Porn rewires your brain

Everything we do “rewires” our brain. Brain “rewiring” is portrayed in the media as a negative thing rather than the completely neutral and natural way our brain incorporates experience. Learning “rewires” the brain too, but we don’t go around trying to get schools banned. The fact that porn is shown to “rewire” your brain (by people in white coats with big shiny machines, no less), is used to illustrate that all porn is very harmful and causes irreversible damage, and once you’ve been exposed to it, you’re scarred for life.

Creating a panic about porn “rewiring” the brain silences any nuanced, level-headed debate about porn. It automatically labels all porn as extremely dangerous and presents us with only one “logical” option, which is to ban all of it outright. Any dissenting voices can be portrayed as uncaring (because they’re willing to expose porn users to brain damage). It actually discourages serious research that could contribute to better knowledge about porn and its users. It also encourages porn users (and their partners or parents) to feel they have done irrevocable damage to themselves, which fills them with guilt, shame and despair. This, in combination with the non-existent sex/porn addiction, leads to many very distressed people seeking quite drastic solutions to either reverse the situation or put a stop to it. It stops porn users from being able to reassure others (and themselves) that their situation isn’t catastrophic.

A better approach would be to challenge the concept of “rewiring the brain” and ask what that actually means for the porn user in real life, how that translates into behaviour and where and how this has been proven. Since this is presented as the undisputed outcome of valid scientific research, other scientists or academics should be asked to comment and critique, and other research outcomes about porn should be included in the debate. It would be better not to keep quoting celebrity “experts” who don’t have the necessary expertise and who simply quote each other or the current pet theory. It would be better not to give too much prominence to anything that just highlights one piece of research and presents its findings as the absolute truth, without critiquing it and without discussing other (often contradictory) findings. It would be better to consult the experts who are deeply familiar with the reality of porn, but who are rarely quoted in the media because they don’t toe the party line. For the sake of knowledge, it would be better not to allow the silencing of debate about porn and to continue asking questions and challenging the answers you get.

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