Porn and Perception: Is Your Limbic Brain Distorting Your Vision?

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Porn could be changing how you see your life

xray visionCan frequent porn use change users' perception in unexpected ways? Within a month or two of stopping porn, former users posting on the website's forum report greater clarity and optimism, and less dissatisfaction with their lives. They also see women and relationships differently. It may be that porn's effects are more invasive than generally acknowledged—even if devilishly difficult to measure. Said one guy:

Eight or nine years ago, I started to watch porn daily. Today I am 21. I masturbated at least once a day, but often up to 6 times. I truly thought it had no effect on my personality, but one day I realized that I had sort of a split personality. When horny I saw women as an objects for satisfaction, as vaginas with two legs. I know this sounds really degrading. On the other hand all my friends thought the same way, so I never got a reality check.

A perception shift is subtle. It's usually gradual and is seldom apparent to the person affected. Indeed, it may be evident only after clearer perception is restored. (Contrast such a shift with erectile dysfunction, a very tangible symptom that more and more heavy porn users report since free Internet videos became widely available some five years ago.)

It may be that comparing the outlooks of today's users during use with their outlooks a couple of months after porn use stops would reveal more than relying on snapshots in the form of self-reports, i.e., merely asking current users about porn's effects.

Here are recent excerpts from the posts of a long-time porn user. After a month without porn, he decided to stream some new porn videos without masturbating and record his impressions.

The third and fourth videos were much like the second: poorly shot and neither of the participants appeared to be engaged in what they were doing. The fourth was a close-up film that most definitely would have excited me in the past, but for some reason appeared today to be more like a cooking show in which the chef was preparing some kind of meat recipe.

The fifth video was the only one that I watched in its entirety—seven minutes. An amateur was filming his girlfriend (I sincerely hope not his wife) just prior to sex. She was protesting about the filming, asking him to turn off the camera, and to not zoom in on her genitalia, but he insisted on doing both. He then left the camera on a surface to film (against her instructions) while they fucked.

The non-consensual aspect of their interaction troubled me deeply, but I must admit that I have viewed this kind of material before and totally ignored that. Anyway, at first both appeared to be enjoying it. Then, the guy initiated anal sex, but it was essentially rape. The woman protested quite clearly. The guy did not listen to her pleading, and did not appear to change his pace/lubrication in response to her protests. Soon, the woman appeared to retreat inside herself, not saying anything but occasionally gasping (in pain, it was clear), apparently working very hard to endure. When the guy finally finished, the woman sighed with more relief than I thought possible, and began whimpering quietly. I am fully aware that there are anal-pain fetish videos, and have (regrettably) seen many, so I am confident that this was genuine pain. I know that I would have had an orgasm to this video if I had been masturbating, and I also know that I would have selectively ignored all of the disturbing consensual problems, perhaps even internalizing or normalizing them.

xray visionHe shut that browser and captured his thoughts:

I now realize that much of the pornography I've been watching is either not really exciting or basically exploitation. My attitude is changing. In the past, I have typically fast-forwarded past any vaginal sex or emotionally positive interactions to the anal bits. Also, in the past, I have often felt strong resentment toward my wife for her unwillingness to emulate porn, but today I feel remorse at how I have treated her, and gratitude that she still seems to unconditionally love me. Well, not unconditionally, but rather unselfishly.

A week later he reflected further on his experience:

Until recently, I believed that I could never get enough sex, and that I was unlucky because I married a woman who prefers sex not more than once every other day and does not accommodate indiscriminate penetration of every orifice. But then I successfully got through 31 days without watching pornography, masturbating only minimally, genuinely trying to appreciate my wife for her sexuality on its own terms, and actively suppressing the fantasy/obsessive urges that have progressively insinuated themselves on my personality over the last decade.

Following this experimental reduction of my 'sexual expression,' it has become evident that the emphasis our culture places on sexual activity, or more accurately, the emphasis on sexual activity that I was 'free' to develop as a member of our culture, has been detrimental to my emotional development, to my marriage, to my fundamental attitude toward women as a category, and has restricted my breadth of experience.

I have not yet calculated the amount of time I devoted to masturbating, pornography, fantasy, projecting sexual dissatisfaction as dissatisfaction with life, etc., but I have probably lost years. I'm not yet free from sexual compulsion, but I truly feel, for the first time in probably 16 years, that my life still has the potential to offer deep, meaningful experience without also including a hyperactive sexual component. This vision of freedom from compulsion is completely novel.

The fantasies and the basic dissatisfaction with my sex life have not returned with any of their usual force. My perception of my wife is changing, too. She looks increasingly attractive. That can only be a positive development!

Read more perception shifts recorded by past users. Also see Lance Tracy's Adult Entertainment: Disrobing an American Idol, a clever, humorous documentary about an experiment that revealed the same phenomenon.

How can viewing porn change perception? Probably by desensitizing the reward circuitry in the limbic brain. This primitive region of the brain colors how we see the world. When it's in balance we tend to see things with greater clarity and optimism. When it's out of balance our impressions are often distorted.

Pharmaceuticals, stress and over-stimulation can alter our perception. When this occurs, our focus, priorities and even our values can shift—all without our awareness. In the case of too much stimulation, the shift is in the direction of overvaluing superstimuli. As biologist Robert Sapolsky explained in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers:

Unnaturally strong explosions of synthetic experience and sensation and pleasure evoke unnaturally strong degrees of habituation. This has two consequences. As the first, soon we hardly notice anymore the fleeting whispers of pleasure caused by leaves in autumn, or by the lingering glance of the right person, or by the promise of reward that will come after a long, difficult, and worthy task. The other consequence is that, after awhile, we even habituate to those artificial deluges of intensity. ... Our tragedy is that we just become hungrier.

'Boredom' signThanks to the way our brains work, chronic over-stimulation fails to satisfy; it can leave a person nearly insatiable. Someone may find himself wondering automatically about every woman, "Would she engage in...?" Also, any resentment that arises from the mismatch between his virtual reality and his physical reality may raise doubts about his partner/union, making him uncharacteristically irritable and self-absorbed. He'll focus on what his relationship doesn't offer, not on what it does. Nor does dissatisfaction necessarily stop there. Humans tend to project such feelings automatically onto other aspects of life as well. Existential angst anyone?

Sadly, distorted perception born of neurochemical dysregulation can make a person extremely resistent to understanding what's really driving him or what would ease his misery. His limbic brain has him firmly convinced that only his drug of choice will restore his good feelings.

It can take an uncomfortable month or two to restore normal perception after habitual overstimulation. But as ravenous feelings ease, it's easier to find satisfaction in every aspect of life.


Said a member here:

I used to have a big thing for enlarged breasts and only yesterday there was a clip on the news about girls with silicon implants and the dangers of having them and they were showing a lot of these girls on the beach etc which usually would have set me off on a porn frenzy and got me drooling, but yesterday they actually looked weird.

It looked unnatural and the augmented breasts seemed to put me off, and I was thinking, "Why would they do this to themselves?" What's the big deal about big breasts? And this is from a guy that's spent a lot of his life worshiping them. This difference in perception for me came in only one month of avoiding porn.

I know it's fictional, but I

I know it's fictional, but I am nevertheless reminded of a F.R.I.E.N.D.S episode where Chandler and Joey get the porn channel on their TV and watch porn non-stop for a week, then can no longer socialize and don't understand why no one wants to sleep with them :)


Regarding the video, the part where he describes her protest about filming her genitals immediately got me aroused. Even moreso than actually seeing the genitals themselves :(. I haven't viewed porn in over 9 weeks. I've orgasmed maybe 6 times....twice with a partner, and then 4 times in a one week binge.

How long will it take to get to the point where I will get hard just seeing my naked girlfriend, or having her put her hand in my pants. Instead of the fantasy of adding her non-consent and humiliation?

PMO-free streak is 7 days and counting since the last binge, and I'm taking extra care to not even touch myself and to X out mental fantasy in that period.

Glad to see

you're still experimenting. There seems to be another turning point, where things noticeably stabilize further, at 6-8 weeks. Maybe that'll do the trick.

funny you mention 6-8 weeks

At the 8-week mark is where the binge occurred. The prior Saturday, a woman brought me to orgasm orally. The following week was hell. No porn use. But I masturbated every day to fantasy, and 3 times to orgasm. But by the time I got to that point my erections were just finally starting to strengthen...about 80% vertical with fantasy.

So I guess the libido does come back :) But after the 3 orgasms, I'm back to where I was almost 4 months ago, it seems.

I'm curious where I'll be in a week's then I'll have been 2 weeks PMO and Fantasy free. Killing the fantasy is actually the most challenging because it seems to keep coming up repeatedly!



casual sex is always gonna be an intense trigger. Maybe next time when you hit that landmark you can coast down the runway for a smoother take-off with someone. Wink

no casual sex?

You know, Marnia...I worked on personal growth for years to finally have the option to enjoy casual sex! But I guess if I have to, I'll go without it for now. Man, talk about karma... :)