Mental Effects of Porn

The most basic effect of watching too much internet porn or even gaming is to miss out on necessary sleep. People end up ‘wired and tired’ and unable to concentrate on work next day. Over time constant bingeing and seeking that dopamine reward hit, can lead to a deep habit that is hard to kick or cause ‘pathological’ learning in the form of addiction. That is when we continue to seek a behaviour or substance despite negative consequences. The negative feelings we experience when we miss the habit, such as depression or feeling flat, drive us back to it again and again to try and restore feelings of pleasure. Addiction can start when trying to cope with stress but also causes us to feel stressed too. It is a vicious cycle.

When our physical systems are out of balance, our rational brain tries to interpret what is going on based on past experience. Low dopamine and depletion of other related neurochemicals can produce feelings of boredom, hunger, stress, tiredness, low energy, anger, craving, depression, loneliness and anxiety. How we ‘interpret’ our feelings affects our behaviour.

We often seek to self-medicate negative feelings with more of our favourite substance or behaviour without realising that it was perhaps overindulgence in that behaviour or substance that triggered the low feelings in the first place. The hangover effect is a neurochemical rebound. In Scotland, drinkers suffering from a hangover next day, talk of taking “the hair of the dog that bit you” by having another drink. Unfortunately for some people, this can lead to a vicious cycle of bingeing, depression, bingeing, depression and so on.

The effect of watching too much, highly stimulating porn can lead to a hangover and depressive symptoms too. The effects don’t stop at a hangover however. Constant overexposure to this material can produce brain changes with effects that may include the following:

• Consuming pornography tends to make people more open to new relationships and more likely to flirt. That looks good on the surface until you realise that the research shows that consuming pornography correlates with a lack of commitment to one’s romantic partner.

• In a study of university-age males, difficulties with social functioning increased as pornography consumption rose. This applied to psychosocial problems such as depression, anxiety, stress and reduced social functioning.

• A study of educated Korean men in their 20s found a preference for using pornography to achieve and maintain sexual excitement over having sex with a partner.

• Consumption of pornography was experimentally shown to decrease an individual’s ability to delay gratification for more valuable future rewards. In other words, watching porn makes you less logical and less able to take decisions that are clearly in your own interest.

• In a study of 14 year old boys, higher levels of internet pornography consumption led to a risk of decreased academic performance, with the effects visible six-months later.

• The more pornography a man watches, the more likely he was to use it during sex, to have a desire to act out porn scripts with his partner, deliberately conjure images of pornography during sex to maintain arousal, and have concerns over his own sexual performance and body image. Further, higher pornography use was negatively associated with enjoying sexually intimate behaviours with a partner.

• In one study, students at the end of high school reported a strong link between high levels of pornography consumption and low sexual desire, with a quarter of regular consumers reporting an abnormal sexual response.

• The 2008 Study of Sexuality in France found that 20% of men 18-24 “no interest in sex or sexual activity”. This is very much at odds with the French national stereotype.

• In Japan in 2010: an official government survey found that 36% males aged 16-19 “have no interest in sex or have an aversion to it” prefer virtual dolls or anime.

In some people, there can be unexpected morphing sexual tastes which reverse when they stop using porn. Here the issue is straight people watching gay porn, gays watching straight porn and lots of variations, as well as fetishes and interests in sexual things away from their natural sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter our orientation or sexual identity, chronic overuse of internet pornography can cause serious changes to brain structure and functioning. As everyone is unique, it is not easy to say how much is enough, everyone’s brain will react differently.

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