The hypothesis among the experts was that pornography was progressively desensitizing these men sexually…
Given the desensitization effect on most male subjects, researchers found that they quickly required higher levels of stimulation to achieve the same level of arousal. The experts I interviewed at the time were speculating that porn use was desensitizing healthy young men to the erotic appeal of their own partners.
We now know that porn delivers rewards to the male brain in the form of a short-term dopamine boost, which, for an hour or two afterwards, lifts men’s mood and makes them feel good in general. The neural circuitry is identical to that for other addictive triggers, such as gambling or cocaine.
The addictive potential is also identical: just as gamblers and cocaine users can become compulsive, needing to gamble or snort more and more to get the same dopamine boost, so can men consuming pornography become hooked.
research suggests both males and females find porn generally enhances their sex lives, it does not effect emotional closeness and it is not linked to risky sexual behaviours
One of its most important functions is reward prediction where midbrain dopamine neurons fire when a big reward is expected even when it doesn’t occur – such as in a near-miss money-loss when gambling – a very unpleasant experience. But what counts as a reward in Wolf’s dopamine system stereotype? Whatever makes the dopamine system fire. This is a hugely circular explanation and it doesn’t account for the huge variation in what we find rewarding and what turns us on.
How to make sense of this? Clearly porn can desensitize, just as over-exposure to any stimulus can desensitize. Both articles actually agree on that, so that’s a relevant point to keep in mind when it comes to porn. Don’t take in too much.
As for the addiction hypothesis, porn is not classically addictive in the sense that it brings a huge expected payoff that the brain desperately strives for. It is simply something that feels good that when consumed to excess can desensitize.