The Science of Pornography

. 2 min read

Sexual tastes vary from person to person. But with the current pornography epidemic, as some call it, one has to wonder how exactly this may affect our desires and perception of sexuality. Moreover, how does it affect our sex lives? Pornography constitutes about twenty-five percent of all search engine requests.

Well, it may seem to simply facilitate an instinctual sexual response linked to millions of years of evolution. The truth is that pornography has dynamically changed over time, ultimately molding our tastes and desires. The not so shocking truth is that pornography has profound consequences on our brain and acts in many ways like a drug. With prolonged exposure, your tolerance is increased and many often find themselves addicted. Though it is not a physical substance, it leads to the same general loss of control, the compulsiveness to seek out the activity despite negative consequences. Much like that of gambling or running for example. The continued exposure can cause long-term or even lifelong neuroplastic changes in the brain.

Dopamine is released as a reward whenever we accomplish something whether it be eating to sustain life or sexual activity to produce future life. And this dopamine consolidates neural connections in order to drive us to perform the same activity in the future. In other words, it alters and forms the brain cells to motivate certain actions. It rewires your brain. The national institutes of health measure drug addictiveness by testing rats. The rat is trained to press a button in order to get a drug, and the harder it works indicates how addictive the substance is. It turns out that the more addictive a drug is the more dopamine we see released. And while there is, unfortunately, no rat porn that we can give to them, we do know that dopamine is also released during sexual excitement which pornography plays right into. The more time you spend doing it, the more dopamine gets released which reinforces the behavior and makes you not only desire it in the future but require it. And as you begin to imagine these images away from the computer or while having sex, they become reinforced. Furthermore, each orgasm releases, even more, dopamine which consolidates the connections made during the session. It's a feedback loop that becomes harder to escape and just like a drug your tolerance for visual stimulation has now compounded, making it more difficult to be turned on by reality.
Pornography addiction can often lead to finding your mate less attractive, the good news is it doesn't have to be permanent. Usually, when people understand the mechanism and realize it's affecting their relationships, they can stop. The brain is often described as a "use it or lose it" system because the neural connections you stimulate grow stronger and desire to be activated while the ones you ignore become weakened. Much like your muscles which if sitting still all day itch for activity but after prolonged non-use they become complacent. Luckily, because of this "use it or lose it" brain, the same neuro-plastic system that proliferates these habits can also be used to acquire healthier ones.