What is Porn Addiction? – Brain Scientist Tackles a Tough Question

In this interview, Dr. William Struthers talks about what exactly porn addiction is.

Learn more about those who put this video together: Visit GuiltyPleasure.tv.

1. You can be a non-addict and still be an unhealthy user.

As with any kind of substance or activity—whether it be drugs, alcohol, or gambling—you may not be addicted to these, but you can still manifest unhealthy behavior. Asking, “Am I addicted to porn?” is a good question, but it is not the only question. Watching porn, even in small amounts, has been shown to impact thoughts and beliefs.

Dr. Struthers writes in his book, Wired for Intimacy,

Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. […] All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly.

2. Porn addiction is the inability to control the intake.

A true addict craves pornography, finds himself consumed by it, and pursues it even when negative consequences are inevitable.

Dr. Struthers also writes, “Repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed on either side by high containment walls making escape nearly impossible.”

Our brains are wired to be drawn to things that provide natural rewards: things like food, sex, or bonding. One of the reasons why porn can be so addictive is that it mimics what our brains want to see. Physiology teacher Gary Wilson teaches that when men look at porn, they experience surge after surge of dopamine in the brain. “Too much dopamine, however, can override our natural satiation mechanisms,” he says.

Constant dopamine surges causes a buildup of the protein Delta-FosB in the brain’s reward circuit. This alters the brain that promotes a cycle of binging on porn.

  1. It numbs a person’s response to other pleasures.
  2. It makes someone hyper-reactive to porn.
  3. It also leads to a gradual erosion of willpower as the user’s frontal cortex erodes.

(Of course, women can also get addicted to porn, but through slightly different mechanisms.)

For more information about porn addiction, listen to our 30-minute interview with Dr. Struthers.