This site is secular, although everyone’s views are welcome. It is primarily science-based, and no one here is trying to ban porn. This is not a commercial site: we accept no ads, and the proceeds from the YBOP book go to a UK registered charity that promotes education and research on porn’s effects. We created the site because we don’t like people suffering needlessly simply because they lack critical information for improving their circumstances themselves. Please do not ask YBOP admins questions specific to your situation. YBOP does not diagnose or provide medical or sexual advice.
This site focuses on porn’s effects on the brain—male or female. However, since this has been predominantly a male challenge (and the self-reports are overwhelmingly from men), the site has a definite male slant. However, addiction is addiction, and more females are starting to report Internet porn problems. If you are female, you may want to see Articles of Special Interest to Women.
Although we don’t offer a structured program, we do share suggestions as to how others have reversed the unwanted effects of heavy porn use.
This site will help you understand exactly how today’s extreme Internet porn can alter the brain. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll realize that some primitive circuitry in your brain is just trying to do its job when it pushes you toward porn. And you’ll see how to outsmart it and restore your balance.
This site grew out of 18 years of research analysis on the effects of sex on the brain, and ten years of listening to recovering porn addicts. There’s a vacuum of critically important information about porn’s effects on the brain. It is lost in the gulf that exists between the folks who see porn use as immoral, and the mainstream who sees Internet porn as no different from Dad’s Playboy magazines.
In our view, porn use isn’t a moral issue. Yet, to the human brain, Internet porn is as different from erotic magazines as “World of Warcraft” is from checkers. The ability of this unique supernormal stimulus to alter the brain has major implications for the user (especially during adolescence).
You can start anywhere on the site, but it’s important to understand your predicament. To get the basics, watch the series Your Brain On Porn, or read the overview on the front page. Next you may want to continue to “Articles” or “Videos” from the list below (which are the menu items at the top of the page).
- Support: Links to other helpful websites. YBOP has no forum.
- Rebooting: Read the basics before you get started. Browse the rebooting accounts. Note: YBOP’s policy is to not censor content of the rebooting stories or other self-reports.
- Tools for Change: Tools you can use to help you in your recovery, starting with rebooting and rewiring your brain. Contains many personal accounts and tips.
- Porn FAQ’s: Here we (and porn users) answer the most commonly asked questions. Contains many personal accounts.
- Videos: View our presentations, and other videos on addiction and porn addiction.
- Articles: Porn related articles in six categories, covering a diverse range of subjects important to you. Written for the general public, with easy to understand science and porn users’ stories.
- Research Page: Contains articles, excerpts and research that relate to porn addiction and recovery, as well as a Humor section. Also see the audio-visual presentations appear.
- See Questionable & Misleading Studies for highly publicized papers and lay articles that are not what they claim to be.
It’s great to see so many visitors bounce back as they integrate the information here. Once they understand their options, they steer for the results they want. As we say, “Balance, not perfection, is the goal.” No one here cares what you do with your genitals. We do care that you are accurately informed about your brain. Welcome.
What is YBOP claiming?
- Internet porn addiction exists.
- All addictions entail a constellation of shared fundamental brain changes, which have been documented in both substance and chemical addictions, and which are reflected in a specific set of signs, symptoms and behaviors.
- Porn-induced sexual dysfunctions exist.
- Internet porn is inducing morphing sexual tastes in some users.
- Internet porn is exacerbating or inducing various other symptoms (loss of attraction to real partners, social anxiety, depression, brain fog, lack of motivation, emotional numbness, withdrawal symptoms, etc.) in some users.
- Many who give up Internet porn often notice gradual improvement in items 3-5. The only variable they appear to have in common is Internet porn use.
- Intense arousal has the power to condition sexuality, particularly adolescent sexuality, as a matter of neuroscience.
Is there any scientific foundation for these claims?
Yes, for example:
- Porn/sex addiction? This page lists 40 neuroscience-based studies (MRI, fMRI, EEG, neuropsychological, hormonal). They provide strong support for the addiction model as their findings mirror the neurological findings reported in substance addiction studies.
- The real experts’ opinions on porn/sex addiction? This list contains 18 recent literature reviews & commentaries by some of the top neuroscientists in the world. All support the addiction model.
- Signs of addiction and escalation to more extreme material? Over 30 studies reporting findings consistent with escalation of porn use (tolerance), habituation to porn, and even withdrawal symptoms (all signs and symptoms associated with addiction).
- The world’s most widely used medical diagnostic manual, The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), contains a new diagnosis suitable for porn addiction: “Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder.”
- Debunking the claim that “high sexual desire” explains away porn or sex addiction: At least 25 studies falsify the claim that sex & porn addicts “just have high sexual desire”
- Porn and sexual problems? This list contains 28 studies linking porn use/porn addiction to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli. The first 5 studies in the list demonstrate causation, as participants eliminated porn use and healed chronic sexual dysfunctions.
- Porn’s effects on relationships? Almost 60 studies link porn use to less sexual and relationship satisfaction. (As far as we know all studies involving males have reported more porn use linked to poorer sexual or relationship satisfaction.)
- Porn use affecting emotional and mental health? Over 55 studies link porn use to poorer mental-emotional health & poorer cognitive outcomes.
- Porn use affecting beliefs, attitudes and behaviors? Check out individual studies – over 25 studies link porn use to “un-egalitarian attitudes” toward women and sexist views – or the summary from this 2016 meta-analysis: Media and Sexualization: State of Empirical Research, 1995–2015. Excerpt:
The goal of this review was to synthesize empirical investigations testing effects of media sexualization. The focus was on research published in peer-reviewed, English-language journals between 1995 and 2015. A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed. The findings provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.
- What about sexual aggression and porn use? Another meta-analysis: A Meta‐Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies (2015). Excerpt:
22 studies from 7 different countries were analyzed. Consumption was associated with sexual aggression in the United States and internationally, among males and females, and in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Associations were stronger for verbal than physical sexual aggression, although both were significant. The general pattern of results suggested that violent content may be an exacerbating factor.
- What about the porn use and adolescents? Check out this list of over 200 adolescent studies, or this 2012 review of the research – The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research (2012). From the conclusion:
Increased access to the Internet by adolescents has created unprecedented opportunities for sexual education, learning, and growth. Conversely, the risk of harm that is evident in the literature has led researchers to investigate adolescent exposure to online pornography in an effort to elucidate these relationships. Collectively, these studies suggest that youth who consume pornography may develop unrealistic sexual values and beliefs. Among the findings, higher levels of permissive sexual attitudes, sexual preoccupation, and earlier sexual experimentation have been correlated with more frequent consumption of pornography…. Nevertheless, consistent findings have emerged linking adolescent use of pornography that depicts violence with increased degrees of sexually aggressive behavior. The literature does indicate some correlation between adolescents’ use of pornography and self-concept. Girls report feeling physically inferior to the women they view in pornographic material, while boys fear they may not be as virile or able to perform as the men in these media. Adolescents also report that their use of pornography decreased as their self-confidence and social development increase. Additionally, research suggests that adolescents who use pornography, especially that found on the Internet, have lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behavior, higher incidence of depressive symptoms, and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers.
And yet YBOP was created because anecdotal and clinical evidence pointed to a new phenomenon. The following pages contain about 5,500 first-person accounts of men giving up porn and healing sexual problems (ED, anorgasmia, low libido, morphing sexual tastes, etc.):
- Rebooting Accounts: Page 1
- Rebooting Accounts: Page 2
- Rebooting Accounts: Page 3
- ED Recovery Stories 1
- ED Recovery Stories 2
- ED Recovery Stories 3
- ED Recovery Stories 4
- ED Recovery Stories 5
- ED Recovery Stories 6
- ED Recovery Stories 7
- ED Recovery Stories 8
In addition, to the above studies, this page contains articles and videos by over 120 experts (urology professors, urologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, sexologists, MDs) who acknowledge and have successfully treated porn-induced ED and porn-induced loss of sexual desire. In fact, porn-induced ED was presented at the American Urologic Association Conference, May 6-10, 2016: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
What about porn addiction?
But ‘porn addiction’ isn’t in the APA’s DSM-5, right? When the APA last updated the manual in 2013 (DSM-5), it didn’t formally consider “internet porn addiction,” opting instead to debate “hypersexual disorder.” The latter umbrella term for problematic sexual behavior was recommended for inclusion by the DSM-5’s own Sexuality Work Group after years of review. However, in an eleventh-hour “star chamber” session (according to a Work Group member), other DSM-5 officials unilaterally rejected hypersexuality, citing reasons that have been described as illogical.
Just prior to the DSM-5’s publication in 2013, Thomas Insel, then Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, warned that it was time for the mental health field to stop relying on the DSM. Its “weakness is its lack of validity,” he explained, and “we cannot succeed if we use DSM categories as the “gold standard.” He added, “That is why NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” In other words, the NIMH planned to stop funding research based on DSM labels (and their absence).
Major medical organizations are moving ahead of the APA. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) hammered what should have been the final nail in the porn-addiction debate coffin in August, 2011, a few months before I prepared my TEDx talk. Top addiction experts at ASAM released their carefully crafted definition of addiction. The new definition makes some of the major points I made in my talk. Foremost, behavioral addictions affect the brain in the same fundamental ways as drugs do. In other words, addiction is essentially one disease (condition), not many. ASAM explicitly stated that sexual behavior addiction exists and must necessarily be caused by the same fundamental brain changes found in substance addictions.
The World Health Organization appears poised to set right the APA’s excessive caution. The next edition of its diagnostic manual, the ICD, is due out in 2018. The beta draft of the new ICD-11 includes a diagnosis for “Compulsive sexual behavior disorder,” as well as one for “Disorders due to addictive behaviors.” Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is the umbrella term for “porn addiction” and “sex addiction”. WHO is creating this new diagnosis because clinical and empirical evidence is mounting.
There are now 18 literature reviews & commentaries, including this 2015 paper by two medical doctors: Sex Addiction as a Disease: Evidence for Assessment, Diagnosis, and Response to Critics (2015), which provides a chart from that takes on specific criticisms and offers citations that counter them. For a thorough review of the neuroscience literature related to Internet addiction subtypes, with special focus on internet porn addiction, see – 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 (see this page for critiques and analysis of highly questionable and misleading studies). This short review, Neurobiology of Compulsive Sexual Behavior: Emerging Science (2016), stated:
“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.”
A 2016 review of compulsive sexual behaviors (CSB) by neuroscientists at Yale and Cambridge universities – Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction? – concluded that:
“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.”
And a 2016 review by neuroscientists from the Max Planck institute – Neurobiological Basis of Hypersexuality – concluded;
“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.”
By US Navy doctors: Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016). It’s an extensive review of the literature on porn-induced sexual problems. The review provides the latest data revealing a tremendous rise in youthful sexual problems. The paper also examines the neurological studies related to porn addiction and sexual conditioning. The doctors provide 3 clinical reports of men who developed porn-induced sexual dysfunctions.
A chapter by two top neuroscientists: Neuroscientific Approaches to Online Pornography Addiction (2017) – Excerpt:
“In the last two decades, several studies with neuroscientific approaches, especially functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), were conducted to explore the neural correlates of watching pornography under experimental conditions and the neural correlates of excessive pornography use. Given previous results, excessive pornography consumption can be connected to already known neurobiological mechanisms underlying the development of substance-related addictions.”
A commentary by neuroscientists at Yale and Cambridge: Is excessive sexual behaviour an addictive disorder? (2017) – Excerpts:
“Research into the neurobiology of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder has generated findings relating to attentional biases, incentive salience attributions, and brain-based cue reactivity that suggest substantial similarities with addictions. We believe that classification of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder as an addictive disorder is consistent with recent data and might benefit clinicians, researchers, and individuals suffering from and personally affected by this disorder.”
In addition to the 18 reviews and commentaries, all published neurological studies support the claims put forth by YBOP (for an updated list see: Brain Studies on Porn Users):
- Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn (2014) – A German study which found 3 significant addiction-related brain changes that correlated with the amount of porn consumed. It also found that the more porn consumed the less activity in the reward circuit, indicating desensitization, and increasing the need for greater stimulation (tolerance).
- Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours (2014) – The first in a series of studies. It found the same brain activity as seen in drug addicts and alcoholics. It also found that porn addicts fit the accepted addiction model of wanting “it” more, but not liking “it” more. One other major finding (not reported in the media), was that over 50% of subjects (average age: 25) had difficulty achieving erections/arousal with real partners, yet could achieve erections with porn.
- Enhanced Attentional Bias towards Sexually Explicit Cues in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours (2014) – Findings match those seen in drug addiction.
- Novelty, Conditioning and Attentional Bias to Sexual Rewards (2015) – Compared to controls porn addicts preferred sexual novelty and conditioned cues associated porn. However, the brains of porn addicts habituated faster to sexual images. Since novelty preference wasn’t pre-existing, porn addiction drives novelty-seeking in an attempt to overcome habituation and desensitization.
- Neural Substrates of Sexual Desire in Individuals with Problematic Hypersexual Behavior (2015) – This Korean fMRI study replicates other brain studies on porn users. Like the Cambridge University studies it found cue-induced brain activation patterns in sex addicts which mirrored the patterns of drug addicts. In line with several German studies it found alterations in the prefrontal cortex which match the changes observed in drug addicts.
- Sexual Desire, not Hypersexuality, is Related to Neurophysiological Responses Elicited by Sexual Images (2013) – This EEG study was touted in the media as evidence against the existence of porn addiction. Not so. This SPAN Lab study, like #5 below, actually supports the existence of porn addiction. Why? The study reported higher EEG readings (P300) when subjects were exposed to porn photos. Studies consistently show that an elevated P300 occurs when addicts are exposed to cues (such as images) related to their addiction. However, the study had no control group for comparison, which made the findings uninterpretable. In line with the Cambridge studies, this EEG study reported greater cue-reactivity to porn correlated with less desire for partnered sex. Neither finding matched the headlines. Read more.
- Modulation of Late Positive Potentials by Sexual Images in Problem Users and Controls Inconsistent with “Porn Addiction” (2015) – Another SPAN Lab EEG study comparing the 2013 subjects from the above study to an actual control group. The results: compared to controls porn addicts had less response to photos of vanilla porn. The lead author, Nicole Prause, claims these results debunk porn addiction, yet these findings align perfectly with Kühn & Gallinat (2014), which found that more porn use correlated with less brain activation in response to pictures of vanilla porn. In other words, “porn addicts” were desensitized and needed greater stimulation than non-addicts. Read more.
- HPA axis dysregulation in men with hypersexual disorder (2015) – The Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is the central player in our stress response. Addictions alter the brain’s stress circuits leading to a dysfunctional HPA axis. This study on sex addicts (hypersexuals) found altered stress responses that mirror drug addiction.
- The Role of Neuroinflammation in the Pathophysiology of Hypersexual Disorder (2016) – This study reported higher levels of circulating Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) in sex addicts when compared to healthy controls. Elevated levels of TNF (a marker of inflammation) have also been found in substance abusers and drug addicted animals (alcohol, heroin, meth).
- Methylation of HPA Axis Related Genes in Men With Hypersexual Disorder (2017) – This is a follow-up of #8 above which found that sex addicts have dysfunctional stress systems – a key neuro-endocrine change caused by addiction. The current study found epigenetic changes on genes central to the human stress response and closely associated with addiction
- Compulsive sexual behavior: Prefrontal and limbic volume and interactions (2016) – Compared to healthy controls CSB subjects (porn addicts) had increased left amygdala volume and reduced functional connectivity between the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex DLPFC.
- Can Pornography be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking Treatment for Problematic Pornography Use (2017) – Excerpts: Problematic pornography use (PPU) subjects when compared to control subjects showed increased activation of ventral striatum specifically for cues predicting erotic pictures but not for cues predicting monetary gains. Our findings suggest that, similar to what is observed in substance and gambling addictions, the neural and behavioral mechanisms associated with the anticipatory processing of cues specifically predicting erotic rewards relate importantly to clinically relevant features of PPU.
- Ventral striatum activity when watching preferred pornographic pictures is correlated with symptoms of Internet pornography addiction (2016) – Finding #1: Reward center activity (ventral striatum) was higher for preferred pornographic pictures. Finding #2: Ventral striatum reactivity correlated with the internet sex addiction score. Both findings indicate sensitization and align with the addiction model. The authors state that the “Neural basis of Internet pornography addiction is comparable to other addictions.“
- Altered Appetitive Conditioning and Neural Connectivity in Subjects With Compulsive Sexual Behavior (2016) – A German fMRI study replicating two major findings from Voon et al., 2014 and Kuhn & Gallinat 2014. Main Findings: The neural correlates of appetitive conditioning and neural connectivity were altered in the CSB group. According to the researchers, the first alteration – heightened amygdala activation – might reflect facilitated conditioning (greater “wiring” to previously neutral cues predicting porn images). The second alteration – decreased connectivity between the ventral striatum and the prefrontal cortex – could be a marker for impaired ability to control impulses. Said the researchers, “These [alterations] are in line with other studies investigating the neural correlates of addiction disorders and impulse control deficits.” The findings of greater amygdalar activation to cues (sensitization) and decreased connectivity between the reward center and the prefrontal cortex (hypofrontality) are two of the major brain changes seen in substance addiction. In addition, 3 of the 20 compulsive porn users suffered from “orgasmic-erection disorder”.
- Compulsivity across the pathological misuse of drug and non-drug rewards (2016) – A Cambridge University study comparing aspects of compulsivity in alcoholics, binge-eaters, video game addicts and porn addicts (CSB). Excerpts: CSB subjects were faster to learning from rewards in the acquisition phase compared to healthy volunteers and were more likely to perseverate or stay after either a loss or a win in the Reward condition. These findings converge with our previous findings of enhanced preference for stimuli conditioned to either sexual or monetary outcomes, overall suggesting enhanced sensitivity to rewards (Banca et al., 2016).
- Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use? (2017) – Study assessed porn user’s responses (EEG readings & Startle Response) to various emotion-inducing images – including erotica. The study found several neurological differences between low frequency porn users and high frequency porn users. An excerpt: Findings suggest that increased pornography use appears to have an influence on the brain’s non-conscious responses to emotion-inducing stimuli which was not shown by explicit self-report.
- Preliminary investigation of the impulsive and neuroanatomical characteristics of compulsive sexual behavior (2009) – Primarily sex addicts. Study reports more impulsive behavior in a Go-NoGo task in sex addicts (hypersexuals) compared to control participants. Brain scans revealed that sex addicts had greater disorganized prefrontal cortex white matter. This finding is consistent with hypofrontality, a hallmark of addiction.
- Pornography Addiction Detection based on Neurophysiological Computational Approach (2018) – Excerpt: Experimental results show that the addicted participants had low alpha waves activity in the frontal brain region compared to non-addicted participants. The theta band also show there is disparity between addicted and non-addicted. However, the distinction is not as obvious as alpha band.
- Gray matter deficits and altered resting-state connectivity in the superior temporal gyrus among individuals with problematic hypersexual behavior (2018) – fMRI study. Summary: …study showed gray matter deficits and altered functional connectivity in the temporal gyrus among individuals with PHB (sex addicts). More importantly, the diminished structure and functional connectivity were negatively correlated with the severity of PHB. These findings provide new insights into the underlying neural mechanisms of PHB.
The following neuropsychology studies add support to the above “brain” studies:
- Self-reported differences on measures of executive function and hypersexual behavior in a patient and community sample of men (2010)
- Watching Pornographic Pictures on the Internet: Role of Sexual Arousal Ratings and Psychological-Psychiatric Symptoms for Using Internet Sex Sites Excessively (2011)
- Pornographic picture processing interferes with working memory performance (2013)
- Sexual Picture Processing Interferes with Decision-Making Under Ambiguity (2013)
- Cybersex addiction: Experienced sexual arousal when watching pornography and not real-life sexual contacts makes the difference (2013)
- Cybersex addiction in heterosexual female users of internet pornography can be explained by gratification hypothesis (2014)
- Empirical Evidence and Theoretical Considerations on Factors Contributing to Cybersex Addiction From a Cognitive Behavioral View (2014)
- Implicit associations in cybersex addiction: Adaption of an Implicit Association Test with pornographic pictures. (2015)
- Symptoms of cybersex addiction can be linked to both approaching and avoiding pornographic stimuli: results from an analog sample of regular cybersex users (2015)
- Getting stuck with pornography? Overuse or neglect of cybersex cues in a multitasking situation is related to symptoms of cybersex addiction (2015)
- Sexual Excitability and Dysfunctional Coping Determine Cybersex Addiction in Homosexual Males (2015)
- Trading Later Rewards for Current Pleasure: Pornography Consumption and Delay Discounting (2015)
- Subjective Craving for Pornography and Associative Learning Predict Tendencies Towards Cybersex Addiction in a Sample of Regular Cybersex Users (2016)
- Prefrontal control and internet addiction: a theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings (2015)
- Exploring the Relationship between Sexual Compulsivity and Attentional Bias to Sex-Related Words in a Cohort of Sexually Active Individuals (2016)
- Mood changes after watching pornography on the Internet are linked to symptoms of Internet-pornography-viewing disorder (2016)
- Problematic sexual behavior in young adults: Associations across clinical, behavioral, and neurocognitive variables (2016)
- Executive Functioning of Sexually Compulsive and Non-Sexually Compulsive Men Before and After Watching an Erotic Video (2017)
- Exposure to Sexual Stimuli Induces Greater Discounting Leading to Increased Involvement in Cyber Delinquency Among Men (2017)
- Predictors for (Problematic) Use of Internet Sexually Explicit Material: Role of Trait Sexual Motivation and Implicit Approach Tendencies Towards Sexually Explicit Material (2017)
- Tendencies toward Internet-pornography-use disorder: Differences in men and women regarding attentional biases to pornographic stimuli (2018) –
Together these neurological studies found:
- The 3 major addiction-related brain changes: sensitization, desensitization, and hypofrontality.
- More porn use correlated with less grey matter in the reward circuit (dorsal striatum).
- More porn use correlated with less reward circuit activation when briefly viewing sexual images.
- More porn use correlated with disrupted neural connections between the reward circuit and prefrontal cortex.
- Porn addicts had greater prefrontal activity to sexual cues, but less brain activity to normal stimuli (matches drug addiction).
- 60% of compulsive porn addicted subjects in one study experienced ED or low libido with partners, but not with porn: all stated that internet porn use caused their ED/low libido.
- Enhanced attentional bias comparable to drug users. Indicates sensitization (a product of DeltaFosb).
- Greater wanting & craving for porn, but not greater liking. This aligns with the accepted model of addiction – incentive sensitization.
- Porn addicts have greater preference for sexual novelty yet their brains habituated faster to sexual images. Not pre-existing.
- The younger the porn users the greater the cue-induced reactivity in the reward center.
- Higher EEG (P300) readings when porn users were exposed to porn cues (which occurs in other addictions).
- Less desire for sex with a person correlating with greater cue-reactivity to porn images.
- More porn use correlated with lower LPP amplitude when briefly viewing sexual photos: indicates habituation or desensitization.
- Dysfunctional HPA axis and altered brain stress circuits, which occurs in drug addictions (and greater amygdala volume, which is associated with chronic social stress).
- Epigenetic changes on genes central to the human stress response and closely associated with addiction.
- Higher levels of Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) – which also occurs in drug abuse and addiction.
- A deficit in temporal cortex gray matter; poorer connectivity between temporal corporate and several other regions
While we don’t offer any estimates of percentages of guys with Internet porn-related symptoms, we do warn that Internet porn appears to be hooking a greater percentage of users than porn of the past. We base this claim on hundreds of recent Internet addiction/online gaming studies (some including Internet porn use). Some show percentages of addicts as high as one in four among young males.
High rates of Internet addiction in young males would be consistent with what young porn users report about their peers, i.e, that both Internet porn usage and related problems are extremely common. The rise of streaming tube porn sites is apparently a key variable in symptom prevalence/severity. We suspect that Internet porn addiction rates may someday rival food addiction rates because both junk food and Internet porn are supernormal variations of the two prime natural rewards the human brain evolved to pursue. More than two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight and almost half of those obese (most of them addicted to high-fat, high-sugar, extra salty foods).
It is most unscientific to ignore the Internet addiction studies and assert (as do porn-addiction skeptics) that only (nonexistent) studies that isolate Internet porn use could prove its existence. First, although Internet porn taps into our innate sexual programming in a hyperstimulating way (due to its constant novelty), Internet porn addiction is, above all, an Internet addiction–just like online gaming addiction and general Internet addiction. Without high-speed Internet, no Internet addictions would exist.
Second, the import of the public statement of the American Society of Addiction Medicine is that all addictions, behavioral and chemical, are evidence of a common set of fundamental brain changes and can be diagnosed from the same basic diagnostic questions, independent of the particular activity or substance. For example, if an Internet user reports (1) continued use despite negative consequences, (2) cravings, (3) inability to control use, and (4) compulsion to use, it doesn’t matter if he’s a gamer, a porn viewer, or a combination of the two. He has an Internet addiction.
Meanwhile, it’s a good thing that porn-specific studies aren’t needed to confirm porn addiction as a scientific matter, because the Internet porn study the skeptics insist they would need to accept the existence of Internet porn addiction cannot be done. First, control groups of non-porn users among young males would be very difficult to round up. Second, ethics boards wouldn’t permit half of the subjects to be exposed to years of hardcore porn use in order to study the effects. Third, ethics boards would not allow research where porn users are asked to eliminate masturbation to porn for months to create ex-users for comparison.
It’s also unscientific to hold up pre-highspeed porn addiction rates, or, even more absurdly, sex addiction (“hypersexuality”) rates, as evidence that Internet porn addiction rates are low. How relevant are any of these other addictions to a condition dependent on highspeed Internet?
To state this another way: Since the research shows that Internet addiction and online gaming addiction exist and are not harmless, the burden of proof is now on the porn skeptics to reveal scientific reasons why Internet porn use would be uniquely harmless. (Keep in mind that Dutch researchers have already shown that of all cyber pastimes, cyber erotica is the most compelling, i.e., potentially addictive.)
Is there scientific evidence for the claim that Internet porn can recondition sexuality?
Both sexual conditioning and addiction are on the same spectrum in a sense. That is, addiction hijacks the sexual conditioning mechanism in the brain. See Natural and Drug Rewards Act on Common Neural Plasticity Mechanisms with ΔFosB as a Key Mediator (2013)
Lots of guys are reporting porn-related sexual performance and other problems who do not view themselves as addicts. (Who here doing NoFap isn’t/wasn’t an “addict?”) Their experience that they have somehow rewired their sexuality even without having fallen into addiction is supported by research on virgin rats. Using high-arousal states, scientists have successfully conditioned young rats to prefer same-sex partners and partners who smell like rotting flesh (normally aversive). Researchers have also shown that early sexual conditioning is more lasting than sexual conditioning induced in adults after normal sexual behavior patterns are established.
Compulsive porn users often describe escalation in their porn use that takes the form of greater time viewing or seeking out new genres of porn. New genres that induce shock, surprise, violation of expectations or even anxiety can function to increase sexual arousal, and in porn users whose response to stimuli is growing blunted due to overuse, this phenomenon is extremely common. Norman Doidge MD wrote about this in his book The Brain That Changes Itself:
The current porn epidemic gives a graphic demonstration that sexual tastes can be acquired. Pornography, delivered by high-speed Internet connections, satisfies every one of the prerequisites for neuroplastic change…. When pornographers boast that they are pushing the envelope by introducing new, harder themes, what they don’t say is that they must, because their customers are building up a tolerance to the content
New porn genres that induce shock, surprise, violation of expectations or even anxiety can function to increase sexual arousal, and in porn users whose response to stimuli is growing blunted due to overuse, this phenomenon is extremely common. There is now research that is backing this up. Kinsey researchers Bancroft and Janssen (“The Dual Control Model: The Role Of Sexual Inhibition & Excitation In Sexual Arousal And Behavior“) were the first to report that high exposure to streaming porn, “seemed to have resulted in a lower responsivity to “vanilla sex” erotica and an increased need for novelty and variation, in some cases combined with a need for very specific types of stimuli in order to get aroused.”
A 2016 study reported that half of porn users reported escalating to material that was formerly uninteresting or repelling (“Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men”). A 2017 study found that one in 5 heterosexual-identified men report viewing porn containing male same-sex behaviour, and more than half of gay-identified men report viewing heterosexual behaviour in porn (“Sexually Explicit Media Use by Sexual Identity: A Comparative Analysis of Gay, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men in the United States”). Why might escalation occur? Cambridge neuroscientists have found evidence that problematic porn users habituate to images more quickly and that their brains show greater activation to novel images (“Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards”).
In summary, three studies have now asked porn users specifically about escalation into new genres or tolerance, confirming both (1, 2, 3). Employing various indirect methods, an additional 30 studies have reported findings consistent with habituation to “regular porn” or escalation into more extreme and unusual genres.
Porn-induced sexual dysfunctions provide the most convincing indicator of sexual conditioning. 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 lay article and in this peer-reviewed paper involving 7 US Navy doctors – Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016)
Erectile dysfunction rates in these recent studies range from 14% to 35%, while rates for low libido (hypo-sexuality) range from 16% to 37%. Some studies involve teens and men 25 and under, while other studies involve men 40 and under.
Prior to the advent of free streaming porn (2006), cross-sectional studies and meta-analysis consistently reported erectile dysfunction rates of 2-5% in men under 40. That’s nearly a 1000% increase in youthful ED rates in the last 10-15 years. What variable has changed in the last 15 years that could account for this astronomical rise?
There are now 28 studies link porn use/sex addiction to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli. The first 5 studies in the list demonstrate causation, as participants eliminated porn use and healed chronic sexual dysfunctions.
In addition to the above studies, this page contains articles and videos by over 120 experts (urology professors, urologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, sexologists, MDs) who acknowledge and have successfully treated porn-induced ED and porn-induced loss of sexual desire.
What about neurological studies that debunk porn addiction?
There are none (read why this paper falsified nothing). 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. However, whenever an article claiming to debunk porn addiction cites a study, I expect you will find one of Nicole Prause’s two EEG studies, or an irresponsible “review” by Prause, Ley and Finn. Here they are for easy reference:
- Sexual Desire, not Hypersexuality, is Related to Neurophysiological Responses Elicited by Sexual Images (Steele et al., 2013)
- Modulation of Late Positive Potentials by Sexual Images in Problem Users and Controls Inconsistent with “Porn Addiction” (Prause et al., 2015)
- The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model, by David Ley, Nicole Prause & Peter Finn (Ley et al., 2014)
Kinsey Institute grad Nicole Prause is the lead author and spokesperson on studies 1 and 2, and is the second author on paper #3. Let’s start with Prause’s 2015 EEG study (Prause et al., 2015). Nicole Prause boldly claimed on her SPAN lab website that this solitary study “debunks porn addiction”.
Compared to controls, more frequent porn users had lower brain activation to one-second exposure to photos of vanilla porn. Because this paper reported less brain activation to vanilla porn (pictures) related to greater porn use, it is listed as supporting the hypothesis that chronic porn use down regulates sexual arousal. Put simply, chronic porn users were bored by static images of ho-hum porn (its findings parallel Kuhn & Gallinat., 2014). These findings are consistent with tolerance, a sign of addiction. Tolerance is defined as a person’s diminished response to a drug or stimulus that is the result of repeated use. Seven peer-reviewed papers agree with YBOP’s assessment of Prause et al., 2015:
- Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update (2015)
- Decreased LPP for sexual images in problematic pornography users may be consistent with addiction models. Everything depends on the model (2016)
- Neurobiology of Compulsive Sexual Behavior: Emerging Science (2016)
- Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction? (2016)
- Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016)
- Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use? (2017)
- Neurocognitive mechanisms in compulsive sexual behavior disorder (2018)
Author of the second critique, neuroscientist Mateusz Gola, summed up it up nicely:
“Unfortunately the bold title of Prause et al. (2015) article has already had an impact on mass media, thus popularizing a scientifically unjustified conclusion.”
To address the unwarranted mythology surrounding Prause et al. 2015, and the many articles that ignored every study but Prause’s, YBOP wrote this: How to recognize biased Articles: They cite Prause et al. 2015 (falsely claiming it debunks porn addiction), while omitting over 3 dozen neurological studies supporting porn addiction (April, 2016)
We already saw above that study #2 (Prause et al., 2015) lends support to the porn addiction model. But how does Prause’s 2013 EEG study (Steele et al., 2013), touted in the media as evidence against the existence of porn addiction, actually support the porn addiction model?
This study’s only significant finding was that individuals with greater cue-reactivity to porn had less desire for sex with a partner (but not lower desire to masturbate to porn). Put another way, individuals with more brain activation and cravings for porn would rather masturbate to porn than have sex with a real person. This is typical of addicts, not healthy subjects.
Study spokesman Nicole Prause claimed that frequent porn users merely had high libido, yet the results of the study say something quite different. As Valerie Voon (and 10 other neuroscientists) explained, Prause’s 2013 findings of greater cue-reactivity to porn coupled with lower desire for sex with real partners aligned with their 2014 brain scan study on porn addicts. Put simply, the actual findings of the 2013 EEG study in no way match the unsupported “debunking” headlines. Six peer-reviewed papers expose the truth about this earlier study by Prause’s team: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. (also see this extensive YBOP critique).
As a side note, this same 2013 study reported higher EEG readings (P300) when subjects were exposed to porn photos. Studies consistently show that an elevated P300 occurs when addicts are exposed to cues (such as images) related to their addiction. This finding supports the porn addiction model, as the above peer-reviewed papers explained and psychology professor emeritus John A. Johnson pointed out in a comment under a 2013 Psychology Today Prause interview:
“My mind still boggles at the Prause claim that her subjects’ brains did not respond to sexual images like drug addicts’ brains respond to their drug, given that she reports higher P300 readings for the sexual images. Just like addicts who show P300 spikes when presented with their drug of choice. How could she draw a conclusion that is the opposite of the actual results?”
Dr. Johnson, who has no opinion on sex addiction, commented a second time under the Prause interview:
Mustanski asks, “What was the purpose of the study?” And Prause replies, “Our study tested whether people who report such problems [problems with regulating their viewing of online erotica] look like other addicts from their brain responses to sexual images.”
But the study did not compare brain recordings from persons having problems regulating their viewing of online erotica to brain recordings from drug addicts and brain recordings from a non-addict control group, which would have been the obvious way to see if brain responses from the troubled group look more like the brain responses of addicts or non-addicts…..
Aside from the many unsupported claims in the press, it’s disturbing that Prause’s 2013 EGG study passed peer-review, as it suffered from serious methodological flaws:
- subjects were heterogeneous (males, females, non-heterosexuals);
- subjects were not screened for mental disorders or addictions;
- study had no control group for comparison;
- questionnaires were not validated for porn addiction.
The third paper listed above is not a study at all. Instead, it poses as an impartial “review of the literature” on porn addiction and porn’s effects. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The lead author, David Ley, is the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction and Nicole Prause is its second author. Ley & Prause not only teamed up to write paper #3, they also teamed up to write a Psychology Today blog post about paper #1. The blog post appeared 5 months before Prause’s paper was formally published (so no one could refute it). You may have seen Ley’s blog post with the oh-so-catchy title: “Your Brain on Porn – It’s NOT Addictive”. Ley zealously denies both sex and porn addiction. He has written 20 or so blog posts attacking porn-recovery forums, and dismissing porn addiction and porn-induced ED. He is not an addiction scientist, but rather a clinical psychologist, and like Prause is not associated with any university or research institute. Read more about Ley & Prause and their collaborations here.
The following is a very long analysis of paper #3, which goes line-by-line, showing all the shenanigans Ley & Prause incorporated in their “review”: The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Fractured Fairytale Posing As A Review. It completely dismantles the so-called review, and documents dozens of misrepresentations of the research they cited. The most shocking aspect of the Ley review is that it omitted ALL the many studies that reported negative effects related to porn use or found porn addiction!
Yes, you read that right. While purporting to write an “objective” review, Ley & Prause justified omitting hundreds of studies on the grounds that these were correlational studies. Guess what? Virtually all studies on porn are correlational, even those they cited, or misused. There are, and pretty much will be, only correlational studies, because researchers have no way to prove causation by comparing users with “porn virgins” or by keeping subjects off of porn for extended periods in order compare effects. (Thousands of guys are quitting porn voluntarily on various forums, however, and their results suggest that removing internet porn is the key variable in their symptoms and recoveries.)
It’s unprecedented for a legitimate researcher to claim that their lone anomalous study has debunked a hypothesis supported by multiple neurological studies and decades of relevant research. Moreover, what legitimate researcher would be constantly tweeting that has debunked porn addiction? What legitimate researcher would personally attack and defame young men who run porn-recovery forums? (See: Gabe Deem #1, Gabe Deem #2, Alexander Rhodes #1, Alexander Rhodes #2, Alexander Rhodes #3, Noah Church.)
What’s going on here? By her own admission, rejects the concept of porn addiction. For example, a quote from this recent Martin Daubney article about sex/porn addictions:
Dr Nicole Prause, principal investigator at the Sexual Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience (Span) Laboratory in Los Angeles, calls herself a “professional debunker” of sex addiction.
In addition, Nicole Prause’s former Twitter slogan suggests she may lack the impartiality required for scientific research:
“Studying why people choose to engage in sexual behaviors without invoking addiction nonsense”
Nicole Prause is a former academic with a long history of harassing authors, researchers, therapists, reporters and others who dare to report evidence of harms from internet porn use. She appears to be quite cozy with the pornography industry, as can be seen from this image of her on the red carpet of the Adult Video Network’s awards ceremony. (The AVN is a large, influential porn-industry interest group.) It also appears that Prause may have obtained porn performers as subjects through another porn industry interest group, the Free Speech Coalition. The FSC subjects were allegedly used in her hired-gun study on the heavily tainted and very commercial “Orgasmic Meditation” scheme.
While many articles continue to describe Prause as a UCLA researcher, she hasn’t been employed by any university since the beginning of 2015. Finally, it’s important to know that the enterprising Prause offered (for a fee) her “expert” testimony against sex addiction and porn addiction. It seems as though Prause is attempting to sell her services to profit from the unsupportable anti-porn addiction conclusions of her two EEG studies (1, 2), even though 11 peer-reviewed analyses say both studies support the addiction model. Interestingly, David Ley also profits from denying sex and porn addiction. At the end of this Psychology Today blog post Ley states:
“Disclosure: David Ley has provided testimony in legal cases involving claims of sex addiction.“
Ley also makes money selling two books which deny sex and porn addiction (“The Myth of Sex Addiction“, 2012 and “Ethical Porn for Dicks“, 2016). Pornhub (which is owned by porn giant MindGeek) is one of the four Amazon.com endorsements listed for Ley’s 2016 book. Finally, David Ley makes money via CEU seminars, where he promotes the ideas presented in his two books.
Dismantling The Naysayers’ Talking Points
If you want a quick refutation of the naysayers’ pseudoscientific claims that they have “dismantled porn addiction,” watch Gabe Deem’s video: PORN MYTHS – The Truth Behind Addiction And Sexual Dysfunctions.
The following articles cite numerous studies, furnish illustrative examples, and elaborate logical arguments to dismantle many common anti-porn addiction propaganda talking points:
- Gary Wilson exposes the truth behind 5 studies propagandists cite to support their assertions that porn addiction doesn’t exist and that porn use is largely beneficial: Gary Wilson – Porn Research: Fact or Fiction (2018).
- Debunking “Why Are We Still So Worried About Watching Porn?”, by Marty Klein, Taylor Kohut, and Nicole Prause (2018).
- How to recognize biased Articles: They cite Prause et al. 2015 (falsely claiming it debunks porn addiction), while omitting over 3 dozen neurological studies supporting porn addiction.
- Critique of: Letter to the editor “Prause et al. (2015) the latest falsification of addiction predictions”
- Op-ed: Who exactly is misrepresenting the science on pornography? (2016)
- Debunking Justin Lehmiller’s “Is Erectile Dysfunction Really on the Rise in Young Men” (2018)
- Debunking Kris Taylor’s “A few hard truths about porn and erectile dysfunction” (2017)
- Debunking “Should you be worried about porn-induced erectile dysfunction?” – by The Daily Dot’s Claire Downs. (2018)
- Debunking the “Men’s Health” article by Gavin Evans: “Can Watching Too Much Porn Give You Erectile Dysfunction?” (2018)
- How porn is messing with your manhood, by Philip Zimbardo, Gary Wilson & Nikita Coulombe (March, 2016)
- More on porn: guard your manhood—a response to Marty Klein, by Philip Zimbardo & Gary Wilson (April, 2016)
- Dismantling David Ley’s response to Philip Zimbardo: “We must rely on good science in porn debate” (March, 2016)
- YBOP response to Jim Pfaus’s “Trust a scientist: sex addiction is a myth” (January, 2016)
- YBOP response to claims in a David Ley comment (January, 2016)
- Sexologists deny porn-induced ED by claiming masturbation is the problem (2016)
This section collects studies about which YBOP and others have reservations – Questionable & Misleading Studies. In some, the methodology raises concerns. In others, the conclusions appear inadequately supported. In others, the title or terminology used is misleading given the actual study results. Some grossly misrepresent the actual findings.