The Neurology of Porn

You probably saw it on your newsfeeds a few months back: “porn shrinks the brain!” “PORN-BRAIN!!!!”  Pubescent boys the world over experienced a moment of panic before ctrl+alt-ing back to pornhub.com. But was the panic justified? The answer is probably not. The news broke when a May 2014 article in JAMA Psychiatry (a fairly sterling publication) hypothesized that porn consumption decreases gray matter and affects the neuroplasticity of the brain’s reward-processing center. The article was based on a study of 64 men who reported watching multiple hours of porn weekly and whose brains manifested these neurologic structures. And therein was the problem: perhaps it wasn’t that the excessive watching of porn caused the observed brain structures, but that the brain structures (such as they were when the study began) pre-disposed their holders to the excessive watching of porn. It’s the old “chicken before the egg dilemma,” and the jury’s out until more robust studies (with larger samples and a longitudinal component so that structural changes, if any, can be measured over time) are performed. If this is good news for you, you’re welcome; if this is irrelevant news for you, you’re enlightened. If you don’t know one way or the other, check out Scientific American’s discussion for a more lengthy analysis.

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