First things first: “There is no ‘porn’ area of the brain,” says sex researcher Dr Nicole Prause. The brains of those watching sex look like the brains of those having it. Porn floods your body with bonding hormone oxytocin, which is the chemical that turns you into a repeat customer. The average man is said to rack up 40 minutes a week. Far be it for us to say whether this is a realistic estimate.
On the up
Hitting play raises your respiration rate and blood pressure – among other things, of course. As your muscles relax, blood is redirected below the belt, but your penis isn’t the only organ in play. Brain areas associated with motive and reward light up. These are the areas that are stimulated when presented with anything you get an illicit high from, be it drugs or dessert.
When your session wraps, the brain releases a heady mix of the chemicals prolactin and vasopressin. This is the reason you hit your pillow hard after orgasm. But it could also be the ideal time for a different kind of session: erotic films cause surges in testosterone that can improve your squat strength at the gym, says the UK Sport Council. Consider it a pre-workout with less concerning tingles.
Porn also pumps out the pleasure chemical dopamine. (Shocker!) Its purpose, explains Prause, is to form positive associations, telling the brain: “We should do that again.” But this can, in turn, provoke a mixed emotional state. If you feel guilt, chalk it up to societal stigmas – it’s not necessarily a reflection on your partner. In fact, research has shown that married users are less likely to cheat.
While watching porn has the potential to lift your mood, XXX doesn’t always mark the spot – particularly if your solo work displaces relationships IRL. A Brigham Young Uni study linked excessive viewing to anxiety and compulsive behaviour. There’s no ‘safe’ upper limit, says Prause, though she advises capping your habit at two hours a week. Stay below that to beat off the blues.