This Is Your Brain On Porn: Gary Wilson On the Science of Porn Addiction, Health, and Recovery.

"Right now, many young guys believe their porn use has no consequences, and they are often distressed to find that when they connect with partners they aren’t aroused. They are dependent upon porn for arousal. Some are justifiably furious when they realize that their sexual health has been put at risk in order to increase ad revenue on porn sites." -Gary Wilson

Scholars are beginning to fear the rise of technology and its impact on human socialization and sexuality. In the contemporary Western world, consumption of pornography is just as normal and integrated into the average citizen's life as any other form of internet content. 

There are alarming statistics about the availability and usage of pornography that are surfacing today. According to this Webroot article, 35% of all internet downloads are porn-related and 34% of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn via ads, pop-ups, etc.

With this content becoming so easily accessible, some individuals are asking questions about the long-term effects of overindulgence (and even casual usage) of pornographic material and its potential risks.

Enter Gary Wilson, founder of the popular website Your Brain On Porn. Gary's mission differs a bit from that of the prototypical anti-porn crusader. His message is neither religious (he is an atheist) nor is he for the outright banning of pornography. He simply wishes to provide information that elucidates the addictive nature and possible side effects adult-content that we seldom hear about.

Trendy Butler

Prox: Some scientists and researchers (most notably Dr. Philip Zimbardo) are horrified at what widespread porn usage could mean for future generations. Do you share this same sentiment? 

Gary: Not all internet porn users will experience problems. That said, I think there’s cause for genuine concern, given the formal evidence now coming out, and its alignment with self-reports by thousands of people on porn recovery forums. It's clear some people are having a bad experience with internet porn use, and it appears that problems are getting worse as people start using it at younger and younger ages. 

I see the tremendous rise in youthful sexual dysfunctions as a key marker for the effects of internet porn. Studies assessing young male sexuality since 2010 report historic levels of sexual dysfunctions, and startling rates of a new scourge: low libido. Documented in this lay article and in this peer-reviewed paper involving 7 US Navy doctors - Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016)

Erectile dysfunction rates in these recent studies range from 14% to 35%, while rates for low libido (hypo-sexuality) range from 16% to 37%. Some studies involve teens and men 25 and under, while other studies involve men 40 and under.

Prior to the advent of free streaming porn (2006), cross-sectional studies and meta-analysis consistently reported erectile dysfunction rates of 2-5% in men under 40. That's nearly a 1000% increase in youthful ED rates in the last 10-15 years. What variable has changed in the last 15 years that could account for this astronomical rise?

As for full blown porn addiction, in 2016, two groups of researchers (one from Europe, one from the States) assessed or questioned male porn users. Both groups reported that 28% of their subjects either met the test for problematic use (“Clinical Characteristics of Men Interested in Seeking Treatment for Use of Pornography”) or were concerned about their porn use (“Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men”). In 2017, academics also assessed US college students (some of whom were not porn users) for porn addiction.  Results indicated that 19% of the male students and 4% of the female students met the test for addiction (“Cybersex Addiction Among College Students: A Prevalence Study”).

Note: Addiction rates don’t tell the whole story. Some young men with porn-induced sexual dysfunctions are not addicts, and would not meet any formal “addiction” threshold. Nevertheless, they sometimes need months to recover from low arousal and other dysfunctions during partnered sex, such as difficulty climaxing and sustaining erections.

Prox: With data coming out now to support theories that overindulgence in this kind of behavior can actually be detrimental to the cognitive development of frequent users, do you think we may see any regulations in the future to limit consumption?

Gary: There’s already a push in Europe for age verification on porn sites, which would make it more difficult for underage viewers to access porn. I don’t foresee any regulations to limit adult viewing. The experience of the United States when it tried to prohibit the use of alcohol suggests that prohibition creates more problems than it solves. There are some lessons that humans just seem fated to learn through experience.

By the way, here’s a list of studies I gathered together that support the claim that porn can affect the user both emotionally and cognitively: Over 40 studies link porn use to poorer mental-emotional health & poorer cognitive outcomes

Prox: While pornography is at the root of this discussion, there has been an increase in virtual addictions of all types. Would you say that you have any personal fears of how integrated technology is becoming into our daily lives? Is our obsession with screens something deeper than just a constant need for entertainment?

Gary: I’ve focused mostly on internet porn’s effects, so I don’t really have an opinion on technology in general. I do think it’s telling that researchers have seen a measurable drop in desire for sex with real partners compared with desire for internet porn use. In fact, research shows that more porn use correlates with less sexual and relationship satisfaction (Over 50 studies link porn use to less sexual and relationship satisfaction).

Soon, people will realize that if they choose internet porn, they may also be choosing to become less responsive and satisfied during partnered sex. That’s everyone’s choice, but I’d feel better if they were informed in advance so they could make informed choices. There are now 25 studies linking porn use/sex addiction to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli (the first 5 studies in the list demonstrate causation, as participants eliminated porn use and healed chronic sexual dysfunctions). In addition to the above studies, this page contains articles and videos by over 100 experts (urology professors, urologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, sexologists, MDs) who acknowledge and have successfully treated porn-induced ED and porn-induced loss of sexual desire.

Right now, many young guys believe their porn use has no consequences, and they are often distressed to find that when they connect with partners they aren’t aroused. They are dependent upon porn for arousal. Some are justifiably furious when they realize that their sexual health has been put at risk in order to increase ad revenue on porn sites.

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Prox: Do you think the data that has been coming out surrounding this topic can foster further discussion about the nature of connection and human interaction in the digital age?

Gary: I hope so. It’s certainly having that effect on some. Unfortunately, the degree of desire for attachment is often heavily influenced by childhood. Those who suffered trauma, sexual abuse or emotionally distant parents may need therapy before healthy relationships will be an option, even in the absence of excessive internet use.

Prox: Is there anything that still surprises you about the nature of this addiction even after all of the work you’ve done at this point?

Gary: I suppose the biggest surprise is the lengths to which the porn-problem deniers, usually sexologists, are willing to go in support of their pro-porn talking points. They emphasize weak research, ignore the preponderance of the evidence as well as the self-reports of those affected and the clinical reports of their caregivers and accuse others of religious and economic motives without any evidence. I’ve seen them work behind the scenes to attack researchers and therapists as well – all in the service of a multi-billion dollar industry. It all calls to mind the antics of Big Tobacco back when the harms of smoking first came to light. The same formula seems to be in play.

Prox: What are some ways that we can eliminate the stigmas associated with porn addiction? Should users just suck it up and talk about it? What are some support groups people can seek out?

Gary: I keep hearing about all the supposed “stigma and shame” associated with porn addiction or any other porn-induced problem. But where is it? It’s almost 2018, and porn use is entirely normalized. Soon it will be more shameful to be hooked on cigarettes than on porn. Users who have overconsumed it are joining recovery forums and real life support groups and many of them are speaking up publicly or even doing YouTube accounts of their benefits from quitting. The idea that people are being shamed for having problems stemming from porn use is swiftly fading away. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Internet porn is a supernormal stimulus, much like junk food. If you overconsume it and you develop unwanted symptoms, get help. It’s that simple. 

There are multiple online forums for those who want support. Some of the most popular English-speaking ones are NoFap.com, RebootNation, YourBrainRebalanced, and of course the Reddit groups – NoFap and Pornfree. There are also multiple 12-step and other recovery groups. Google 'porn recovery' for endless options. In-person groups are especially helpful for people who have been isolated by their screen use. Such groups help them learn how to enjoy connection with their fellow humans.

Prox: How do you suggest we speak to friends and family about the dangers of obsessive pornography usage without coming off as self-righteous?

Gary: Start the conversation by inviting them to watch a video or read a book about internet porn’s effects, and then ask them what they think about it and discuss it with them. There are many diverse videos on our video page - https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/videos

Prox: What's some advice you’d give to individuals who are currently struggling with this issue?

Gary: Learn more about how internet porn affects the brain, which entails learning the fascinating basics of neuroplasticity. Read the self-reports of peers who have struggled with the issue and overcome it. Www.yourbrainonporn.com has more than 4,000 of these: (1) Rebooting Accounts Page 1, (2) Rebooting Accounts Page 2.

Get support and keep trying different approaches until you figure out what works for you. The things that seem to help the most are vigorous exercise (and other beneficial stressors such as cold showers, intermittent fasting, etc.), meditation, socializing, time in nature, and inspirational or self-help material. Many diverse suggestions can be found on the following pages:

·  Support: Links to other helpful websites. YBOP has no forum. 

·  Rebooting: Read the basics before you get started. Browse the rebooting accounts. 

·  Tools for Change: Tools you can use to help you in your recovery, starting with rebooting and rewiring your brain. 

Some people heal rather easily. Others need to develop increased self-control generally before they see progress on the porn front. Relapses are common, but they set you back much less if they are not binges. Abstinence for weeks followed by a binge can deepen addiction. As you progress, you may need to look at deeper issues stemming from childhood as well. YBOP has an extensive list of FAQ’s to help those who are trying to quit porn.

Prox: Final thoughts?

Gary: The only way you know how porn has affected you, is to quit for a while and see if you notice changes. As mentioned, you may feel worse before you feel the benefits. A few FAQ’s that address this: