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Ear to the Ground

How Porn May Be Changing Your Brain

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Posted on Jan 13, 2014
Porn Addiction (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Recent headlines have (falsely) predicted that porn shoots may be shut down in light of HIV scandals. What’s not being mentioned is the addiction that is becoming more widespread within our society. With easy access to unlimited Internet pornography, watching it can turn into a very destructive addiction, especially for young people. According to psychotherapist Matt Bulkley, young viewers are much more likely than older ones to suffer long term physiological and psychological damage. Although it can have negative effects on all ages, they tend to be especially prevalent among teens. The reason for this is that their brains haven’t fully developed yet and they don’t understand the intimacy and euphoria of sex in a personal way. In its place is the modern day fantasy of Internet porn, a fantasy that when exposed long enough can require more time and needs to become more and more extreme to keep its sense of thrill.

Although for most, watching porn isn’t some destructive force that instantly becomes a downward spiral for addiction, it is still an issue that should be taken seriously and looked at with precaution. Pornography viewership is not just used as a way of pleasure or leisurely activity; it’s beginning to function as other addictions on a widespread level. It creates the same pleasure-reward response by releasing large amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain that would occur from a drug addiction. The reason why this can be especially powerful among teens, The Fix quotes Psychology Today contributor Gary Wilson as saying, is that:

“Teen brains are the most sensitive to dopamine at around age 15 and react up to four times more strongly to images perceived as exciting. On top of the increased thrill-seeking, teens have a higher capacity to log long hours in front of a computer screen without experiencing burnout. Additionally, teens act based on emotional impulses rather than logical planning. These traits combined make the adolescent brain especially vulnerable to addiction.  Pornography addiction during adolescence is particularly troubling because of the way neuron pathways in the brain form during this period. The circuitry in the brain undergoes an explosion of growth followed by a rapid pruning of neuron pathways between ages 10 and 13. Wilson describes this as the “use it or lose it” period of a teen’s development.”

Porn is different now from any other time in history. Simple images and videos start to become banal and in its place is an unlimited, fetishized, new disturbed reality. The power is that much more influential and for many this addiction becomes an endless urge that can never be satiated. According to psychotherapist Alexandra Katehakis, founder of the Center for Healthy Sex, “Now, Internet pornography is so powerful that it is literally rewiring brains.” Read more on the effects of pornography and current methods of treatment here.

Update: After digging further, I have found Matt Bulkley, who is referenced in the post above as a psychotherapist, to be a questionable source. I have also found problems with the “Youth Pornography Addiction” program of which he is a part. I do not feel the puritan language and religious colloquial that they spew holds up to the standards that should be in the discussion or deemed as a point of reference credible for Truthdig.

—Posted by Donald Kaufman.

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