Culture

Porn Is Actually Making People Dumber—Here’s The Science To Prove It

By Chloë Lemaster
·  3 min read
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At this point, there’s been discussion on just about everything when it comes to porn. Is it ethical? Is it cheating? Sexist? Racist? Everyone has a differing opinion on the industry and the product.

While some have spoken out about the addictive effects pornography has on the brain, there have been few deep dives into what porn actually does to a viewer’s brain. Well, simply put, it’s making people stupid. 

Let’s Look at the Brain

Dopamine, prefrontal cortex, neural wiring. They aren’t the buzzwords you think of when porn comes to mind. Well, maybe the dopamine one. With an estimated 134,491 visits per minute on the top three porn sites, it would be naive of us to believe there isn’t some kind of effect on the viewer's mental state.

Statistics show that the average age of porn exposure is 13 years old – an age we all know hosts a still developing brain. Studies on porn and mental health are a relatively new venture, but already we’re seeing evidence of the dangerous side effects that partner pornography. While erectile dysfunction and inability to orgasm aren’t necessarily mental health concerns, they’re neurological failings. The science explains this by comparing substance addiction to pornography – and rightfully so. Research shows that pornography increases dopamine in the human brain the same way other addictive substances do. Like these substances, your brain grows immune to the amount it’s accustomed to and therefore needs higher or heavier doses of the source to maintain the dopamine reward system – in this case, porn. With the increased levels of dopamine come the side effects of change in transmission which can cause depression and anxiety and similar symptoms. When your brain is so used to astronomically high levels of artificially stimulated dopamine, natural sources just don’t make you happy anymore. 

Porn hijacks the dopamine reward system, like other addictive substances do.

Other researchers are arguing that porn users who don’t gain the same “high” from conventional, normalistic videos are also a gateway reason for those who view unconventional and drastic forms of porn like incest and sexual violence just to get that brain activation back. 

Porn and the Prefrontal Cortex 

To understand how porn makes you dumb, you have to understand why kids aren’t considered as smart as adults. Children have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex which provides poor, impulsive decision making and difficulty regulating emotions. It's a casebook kid, nothing unusual, nothing concerning. However, in adults, a deteriorated prefrontal cortex is called hypofrontality, a fancy way of saying the part of your brain that helps make moral decisions and controls urges is eroding away. Porn use has shown to decrease the amount of “gray area” in your prefrontal cortex, decreasing your ability to make rational decisions and moral justifications. 

Hypofrontality’s main factor in porn viewers is compulsiveness. Whether it’s been yourself, a partner, or someone else being open about their experience with porn or masturbation, how often have you heard “I told myself I’d quit, but I just couldn’t do it”? That inability to fight the urge is a message from your brain – I’m not working at my full capacity. 

Closing Thoughts

Viewers of porn might not be staring at walls, dumbfounded, but that’s not stupidity. Not all of it, at least. Compared to other species, humans have a very strong, developed prefrontal cortex. We have the ability to nearly fully control our conscious minds: decision making, problem solving, emotion and urge controlling. We can do it all. Porn, however, rains on the party in literally brain-altering ways. 

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