Pornography’s Effect on Early Sexual Conditioning
MI Science Staff: January 2017
In 2008, the book HOOKED, (co-authored by Medical Institute’s founder, Joe McIlhaney, MD and our current President/ CEO, Freda M Bush, MD,) began warning readers about the strong impact that sex has on the adolescent brain. Easy to read explanations of the dopamine cycle, neurochemical actions and the process of brain “molding” or plasticity continue to help people understand the impact of sex on adolescents.
When HOOKED was written, pornography was certainly an issue, but now, nine years later, pornography has emerged as an overwhelmingly pervasive and addictive form of sexual involvement that often drives other risky sexual behaviors. High speed internet is delivering vulgar distortions of sex to our children at alarmingly young ages. Gaming devices and smartphones have become the secret portals of entry into the immature brains of our youth.
Among the many harmful effects of pornography is the effect it has on “early sexual conditioning”. Sexual conditioning is one form of “brain molding” as described in HOOKED. The “use it or lose it” syndrome can be applied to the formation and deterioration of various brain synapses. Those “connections” (synapses) that are used are sustained, but those that are not used begin to fade. This is not an isolated event, but takes place in the presence of neurohormones. Thus, our behavior actually changes our brain structure, which then reinforces that same behavior.1
Gary Wilson, author of Your Brain on Porn, as well as many helpful videos, uses this phrase: “Nerve cells that fire together wire together”. 2 When sexual excitement is induced in a young person, whatever stimulated that sexual excitement becomes connected to that sensation. Dopamine and the “reward circuit” are very active in this “molding” process, producing the desire to repeat the activity that brought the initial pleasure. When that stimulation comes from pornography, the young person naturally begins to seek out more pornographic stimulation. As the porn user becomes desensitized to their current pornography, the individual seeks out more “thrilling” and more “deviant” sexual acts to view in order to bring the same sexual pleasure that was first experienced.
Researcher, James G. Pfaus and his associates who reviewed a number of animal and human studies has this to say, “Thus, a critical period exists during an individual’s early sexual experience that creates a “love map” or Gestalt of features, movements, feelings, and interpersonal interactions associated with sexual reward.”3 When that “love map” has been formed with pornography, we can expect that it is gravely distorted. At a time when a teen should be learning about relationships, flirting, pleasing and deferring to another person’s desires, the adolescent engaged in pornography is viewing degrading, often violent interactions with pseudo-partners, rather than real people.
When one looks at the number of young people whose early sexual conditioning is influenced by pornography, the situation becomes even more alarming. A 2016 survey by the Barna Group found that 64% of 13 -24 year-olds actively seek out pornography weekly or more often.4 As far back as 2008, a study of university students found that 93% of boys and 61% of girls had seen Internet porn during adolescence,5 while a sampling of college males in 2016, showed that nearly 49% of them first encountered pornography before age 13.6 One has to wonder what intimate relationships will look like in the future if this trend continues.
Medical Institute is launching a new initiative on pornography this year. Our organization is partnering with like-minded groups to help protect our young people from the detrimental effects that pornography has on all individuals, but particularly on our youth. Won’t you join us in this fight against pornography? First of all, your donations to the Medical Institute will help us produce good anti-pornography literature and media that is so greatly needed. Secondly, you can begin to post anti-porn literature and media on your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Raising awareness of the problem and educating ourselves and those in our sphere of influence is an important way to begin to push back against the wealthy, predatory and invasive porn industry.
- McIlhaney JS and Bush FM, Hooked: New Science on how Casual Sex is Affecting our Children, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 2008
- Wilson, Gary, Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction, Commonwealth Publishing, UK 2014
- Pfaus JG, Kippin TE, Coria-Avila GA, et al, “Who, What, Where, When (and Maybe Even Why)? How the Experience of Sexual Reward Connects Sexual Desire, Preference, and Performance”, Arch. Sex Behav (2012) 41: 31-62
- Barna Group, “The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age,” (Ventura, CA: Josh McDowell Ministry, 2016)
- Sabina C, Wolak J, and Finkelhor D, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth”, CyberPsychology & Behavior 11, no.6 (2008); 691-693
- Sun C, Brdges A, Johnson J, et al, “Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 45, no 4 (May, 2016): 983-94