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2 Big Ways Porn Affects Those Who Watch It

Last Updated: August 9, 2021

Dr. William Struthers, a neuroscientist, talks about the observations he’s made about the impact of porn on those who watch it. How does porn affect people?

1. For some, watching porn leads to a seeming inability to stop

While some call this a “porn addiction” or even “arousal addiction,” the label is less important to understand than the actual experience. For these men and women, they feel a drive to return to porn again and again because it has become a way to “self-medicate,” much the same way an alcoholic returns to the bottle.

The pattern becomes a never-ending cycle: feelings of loneliness, depression, stress, anxiety, or anger turn into a desire to numb these emotions. Porn temporarily offers euphoria by tapping the body’s natural sexual chemistry. Once the high is over, the negative emotions are still present, and they are now often combined with feelings of guilt or shame. The cycle starts all over. People who try to quit porn even share experiences of withdrawal symptoms.

2. For others, porn affects them by subtly changing the way they think about people

For these people, there is no “compulsion” or “addiction,” but pornography is still warping the way they think about themselves and others.

Dr. Struthers has explained elsewhere that viewing pornography and masturbating weakens the region of our brain known as the cingulate cortex, the region that is responsible for moral and ethical decision making. In other words, repeatedly watching porn dulls one’s conscience and critical thinking skills.

Many other studies have demonstrated that pornography influences our beliefs. The research done by Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant about the impact of video pornography on sexual attitudes and beliefs is noteworthy. After exposing groups to differing amounts of video pornography numerous times over a 6 week period, they studied the correlation between the amount of pornography consumed and a variety of other factors: sexual satisfaction, attraction to casual sex, the belief that minors should be protected from seeing porn, the acceptance of premarital sex, the trivialization of rape, the support of women’s rights, beliefs about the commonness of sexual practices in the broader culture, and gender stereotypes—all with negative outcomes.

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