"Your Brain on Porn and Other Sexual Images" (Scientific American)

Printer-friendly version

Scientific American logoIs porn bad for the brain? The Savvy Psychologist explains 3 studies that looked at how we process porn and other sexualized images, and reveals the potential effects on the brain—and on how we see our fellow men and women

A recent neurology study found that the more porn a man watched, the less gray matter he had in his brain. The study made headlines the world over, prompting an anonymous listener to ask whether such sexual stimulation is indeed bad for the brain. So just what is the effect of sexual imagery on our brains--and does it affect how we see our fellow men and women? Here are the details on 3 studies that examined the brain on porn and other sexualized images.

Study #1: Your Brain On Porn
In May 2014, a study in the prestigious journal JAMA Psychiatry was all over the news. It found that the more porn men reported watching, the less volume and activity they had in the regions of the brain—specifically the striatum—linked to reward processing and motivation. They also found that connectivity between the striatum and the prefrontal cortex (which is the part of the brain used for decision making, planning, and behavior regulation) weakened the more porn the men reported watching.

Read more

By Ellen Hendriksen

YBOP Comments:

Journalist Hendriksen (the "Savvy Psychologist") leaves out a key finding: More hours/years of porn use, even in men screened for specific disorders (that might otherwise have muddied results), showed less brain activation when exposed to sexual images. Most men would probably say that abnormally low sexual desire is a problem.

In any case, her implied conclusion that this research somehow means porn doesn't harm men's mental health is unfounded.  She says,

We can take away that sexual imagery is both not as bad as we think, and worse than we think.  Moderate amounts of porn might affect the brains of men, but don’t seem to affect their mental health.

A legitimate conclusion would be that internet porn doesn't harm all men's mental health.