Superstimulation from the never-ending stream of porn available on the Internet leads to a sustained high level of dopamine in the brain. The inordinate amounts of dopamine trick its primitive parts into believing the activity is good for us, even if it is not. Thus we crave more porn or masturbation. Ultimately, though, the body cannot handle the constant dopamine flood, and compensates by reducing its physical response to the chemical. The brain desensitizes to dopamine, thus also reducing the pleasure that comes from watching porn, like a message that it had enough stimuli from overuse. Receptors disappear and production of the chemical may decrease, too. When dopamine drops, so does motivation. Since dopamine also helps a man get an erection, the numbed pleasure response to it can cause erectile dysfunction. Watching more porn or employing extreme masturbation techniques to force an erection makes the problem worse. Escalation leads to more desensitization. The addict cannot get it up and has lost potency. Gary Wilson shows the process in great detail at the Web site.
Our hunter-gatherer brains simply did not evolve to handle porn. Dopamine surges on novelty, so we are curious, explore new territories, or search for new mates. The dopamine producing machines Internet porn or extreme masturbation overburden our pleasure system to the point that it physically changes to protect itself. The number of dopamine receptors in the brain declines, so fewer neurons can fire on dopamine release. Nerve cells that fire together wire together to form memories, however. The more we use them the stronger they get. Our reward circuitry thus rewires to a strong porn pathway, so the traditional pathways get ignored more and more. Not only does the pleasure we experience overall decrease, but what little we feel gets channeled along the strongest circuits that are now wired to porn and masturbation. It becomes difficult to get an erection without very strong stimuli.
Of course, responses vary from person to person. Researches distinguish among different forms of this dysfunction, such as it only happening with a partner, or complete impotence even when watching porn. There are other causes, too, such as performance anxiety, or medical conditions like diabetes. To understand the differences read “Is my erectile dysfunction (ED) related to my porn use?“
The research does not condemn porn or masturbation per se, or even occasional superstimulation, but excesses. Basically it is about addictive use of porn or particular sexual practices. Women, too, can become desensitized from overuse of masturbation. Overeating triggers a body response just the same. Like sex, food is not bad, but if you overdo it, your body will react. Substitute the word “junk food” for “porn” and everything said here would apply. Any superstimulation has the potential to become addictive. As my current book project deals with addiction to alcohol and drug, the similarities with porn were particularly interesting for me.