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[Note: The following contains a frank, though non-graphic, discussion of pornography addiction. Parents are therefore cautioned to examine the material themselves before sharing it with children or teenagers.]
“Because the human brain is the biological anchor of our psychological experience, it is helpful to understand how it operates,” says William M. Struthers, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College. “Knowing how it is wired together and where it is sensitive can help us understand why pornography affects people the way it does.” Here are 9 things you should know about pornography affects the brain.
1. Sexually explicit material triggers mirror neurons in the male brain. These neurons, which are involved
2. In men, there are five primary chemicals involved in sexual arousal and response. The one that likely plays the most significant role in pornography addiction is dopamine. Dopamine plays a major role in the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning. Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain, and a variety of addictive drugs, including stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine, act directly on the dopamine system. Dopamine surges when a person is exposed to novel stimuli, particularly if it is sexual, or when a
3. Why do men seek out a variety of new explicit sexual images rather than being satisfied with the same ones? The reason is attributed to the Coolidge effect, a phenomenon seen in mammalian species whereby males (and to
4. Overstimulation of the reward circuitry—such as occurs with repeated dopamine spikes related to viewing pornography—creates desensitization. As Gary Wilson explains, “When dopamine receptors drop after too much stimulation, the brain doesn’t respond as much, and we feel less reward from pleasure. That drives us to search even harder for feelings of satisfaction—for example, by seeking out more extreme sexual stimuli, longer porn sessions, or more frequent porn viewing—thus further numbing the brain.
5. “The psychological, behavioral, and emotional habits that form our sexual character will be based on the decisions we make,” says Struthers. “Whenever the sequence of arousal and response is activated, it forms a neurological memory that will influence future processing and response to sexual cues. As this pathway becomes activated and traveled, it becomes a preferred route—a mental journey—that
6. What makes Internet porn unique? Wilson identifies a number of reasons,
7. Men’s exposure to
8. The following video offers a brief overview of the affect of pornography on the brain.
9. In this video, Gary Wilson discusses the disturbing symptoms showing up in some heavy Internet porn users, the surprising reversal of those symptoms, and the science behind these phenomena. Although it is not presented from a Christian perspective, the discussion is highly recommended for better understanding the deleterious and wide-ranging effects pornography has on men.