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Is porn bad for your children?

Understanding how pornography rewires an adolescent brain and impacts development.



Features

Given the anonymity and accessibility of the internet, an adolescent is bound to encounter pornography. Photo credit: KristopherK/pixabay.com

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Preetika Parashuraman


Today, almost every adolescent owns a mobile phone. As the internet swells up, anything we want is not only readily available but easily accessible, even pornography.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), nearly half of the children between the ages of 9-16 experience regular exposure to sexual images.

When children enter their adolescent phase, they are curious and want to build views based on what they are consuming. They may accidentally or purposely bump into sexual, uncensored content on the internet, be it peer pressure or not. Although they may not understand what they just saw at first glance, it leaves a mark on their development.

During the adolescent phase, one recognizes hormonal and neurodevelopmental changes. The limbic system that is responsible for pleasure-seeking and reward processing, emotional responses and sleep regulation is developing. At the same time, there are changes taking place in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for decision-making.

The implications of continuous consumption of pornography are grave because adolescents are susceptible to releasing more chemicals in the brain that may lead to continued viewing of pornography.

“Not every child who is exposed to sexual content will struggle with a mental health disorder, but research shows that early exposure to pornography is a risk factor for sex addictions and other intimacy disorders,” says Carolyn Ross, an expert in the use of Integrative Medicine for the treatment of eating disorders, addictions, and obesity.

While viewing pornographic material, the reward centre of the brain is activated causing it to release the hormones and neurotransmitters that are triggered during sexual intercourse. The dopamine rush gives the adolescent a feel-good moment, opiates create a sense of euphoria, and the individual is satisfied and calm because of the release of serotonin. The more one consumes pornography, the brain releases a protein called DeltaFosB.

When DeltaFosB is released, new neural pathways are created to train the brain to feel excitement towards pornographic experiences.

“At first porn may be disturbing but you go back for pleasure if you are having a bad day and are looking for instant gratification,” says Parthiv Kumar (name changed) pursuing Engineering.

If the chemical’s release increases, it can create the desire to keep viewing pornography which can disrupt adolescent development.

Over time, the adolescent’s brain becomes sensitive to pornography. Any kind of sexual material excites them, increasing their threshold for pleasure. This is why they search for different kinds of pornographic material.

“This may also develop the mentality of physical appearance because of the way sex is depicted in the porn industry. It also reduces self-confidence,” he says.

It is during the adolescent phase that the prefrontal cortex begins maturing. This is important because it regulates complex behaviour and helps to accomplish crucial brain functions.

A study by JAMA Psychiatry stated that the more porn men consumed, the lesser was activity in regions of the brain, such as the striatum - an area associated with motivation and reward processing.

"Watching porn reduces my energy levels throughout the day," he adds.

It was also found that the link between the striatum and prefrontal cortex weakened with increased consumption of porn.

According to a research conducted by the University of Oxford, as teenagers spend more time online, parents have resorted to using Internet filtering tools such as parental controls to protect their children from accessing sexual material online. However, they found that it is ineffective in preventing young minds from viewing explicit sexual material.

If you find your adolescent daughter or son consuming pornography often, it may worry you. Given the anonymity and accessibility of the internet, an adolescent is bound to encounter pornographic material. Therefore, explaining the impact of continuous consumption of pornography may be more effective than simply asking them to avoid it.


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