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5 Ways Porn Can Negatively Affect Your Brain, Body, and Quality of Life

Porn isn't worth it. Do yourself a favor and consider the facts. It could be hindering you from living your life to the fullest.

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5 Ways Porn Can Harm Your Brain, Body, and Quality of Life

by J.K. Emezi, addiction recovery coach

The internet is a double-edged sword.

In one regard, it has revolutionized our world, allowing people to communicate, gain knowledge, save time, and entertain in ways our grandparents could only imagine in their wildest fantasies.

In another regard, it has become a conduit for some of the most primal desires and emotions we have as humans. Technology has also led many—especially the Millennial and Gen Z generation—to become absolutely dependent on it to fulfill these emotions.

Related: Get the Facts || How Can Porn Harm Consumers, Relationships, and Society?

Of all the desires that the internet fuels, the desire for synthetic sex is, seemingly, by far the most lucrative, sought after, and abused desire of all.

Let’s face it: right now pornography, unfortunately, is the king of the internet.

One of the most unfortunate byproducts of internet pornography is its crippling effects on men and women.

I spent 13 years of my young adult life addicted to pornography. While I didn’t watch it every day, I estimate that I spent over 20 hours a week on it. These days, as an addiction recovery professional, I spend triple that amount of time each week working with men who are hooked on porn.

Related: Can Watching Porn Be Healthy For You?

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Some are as young as 16, while others are in their sixties and still unable to ditch pornography for good.

Make no assumptions, this is not a small sub-section of men and women. There are literally thousands of people who struggle with quitting watching porn, once it takes over their lives.

More alarmingly, porn is actually changing consumers’ brains and bodies for the worse.

Related: 29 Scientific Studies on Porn Use and the Brain

Our mothers and fathers never had to deal with high-speed internet and easy access to porn. Porn has never even been as hardcore as it is today. And today, most children are exposed to pornography by the by age 13, with some exposed as young as seven, according to a 2020 survey.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC, retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCopy  And the long-term effects aren’t worth the short-term thrill.

Here, I’m going to break down a few of the ways in which pornography erodes our humanity and hurts our bodies and minds. Let’s get started:

1. Porn encourages self-gratification

Problem: Delayed gratification is a crucial skill to learn if one is to maintain control and direction in their life. Basically, the healthiest of individuals have mastered the art of discipline and delayed gratification.

Repeatedly giving into the urge to watch pornography leads to a lack of ability to delay gratification. Your brain becomes more and more focused on the things you find pleasurable and the discipline of delayed gratification falls to the wayside.

It is no coincidence that people who are hooked on porn might be radically underachieving in other areas of their lives.

Related: How Much Porn Can You Watch Before It’s Unhealthy?

Solution: Developing delayed gratification is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

There is a certain sense of superiority and confidence that comes with the realization that you have more control over your primal desires than the average person. Mastery of any worthwhile skill or habit leads to increased confidence. The ability to delay gratification is no different.

2. Porn can destroy a consumer’s values

Problem: Video is powerful. We live in a world where we need to see something to believe it and in our fast-paced, information-driven world, video is the preferred means of communication and information dissemination.

The thing is, video has the power to influence and even replace behaviors in your mind without you being consciously aware of what you are seeing. Scary, right?

Related: What are the Benefits of Quitting Porn? Hear From 5 Porn-Free Men

As you watch videos, your subconscious mind is rapidly dissecting, translating and making sense of what it is being fed. The research has found that the subconscious mind can translate and subsequently change behavior in one disturbing way:

Pornography can program consumers to alter their standards sexually.Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006Copy Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research.53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441Copy  It can encourage consumers to seek sex and, in some cases, build intimate and unhealthy relationships with people who are willing to have sex without any boundaries. As exciting as that sounds, having sex with anyone who is available can be a sign of someone without much discipline.

A truly mature person at some point in their life must have control over their sexuality. You should not be a slave to your sexual desire—instead, you should master and control it.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding of Healthy Sex

In addition to that, hundreds of hours of porn create certain expectations of what sex looks like.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCopy  The average 16-year-old consuming pornography is literally getting his or her sex education from the videos he/she watches. And that’s not good, especially because porn sells a warped fantasy and exaggerated reality of what real sex is like.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCopy Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7Copy 

Solution: You are what you eat. Eat processed, sugary, or junk food and you’ll feel bad physically and eventually become unhealthy. You can make a decision today to feed your mind only with material which makes you a more respectful, healthy person.

3. Porn can cause erectile dysfunction

Problem: This one is specifically for guys. Virility is important for almost every guy I know. The rise in porn-induced erectile dysfunction is something to be alarmed about. Frequently watching porn can lead to erections which can increasingly only be induced by hardcore pornography.Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419Copy Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy  That’s not healthy.

Related: How Porn Can Affect the Brain Like a Drug

Porn consumption then becomes a sort of psychological conditioning which creates performance anxiety.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603Copy Hilton D. L., Jr (2013). Pornography addiction - a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective neuroscience & psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767Copy  

Incidentally, women’s sexual function can also be impacted by chronic porn consumption.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603Copy 

Solution: Need I say more? No one wants to kill their sexual health. Consuming porn, it turns out, can be one of the most sex-negative things someone can do, while not watching porn can be really sex-positive.

Related: What is Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction and How Can You Stop It?

4. Porn can encourage social isolation

Problem: Watching porn, in most cases, demands isolation. Anything that consumers do in secrecy usually leads to shame. One of the first effects of frequently watching porn for men and women, especially those who are young, can be social awkwardness in public, which ironically, leads to more shame and hiding.

Isolation and shame can make it difficult to share true intimacy with others. And it makes it difficult to truly grow and mature as a person, and reach our full potential as people.

Solution: Many people are already afflicted by shame and the depression that porn can bring. If consumers find that their pornography habit has dulled their desire to be social, it can be difficult to jump-start a social life.

Thankfully, the internet can help. Some social sites are a great way for the former “porn-hermit” to begin meeting people again. The long-term goal would be transitioning to building healthy romantic relationships and friendships.

Related: Why the Goal of the Phrase “Porn Kills Love” Isn’t to Shame Anyone

5. Porn doesn’t inspire goal setting

Problem: In my practice, I have never met someone hooked on porn who excelled at goal-setting. As I stated earlier, most people who abuse pornography usually also struggle in their finances, relationships, and careers. It’s no coincidence.

The aforementioned “self-gratification” is a habit that doesn’t usually coexist with achieving worthy, difficult goals.

People don’t “schedule” pornography consumption the way they schedule time to work on their business or complete projects. It’s usually, “I’m going to watch porn from now till… my body shuts down sexually or I get bored.” Part of this is biological.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical released by nerve cells to transmit signals to other nerve cells.) It’s a key player in the part of our brain responsible for reward-motivated behavior.Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption: the brain on porn. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827-834. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93Copy Pace, S. (2014). Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users. M/C Journal, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.773Copy Pitchers, K. K., Vialou, V., Nestler, E. J., Laviolette, S. R., Lehman, M. N., & Coolen, L. M. (2013). Natural and drug rewards act on common neural plasticity mechanisms with ΔFosB as a key mediator. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 33(8), 3434–3442. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013Copy 

Related: Not All Porn is Consensual. Don’t Believe It? Just Ask These Performers.

Sex, eating tasty food, getting approval (“likes” on social media) all trigger the release of dopamine.

The more often porn is watched, the more often the brain is flooded with dopamine. Consumers can slowly become desensitized to its effects and need more stimulation to “feel the rush” or “get a fix.”Kowalewska, E., Grubbs, J. B., Potenza, M. N., Gola, M., Draps, M., & Kraus, S. W. (2018). Neurocognitive Mechanisms in Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder. Current Sexual Health Reports, 10(4), 255–264. doi: 10.1007/s11930-018-0176-zCopy Volkow, N. D., Wang, G.-J., Fowler, J. S., Tomasi, D., Telang, F., & Baler, R. (2010). Addiction: Decreased reward sensitivity and increased expectation sensitivity conspire to overwhelm the brain's control circuit. BioEssays, 32(9), 748–755. doi: 10.1002/bies.201000042Copy 

This means that their reward circuitry can fundamentally change.Pace, S. (2014). Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users. M/C Journal, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.773Copy Pace, S. (2014). Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users. M/C Journal, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.773Copy Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update, Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433. doi: 10.3390/bs5030388Copy Pitchers, K. K., Vialou, V., Nestler, E. J., Laviolette, S. R., Lehman, M. N., & Coolen, L. M. (2013). Natural and drug rewards act on common neural plasticity mechanisms with ΔFosB as a key mediator. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 33(8), 3434–3442. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013Copy 

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This reward circuitry is crucial in achievements that are truly valuable in a person’s life, such as, contributing in a meaningful way to society, developing a highly sought-after skill, building a family, maintaining friendships, building a business, competing in sports or excelling in a career.

Porn can harm the ability to set, achieve, and enjoy big goals. Any momentary pleasure isn’t worth that.

Related: How Porn Can Become an Escalating Behavior

Solution: The simplest solution to this is to become a master of the “to-do” list and rewarding yourself.

For those struggling with porn, every night, before bed, write out a list of everything you need to accomplish the next day in order of importance. The next day, proceed to knock everything out on the list. Whatever is left over goes on the list for the next day. The key is rewarding yourself for accomplishing tasks on your lists.

Of course, the reward can’t be porn, but it should be something you enjoy doing leisurely. Use the activities that usually get in the way of your goals as rewards.

Related: 10 Differences Between Healthy Sex and the Sex in Porn

If you’ve been struggling with an intense pornography habit and trying to quit to no avail, it may be time to take an honest look at your relationship with pornography.

There are many more ways that pornography can erode at your entire person, leaving you weak, confused and unsure about any direction in life. Do yourself a favor and ditch the porn. It could be hindering you from living your life to the fullest.

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Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

Fortify

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About the Author

J.K. Emezi is a certified addiction recovery professional specializing in sex and pornography addiction. You can find his work at Elevated Recovery and check out his Youtube Channel.