This Is Your Brain On Porn

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This Is Your Brain On Porn

Author: Dr. John Gottman
Article via ThoughtCatalog.com

Pornography in relationships has been an issue for a long time.

Even today, professional recommendations on how to manage the use of pornography still vary widely. We attended one workshop in a couples therapy conference that recommended to merely accept porn use, especially by men, as natural and harmless. While this may be an extreme view, many clinicians have suggested that if a couple uses pornography as a stimulus for intimacy, or if they both agree to read or view pornographic materials together, then porn use is fine.

In fact, many professionals have thought it might increase relationship connection and intimacy. In the Bringing Baby Home new parents workshop, we initially took this view since our research had demonstrated that, after a baby arrives, relationship intimacy decreases and measures were needed to strengthen intimate sexual connection.

Recently, however, research on the effects of pornography use, especially one person frequently viewing pornographic images online, shows that pornography can hurt a couple’s relationship. The effect may be true, in part, because pornography can be a “supernormal stimulus” (see Supernormal Stimuli by Deirdre Barrett). Nikko Tinbergen, a Nobel Prize winning ethologist, described a supernormal stimulus as a stimulus that evokes a much larger response than one that has evolutionary significance.

One effect of a supernormal stimulus is that interest wanes in normal stimuli. Tinbergen studied male stickleback fish who would naturally attack a rival male that entered their territory during mating season. He created an oval object with a very red belly, more intensely red than the natural fish. The fish fiercely attacked the mock up and subsequently lost interest in attacking its real male rival. Now the supernormal stimulus evoked a reaction, but not the normal stimulus.

Pornography may be just such a supernormal stimulus. With pornography use, much more of a normal stimulus may eventually be needed to achieve the response a supernormal stimulus evokes. In contrast, ordinary levels of the stimulus are no longer interesting. This may be how normal sex becomes much less interesting for porn users. The data supports this conclusion. In fact, use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.

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