Have you ever watched porn? Do you know someone who has? Chances are you do. 90% of boys and 60% of girls under the age of 18 have admitted to using pornography at least once in their lives. But wait! What if you don’t know any teenagers? Well, 70% of men between the ages of 18 and 30 watch pornography at least once a week as well. That’s so much porn that’s being consumed that one might even say it is addictive. But is it really?
Well in 2017, Mateusz Gola, from the University of California San Diego, tried to find out. He brought in 52 heterosexual men to be a part of the study, 28 of which were actively looking for help with PPU. What is PPU, you ask? Problematic Pornography Use and it is incredibly under researched, especially in regard to the effects it has on brain function.
Before Gola started his study, he asked all 52 men to do two things: to self-report their sexual behavior and to remain “abstinent from sexual behaviors and substance use” so to ensure no complications with the results. Once in the lab, each participant was placed into an fMRI machine, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which measures brain activity through blood flow. They were then shown pictograms of either a dollar sign ($) or of a woman. Each image varied in size and reflected the magnitude, or size, of the upcoming reward. Superimposed on each pictogram was a pie chart that showed the probability of actually receiving that reward.
Gola then asked them to identify shapes as either a square or a triangle before receiving the reward. Their reaction times were recorded and were used to indicate their motivation to see the upcoming reward. Turns out that the men were more excited to see the naked women then the wads of cash.
The fMRI results showed that each participant, regardless of whether they were seeking help for their porn consumption, all had heightened activity in the ventral striatum. Hold up, ventral what-um? The ventral striatum is a part of the brain that helps control a person’s reward system.
This activity led to quicker reaction times, i.e. a higher ‘wanting’ for the erotic rewards and not the monetary ones. This then results in higher rates of pornography usage and subsequently masturbation rates.
So Gola concluded that porn is addictive but why is that important? Well excessive porn consumption can cause desensitized erotic senses and misperceptions of intimacy. Scary, I know, but do not fret! Think about PPU like ICD, Impulse-Control Disorder or OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Just like with these afflictions, PPU can be controlled with medication. Researchers have found that low doses of paroxetine or naltrexone can actually lower the severity and anxiety around PPU! It can also reduce cravings, just like it does with alcohol or gambling.
So maybe that person you know does have a problem but, do not worry, all is not lost; there are ways to help.
1) Gola, M., Wordecha, M., Sescousse, G., Lew-Starowicz, M., Kossowski, B., Wypych, M., . . . Marchewka, A. (2017). Can Pornography Be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking Treatment for Problematic Pornography Use. Can Pornography be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking Treatment for Problematic Pornography Use, 1-11.
2) Horn, H. (2010, March 31). Pros and Cons of Porn. Retrieved November 28,2017, from Horn, Heather. “Pros and Cons of Porn.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 31 Mar. 2010, www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/03/pros-and-cons-of-porn/346134