Watching porn triggers similar brain activity as drug exposure, study says

Editor’s Note: In a world that too often seems to embrace pornography it is refreshing to see Time magazine, certainly part of the mainstream media, announce this study. Read the full article here

There’s still debate over whether sex addiction exists, but a new study on porn and the brain provides more evidence that consuming explicit material is addicting. The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that sex addiction, scientifically known as compulsive sexual behavior, may actually be similar to drug addiction in the brain.

In the study, the researchers looked at 19 men with compulsive sexual behavior and 19 healthy men. The participants either watched sexually explicit videos or sports while the researchers monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

…After watching the videos, the participants also rated their level of sexual desire and how much they enjoyed the videos. Previous research has shown that at a certain point, drug addicts use their drug of choice because they need it, and not necessarily because they like the feeling. As the researchers expected, the patients with compulsive sexual behavior reported higher levels of desire towards the sexually explicit videos even though they did not necessarily like them more. Their desire was also correlated with higher interactions between the three areas of the brain during the explicit videos than for the sports.

The men with compulsive sexual behavior also reported starting to watch pornography at earlier ages, and they consumed it at a higher rate than the healthy group. The researchers noticed that younger participants—particularly those with compulsive sexual behavior—had greater levels of activity in the ventral striatum after watching pornography. This, the study authors believe, suggests the ventral striatum is involved in the development of compulsive sexual behaviors like it is in drug addiction. Since people’s brains continue developing into their mid-20s, teens often take more risks and are more susceptible to impulsive behavior.