Is It True: That Watching Porn Can Shrink Your Brain?

Posted on June 2, 2015 in Columns@YKA, Featured, Is It True, Sex, Staff Picks, Taboos

By Anshul Tewari

When life was all about hitting puberty, I remember my grandfather telling me that masturbation can cause blindness. Now that we are past that, a study (released May 2014) says that watching porn might shrink your brain. Yes, you compulsive porn-watcher, I’m talking to you!

is it true porn brain

When the study first came out, the members of the global pornographic abode, the internet, went berserk! News websites were quick to jump to conclusions and porn viewers were made fun of – but the question lingered. Is it true that watching porn really shrinks your brain?

Thanks to all those on the interwebs who deciphered the study for lesser mortals like myself – the researchers – Simone Kühn, a psychologist, and Jürgen Gallinat, a psychiatrist scanned the brains of 64 healthy men (average age 29) in three ways – and found that your love for porn could very well be the reason why your grey matter is shrinking.

The three way scan went from a simple structural brain scan, a look at the patterns of brain activation when the men viewed sexual or neutral images and a look at brain activity while the men relaxed in the scanner for five minutes. The men also answered questions about how much porn they watched on a regular basis. Averaging four hours a week, they did not really meet the criteria for Internet sex addiction.

And how exactly does your brain shrink? Men who said they spent more time watching porn tended to have smaller amount of grey matter (the darker tissue of our brain responsible also for our alleged intellect) in a subcortical region near the front of the brain – the right striatum – that’s known to be involved in the processing of reward (think dog-handshake-biscuit, something like that for human folk), among many other things. While the more avid porn viewers showed reduced connectivity between their right striatum and their left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part which, among other things, is involved in both risky (driving at 120kmph?) and moral decision making by human beings. Woah!

So next time you are immoral, blame it on porn? Well not really! What the study did not focus on was whether people with lesser grey matter were inherently more likely to watch porn or not. Moreover, the study skipped personality traits and behaviour analysis – both of which are directly related to an individual’s media consumption patterns. Without these, the study is nothing but virtually meaningless and leaves much to be guessed. It also had many other loopholes, such as failing to follow up on participants over time, and dependence on their self-reported porn viewing time – which they might or might not have lied about, depending on their personality traits.

Moreover, sire Kühn and Gallinat, why did you forget the women folk? Is porn just a male-watching business?
For now, even though this study came out in the respected medical journal JAMA Psychiatry, there is no sure-shot way to prove that porn watching can really cause your brain to shrink.

So is it true that porn watching causes brain-shrinkage? Well we don’t really know. At least not yet. So until then, watch away! And while you’re at it, don’t forget that porn, for all its pleasures, is not reality. It is entertainment.

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