Porn may be screwing with you

I have to admit that porn has played a large supporting role in the backdrop of my life so far, and I have mixed feelings about this.

Especially now that some researchers are suggesting that watching a lot of porn shrinks your brain, can make you “rapey” and is more addictive than other online activities, including shopping and gambling! Check this out:

For most of us, porn is free, and anyone with a smartphone or internet can get access to it easily. About 30% of all content on the internet being transferred, is porn and the numbers are rising. The average age for first-time porn exposure is currently 11-years-old, and 70% of porn consumers are men. Female consumers are also steadily on the rise.

But research being done by several psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and other scientists suggests that watching porn can be harmful and may even be changing your brain and behaviour.

When you eat something good or do something fun, like having sex, the body rewards this action by releasing pleasure chemicals in the brain known as endorphins. This is natural and it’s the body’s way of saying, “This is good, you must do it again.”

When we watch porn, the brain gets flooded with a similar pleasure chemical known as dopamine, and this “high” can become as addictive as the high of any drug. This is because watching porn overstimulates the brain and causes it to flood the brain with too much dopamine for your brains liking. So, your brain takes steps to decrease the amount of dopamine it has to deal with and it does this by killing off its own dopamine receptors.

The brain is like, “Whoah! That’s way too much dopamine. Let’s create stricter border control.”

So, next time you will need more dopamine to be released to experience the same high with fewer receptors. This means that watching porn is an escalating behaviour. The same way that your body can build resistance to drugs like cocaine and heroin, it builds a resistance to the dopamine released by porn and you will require more and more of it.

And this is why people who watch a lot of porn (at least once a day) may begin to watch porn that gets kinkier and sometimes more violent, to get the same dopamine high. This process of killing off its receptors causes certain parts of the brain to shrink and literally die-off.

According to Kevin Majeres, a psychiatrist specialising in cognitive-behavioural therapy from Harvard Medical School, pornography tricks the “lower brain” into thinking the person watching the porn is participating in the acts he is observing. The brain doesn’t know it’s just a series of images following one another. It thinks the real thing is taking place and you are a participant.

Many people turn to pornography to soothe themselves when they are bored or depressed because the dopamine high can provide some relief. The problem is that you will eventually have to visit more and more sites and watch more and more stimulating acts to get the same high, and these acts can often begin to shift towards dark or violent behaviour.

Things that might normally make you feel uncomfortable, or even sick, become normalised by exposure to it, and if the lower brain sees it and thinks it’s real, then it becomes a normal thing to the now desensitised brain. This is why some experts argue that porn promotes the normalisation of rape and potentially even equating violence with sex.

German neuroscientists Simone Kuhn and Jurgen Galinat scanned the brains of 64 healthy males that admitted to watching different amounts of porn. Their findings suggest that the men who watched the most porn had a smaller part of the brain known as the striatum, which forms a part of the brains reward network. It would be harder for them to experience rewarding experiences brought on by the release of endorphins like dopamine than the guys who watched less porn.

Kuhn and Galinat also indicate that the use of pornography can be linked to brains that are less connected, less active and are smaller in certain areas.

Frequent use of porn is also linked to alarming behaviour when compared to men who claim to watch little to no porn. Frequent porn use is associated with riskier and more aggressive sexual behaviour. Sociologist Dr Michael Kimmel has found that men’s sexual fantasies have become heavily influenced by porn.

According to Kimmel, men who watch a lot of porn are more likely to go to sex workers and are more at risk of getting sexually transmitted infections. Porn is also linked to abusive and aggressive sexual behaviour due to constant exposure to scene after scene of “dehumanising submission.”

What is even more freaky, is that porn that was considered to be “hardcore” ten years ago is now considered to be “softcore”. There is an ever-increasing demand for more degradation, abuse and humiliation in porn content. When the going gets tough, the porn gets rough!

Couples in relationships where one or both members frequently use porn have been documented as being at higher risk of breaking-up because porn use is related to less sexual satisfaction with one another and less intimacy and connection in the relationship. Regular porn users are also more likely to cheat on their partners and have a more cynical perspective of romantic love and fidelity according to Kimmel.

However, there are some specialists that disagree with the complete demonising of porn. Ian Kerner, a licensed psychotherapist and sex counsellor, believes that porn can be used in some instances to even save a relationship. “I know a lot of men who travel and are happy to masturbate to porn rather than potentially pursue infidelity,” he said. He also believes that porn can “enhance couples’ sexual experiences by helping partners get warmed up and be creative in the bedroom.”

Kerner acknowledges the link between frequent porn use and depression and anxiety. But he believes that the regular use of porn when feeling anxiety or depression is just a symptom of depression and anxiety and not the problem itself. Watching porn can be a form of self-medication in this case. Maybe that’s what people mean when they tell depressed people to “get a grip?”

Masturbation itself (despite the historical stigma) is believed to be a natural, rewarding and potentially even healthy activity that is linked to good prostate health. Perhaps it is only when pornography is (excessively) used for masturbation that the habit can become a bad one?

It’s your decision at the end of the day. Sex and masturbation are great ways to feel good and connect with yourself and others. But if you’re finding it harder and harder (excuse the pun) to get your rocks off without watching hardcore porn, or find yourself watching more violent and degrading porn, then you may benefit from easing off on the blue content for a while. It’s very addictive, but remember, it can take 20 days to change or break a habit. See just how addicted you are, can you go 20 days without porn?

Bruce J. Little is the Content Creator for Anova Health Institute. For more, visit WeTheBrave.co.za.

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