It has been estimated that in the US 66% of men and 41% of women watch pornography at least on a monthly basis.
Even if you are not one of those who partake in this pastime, you are likely not protected from the ubiquity of erotic images on TV, in movies, and of course, on the internet. In fact, it is estimated that 50% of all internet traffic is dedicated to sex, making it a true phenomenon of our time.
If you’ve ever wondered about the neurological implications of chronic exposure to pornography, your answer may have arrived!
A recent publication shed light on areas of the brain vulnerable to chronic use of pornography- and surprise!- they’re the same areas implicated in drug addiction.
The article published last month in JAMA psychiatry implicates changes in two main regions of the brain- the striatum and the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – in chronic pornography exposure. The striatum (caudate/putamen/nucleus accumbens) is a brain region responsible for motivation, reward seeking and movement, whereas the PFC is necessary for planning and decision making. Together, these areas work to initiate reward-seeking behavior and assess reward cues from the environment.
The main results of the article show an overall loss of neural volume in the striatum in accordance with the amount of porn watched per week. Moreover, they observed a significant decrease in activity of the striatum in response to sexual cues-hinting at a desensitization of the reward system. Additionally, they noted a decrease in functional connection between the striatum and the PFC.
Overall, it seems that the more pornography you watch, the more stimulus you need to feel sexually aroused.
So if you ever wondered if pornography influences natural desires, the answer is quite possibly. It seems that chronic exposure to pornography can highjack the natural reward pathway of our brains in a similar fashion to drugs of abuse, like cocaine. And like drug abuse, with time and overuse, pornography alters our neural pathways to compensate for the overwhelming stimulus.