Can porn change your view of sex?

Pornographic images and films have been around for what seems like forever, but in recent years, the development of the internet has changed the way pornography is viewed, by both men and women. Now porn is more readily available than ever before – 80% of teenagers in the UK say it is 'too easy' to access porn on the net, with a worrying 70% saying it's considered 'normal' to watch pornography amongst their peers at school.

In a recent survey of Oxford University students, 91% of men admitted to watching pornography online regularly, whilst 51% of women also admitted they watched more than once a month. Then there are the more worrying statistics – 40% of college students in India regularly watch 'rape porn' and over 75% admitted that watching pornography of this kind 'instils a desire to rape women.' Whether that's true or not, India is statistically the rape capital of the world; violence against women has increased by over 7% since 2010 and a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India. So what's the deal – is pornogaphy changing our views of sex and sexuality?

Is there really a link between pornography and real life?

Just as some people believe there's a link between violent video games and violent crime, there are those who believe that internet porn is a modern epidemic that's affecting the way we relate to one another; they might be right. A special report looking at teenagers' pornography usage in the UK revealed that many young men refuse to wear protection during sex, because that's not what happens in videos online. It's also led to an increase in the number of young people practising anal sex. Once a taboo subject, today it's considered more acceptable and is a normal part of many sexual relationships.

It's not just men whose views are altered by watching porn – young women are affected too. Many compare themselves to the women in these videos, analysing their own body, looks and even sexual performance against pornographic videos online. Most young women agree that porn is fine in moderation, but that viewing it too much can have negative side-effects.

Changing your sexual identity

Spend enough time around certain people in your life and your behaviour will often begin to emulate theirs; this is particularly true amongst teenagers and young people. So what happens if you watch a lot of pornography – for example demeaning or violent videos – can this change your sexual identity?

Watching enough of anything can change your desires, ruin expectations and instil extreme urges which can be difficult to satisfy. Of course, this isn't true for everyone, but there are those who are deeply affected by their porn viewing habits and go on to develop an addicition. Pornography today has become normalised – you no longer have to go to your local newsagents to take a magazine off the top shelf – it's free online and men (and women) can browse fairly anonymously. As a result, most people don't hide their porn habit and many are open about what they view and when.

So what's the harm then?

So what harm is there really in browsing for porn online? Did you know 66% of men aged 18 to 34 look at porn at least once a month? That might not sound like much, but regularly watching porn can corrode intimacy in a relationship and diminish your sexual connection – you or your partner may compare themselves to the actors in the videos and feelings of resentment, jealously and low self-esteem are common. Today, the internet plays a rather significant role in divorces with over half of all divorces citing an interest in online pornography as a contributory factor towards the breakdown of the relationship.

There are darker issues too – our children can accidentally stumble across porn online, with 70% of 15 to 17 year olds admitting they have accidentally found images and videos whilst browsing the web. Is this making our children more sexual at a younger age? In a recent poll, 50% of 15 to 24 year olds said they believed pornography promoted 'bad attitudes towards women', with almost 60% believing that seeing porn online encourages teenagers to have sex before they're ready.

Changes to the brain

A study by Dr Valerie Voon, a neuropsychiatrist at Cambridge University, revealed that men addicted to pornogaphy develop visible changes in their brain, in the same area that changes in drug addicts. A Channel 4 documentary, 'Porn n the Brain', aired in October 2013, focused on the story. It might come as no surprise to learn this; we know that addicts experience changes in their behaviour and personality. Chemicals are released in the brain by additives in junk food that have a similar addictive effect. But the show also revealed that porn addictions can reveal sexual tastes – here's how.

Our brains change their structure as a response to repeated experiences. The reward centre, the part of the brain which fires up when we accomplish something, releases a chemical known as dopamine, which gives us the thrill that goes with an achievement. This same chemical is secreted when you're sexually excited or experiencing something new. Watching porn videos, filled with new, exciting 'sexual partners', fires up the brain's reward centre. The more you watch, the more these images are reinforced, and sexual tastes can actually be altered.

Substances such as drugs trigger the secretion of dopamine in the brain, without making us work to accomplish a goal, which can cause a cycle of damage and addiction, and porn works in a similar way. With pornography, we experience the high of 'sex' without the work that love and a relationship requires, and the craving intensifies.

Changes to the reward centre of your brain means that you will compulsively seek out the situation or object that triggered the release of dopamine; in this case, pornography. You build up a tolerance and more stimulation is needed to get the same effect, which can push sexual tastes to the extreme and build an appetite for agression.

The study revealed that teenagers' brains are especially suspectible to change in this way. Those who develop a real dependence on porn as teenagers could find it hard to form real connections with women (or men) in later life.

Porn and brain size – is there a link?

A controversial article published in the Daily Mail in May 2014 highlighted a possible link between the size of certain regions of the brain and pornorgaphy viewing. Dr Simone Kuhn, lead author of the study, recruited 64 men aged between 21 and 45, and asked them a series of questions relating to their porn viewing habits. Images of the men's brains were taken, to measure the volume of the brain and see how their brains responded to pornographic images. Noticeable differences were found in the men who regularly viewed sexual images or videos online, compared with those who abstained.

The volume of the 'striatum' or reward centre in the brain was smaller the more pornography had been viewed. Another area of the brain, also part of the striatum, which activates in response to sexual stimulation, showed less activity in the men who regularly watched pornography. More research is needed to determine whether pornography actually causes these changes to the brain, or whether men with a certain type of brain are more likely to view pornography.

So can porn change your view of sex? Most definitely. Like anything which triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, there is a real risk of addiction, changes to your sexual identity and the destruction of real-life relationships. We're not suggesting it's altogether a bad thing though; as with everything, moderation is key.

Author By Paula Beaton
Date On 18th Sep 2014 at 10:10
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