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This In-Depth Wall Street Journal Article Highlights Porn’s Harms on Teen Brains

Articles like this one highlight why it's important to be fully informed about porn’s harms. The lack of conversation about it doesn't help teens make healthy decisions around porn.

By August 19, 2022No Comments

If you were walking head-first into something that had the potential to significantly impact your life in a negative way, and someone could have warned you beforehand, wouldn’t you want to know?

That’s how consuming porn is for so many people in today’s world—especially for teens, and those even younger.

Porn is not only the most accessible it’s ever been, but even bombards a lot of people who aren’t actively searching for it. At the very least, teens (and every person for that matter) deserve to understand what porn can do to their brains, their relationships, and society as a whole.

Related: Should Teens Be Taught How to “Responsibly Consume” Porn?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an in-depth piece on porn’s impact on teens and their developing brains that featured and compiled some key existing research. Features like this are a win when it comes to making the facts about porn’s harms more accessible and visible.

Individuals and society are learning more about the negative impacts porn can cause, and as this continues to become a more open conversation, even more people are getting the tools they need to critically think for themselves and make an educated decision before consuming porn.

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What does the research say?

While acknowledging that porn can affect the development of relationships and sexuality, the piece is all about what porn does to teen brains, and also offers some helpful tips for how to keep it off their devices.

Here are a few highlights:

  • In a 2021 study, Indiana University researchers estimated that 70% of U.S. teens aged 14-18 have seen porn.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 26(1), 39-46. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980Copy 
  • Research shows that people’s dopamine systems experience peak activity during adolescence, and researchers believe this could make them more susceptible to developing unhealthy porn habits.Ernst, M., & Luciana, M. (2015). Neuroimaging of the dopamine/reward system in adolescent drug use. CNS spectrums, 20(4), 427–441. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1092852915000395Copy 
  • In 2014, the first major study of porn’s impact on the brain was conducted by psychiatry professor Valerie Voon at the University of Cambridge. They scanned the brains of young males who had reported compulsive porn habits. When shown pornographic images, the men’s brain activity mirrored that of drug addicts who were shown images of drugs.Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., Lapa, T. R., Karr, J., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419Copy 
  • Researchers in the same 2014 study saw that the reward-processing areas of the brain were more active in men with compulsive porn habits than men from a control group viewing the same images. The men with reported compulsive porn use were also shown images of other enjoyable things like money or exciting sports, but the reward centers in their brains didn’t light up as much with those like they did with porn.Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., Lapa, T. R., Karr, J., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419Copy 
  • In Dr. Voon’s study, the younger participants showed greater activity in the reward centers of the brain than the older participants when shown porn. Plus, those with compulsive porn habits had reported first viewing online porn at an average age of 13.9—younger than members of the control group who had first seen it at an average age of 17.2.Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., Lapa, T. R., Karr, J., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419Copy 
  • In a review of research on internet porn’s impact on teens, several researchers noted that because the brain’s emotional center develops faster than the part of the brain that controls impulses, teens tend to lack the maturity to “suppress sexual cravings, thoughts, and behaviors elicited by pornographic content.”Owens, E. W., Behun, R. J., Manning, J. C., & Reid, R. C. (2012). The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research.19(1-2), 99-122. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.660431Copy 

Related: Teens Watch Porn to Learn About Sex—This Is What Porn Teaches Them

If you’ve followed this movement for a while, it may not be the first time you’ve heard about these studies—but the fact that more people will now get to see them is significant.

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Consider before consuming

An endless supply of porn is available to adults, teens, and even younger—on demand, anytime.

Consider a world where kids have 24-hour access to a candy store, and no one there to stop them from gorging on sugar. That clearly wouldn’t be healthy for their bodies. But what about consuming porn?

Related: Bark: This Is a Better Way to Monitor Your Family’s Internet While Building Trust

We’re learning more and more with science, facts, and personal accounts that readily available porn can be tangibly harmful to kids’ brains.

Young brains simply aren’t ready for porn. And the healthiest solution isn’t necessarily to teach them how to “responsibly consume” porn, but to arm them with facts and tools for how to avoid it and consider before consuming.

There are guardrails available to help reduce the chance that younger kids will find porn on their devices. But simply avoiding or filtering porn completely doesn’t seem to be realistic, and teaching them to be afraid or ashamed of it isn’t a helpful solution, either.

Kids also need to know what to do not if but when they stumble across something their brains aren’t ready to see, and that they’ll never be in trouble or a “bad person” if  they do end up seeing something.

Related: Nearly 1 in 5 Sexually Active Teens Have Asked or Been Asked to Copy Porn, Study Finds

It’s important to take shame out of the equation when talking about porn because making it a “taboo” topic is part of what fuels the problem. Open conversations filled with connection, understanding, and facts need to happen more often between kids and the adults who take care of them.

That’s why publications like The Wall Street Journal piece matter—the more facts more individuals have, the better.

So how will you use the facts you know to contribute to the conversation?

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