Your Brain on Porn

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Start here for a brief overview of concepts & science

This article is a short synopsis of some key concepts. For the science behind it, please follow all the links and read this page. Some links go to our articles, which in turn link to studies. For a more in-depth understanding and further evidence see The Research Page. For specific content explore Porn FAQs.

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What happens when you drop a male rat into a cage with a receptive female rat? First, you see a frenzy of copulation. Then, progressively, the male tires of that particular female. Even if she wants more, he has had enough. However, replace the original female with a fresh one, and the male immediately revives and gallantly struggles to fertilize her. You can repeat this process with fresh females until he is completely wiped out.

This is called the Coolidge effect—the automatic response to novel mates. Interestingly, men ejaculate more motile sperm and they do it more quickly when they view a novel porn star. This powerful automatic response to erotic novelty is what started you down the road to getting hooked on internet porn.

Studies linking porn use or porn/sex addiction to sexual dysfunctions, lower brain activation to sexual stimuli, and lower sexual satisfaction

Reality Check - Regardless of what you may read in some journalistic accounts, multiple studies reveal a link between porn use and sexual performance problems, relationship and sexual dissatisfaction, and reduced brain activation to sexual stimuli.

Let's start with sexual dysfunctions. All studies assessing young male sexuality since 2010 report historic levels of sexual dysfunctions, and startling rates of a new scourge: low libido. Documented in this article.

Brain Studies on Porn Users

This page lists all the studies assessing the brain structure and functioning of Internet porn users. To date every study offers support for the porn addiction model. The results of these 24 studies (and upcoming studies) are consistent with 160+ Internet addiction brain studies, many of which also include internet porn use. All support the premise that internet porn use can cause addiction-related brain changes, as do recent neuroscience-based reviews of the literature:

  1. Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update (2015). The review also critiques two recent headline-grabbing EEG studies which purport to have "debunked" porn addiction.
  2. Sex Addiction as a Disease: Evidence for Assessment, Diagnosis, and Response to Critics (2015), which provides a chart that takes on specific criticisms and offers citations that counter them.
  3. Neurobiology of Compulsive Sexual Behavior: Emerging Science (2016) Excerpt: "Given some similarities between CSB and drug addictions, interventions effective for addictions may hold promise for CSB, thus providing insight into future research directions to investigate this possibility directly."
  4. Should Compulsive Sexual Behavior be Considered an Addiction? (2016) Excerpt: "Overlapping features exist between CSB and substance use disorders. Common neurotransmitter systems may contribute to CSB and substance use disorders, and recent neuroimaging studies highlight similarities relating to craving and attentional biases. Similar pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments may be applicable to CSB and substance addictions"
  5. Neurobiological Basis of Hypersexuality (2016). Excerpt: "Taken together, the evidence seems to imply that alterations in the frontal lobe, amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, septum, and brain regions that process reward play a prominent role in the emergence of hypersexuality. Genetic studies and neuropharmacological treatment approaches point at an involvement of the dopaminergic system."
  6. Compulsive Sexual Behaviour as a Behavioural Addiction: The Impact of the Internet and Other Issues (2016)  Excerpts: "more emphasis is needed on the characteristics of the internet as these may facilitate problematic sexual behaviour." and "clinical evidence from those who help and treat such individuals should be given greater credence by the psychiatric community."
  7. Cybersex Addiction (2015) Excerpts: In recent articles, cybersex addiction is considered a specific type of Internet addiction. Some current studies investigated parallels between cybersex addiction and other behavioral addictions, such as Internet Gaming Disorder. Cue-reactivity and craving are considered to play a major role in cybersex addiction. Neuroimaging studies support the assumption of meaningful commonalities between cybersex addiction and other behavioral addictions as well as substance dependency.

Gary's TEDx talk - "The Great Porn Experiment"

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Age 29 - I started this path to cure my PIED and get my libido up but got a lot more through it all.

I am surprised that I made it this far. This being my first time and all. I started this path to cure my PIED and get my libido up but got a lot more through it all.

Age 17 - Asked a girl out, enjoying the rush

I'm going to keep this short as possible because I want to write in my journal so here we go: Last year I was dating a girl, and we tried to have sex. I couldn't get it up. She broke up with me a week later for other problems, and I felt hopeless. I binged and binged my dick away. Literally everyday 2-3 times.. for months.

Age 19 - I've started living normally, not running from every little challenge

Before I begin this epic tale of pain and success, one must tell the tale of his previous life

  • Horribly anti-social
  • You know the Mariana Trench? My confidence was lower than that!
  • Bad skin
  • Lazy

Age 23 - I feel like the Energizer Bunny, 95% of anxiety gone, hair fuller, gains at the gym

Been on the nofap journey for approximately 9 months now and it is safe to say that my life has experienced a much needed jump-start. I am only 23 years old, but I feel like I have been reborn and am truly becoming a man. This major change in my lifestyle granted me the mental clarity and willpower I needed to re-evaluate my life.