Your brain on pornography


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In his excellent article, Courage to Quit: How I’m Outgrowing Pornography and Waking Up to My True Self, Dan Mahle describes his experiences with on-line pornography and why he decided to quit the habit.

Your brain on pornography

“After a decade of porn use, I quit watching 2 years ago,” says Mahle. “I was pissed off that my sense of personal ‘sexuality’ had been reduced to sitting alone in the dark in a disembodied daze drooling over pixelated fantasies of submissive females in a desperate attempt to feel a release from the tension in my body and the void in my heart. And — I was concerned about how my porn use had become compulsive.”

I’ve been a psychotherapist specializing in male health for more than 40 years and I’ve seen a disturbing trend. I’m seeing more and more young males, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five years old, who are having similar problems to my older male clients. Guys in their twenties are having the same issues of loss of sexual desire and difficulty getting and maintaining an erection that I have been seeing in many of my male clients who are over fifty years old and going through Andropause (Male Menopause).

One young man confided,
“I don’t know what’s happening to me, doc. I used to be horny as hell, but now I can’t get turned on to my girlfriend. And when I do, I can’t…well, I can’t perform.” This may be the first time in human history that young men are becoming impotent. As I explored the cause, one culprit continued to stand out—the use and abuse of internet pornography.

Now two young film-makers, Susanna Zdrzalek and Fritz Fechner, are creating the first documentary to help everyone understand how pornography affects the brain. The film, REWIRED: How Pornography Affects The Human Brain, features leading scientists and their research, as well as young adults who watched porn for many years of their life and at one point began to suffer from symptoms such as erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm with a real partner, and social anxiety.

You can learn about the film and support their IndieGoGo fundraiser.
Dr. Simone Kühn, psychologist, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany says,

“We found that a structure called striatum or caudatum in the brain’s reward system is smaller in individuals who consume a lot of pornographic material, which could mean that it actually shrinks over time, depending on how much material is consumed. As a result, the individual requires increasingly more intense and more frequent stimuli in order to maintain the feeling of reward.”

Gary Wilson, writer and founder of “Your Brain On Porn” says,
“If you’re wondering why there’s not yet a consensus on the effects of internet porn despite the swell of warnings, you may find the history of the Tobacco Wars instructive. Years ago, most everyone smoked including movie stars on screen. People loved puffing. It calmed the nerves, offered a predictable buzz and looked sophisticated. How could such a wonderful activity really be detrimental? Was nicotine truly addictive? When tar showed up in cadaver lungs incredulous smokers preferred to blame asphalt.”

In his engaging TED talk, Wilson points out that most boys seek pornography by age 10 driven by a brain that is fascinated by sex. But Wilson recognizes that highly simulating pornography can cause problems. I’ve seen this over the years treating people with addictions to such things as drugs and alcohol, gambling, overeating, and increasingly pornography.

Susana and Fritz interviewed many young men and women for their film, REWIRED:

Gabe Deem, age 27:
“Things got really bad when I was twelve years old. That’s when my parents got high speed Internet. What I would do is: I would go out from middle school and go home as fast as I could and watch porn, look whatever I could for three or four hours before my parents got home from work.”

Daniel Simmons, age 22:
“I couldn’t get an erection when with my girlfriend or they would be very weak. During my porn addiction I was asexual. I was maybe sexual with porn, but I wasn’t sexual with human beings.”

Noah B. E. Church, age 25:
“I searched the Internet and I found thousands of guys like me, talking about these sexual dysfunctions that they developed. I read these stories, just seeing that they were so much like mine, knowing that I wasn’t alone. And that lifted such a massive weight off of me.”

Even though we often associate pornography use with males, it is becoming an increasing problem for young women as well. On the face of it, bubbly law graduate Oghosa Ovienrioba is a 22-year-old with a bright future ahead of her. But she used to hide a dark secret—an all-consuming addiction to online pornography. It was a habit that first kicked in when she was just 14 and sneaked a look at online porn on her computer.

“It was out of curiosity and it was just a simple Google search for me to get hold of an adult movie. When I first watched it, my reaction was shock. But gradually over time, that shock becomes excitement and I would use any porn that I could get my hands on.”
From the ages of 18 to 21, she would lock herself in a dark room and watch adult movies endlessly, masturbating up to six times a day at her worst point. The popular video blogger is now trying to help others after bravely speaking out about her addiction on YouTube in a series that has amassed more than 800,000 hits.

Why your help matters
Susanna Zdrzalek and Fritz Fechner are asking for our help to complete their film. I believe it is a very worthwhile endeavor and hope you’ll take a look and decide if you’d like to support their efforts. Here’s why they think this work is important:

Scientists around the world are struggling to raise money for their research on the effect of pornography on the human brain. For many institutes and universities this topic is still a taboo.
Meanwhile, countless people continue to suffer because they are not diagnosed and treated properly.

By openly addressing this important issue, we might be able to accelerate scientific research and ultimately succeed in creating a better public understanding.

Whatever our age and background or whether we believe pornography is good or bad, problematic or benign, we will all benefit from increased knowledge. I look forward to your comments.

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