Your brain on porn

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fMRI of the brainA modern-day phenomenon is causing a stir on discussion and support sites – that of internet pornography ‘addiction’. Linked to mood disturbance, relationship difficulties and erectile dysfunction in some users, compulsive porn viewing does seem to share enough features with substance dependence to become a member of the addiction club, though this is still seen as controversial by some.

A study in JAMA Psychiatry (The Brain on Porn) enrolled 64 German men who regularly viewed pornography and took a look at their brains using scanning techniques. They found a significant negative association between hours of pornography per week and the volume of grey matter in parts of the brain. They also found other changes and speculated that the intense stimulation of the reward system may have caused the changes. Of course the changes could have been there before the porn use, making the porn more rewarding when they first started to view it. The authors thought the former theory to be more likely.

This is an evolving area where the science needs to catch up with the widely reported experiences of compulsive consumers of internet pornography. It’s also controversial. Raising concerns can be interpreted as taking a moral stance. Reddit Nofap is a support and discussion site where shared themes from experience are beginning to emerge with a frequency that his hard to ignore. Perhaps the greatest indicator that there is a need for more understanding and support of this phenomenon is the fact that a TedX talk from Glasgow (The Great Porn Experiment) by Gary Wilson from a couple of years back has had almost 3 million views on YouTube. It is quite remarkable in how clearly it raises and addresses the issues – without moral panic or hysteria. Take a look.
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