The emergence of explicit images and videos into Society and Culture
Explicit images and videos are a rather recent phenomenon that has emerged into society and remains largely unregulated, resulting in open access to individuals of all ages. Starting from local scale dissemination through television and print, explicit images and videos currently have a worldwide reach due to the emergence of the World Wide Web and digital media. The consumption of explicit images and videos has significantly impacted various demographics, many of which include vulnerable groups such as adolescents and children. In consequence, a significant impact on brain chemistry and mental health has been observed across these age groups where research is only beginning to understand the long-term effects that explicit images and videos have on the brain and psychology. Essentially, from the emergence of explicit digital images and videos, any individual who has viewed it throughout their lives has become an indirect participant in what researcher Gary Wilson termed The Great Experiment (2012). Research has at its disposal a vast sample of unknowing participants available to analyze the effects that explicit images and videos have on the brain, and the effects are astounding. On the surface, explicit images and videos are significantly associated with addiction, isolation, aggression, and affective mood disorders such as depression (Maltz & Maltz, 2006; Lim, Carrotte & Hellard, 2016). On a deeper level, we find that these conditions arise from significant aberrations in neural circuits that have been rewired due to the consistent viewing of explicit images and videos and explicit images and videos-related content (Khun & Gallinat, 2014). In order to wholly understand the impact of pornography on human minds and relationships, it is crucial to analyze the various effects that it's viewing may have on our underlying brain structure and behavior.
Throughout this article, we will delve into the science behind explicit images and demonstrate the various vectors of damage that it has on us. To begin, we will discuss the most pertinent consequences that explicit images and videos has on humans, which are on our reward systems and dopamine levels. Following this, we will outline how the damage to our brain extends to social and psychological elements such as interpersonal relationship maintenance and overall wellbeing. Lastly, we will discuss how explicit images and videos affects the most vulnerable demographical group: children.
How Pornography “Hijacks” our Reward System
Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are hard drugs that directly act on our brain's reward system, potentially leading to aberrant neural dysregulation and potential addiction. Explicit images and videos are no different. Although it is not ingested to cross the blood-brain barrier to elicit a feeling of euphoria or intoxication, it produces a significant high which stems from a hyperactive state of dopamine stimulation (Dias & Beasley, 2018). Moreover, in contrast to hard drugs like cocaine, porn possesses an almost endless level of novelty, meaning that there will always be new and more “hard-hitting” stimuli available to the viewer once they have habituated previously viewed versions of it. As Gary Wilson puts it, the average man can view more women in ten minutes than his ancestors could view in an entire lifetime (Gary Wilson, 2012). As such, the human brain is simply unable to appropriately process the constant stream of novel stimuli, therefore, requiring increasing amounts of stimulation to satisfy dopamine levels in the brain (Fradd, 2017). In short, the brain derives less pleasure from stimuli while wanting more, leading to desensitization and the overstimulation of reward centers.
The impact of Explicit Images and Videos in our Lives and Functioning
As a neurotransmitter, dopamine is necessary for many key bodily functions, including memory, movement, motivation, attention, and mood (Iversen & Iversen, 2007). Essentially, it is a fundamental component of daily life and well-being as it regulates how we respond to signals and events. Explicit images and videos, on the other hand, consists of hyper-stimulating trigger factors that lead to aberrantly high dopamine secretion. Accordingly, damage to our dopamine system can render an individual unable to respond to natural sources of pleasure (e.g., laughing with friends or being with one’s spouse) (Alarcon et al., 2019). Dopamine overstimulation completely rewrites brain neurochemistry impacting how you perceive and behave in life. Common symptoms of this include anhedonia (i.e., inability to feel pleasure), loss of libido and virility, compulsivity and depression (Perry, 2018; Brand et al., 2011). Accordingly, the damage to brain neurochemistry inevitably extends to psychological and social domains of life where pornography poses extremely debilitating effects for the viewer (Grubbs et al., 2015). Research demonstrates that explicit images and videos are linked to deteriorating social and romantic relationships (Grubbs et al., 2015), self-isolative behavior (Perayra, 2016), and a propensity to engage in risky and dangerous behaviors (Horvath et al., 2013)). Moreover, pornography also impacts the individual’s psychological well-being by generating a negative perceptional bias towards events (Castro et al., 2021). Typically, the brain will interpret events based on past experiences and depleted dopamine reserves will induce a myriad of unpleasant feelings, giving rise to a sustained negative perception of life (Salgado et al., 2005).
Developmental Phase of Children: A Crucial Risk Factor
Taking into account the implication surrounding porn use for the average person, the impact it can have on the brain and psychology is significantly greater when usage begins in childhood, whilst the brain is still developing (Hilton, 2021). A recent review has shown that approximately 10 percent of explicit images and video are viewed by children under the age of 10 who often continue viewing the explicit content throughout their development (Canady, 2021). When a child is born, neuroplasticity is at its highest and it continues to thrive until the age of 25 when it begins to decelerate (Constandi, 2016). Essentially, the brain acts as a sponge during this period absorbing as much information as possible. It is in this interval of time that the brain learns how to respond and process new information to build the foundations of how to function later in life. Hence, if the plastic brain integrates hyper-stimulating pornographic content, its impact on the reward systems and perceptions of sexuality becomes extremely perverse (Horvath et al., 2013). The child will therefore be unable to generate natural rewards, leading to an increased risk of developing mental disorders such as depression and anxiety (Dines, 2017). Moreover, their perceptions of how individuals interact become highly distorted and trying to establish any long-lasting interpersonal relationships become difficult (Dines, 2017). In summary, when the development of a child has been partly influenced by the explicit content their neural foundations will demonstrate highly dysregulated processes that will remain throughout life.
The Bottom Line
Explicit content may not seem to be as dangerous as hard drugs or other addictive substances, but in reality, it poses a similar threat to them, if not a worse one. The almost infinite availability of diverse explicit content that can be accessed simply through Wi-Fi and an electric device is turning out to be one of the most dangerous risk factors for our minds and the minds of our children. Explicit content is a vector that can hijack one of our most important neural systems that are fundamental to our everyday lives: The reward system. Moreover, in today’s day and age, most children possess some form of smartphone device that can access any free explicit site in a matter of seconds and be exposed to thousands of videos that expose people in unrealistic, perverse ways. Accordingly, the accumulating body of evidence exposing the neurological and psychological damage posed by explicit content illustrates the need for society to mitigate its potential impact on the general population. In its absence, new heights of wellbeing and purpose can be achieved, and it is fundamental to address this issue for the sake of everyone.
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