Can Pornography Shrink the Human Brain?

by Aug 24, 2012Addiction/Brain Science

Can an addiction to pornography or any other sexual practice shrink your brain? It’s starting to look that way.

Scientists already have proof that cocaine, meth and even food addictions (obesity) are associated with brain cell shrinkage in certain areas of the brain. They also have proof that pedophiles and others with sexual addictions exhibit similar shrinkage.

An article in Psychology Today entitled Ominous News for Porn Users: Internet Addiction Atrophies Brain reported on evidence of brain shrinkage in people addicted to playing online video games, and makes a strong case that porn use also atrophies the brain.

All addictions involve similar chemical pathways in the brain.

In fact, less than a year ago, the American Society of Addiction Medicine revised their definition of addiction to include behavioral or natural addictions, such as pornography. They cite evidence that all addictions are basically corruptions of the brain’s reward system.

In essence, much of addiction comes down to dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter in our brains. Dopamine makes us motivated to do things, even eat. Mice that have their dopamine production interrupted will lie down and starve even though food is nearby. They simply don’t have the motivation to get up and go get the food. On the other hand, mice who can press a lever to stimulate their brain’s dopamine production will neglect eating and drinking to keep on pressing that lever! That’s how powerful dopamine is to our reward and pleasure centers.

Addicts get a big surge of dopamine each time they use. Dopamine flows out of one end of a neuron and is received by receptors at the end of another neuron. Eventually the overstimulation causes the brain to shut down some of the dopamine receptors. It’s like our tendency to cover our ears when we hear a loud noise. This is known as developing a tolerance.

As a result, the addict looks for more intense stimulation to get the same dopamine rush and resulting euphoria. More receptors are taken offline and the brain cells actually shrink. MRI brain scans don’t lie.

Dr. Donald L. Hilton, Jr., M.D., a neurosurgeon, explains that sexual addictions involve the most extensive atrophy of brain cells—more than addictions to cocaine, meth or food. (He Restoreth My Soul, p. 64)

“This is significant in that most recovering individuals I have spoken to who have dealt with both drug and sexual addictions say that the sexual addictions were more difficult to overcome than the drug addictions.”

(Hilton, p. 65.)

All of this evidence makes me conclude that continued porn use causes brain damage. The shrinkage occurs in the pre-frontal cortex–the judgment center.  For kids and teens, whose pre-frontal cortex isn’t even fully developed, this can be devastating.

Let’s warn our kids that viewing pornography, and developing other addictions, can physically damage their brains.

P.S. Here’s one more study published in the prestigious JAMA  that shows increasing brain shrinkage associated with increasing porn use.

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.

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