Watching porn

When does porn addiction begin?

Gary Wilson poses the obvious question about porn addiction: “How much is too much?” on the yourbrainonporn.com website. He notes that this question presumes that porn’s effects are binary. That is, you either have no problem, or you are a porn addict. However, porn-induced brain changes occur on a spectrum and cannot be classified as black and white, either/or. Asking where one crosses the line ignores the principle of neuroplasticity: the brain is always learning, changing and adapting in response to the environment.

Studies reveal that even a small amount of supernormal stimulation can rapidly alter the brain and change behaviour.

For example, it took only 5 days to induce marked sensitization to video games in healthy young adults. The gamers weren’t addicted, but elevated brain activity aligned with subjective cravings to play. In another experiment, nearly all the rats given unrestricted access to “cafeteria food” binged to obesity. It took only a few days of gorging on junk food for the rats’ dopamine receptors to decline (reducing their satisfaction). Less satisfaction drove the rats to binge even more.

As for Internet porn, this German study from the prestigious Max Planck Institute looked at men who were moderate users of porn. It found serious addiction-related brain changes: less functional connectivity between the thinking and emotional parts of the brain and less brain activation to porn the more porn they consumed. This is a classic sign of desensitisation when a person become used to a certain level of stimulation and needs more shocking or weirder material to become aroused. An Italian study found that 16% of high school seniors who consumed porn more than once a week experienced abnormally low sexual desire. Compare that to 0% of non-porn users reporting low sexual desire. The take away is that addiction is not required for either significant brain changes or negative effects.

Put simply, sexual conditioning, sensitisation, desensitisation and other addiction-related brain changes, occur on a spectrum. Also realise that our brain is constantly learning and adapting to the environment. Internet porn, being a supernormal stimulus targeting innate sexual circuits, shapes the brain and alters perception.

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