Cambridge University neuropsychiatrist Dr Valerie Voon has recently shown that men who describe themselves as addicted to porn (and who lost relationships because of it) develop changes in the same brain area – the reward centre – that changes in drug addicts. The study, not yet published, is featured next week in the Channel 4 TV show Porn on the Brain. Neurosceptics may argue that pictures of the brain lighting up in addicts tell us nothing new – we already know they are addicted. But they do help: knowing the reward centre is changed explains some porn paradoxes.
In the mid-1990s I, and other psychiatrists, began to notice the following. An adult male, in a happy relationship, being seen for some non-romantic issue, might describe getting curious about porn on the burgeoning internet. Most sites bored him, but he soon noticed several that fascinated him to the point he was craving them. The more he used the porn, the more he wanted to.
Yet, though he craved it, he didn't like it (porn paradox 1). The cravings were so intense, he might feel them while thinking about his computer (paradox 2). The patient would also report that, far from getting more turned on by the idea of sex with his partner, he was less attracted to her (paradox 3). Through porn he acquired new sexual tastes.
With the explosion of internet pornography in the last two decades, it’s worth exploring just how detrimental it is to society. We’ve long recognized illicit drugs as problematic because they lead to violence, depression, suicide, and crime. But is it possible that something a person can do in the privacy of their own home, just by viewing a computer screen, be as detrimental, or worse, to society and themselves as illegal drugs? Sure it is. The research results of pornography addiction are proof. Pornography addiction is likely to be far more damaging than one of the world’s most well-known narcotics: cocaine