work to achieve rewards, and so all of the associated growth and development which was intended to accompany the rewards are no longer relevant. Dopamine is simply released like a firehose with the stroke of… a few keys.

Physically Changing Your Brain

Over time and with repeated exposures, the super-natural spikes of dopamine readily available through internet porn begin to reshape the physical characteristics of your brain’s signaling pathways. The pathways associated with this behavior become more ingrained, like walking repeatedly over the same stretch of carpet so many times it forms a groove. The neural connections grow, multiply, and become stronger.

Before long, these pathways require more and different stimulation to activate and sustain arousal. Your brain begins to crave more dramatic and intense scenes and imagery to satisfy the greater capacity of these well-developed tracts. The brain begins to better accommodate porn-induced rewards by reallocating neural resources that had previously been dedicated to other activities.

This is what is meant when people say that addictions “hijack” the reward center. Neurons that would otherwise be dedicated to other pleasurable activities and hobbies are literally stolen by this one, dominant pathway. Other things which used to be enjoyable are not anymore – your brain is literally no longer wired to enjoy them.

Some Tragic Side Effects

Anxiety and Depression

The results of this rewiring of the brain can be absolutely catastrophic. The psychological effects of dopamine dysregulation are commonly anxiety and depression, although there is some debate, particularly surrounding porn and depression.

Some believe that men who are already depressed turn to porn in order to cope with their condition; while others hold to the belief that depression is caused by porn’s pathophysiological alterations of the brain.

Either way, there is a strong correlation between porn and depression. Even those who might be otherwise subject to only mild bouts of depression in the absence of porn will risk exacerbating the condition by excessive exposure.

Decreased Motivation

Porn can also lead to decreased motivation. As was previously discussed, the reallocation of neural materials away from areas of the brain which would normally respond to healthy activities and trigger a dopamine response is no longer able to do so.

The neural connections become eroded. These activities don’t produce a dopamine response so we no longer feel the desire to do them.

Work and/or school lose their importance. Exercise becomes impossible because in the absence of a dopamine response it’s just self-inflicted physical pain.

Life outside of the world of porn loses its significance and meaning. The only foods that can compete for a dopamine response are rich, salty, fatty garbage. Even watching shows loses its appeal, and we binge constantly, desperately in search of the joy it once brought.

Numb Inside

We can become emotionally numb. We are no longer quite so capable of experiencing pain, but neither can we experience joy. The natural ebbs and flows of life’s roller coaster level off into one bland, repetitive and instinctual existence.

We don’t care about things, even though we may want to. Because our minds are so desensitized by repeated exposure to exaggerated, fantasy stories and images, the only way we can generate any sort of spark is by spending an hour down the rabbit hole, peeping Alice’s good-looking glass in one tab while in another tab a wasted Snow White whets her whistle while she works with seven stunted studs at once.

Socially Disconnected

We enter a deep cavern of shame and isolation. Our social relationships are no longer gratifying.

Again, nature designed this game to reward behaviors that promote effective social interaction. Once the brain realizes the element of social interaction is no longer required to trigger the reward center, we’re in trouble. Simple conversations with other humans become difficult because our brains are no longer wired to reinforce these activities.

We become uncomfortable around other people, and this loneliness drives us back into our only source of solace, and the vicious cycle triggers the spiral which hastens our decline.

Physical Decline

Physically, our bodies deteriorate. Not only are we less motivated to eat well and exercise, but our bodies are also physically less able to experience the benefits of these activities. But that’s not what scares most men.

The most dramatic end result of internet porn is erectile dysfunction. It is even possible for it to become so severe that pharmacological interventions are unable to create the desired effect.

Little Blue Pills Don’t Help

That’s because the way pills like Viagra work are dependent on your mind being able to become aroused. The chemically active ingredient in Viagra works to prevent the degradation of a molecule called nitrous oxide (NO), which your body releases in response to sexual arousal.

NO is a vasodilator responsible for forming and maintaining an erection. Viagra doesn’t create or stimulate the release of NO, it only helps to slow down its removal from your system.

The desensitization effects of porn limit and eventually shut down your brain’s ability to become aroused. It blocks the initial step in forming an erection. Once you reach this point, it’s hard for Viagra to get it up.

Can You Withdrawal from Porn?

A person who has watched so much porn they’ve lost their ability to get an erection would certainly experience withdrawal symptoms if porn was abruptly removed from their life.

Yes, quitting porn can cause withdrawal just like quitting smoking or drinking. Fortunately, it more closely resembles the withdrawal from quitting smoking (which is really unpleasant) than it does quitting alcohol (which can kill you).

It is suggested that cravings for porn will decrease within weeks, and in the meantime anxiety, mood swings, and irritability will surge. The good news is that by many accounts, the benefits of a porn-free lifestyle can be fully realized within months.

So Do I Have a Problem?

The reality is this: if you’ve become hooked on porn, it may or may not be your fault. Your brain really is not equipped with a healthy way to handle such a powerful and ubiquitous source of artificially supercharged avalanches of dopamine.

But this is a scenario where assigning blame for the past is nowhere near as important as taking responsibility for the future. You can choose to blame yourself, Mother Nature, evolution, God… hell, you could even blame Al Gore for inventing the internet in the first place.

Take Control – It’s Up to You

Assign fault wherever it helps you to arrive at the most useful conclusion – that it is your responsibility to solve the problem if a problem exists. It’s a problem if it’s gotten to the point where you believe it’s hindering your everyday life, preventing you from doing the things you want to be doing, damaging your relationships, or holding you back from ultimately becoming the man you want to be.

By removing porn and its stranglehold on your reward system, it is possible to rewire your brain. Over time, it is possible to create new neural connections by eliminating the artificial surges of dopamine and returning to natural, more challenging, and healthy sources of pleasure. Should you choose to pursue it, a better way of living is absolutely available to you.

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

Sumit


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