Defeat Lust & Pornography 4 Ways Porn Warps the Male Brain
Defeat Lust & Pornography 3 minute read

4 Ways Porn Warps the Male Brain

Last Updated: February 27, 2023

I’ve often heard men say, “I love looking at porn. Besides it doesn’t hurt anything. It’s only fantasy. What’s the problem?”

Now, you may not have a moral problem with porn, but many are starting to have a medical problem with it. The more we study the impact of porn on the male brain, the more men are starting to think twice about porn being a harmless pastime.

1. Porn gives men a new standard of beauty.

In 2002, the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, published research showing that when men are shown pictures of centerfold models from Playboy and Penthouse, this significantly lowered their judgments about the attractiveness of “average” people.

In our hyper-sexualized media culture, is this something that really needs to be reinforced? Should we train our brains to rate women by the size, shape, and harmony of their body parts? Do we want our standard of beauty to be shaped by a fictional standard or by the woman we are actually in love with?

Related: 5 Ways Sex Gets Better After Giving Up Porn

2. Male brains don’t just view porn. They enter into it.

The journal NeuroImage published a study in 2008 demonstrating that as men are sexually aroused by porn films, something called “mirror neurons” in the brain also fire.

What is a mirror neuron? Have you ever seen someone get hit in the face with a ball or some other blunt object, and then your own body recoils? This is because of mirror neurons: you instantly react as if you were the one hit.

When it comes to porn, the brain naturally imagines the viewer in the pornographic scene. When a man is turned on by porn his body is not merely responding to the naked woman. His brain is picturing himself as the main character, heightening the arousal. You see, porn isn’t merely arousing to men because the women in it are attractive, but because it makes the man feel sexy.

This trains men not to get their sense of personal validation from real life relationships but from pixels on a screen.

3. The more porn men watch, the more their brains look like an addict’s brain.

In 2014 scientists at Cambridge discovered that the brains of habitual porn users show great similarity to the brains of alcoholics. When a self-confessed porn addict is hooked up to an MRI machine and then is shown a pornographic image, a brain structure called the ventral striatum “lights up” in the same way it lights up for an alcoholic who sees a picture of an drink.

You might be thinking, “So what?” Well, researchers speculate that continued use of porn over time, especially starting at younger ages, makes it such that we actually lose willpower. The more we watch porn, the more difficult it is for men to say to no to watching porn because of the strong craving they feel.

This is not the kind of men most men want to be. We want to enjoy our passions, not be enslaved to them.

Related: Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction

4. Porn makes violence sexy.

According to research by Dr. Dolf Zillmann and Dr. Jennings Bryant, the more porn one is exposed to, the more likely one is willing to trivialize rape. In their experiments, after watching just five hours of pornographic films stretched over a six-week period, subjects were willing to cut the sentencing of an accused rapist nearly in half, compared to those who had not watched pornography at all.

Those who watched more porn were also likely to believe that practices like sadomasochism were two to three times more common in general society than those who had not seen porn. Of course porn doesn’t make most consumers into sexually violent people, it does train men to embrace a culture of objectification, reinforcing a belief that women exist to give sexual pleasure to men. Again, is this the kind of men we want to become?

Let me make an appeal to men:

  • if your goal is to become a man whose standard of beauty is shaped by the one you love…
  • if your goal is to feel a personal sense of worth and validation based on your most valuable relationships…
  • if your goal is to be a man of self-mastery, not enslaved to your passions…
  • and if your goal is to treat women as people to be served and loved, not see them as objects for your pleasure…

…then consuming porn will take you in the opposite direction.

  1. Right now porn is destroying me,it has for many of years,I need to overcome this, and have a fsr more brighter future for myself.

  2. Michael

    The comment thread for this post is very interesting. I am surprised at the number of people who argued against certain points that were made in the post. It honestly felt like folks here were actually defending porn use as harmless, although I’m sure that isn’t true…

    I found myself wondering, ‘why are some of these folks here?’

    The article seems not to capture the exact experience of every male porn user, and that seems to be the legitimate observation of some folks here. The article does offer some thought-provoking general ideas about why porn use is damaging for many males… I’m definitely one of the males who has suffered lots of damage over the years, and I hope all of us remain committed to avoiding the further damage that porn use may cause. (I know it’s a late reply!)

  3. Peter

    I think that watching murders and people being killed in movies and TV is much, much more damaging than watching people having sex. And yet killing is shown constantly to the public.

    I don’t know what percentage of men watch or have watch porn repeatedly but I do know that porn has existed for thousands of years in many cultures. What has changed is that technology has made porn more powerful than in the past and more easily available.

    Clearly, some men may become obsessed by porn to the point that it damaging to them and their marriage but I suspect that they are just a very small percentage of the men who view porn. Most men realize that porn is fantasyland, an escape from the routine. Maybe if there were cheap whorehouses on very corner demand for porn would disappear?

  4. Micah

    I wanted to say that as someone who has struggled with a deepening porn obsession for 18 years, all of these points ring true to me. Porn kept me away from real relationships until I realized what exactly it was doing. Only then did I begin to try to extricate myself from porn completely… and everything leading me into its grasp. I have been married 3 years and my struggles have not left me – they are far less frequent, but my sexual life with my wife has suffered deeply because of my retired brain chemistry. I want to share with point #4 that male masochists are usually not the ones writing porn posts. Rape has always been appalling to me, despite watching lots of porn at certain times in my life. I could never imagine how rape could even happen or be desirable for a man. What point number 4 could include to become more all-inclusive is a discussion of how the type of porn you watch affects the type of violence you are willing to tolerate. For example, someone who watched female-dominant sexual violence may subconsciously become more willing to tolerate sexually inappropriate behavior from women to minors. This is still just as wrong, and should be punished but the porn viewer who has been exposed regularly to such content might not see it as such a punishable offense.

    • Jeff

      Matt Fradd, The Question is how exactly do we define what is and isn’t Porn ? What is Pornography and what isn’t, ? Do the Racy Bikini, Lingerie pics of American Supermodel Elle Johnson on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook count as being considered Porn ?
      Is Porn really harmful to people, ? Or at least to some people, what about Masturbation ?

    • Carla

      The over and over even slight desensitization if even watching open itself lessens your respect and power dynamic. If something is an object it’s going to have less value than the real thing chips away slowly your ability to even respect. She deserved it. She wore low fit drew. Etc. so although intrinsically you don’t think it affects YOU all porn has a hierarchical dynamic that says I have power over you. You are an object. You mean nothing to me all baseline qualities of violence whether you reach that point or not. Just my opinion.

  5. Patricia

    My husband was into porn before we married many years ago.
    It caused major problems to say the least. I felt like I was being compared to the porn females. I was 5’ 1” and 100 pounds. I was active, exercised and stayed in shape. Was pretty by most standards. His wants became more and more. He insisted that I completely shave my privates. Didn’t sound like fun to me but I relented to please him and be a good wife. I kept a rash, itched and was miserable. But he would not touch me if I wasn’t shaved. I put up with this for years and I hated every single minute of it. All I could think of was a young girl and it disturbed me greatly. Even though I loved him deeply I simply couldn’t stand it. I am sure there are many women who would not object to this but I did. Soon the issue became, No shave,
    No sex. During all of this he enjoyed the porn daily. He required more and more stimulation due to being so over stimulated while watching porn. Sex was no longer something to look forward to. And he simply lost so much of his ability. And I was not stimulating enough. Finally once when we were in the mood he asked if I was shaved and when I replied No, and that I would no longer be shaving, he said then no more sex.
    To shorten this he was also an alcoholic which made things even worse. I eventually moved out of our bedroom into my own bed. He never made a move to be intimate again and neither did I. Now after 40 years of marriage he decided he wanted a divorce. Broke my heart! He is blaming lack of sex entirely on me and even listed the date that I moved to another bed. Other than sex there was nothing that he wanted for in our marriage. So at the grand old age of 75 I will become a divorced lady and on my own for the first time in my life.
    Do I think porn has a devastating effect on a marriage? I am proof positive.
    Awaiting to hear what you have to say. Oh and by the way, he teaches Sunday school and is a pillar in the community.

    • Kay Bruner

      Oh Patricia.

      Your story breaks my heart. I’m so sorry.

      Have you had any support through this? I’m concerned for your well being as this all unfolds. I would hope that you might find a therapist to talk to, someone who can help you process all this. The online resources at Bloom for Women are excellent as well.

      I hope you have close friends and family who are able to hear the truth and be a support to you as well.

      I wonder what his pastor would have to say about all this? I wonder what would happen if you said that he’s had a pornography habit all this time and now wants a divorce. It’s only the truth.

      I’m sorry that it’s been such a long, difficult road, and that it’s come to this.

      You are in my heart,
      Kay

    • Freddie McNabb

      My heart breaks for you.

    • Carolina Girl

      So sorry you had to deal with this. I had no idea how bad porn is for a relationship. It’s a real problem. It’s a sad thing. #pornkillslove

  6. Kevin

    Pornography is used for Self satisfaction. It is
    used as a tool for masturbation.
    It is a descending process, like any drug, or addiction, you need more of it! And the Pornography has to be more and more graphic and intense.
    It how it makes you FEEL!! It is a artificial stimulant, Fantasy!!!
    No one goes in the public area and watches porn, it’s done in secret,
    I’ve battled Porn , and like any addiction you need to get REAL with yourself!!!!
    Be honest!!! Is this making you a better person? Husband ? Father? Boyfriend?
    Your spouse , girlfriend will never meet the expectations of Porn Fsntasy.
    Yes you might feel trapped and make excuses, you might feel shame,
    But today is the only day that your living in!!
    Tomorrow isn’t here ? And yesterday is past!
    Get help! Go to war! Be a better person!
    Watch and read all you can !
    Get into a good church, read your Bible!
    Ask Jesus for help!!

  7. I could say I’m addicted . It’s like a habit to search it out . But I don’t enter myself into the seen . I view more the scene or atmosphere . I guess I watch more the act than the actors ? Most of which I want at home but go without . I don’t see myself with these women though I see myself with my wife but acting out what I see .

  8. Devon

    1. Generalized standards and statements. Porn doesn’t teach men this, society does. I’ve seen quite a few porns that didn’t have attractive or overly attractive women in it. Normal or even what some would consider “Ugly” women appear in several videos. Each individual is due their own opinion on what beauty is. Science and psychology would say alot on the subject of what attracts each individual to pick their mates and the result vary I can assure you. Like the Facebook post I saw earlier said and I quote “I’ll take a slutty 7 over an amazing 10 who only does missionary.” What attracts an individual or what they consider beauty in a women will be different with each individual. Now society’s outlook with models and stars, they are portraying what is considered to fashionable and trendy. These people are setting the bar for what is the model basis of our standard of beauty. This is encouraged and mirrored by our youth, young adults and even adults. Society sets these as the standard, and individuals allow themselves let that vision or standard of beauty become theirs.

    2. Validation through Self.
    A screen or what is on the screen isn’t what I use to validate myself. Personally, I use my own standard of what a “Man” should be. Because society in modern times fails to define what the culture has portrayed as a “Man”. I don’t need to feel sexy to know I’m a man. I need to be able to lift heavy things, play pool, do stupid things, be able to hold a job, take care of my family, pay my bills. Every single man on the planet will have differing thoughts on what we consider to be a model for a “Man” in our lives. I’ve had several with different father figures in my life. So don’t give me this “validation through pixels” speech, because I believe you don’t speak for everyone.

    3. Same as addiction.

    Yes, it’s a well known fact, but to imply that people lose willpower to stop as a problem, would imply the want to stop. The same as an addict. Everyone gets caught up in the same. Coffee addicts, cigarette smokers, sugar addicts, etc. Some people don’t consider it a problem. It’s what they want to do. Some use it as a way to pass time. If I cannot use masturbation to pass the time, then why should I be able to do anything else? Same as people addicted to TV shows, or other things. You have to consider it a problem, and that’s individual perspectives then. What’s good for the Majority isn’t necessarily good for the minority.

    4. Porn doesn’t make Violence sexy.

    Once again, individual perspectives. But honestly I don’t find violence sexy, nor do I find rape to be a trivial matter. For someone to force themselves upon anyone should be a grave and serious matter. Not only because of disease outbreaks, but because to force one’s will upon another in a violating manner should be a considerable infraction. Regardless of the reasoning or not. Fetishes are abound with rape fantasies or “planned” home invasion scenarios. So this has been a thing for years and will be for many more. Violence can be sexy. Some have enjoyed masochism for 1000s of years. This is what they find to be enjoyable. Some prefer dominance or being handled in a dominant manner. Doesn’t imply they will beat their partners or go out and rape someone. Nor does it trivialize rape in their opinions.

    My name is Devon, and I’m a porn/sex addict.

    P.s. Whoever writes these articles should really do a devil’s advocate perspective, just because you find sources out there, backing your side, doesn’t mean it’s right or that there isn’t a flip side of the coin.

    • James

      So you’ve had a good “reckon” and now you think that means your conclusion is just as valid as those of the studies and statistics mentioned in the article. Try to learn how to learn.

      Amd have you ever thought about trying to better yourself? Rather than just accepting your behavior by default and justifying it after the fact, try listening objectively without defensiveness or hostility BEFORE forming your opinion next time.

      Great article Luke. I greatly respect your patience and restraint in responding to some of these wholly disgusting responses to what essentially amounts to a presentation of facts and data.

  9. Mark

    Regarding the trivialization of rape, numerous studies exist that contradict the findings of the study you’ve chosen to present as being solely representative of the truth? It simply isn’t a conclusive statement.

  10. A

    Luke, I can answer your question. I’m how porn affected my husband’s mind and our sex life. And I don’t think he reliazes it neither.

    • What have your conversations with him looked like so far?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related in Defeat Lust & Pornography

Editor's Picks

A group of elementary-age children watching a video on a phone.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

When I Was Eight, a Classmate Told Me Porn Was Cool

Unfortunately, I started watching pornography at a very young age. I started…

3 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A support group for men.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

Porn Addiction Support Group: How to Find Help When You Need It

For many struggling with porn addiction, a support group is the difference…

5 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A thoughtful man looking at a computer screen.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

Am I Addicted to Porn? 12 Signs of Porn Addiction

Despite decades of research, porn addiction remains a questionable diagnosis in the…

7 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Close-up portrait of male student with head on knees sitting by wall in college

Defeat Lust & Pornography

My Sin Owned Me

I have long struggled with lust, first giving in to pornography as…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A young boy praying in a Catholic church.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Was an Altar Boy Addicted to Porn

Since I was young, I’ve battled with a deeply personal struggle: pornography…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A young man embracing his wife.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Overcame My Fear of Abandonment

My struggles have been with pornography, masturbation, fanaticizing, objectifying, and lying. It…

3 minute read

Read Post

Related in Defeat Lust & Pornography

A group of elementary-age children watching a video on a phone.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

When I Was Eight, a Classmate Told Me Porn Was Cool

Unfortunately, I started watching pornography at a very young age. I started…

Unfortunately, I started watching pornography at a very young age. I started when I was eight years old. I was introduced to it by a classmate who claimed that it was a cool thing to…

3 minute read

0 comments

A support group for men.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

Porn Addiction Support Group: How to Find Help When You Need It

For many struggling with porn addiction, a support group is the difference…

For many struggling with porn addiction, a support group is the difference between success and failure. When porn addiction takes hold, it drives people into shame and isolation. We don’t want to talk about struggles…

5 minute read

0 comments

A thoughtful man looking at a computer screen.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

Am I Addicted to Porn? 12 Signs of Porn Addiction

Despite decades of research, porn addiction remains a questionable diagnosis in the…

Despite decades of research, porn addiction remains a questionable diagnosis in the medical community. But there’s no question that thousands of people struggle unsuccessfully to quit pornography. If you’re concerned that you may be addicted…

7 minute read

0 comments

Close-up portrait of male student with head on knees sitting by wall in college

Defeat Lust & Pornography

My Sin Owned Me

I have long struggled with lust, first giving in to pornography as…

I have long struggled with lust, first giving in to pornography as a 6th grader. As I approach my junior year of college, I see the destruction that my addiction has caused and the further…

4 minute read

0 comments

A young boy praying in a Catholic church.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Was an Altar Boy Addicted to Porn

Since I was young, I’ve battled with a deeply personal struggle: pornography…

Since I was young, I’ve battled with a deeply personal struggle: pornography and masturbation. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this addiction took hold of me, but that first encounter remains etched in my memory.…

4 minute read

0 comments

A young man embracing his wife.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Overcame My Fear of Abandonment

My struggles have been with pornography, masturbation, fanaticizing, objectifying, and lying. It…

My struggles have been with pornography, masturbation, fanaticizing, objectifying, and lying. It started after dealing with intense feelings of loneliness following my graduation from college and first job in ministry. I was spending a lot…

3 minute read

0 comments