The Latest Science On What Internet Porn Is Doing To Your Brain

Is it making you impotent, increasing your sex drive - or actually doing nothing at all? Here's all the theories we have for now

Most Popular

Two years ago Esquire examined why thousands of young men are giving up pornography. The reasons they gave included conquering unhealthy fetishes to gaining so-called 'superpowers' of increased energy, alertness and confidence.

At the same time, many dismiss new concerns over pornography as nothing more than plain old Puritanism masquerading as science, or more hysterically, part of some pernicious feminist agenda to rob men of their right to a harmless tug.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

What is indisputable is that we're living in a time where almost everyone in the western world has instant access to vast amounts of porn, and the true effects of this aren't yet fully known because the generation who experience puberty with the internet at their fingertips are still growing up.

So: is internet porn destroying your sex drive and connectivity to your partner, or is it helping you destress from work and express sexual fantasies in a healthy way? While there is no wide-spread consensus, there is an increasing number of studies throwing up interesting theories on all sides of the debate. Here we compile them so you can begin to make your own mind up.

Most Popular

Needing stronger and stronger pornography

A recent study by the Max Planck Institute in Berlin found that the part of the brain activated when people feel rewarded is shrunken by regularly watching pornography. This suggests people who watch porn regularly will need more graphic material to feel sexual stimulated as time goes on. However, the researchers did point out the issues of causality in their study: "It's not clear, whether watching porn leads to brain changes or whether people born with certain brain types watch more porn."

Additional food for thought comes from William Struthers, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Wired for Intimacy. He argues that "Guys freak out when they think porn might be 'rewiring' their brains. The reality is, our brains are regularly being 'rewired'—we wouldn't learn anything otherwise."

Laptop
GIF
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Porn and erectile dysfunction

Despite some studies linking pornography with erectile dysfunction, the evidence isn't stacked as irrefutably as you might think. One study analysed the porn habits and sexual function of 280 men and the results in fact showed: "Those who reported watching more porn each week reported greater arousal than those who watched less porn. Thus, contrary to the claims that some have made about porn use causing a habituation or desensitisation response (i.e., diminishing levels of arousal with repeated pornography exposure), porn use was actually linked to enhanced arousal to sexual stimuli in this study."

The study also found that, "frequency of porn viewing was linked to greater sexual desire for both solo and partnered sexual activity." Though it is worth remember that it may be the case that the men watching porn have naturally high sex drives rather than the porn necessarily increasing your libido.

The same research also looked into a link between porn and erectile functioning and found,"there is no relationship between the amount of sex films men view and erectile functioning with their partner."

A report published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine discussed two surveys on the effects of men's porn use on erectile functioning. The first looked at 947 Croatian men, 219 Norwegian men, and 1,571 Portuguese men and the second study consisted of 1,211 Croatian men. In both porn use was common for 40-59 per cent of men who said they use pornography between a few times a week and daily.

The first study found no statistical link for Norwegian or Portuguese men and a very small statistical link for the Croatian men samples. The second study, which only focused on Croatian men, then found no link between porn use and erectile difficulties.

Study authors also pointed out the pitfalls in linking pornography and ED without looking at cause and effect: "it could very well be that men who have difficulties with sexual functioning are more likely to turn to porn as a coping mechanism."

Porn and relationships

A common argument against pornography is that it comes between marriages, as supported by a recent study from the American Sociological Association. The paper titled 'Till Porn Do Us Part?' found that, "Married people who start watching porn are twice as likely to be divorced in the the following years as those who don't. And women who start watching porn are three times as likely to split."

Interestingly the study found that porn had a significantly less negative impact if couples watched porn together. You know what to do.

Whether pornography has an effect on your relationship is likely down to a multitude of factors, according to another study from the University of Western Ontario which found "no negative effects" was the most commonly reported impact of pornography use.

Additionally a nationwide US study found experimentation helps bring couples together by improving sexual communication and variety. Satisfied couples were more likely to engage in activities like trying a new sexual position, watching pornography together or using a sex toy.

Porn addiction

Addiction recovery often talks about the first step being admitting you have a problem, but what if that idea is the most damaging of all? An American study published in 2015 found that, "Perceived addiction to Internet pornography predicted psychological distress above and beyond pornography use itself." This may be down to the negative perception of the effects of pornography in America where it is viewed as an epidemic.

Contrastingly, a 2008 Danish study examined how pornography had affected men and women personally in various areas, including their sexual knowledge, attitudes toward sex, attitudes toward and perception of the opposite sex, sex life, and general quality of life. Participants gave very few negative effects and moderate positive effects and the study concluded that, "Many young Danish adults believe that pornography has had primarily a positive effect on various aspects of their lives."

The common thread in all of these studies is that pornography affects everyone differently, and annoyingly there are no definitive answers. Therefore if you feel concerned about any issues around the impact pornography is having on your life, it's a good idea to seek professional help - luckily, there's plenty of it.