Is Online Porn Bad For Your Dopamine System? (Take a Look)

 Is Online Porn Bad For Your Dopamine System?

More and more people seem to get hooked on porn these days and more and more YouTubers are talking about how porn can disrupt the dopamine system.

We can also see that more experts are starting to acknowledge its potential harmful effects on the brain.

So, what's the deal here?

Is online porn really that bad for your dopamine system?

I'll give it to you right from the start:

Yes, online porn can be bad for your dopamine system. It is possible for some people to use it without suffering hardly any negative consequences, sure, but the line often becomes blurry and the risk is there. If you develop an addiction to it, it's definitely going to take a heavy toll on your brain. But even if you don't, online porn can be bad for your dopamine system.

Who am I?

Before we start, let's get one thing out of the way…

I am not religious and I am not moral preaching here. I'm not one of those “anti porn activist”, that are shouting it should be 100% banned.

I'm not “anti” anything. I'm PRO information!

I have to shout this, because when people hear someone saying something negative about porn, a lot of them assume it's coming from religious fanatics or people who have a serious issue with porn as a whole.

But no, I am merely speaking from a position of having a history of being addicted to porn myself. And in order to help myself I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the brain, addictions and different supernormal stimuli.

And trust me when I say, oh yes, online porn was definitely bad for my dopamine system.

In addition to my article on if porn is bad for your dopamine, you can find links to 60 neuroscience-based studies about porn and its effects on the brain right here.

How online porn can be bad for your dopamine

Now some of you may be thinking, But how can online porn be bad for dopamine? I always heard that it increases your dopamine?

Well, yes, online porn raises your dopamine in the moment. But just because something raises dopamine doesn't mean there can't be harmful long term consequences. Those are not in even in the same ballbark.

Mind you, cocaine temporarily raises you're dopamine too, and I don't think it's possible to find anyone speaking to cocaine's positive effects on the brain.

With online porn you can override your natural satiation mechanism…

In fact, that's actually the problem here. By using porn you can keep your dopamine elevated far longer than you could with just masturbation alone, and in terms of dopamine you can then override your natural satiation mechanism.

When you do that, your brain start to protect itself by downregulating some of the small receptors that dopamine is supposed to bind to in order for it to do its magic. This leads to a disrupted dopamine system, with a dopamine deficiency as a long term consequence.

To make this more clear, let's back up a bit and start with the basics…

What exactly is dopamine?

Dopamine is a brain chemical. A so-called neurotransmitter that has several functions. It’s made in your brain and acts as a chemical messenger, communicating messages between nerve cells in your brain and the rest of your body.

It is an ancient chemical that has been there as long as humans have existed. Actually, we can turn that the other way around and say, we wouldn’t even exist today if it wasn’t for dopamine.

So dopamine itself isn't the problem. It's when we keep overstimulating it that it becomes an issue. 

The strongest driver of dopamine…

Dopamine's main role is to make us motivated to go for things that will help us survive and reproduce, i.e. help us stay alive, protect ourselves and carry our genes to the next generation.

If you now start asking, but wait a minute…dopamine spikes happen related to other thing as well, not just sex and food? , you would be 100% correct.

You see, there are many subsections under food and sex and dopamine taps in to all of those as well.

For example, achieving a career goal will help you get both financial security and status, and thus it will help you be able to get good food and good, secure, shelter. So it would be a subcategory under “survival”. But not only that, more status would obviously also make you more attractive in the eyes of the opposite sex, so that would also form a direct subcategory under “reproduction”… i.e sex. 

Sex gives the biggest natural spike in dopamine…

As we just talked about, dopamine is involved in a lot of activities. But nothing spikes dopamine higher than sex. This is because nothing is considered more important for mother nature than to carry our DNA's to the next generation. Well it's possible to get your dopamine to spike even higher, but not without using chemical drugs.

This is where the problem with online porn enters the picture.

 

Your reward system perceive porn as a real mating opportunity…

Your primitive, reptilian, brain is not up to date.

When you open up a porn site, your reward system thinks it's a real opportunity for sex.

So it instantly spikes your dopamine to the highest possible level.

What happens next is that after watching for few minutes, your dopamine is going to start dropping back down a bit. But when this happens, guys just fast forward or click to another scene, another porn star or even a new changer of porn. And instantly the dopamine shoots back up.

As soon as you feel the slightest boredom you click to another video. Since it's possible to keep clicking for hours at end, it's also possible to keep your dopamine elevated far longer than you can with real life sex. You can't use the click of a mouse to change partners in the middle of real life action, after all.

Your ancient reward system didn't come equipped to handle this…

When you keep that clicking going in order to keep the dopamine and the excitement buzzing, a counter mechanism starts to kick in inside your brain.

A mechanism called desensitization.

Take a look at the picture below…

What you are looking at here is a part of the dopamine system in action.

To the left we have the sending neuron and to the right the receiving neuron.

See those little small dots? Well that is our friend dopamine right there. And dopamine does its magic by attaching to small dopamine receptors. The receptors kind of look like slots that the dopamine molecules fit perfectly into.

When the dopamine molecules “park” into the receptor slots we feel the effects…

And when dopamine has parked into a slot, it is then we feel the effects of whatever function it brings us at the moment.

If we expose our brain to very stimulating things for a long enough time (like online porn) the brain starts going, Eehh…now there’s too much dopamine here! I need to protect myself from it, and it does so by reducing the number of dopamine receptors.

With less dopamine receptors, then, those small dopamine molecules now have less slots to park into – which means we will feel less effects of whatever dopamine a certain activity is giving us.

This is the neurobiological process behind desensitization, also known as getting a numb pleasure response…

…or a disrupted dopamine system.

Downregulation of receptors doesn't just reverse instantly after we quit the stimulation…

The nasty thing here is that these receptors do not grow back instantly when you stop the stimulation, it can actually take a while.

But the good news is that desensitization can reverse itself if we stop the stimulation for a long enough time.

So, when a porn addict stop using his beloved porn, healing will take place…

…just as long as he's not overusing any other form of highly stimulating dopamine activity.

Examples…

  • Playing video games for 12 hours a day
  • Smoking too much weed
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Spending all day long on social media
  • Overeating junk food

…etc. etc.

Physical exercise and a general healthy lifestyle may help speed up the recovery a bit.

Healing of the dopamine system can take anywhere between 1-12 months…

Depending on the individual, the severity of desensitization it can take between 1-12 months to fully recover a desensitized reward system.

So, now your left with a desensitized dopamine system.

And here are some of the most common symptoms of having a disrupted dopamine system..

  • Low motivation and drive
  • Low energy
  • Poor focus and concentration
  • Anxiety / social anxiety
  • Low mood, depression and even anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure)
  • Low libido
  • Low confidence
  • Feelings of fear and shame

Do you watch a lot of porn?

Do you recognize yourself in the above?

Well if so, keep reading.

How much porn is too much then?

Having a disrupted dopamine system -desensitization- like just explained, is very common among people who watch a lot of porn. Heck, you don't even have to watch it that often in order for it to effect you.

That said, we are all different and it's very difficult to say a specific amount that could be classified as 100% safe.

I myself never watched more than once or twice a week, yet I was addicted to it and it seriously affected me.

Granted I did watch it in a very destructive way, as my sessions were long and I did a lot of clicking from video to video, constantly chasing the perfect one…which obviously doesn't exist. It doesn't exist because, once you've “found it”, it now becomes boring and you instantly start searching for the next one.

I'm ashamed to say that my sessions sometimes several hours – and not surprisingly – they really desensitized me.

But what if your sessions are short?

15 or 20 minute long sessions can indeed also desensitize you. Especially if you do them frequently. And guys who are logging in shorter sessions tend to use more often instead.

So it evens out.

If there was a healthy way to watch porn, if would be to actually watch a movie without doing any fast forwarding and not clicking from video to video. But since I nowadays work as a porn addiction coach, I can not in good conscience recommend even that.

However, if you're really hellbent on keeping online porn in your life, then your best bet would be to…

  • Mindfully watch one single scene (no jumping around)
  • Don't do it too often (maybe once a month e.g.)

Again, I don't want you to misinterpret my words. I am not recommending it, it's just that I want to write a comprehensive article, and since I know people are going to be wondering, when I write on a certain topic, I feel I need to write on it from every possible angle.

I certainly don't think you should keep porn in your life, at any level,  if you have an addiction to it. From my what I've seen and read, more than 90% of people who have developed real addiction related brain changes simply can not handle moderation. They might be able to do it for a little while, but sooner or later they start escalating again.

I've tried it myself as well. It most certainly didn't work for me. But who knows, you might be different.

A video on how porn affects the dopamine system…

If you want to see an easy to understand video on exactly how the desensitization process takes place inside the brain, then I've made a video on that on my YouTbe channel a while back that I think you should watch.

You can find it below.

The title may be a bit provocative and naive, but it does a good job at explaining the desensitization process in a fun and interesting way.

Take a look at this video to see how porn affects your dopamine system

 

Can porn be bad for your dopamine – even without addiciton and the desensitization?

If you want your dopamine working for you, rather than against you, then you need to understand that whenever we engage in some pleasurable activities, there will always be a rebound effect “dopamine rebound effect”.

In other words, what goes up, must come down.

But when it comes to instant gratification stuff, not only does the dopamine come back down, but it actually goes down below your baseline levels for a while, before returning back to normal.

By the way, when I say instant gratification stuff, I'm talking about things that give you pleasure and excitement without you having to put in any effort first, in order to achieve it.

The rebound effect in a graph…

This is what it looks like…

                                           After A FEW stimulations

The graph you can see above is called the opponent process reaction.

This is what happens to your dopamine levels after a porn session. As you can see, the dopamine levels clearly plummet down below your baseline levels before coming back up.

And, yes, this rebound effect happens to everyone, even if you're not addicted or desensitized (yet).

What does that mean in terms of day to day brain function?

Well, it simply means that if you want to be sharp, focused and motivated (all traits of good dopamine signaling) when studying for an exam, for example, the last thing you want to be doing is fapping to a porn site for an hour or so before you start studying.

That would definitely make you less motivated, less sharp and less focused – because after you're done, the B-process (see above graph) kiks in right when you're about to start studying.

The temporary drop in dopamine happens after doing anything pleasurable (not just watching porn)

Again, this transient drop in dopamine happens after any and all instant gratification stuff, even after eating 3 donuts with your mid day coffee. Even if you're not addicted to it.

However, if you keep overdoing the instant gratification activities, then desensitization can become an issue.

And then the opponent process graph starts looking more like this…

                               After MANY stimulations….

As you can see, now you get less enjoyment during the activity (A-process), but the counter process (B-process) becomes deeper and longer.

And more important, after the B-process is over, you don't even reach up to your baseline levels any more.

This is what addiction looks like in the opponent process graph.

To learn more about the opponent process theory of emotions, you can take a look at another video I made on my YouTube channel a while back. It's very interesting and a useful thing to know, not just when it comes to porn, but with anything in life.

How understanding this graph changed my life…

If you found the video informative, you can check out my YouTube channel here

What if I think I might be a bit desensitized already?

If you think that you might be a bit desensitized by all the good life has to offer, then there are a few things for you to consider…

  • Giv up, or at least take a long break, from whatever stimuli you think has desensitized you (porn, alcohol, weed, social media etc).
  • Eat as clean as possible and avoid junk food.
  • Engage in physical exercise at least 3 times a week

It's also important to know that there can be several stimulus that's causing your desensitization. Not just one.

For example, a young man ca be heavily into video games, scrolling social media and on top of that being addicted to porn. Porn is definitely then going to be the biggest factor, but even the other two can take a toll at hammer his reward system.

If you would like to cut down on, or quit, your porn use…

If you think you might be watching a bit too much porn and you feel that cutting down, or giving it up completely would perhaps be worth a try, then I highly recommend you download my FREE quit porn guide below.

It's not a big online course or anything like that, but it's an easy to read guide that will most certainly help.

You can >>Download<< my FREE guide below to help you…

P.S. Here are some other posts you might find interesting…

Links to 60 neuroscience-based studies about porn and its effects on the brain right here

 

 

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