Part 3: Pornography, Depression, and ADHD

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Now I will talk about pornography.

The consequences written about in the previous two posts pale in comparison to the mental health consequences of pornography.

Based on my research, I strongly believe that more so than any other digital interaction, use of porn is the most powerful cause of repeated, acute cognitive overstimulation and resulting desensitization to stimulation. This best explains the seemingly greater widespread apathy among young males and their comparatively higher rates of ADHD as opposed to girls — young males are using pornography more. And it is possible that the acute overstimulation and large resulting magnitude of desensitization to stimulation may explain the higher suicide rate for guys as opposed to girls. With the level of desensitization that the vast majority of guys are experiencing today from repeated, acute overstimulation from porn, many are simply unable to derive sufficient stimulation from life to maintain enthusiasm with existence.

While interaction with today’s TV shows, movies, and video games results in cognitive overstimulation, interaction with pornography results in cognitive superstimulation. The stimulation afforded from other forms of media mentioned pales in comparison to the degree of stimulation afforded by pornography. The degree of reduction in receptivity to stimulation, and the resulting mental health consequences from that desensitization, is far greater with porn. It is my belief that for most people, porn is THE greatest driver of desensitization and the resulting depression (not deriving sufficient stimulation from normal life) and ADHD (constantly seeking additional artificial stimulation to maintain engagement with life).

Having researched the topic of mental health issues with an insane intensity, it is really clear to me and undeniable that interaction with porn is the most powerful underlying cause of many mental health issues, particularly depression and ADHD. I dig into why it can be more stimulating than sex, and how porn can also contribute to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, in my longer form writing.

But quickly, I’ll explain how pornography results in overstimulation.

When people are watching porn, they are often guzzling novel sexual stimulation: consuming many videos in one sitting. This results in an incredible amount of stimulation, which enables an artificially heightened depletion of sexual energy for males, inflaming the reduction in sensitivity they experience from the supernormal stimulation. It’s difficult to measure, but around 80% of young adult men are consuming porn frequently and around 30% of young adult females are, and I believe those numbers are understated from response bias. And it is likely that many are watching multiple videos in singular sittings. Many of these people feel like they are addicted, unable to change their behavior despite recognizing negative consequences. This addictive tendency would be explained by the addictive loop from desensitization mentioned in the previous post.

I now want to talk about the study that motivated my entire exploration into this topic. The name of the paper is Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption.

In July 2014 this paper from the famous Max Planck Institute (and ran in the prestigious journal JAMA), saw that increased use of pornography was associated with reduced grey matter volumes in the mind. Grey matter volumes are responsible for sensitivity to stimulation. More volumes result in more sensitivity, less volumes result in less sensitivity and thus more symptoms of depression and ADHD. With porn, people are repeatedly exposing themselves to periods of very acute overstimulation, heavily reducing receptivity to stimulation.

The association found between more porn use and less grey matter may be explained by genetics: people with less grey matter may be less stimulated by normal existence and are more hungry for blasts of stimulation from porn. But I think there is something causal — in that more or less overstimulation can reduce or improve receptivity to stimulation.

Since this study found more pornography to be associated with less grey matter volumes, and since pornography is really just intense overstimulation and grey matter is receptivity to stimulation, this study found more overstimulation was associated with less receptivity to stimulation. The other way too: less overstimulation was associated with more receptivity. This can come from using porn less and engaging in low stimulation solitude. With more receptivity, we find greater stimulation in the real world (less depression), and less need for distractions to provide more stimulation (less ADHD). We shape our cognitive state.

The problem is that, with porn, TV shows, movies, video games, and constant EDM, young adults are repeatedly, acutely cognitively bombarding themselves with overstimulation, wearing down their receptivity to stimulation and reducing grey matter volumes. And they are unable to engage in the activities needed to restore sensitivity to stimulation — engaging in low stimulation existence through focused meditation or even just digitally-unaided solitude — because the reduction in sensitivity to stimulation from all the overstimulation makes those periods of low stimulation experience too painful to endure.

Instead of going to the bathroom and decompressing, people walk to the bathroom while unnecessarily texting or listening to music. Instead of eating lunch and taking a moment to just exist, we recoil, because to just exist without any additional artificial stimulation means that we are so far away from the baseline level of stimulation that we are used to and expect. Without desensitization to stimulation, we would be fine with that low level of stimulation. But we continually shoot past the pleasure ceiling, and as a result our sensitivity to stimulation is reduced, heightening the baseline level of stimulation that we must get from normal life to maintain engagement with it. We need more stimulation to receive the same amount of pleasure from life as before. So we turn to our devices for constant distraction and stimulation, preventing us from focusing.

There is a solution. In addition to withdrawing from pornography, increased meditation is associated with more grey matter volumes. In meditation, people are exposing themselves to periods of low levels of stimulation, which improve receptivity, and in turn combat symptoms of depression and ADHD. It is possible that naturally having more grey matter volumes enables people to meditate more easily: having more receptivity from the increased grey matter volumes, they can more easily sustain less stimulation. But it is also likely that cutting ourselves off from unnecessary stimulation can improve our receptivity.

In these three posts, I’ve sketched out the main concerns I have about our generation and our interaction with new forms of digital media, and how that interaction may be tied to the mental health consequences observed today.

I think the negative consequences of our relationships with digital media (particularly social media and especially pornography), and the importance of reshaping those relationships are terribly undervalued.

In trying to spread awareness about mental health issues, awareness should be spread about these underlying causes of mental health issues that I have mentioned. Addressing these underlying causes will help people better eliminate their mental health issues. Understanding interaction with social media, and understanding sensitivity to stimulation and how interaction with porn impacts sensitivity to stimulation, can lead to people first recognizing those underlying problems, and then taking more action addressing those underlying problems, beneath the symptoms.

In my research and writing, I pursued these topics in more depth and provide recommendations for changing one’s behavior to most effectively negate the negative consequences.

My book is being edited right now, and while there is a lot of demand for it, if you are interested in reading it after it is done I’de be happy to make sure you get a copy. Sign up to the email list here to be notified when it’s released, and follow me on Medium for more posts. Share these new thoughts with friends who will benefit from it.

If people can better understand and improve their interaction with new forms of digital media, particularly social media and pornography, and perhaps artificial stimulation across the board, their lives can be vastly improved.

They can become more.

Torches, burning with life.

Benton Turner