‘Smoked Sexual Arousal’: Experts Explain How Pornography Physically Alters the Human Brain Similarly to Hard Drugs

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Top medical researchers explained earlier this month at a pastors gathering in North Carolina how pornography use physically affects the human brain, revealing information not well-known outside of the medical and scientific communities.

“Porn is all of the sex — without the body,” Dr. William Struthers, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Wheaton College in Chicago, told TheBlaze. “It gives you every aspect of a sexual encounter without the physical touch or the smells.”

During his presentation at the event, dubbed “The Set Free Summit,” Struthers explained and elaborated on many topics, from how the human brain changes under repeated pornography use to how the brain naturally has its own “mirroring” effect to how natural bodily hormones — such as oxytocin — can bond a person to pixels on a screen.

An artist's depiction of scientific research on pornography use. Image source: Chris Enloe/TheBlaze
An artist’s depiction of scientific research on pornography use. (Chris Enloe/TheBlaze)

In a sit-down interview with TheBlaze, Struthers revealed why a person can become addicted to pornography.

“When we talk about pornography as a drug, we’ve really got the cart before the horse. Really, the only reason why any drugs are addictive is that they act on the brain’s natural pleasure systems,” he said. “Sex is a great example of what the brain is made for when it comes to pleasure. Sex is very pleasurable for human beings the majority of the time.”

“The brain has these natural pleasure circuits — these circuits that are designed to give us the feeling of closeness, of excitement, of love — and so the only reason why these drugs, like crack, morphine, methamphetamine, or any of those have any pleasurable consequences at all is because they act on these natural systems that are already there,” Struthers continued. “So a better way to talk about heroin is that heroin is actually injected orgasm.”

“Drugs that mimic the chemical properties already in the brain and are part of this natural pleasure circuit, those are the ones that we get addicted to,” he added. “So porn isn’t crack for your eyes, crack is smoked sexual arousal.”

Struthers even contended that when people are lacking intimacy in their everyday relationships, such as with their spouse, children or parents, they will often turn to pornography to “self-medicate.”

“What happens with [porn addiction] is we starve ourselves of all these other forms of [non-genital] intimacy, and so we run to this one type of genital intimacy,” Struthers said, noting that porn then becomes “a substitute for these other forms of intimacy that we are searching for.”

“So [people] run to [porn] instead of running to those real relationships,” he added. “It’s like eating a snickers bar when you really need a salad. A snickers bar isn’t going to fulfill your proper nutritional need, and instead, it’s actually going to make you more unhealthy, but it tastes so good in that moment. So the more snickers you eat, the less sweet apples become. But if you stop eating snickers, eventually the sweetness of that apple is going to come back.”

[sharequote align=”center”]”It’s like eating a snickers bar when you really need a salad.”[/sharequote]

Dr. Donald Hilton, a brain surgeon based in San Antonio, Texas, who is well-known in the medical field for his studies on pornography use, explained during his presentation the specifics of a physical pornography addiction, including how chemicals — such as dopamine and adrenaline — play a role in a user’s dependence on smut.

Eventually, as a person repeatedly uses pornography, Hilton told the gathering that the human brain physically changes itself, explaining that recent studies have proved that a human brain addicted to pornography is very similar to a human brain addicted to cocaine.

“With any learning activity, we see changes in the brain specific to the activity, whether playing the violin, juggling, taxi driving, or intense studying,” Hilton told TheBlaze. “Addiction is a powerful learning activity and also has a footprint which is characteristic in all addictions.”

“It is characterized by shrinkage in reward areas and of impairment in the judgment centers of the brain. Recent studies confirm these exact changes with porn addiction,” he added. “Another recent porn study shows that the metabolic activity of the brain in a porn addict looks much like that of a cocaine addict.”

“Cocaine works by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain in the spaces between brain cells. Porn produces a similar effect with the constant novelty or change,” Hilton went on to say. “With the frantic clicking for just the right clip, the dopamine ‘search engine’ of the brain is running at full steam.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Hilton and Struthers aren’t the only experts sounding the alarm on the side-effects of prolonged pornography use. Two years ago, researchers at the prestigious Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Germany, discovered that the area of the brain that is activated when people are rewarded actually shrinks and works less effectively when confronted when pornography, according to the Telegraph.

“We found that the volume of the so-called striatum, a brain region that has been associated with reward processing and motivated behavior was smaller the more pornography consumption the participants reported,” said Dr Simone Kühn, a researcher at the institute.

During their study, the researchers also discovered that, over time, people who consume a lot of pornography eventually lose their ability to recognize natural sexual cues from real human beings.

Still, as technology continues to become more advanced, it is not yet known how prolonged pornography use will affect a human over a long period of time. But in the short-term, researchers continue to discover new information that leads them to believe that pornography is not all that healthy for regular human consumption.

Front page image via Shutterstock.com.

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:

106 Comments