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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90 day report of a "Once upon a time shy guy"

Guys, I would highly encourage you to NOT give up on nofap! There's so much to learn and grow when you embark on this journey. :) During my 90 day journey, I used to constantly feel “what's the use of nofap”, because I wasn't seeing any noticeable changes when I started out. But now on hindsight, when I compare me to my previous 90-day self, there's been a significant change!

Age 24 - Just asked a girl out

Yeah man so i'm tall, decent looking, and take care of my body but my social and sexual ability are both extremely stunted due to severe porn/substance abuse from 15 until now (24)... I quite drinking, smoking, video games, junk food, and went vegan on january of this year. I also "quit" pmo but we all know how that goes... Finally i got a streak that stuck.

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.

The Dual Control Model - The Role Of Sexual Inhibition & Excitation In Sexual Arousal And Behavior (2007)

COMMENTS: A recent re-discovery. The first paper to report porn-induced ED and porn-induced low libido. In an experiment employing video porn, 50% of the young men couldn't become aroused or achieve erections with porn (average age was 29). The shocked researchers discovered that the men's erectile dysfunction was "related to high levels of exposure to and experience with sexually explicit materials." The limp men had spent a whole of lot of time in bars and bathhouses where porn was "omnipresent," and continuously playing. The men explained that "high exposure to erotica seemed to have resulted in a lower responsivity to "vanilla sex" erotica and an increased need for novelty and variation.