How Watching Pornography Changes the Brain. Pornography from a neuroscience perspective.

How Watching Pornography Changes the Brain. Pornography from a neuroscience perspective.

by | Oct 7, 2020 | Articles, Current Affairs, Fatāwā, Fiqh | 0 comments

How Watching Pornography Changes the Brain. Pornography from a neuroscience perspective.

It is now recognised in neuroscience that the brain is malleable. It changes with our experience and forms pathways and connections that correlate with what we watch, listen to, and learn. From the active engagement in a philosophical discussion in class to the learning of directions in the new city you moved into, even the seemingly passive sitting down to listen to music or watch television results in a constant formation of new connections in the brain that eventually make us who we are as individuals. A huge problem, albeit a silent one, that has reached epidemic proportions is the viewing of pornography, which affects men more so than it does women.

The great majority of articles on the problematic nature of this subject typically speak about it from a psychological and/or social perspective. This article, however, will shed light on the effects of viewing pornography from a neuroscience perspective. The current model explaining how we learn and remember things at the brain level uses synaptic plasticity as the basis. Synaptic plasticity is the ability of the brain to change the strength in connections between the neurons (brain cells) in response to experience. This involves changing the amount and types of receptors expressed, as well as the amount of neurotransmitters (communication molecules) being released.

A vital neurotransmitter in the brain is dopamine. It has many important roles that it serves in functions such as voluntary movement, motivation, reward, punishment, and learning. Dopamine has been implicated in children with ADHD, cognitive decline due to ageing, and depression. Most of the public’s knowledge about dopamine is about famous individuals with Parkinson’s disease such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J Fox, who have dopamine dysfunction pathology.

A vital role of dopamine is in pleasure experience, reward, and learning. Drugs such as cocaine target the dopaminergic system to release great amounts of dopamine which results in experiencing a “high” and often leading to addiction. A number of studies have implicated dopamine in either the anticipation or the direct experience of pleasure. Depending on the brain area, dopamine can be released either prior to or during the moments of heightened pleasure.

When released, dopamine strengthens and reinforces the new connections that are being made in the brain while an activity is undertaken. This in turn acts to encourage the individual to repeat the activity again so they can feel that pleasure once more.

How is this relevant to pornography? As the images are displayed on the screen, an arousal takes place and the dopaminergic system is triggered just like it would be by drugs such as cocaine. The newly formed connections in the brain from watching pornographic images become greatly reinforced by the massive amounts of dopamine being released. Rather than going into short term memory, where these images can be forgotten after the screen is turned off, the dopamine reinforcement ensures they are moved into the long-term memory stores where they can be stuck in replay mode in the person’s mind. The troublesome fact about this is that the more something is recalled, the more it solidifies in the brain. Think back to your school days when you studied for an exam – you repeated the statements you needed to memorise over and over until they stuck.

Pornography is fantasy. Different scenes present with different women give the illusion of the watcher having a relationship with a new person every time. These “stars” subject themselves to different demeaning sexual practices by the men in the scenes. The acts in their totality are detestable to most mentally healthy people. However, the design of the act in a pornographic scene is to link one or two normally arousing and familiar elements with others that are not. This is how the viewer acquires new tastes in sexual practice. Electromagnetic waves are emitted from the screen with a fantasy that triggers a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing dopamine. The result is a feeling of a real, yet delusional, state of pleasure and satisfaction. The dopamine reinforces the new connections with newly acquired sexual tastes, and the next thing taking place is the man asking his wife to engage in a sexual fantasy that was downloaded into his subconscious.

The sequence of events in the brain is quite disturbingly simple. Synaptic plasticity works to form new connections as a result of watching pornography, and newly learned memories are stored. Since the experience is an arousing one, dopamine release results in very strong reinforcement of those new connections. Now that the scenes are in long-term memory, two consequences take place: 1) since the very same system stimulated by cocaine is being triggered by pornography, addiction is developed; and 2) the man will often attempt to create his own re-enactments with his wife, which leads to a great disappointment.

The re-enactments do not live up to expectations because instead of many different women, it’s now only one.

Worse still, this only one woman doesn’t sound, act, or look the same as the ones downloaded into his mind. Although the first couple of re-enactments might be exciting, soon reality will strike and dopamine will no longer be released because pleasure is no longer derived.

Sadly, that is not the end of it. After such a disappointment in the actual experience due to the unrealistic fantasy-based expectations, the brain not only refrains from releasing dopamine; it actually dips below baseline levels. It goes into a depression response that results in disappointment, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness in the marriage since the wife is “not up to what he expected.” Despite the efforts by many women to “spice things up” and even subject themselves to the demeaning acts that have been artificially downloaded into their husbands’ brains, the pornography-addicted husbands will only enjoy themselves for a very short while before losing interest. Meanwhile, the wife feels unattractive and emotionally abandoned despite her best efforts, not knowing that she cannot compete with the dopamine buzz offered by pornography.

What is alarming about this information is that the brain acts as a whole entity; its plasticity is global. Change in one area affects other regions. It is a literal rewiring of overall neural connections as a result of pornography viewing. The extent of influence on other parts of the brain and cognition is an area of research requiring attention.

While neuroscience paints a very disturbing picture for those affected by watching pornography, it is not all bad news. Although the same system for cocaine addiction is targeted by it, the substance is not the same. A cocaine addict must go through a regimented program to detoxify his system, otherwise he will be placing his life at risk. On the other hand, many men that have learned about the real stark effects of watching pornography are able to quit immediately without experiencing negative physiological consequences. It does take a lot of willpower and requires the person to busy themselves with other activities. Initially, tormenting replays of pornographic scenes watched over the past months or years will test the person’s drive and strength to give it up. Luckily, the same brain that went through a rewiring due to viewing pornography can also be rewired again. It is an extremely efficient organ that gets rid of unused connections. The longer a person can go without re-stimulating his pornographic connections, the more likely he makes it for his brain to discard them. Engaging in new experiences and occupying the brain with other ‘PG-rated’ matters will be bound to force it to prune others away. It just needs time to do its work and it needs to be given the choice; it will always choose what the person activates more often.




19 Tips to teach your young kids
How to handle Pornography

Some parents might think the only way to stop the infiltration of pornography into the minds of their children is by simply cutting off the source of the material. They would consider, for instance, not even installing or disconnecting the internet from the home.

But while this may solve the problem temporarily, it does not teach young Muslims how to deal with this material when they see it everywhere else: on television, billboards on the street or magazines, for instance.

Nor does it encourage them to avoid this material when they have the opportunity to look at it outside of parental control.

Below are some ways to help your child avoid pornography whenever and wherever he or she encounters it. Please note though, this is not a comprehensive list of possibilities, nor should all of the strategies presented be used on your child. Choose the right ones that can help him or her depending on age and previous exposure to pornography.

Tip #1: Establish your right and authority as a parent to know

Establish parental authority gently and wisely. Remind your children through words and actions that while you love them and want to be close to them, this does not mean just being ‘friends.’ As the parent, you have the final say when it comes to their well being. You have a right to know who their friends are, where they are and what they are doing for the sake of their own safety.

Tip #2: Know the Islamic perspective yourself

Do your research by reading up about this topic and talking to another trusted parent, as well as your local Imam or Muslim scholar to get a clearer understanding.

Additional research could also be done to find more reasons to not get involved with pornography. For example, find out about the danger it poses to one’s health, concentration and the way it portrays women.

Tip #3: Teach by example

A son who sees his father ogling pornographic magazines and staring at bikini-clad women at the beach in summer is unlikely to take advice against watching porn seriously. As God reminds us in the Quran, we’ve got to practice what we preach.

Tip #4: Instill accountability to God

Kids need to be gently reminded that Allah, who is very Merciful and Kind, is always watching them, even when mom and dad are not. That means a person needs to act and speak in the right manner at all times as much as possible because God is always aware of what we are doing, saying and thinking.

But this needs to be done in a way that does not scare the child or make him or her feel resentment towards Allah.

Tip #5: Warn them about God’s punishment and the Hellfire

While this should not be the sole focus of any Islamic upbringing, when it comes to the issue of pornography, reminding kids of God’s punishment could help them. But what should also be mentioned is that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful and if anyone asks His forgiveness and stops doing the wrong thing they were previously involved in, Allah will forgive them.

Tip #6: Watch TV with them

You can do this by simply taking the remote control, and every time a scene comes up which is inappropriate, quickly changing the channel and making a sound of disgust. This can be used as a form of conditioning, where your child will see pornographic and/or inappropriate material (i.e. nudity, sexual situations, etc.) and know that this is wrong by your reaction. He or she will associate the two and avoid looking at the material even if not under your supervision. Do the same for the Internet, magazines and anywhere else it is found. This does not mean seeking these sites or magazines. Rather, when they are encountered, use that moment to show your reaction.

Tip #7: Make family time

People turn to the media, whether it’s television or the Internet because apart from trying to learn or research something or communicating by e-mail, they’re bored.

This is why family time at least once a week is important. Whether it’s taking everyone out for ice cream on Friday night, going to the Masjid as a family on Sundays for classes or playing a board game together, keeping the kids entertained the right way, together as a family, will reduce boredom and the need to turn to TV and the Internet to have fun.

Tip #8: Get them involved in good activities

Is there a good young Muslim boys or girls group in your city? Get your son or daughter to join. If not, start one up with the cooperation of other parents. Also, get them involved in things like sports and volunteer work.

Tip #9: Check their friends

More often than not, kids get their information about sex from friends who often mislead them instead of guiding them. The same is true when it comes to pornographic material. If you find that some of your children’s friends are involved in porn, talk to the parents, and if that does not work, keep your child away from the child.

By the same token, help your kids befriend those who are practicing Muslims of the same age, who can provide them with fun and companionship, without sacrificing their Islamic principles.

Tip #10: Get involved with their school

If you want to really know what kind of material your kid is being taught and what kinds of ideas he or she is being exposed to, helping out in school is your ticket. Involvement brings access to teachers, the principal and discussion on what is being taught and what’s talked about in class discussions. It also means that when you have something to say about the kind of material being viewed or talked about in your child’s classroom, your opinion is more likely to be listened to.

Tip #11: When they’re old enough, talk about pornography

This should be done in the context of a discussion on modesty, and it should be done discreetly, in a gradual way, according to their age (see tips on how to talk to your kids about sex). Talk openly and clearly, asking their opinion about this issue (this is a great way to indirectly find out what friends and peers at school are saying or doing about it), and give them the Islamic perspective.

Tip #12: Install filters or get an Internet service which is porn-free

There are many safe surfing tools available for Internet and there are TV sets which come equipped for parental blocking of some channels. Invest in these technologies.

Tip #13: Establish the ground rules for the computer

Apart from setting hours for Internet use for every family member, you can also make it clear what kind of material is acceptable to view or not.

Some other helpful rules for safe computer use that all kids should know are courtesy Protect Your Kids

Never give out identifying information such as your address, phone number, school name, town, etc. in chat rooms, forums, forms or questionnaires.
Never agree to meet anyone in person that you have met online.
Never reply to any email, chat messages, or forum items that make you feel uncomfortable.
Never send information or pictures to anyone over the Internet that you do not know.
Never give your password to anyone except your parents, no matter who they say they are.
Be aware that people may not be who they say they are. Someone who says she is a 10-year old girl may really be an older man.
Never click on links in emails from people you don’t know.
Don’t order anything or give anyone credit card information without your parent’s permission.
Always tell your parents if someone upsets you or makes you uncomfortable.
Always follow your parents’ rules regarding computer use.
Tip #14: Control of the password

To surf the Internet, you usually need a password to access it from your computer. The only people in the house who should have this password when the kids are young are mom and dad. No one else. Parents should also keep changing it every couple of weeks or months so the kids don’t figure it out.

Tip #15: Keep the computer and TV of the house in a high traffic area

It’s harder to watch porn if the computer is in the living room or dining room where everyone else can see it.

Tip #16: If you catch them looking, get proof before you confront them

Don’t respond in this kind of situation by losing your cool. Instead, gather all of the proof you can that they have gone on pornographic site(s) or have been looking at these kinds of magazines, for instance, first. This can be done by going to History on the menu bar of your browser to see which sites he or she viewed or has been viewing. You need gives your kids the message that you do not trust them.

Tip #17: Assume the best and confront them

Don’t attack Amina or Junaid if you’ve caught him/her. Talk openly without accusation. Confront them with the information you’ve found and ask why they were looking at these sites. If they say it was out of their control, it just came up while they were surfing, take their word for it. But mention again accountability to Allah and His punishment, and talk about trust- how it is broken when these type of things happen intentionally (and assume they are innocent).

Tip #18: Chaperone Internet time, sometimes

This can be done occasionally, or it can be done regularly. But it’s a good idea to have a “pop inspection”, so the kids know mom or dad are watching while they surf or watch television. You could use the opportunity to show them some cool Islamic sites or the Discovery Channel, so they don’t feel they are being pronounced guilty until proven innocent.

Tip #19: Have them build their own fabulous Islamic website

Help them build a great webpage or website, full of bright color, games, quizzes, and generally cool stuff so they can help other kids surf right too.

Tip #20: Consider removing the Internet, cable, or TV, in the case of repeat offenses

If pornographic sites continue to show up when you check on your kid(s), warn them that if it happens again, the Internet will be removed from the home permanently.

by Sound Vision Staff Writer


It is not permissible to watch pornography at all, not even with one’s wife -pornography is prohibited in islam. How big a sin is “watching” pornographic material with your wife once in a while?

Praise be to Allaah.

Watching pornography is forbidden, whether a person is married or not. The one who does that has to repent to Allaah. How can a person watch such things with his wife and he can he permit her to watch it too? Women are weak and are easily influenced; indeed watching such things may lead to problems between the spouses which may end up in divorce – Allaah forbid. Undoubtedly if a man approves of such a thing he is lacking in gheerah (protective jealousy), which is what distinguishes a Muslim from others, from kaafirs and duyooths (cuckolds) who approve of obscenity and immorality in their families. Moreover, watching such material makes one take the matter of immorality lightly and encourages promiscuity. We ask Allaah to keep us safe and sound. Let the one who has committed such a sin beware of the punishment of Allaah; let him hasten to repent. He should be keen to look for anything that may help his wife to remain chaste, not for things that will encourage immoral actions. And Allaah knows best.


Seeing obscene pictures is prohibited regardless of whether it is real, in magazines or via the Internet. Allaah Says (what means): {Tell the believing men to lower their gaze, Allaah is Acquainted with what they do.}[Quran 24:30]

The Prophet , was asked about the ‘surprise look’ and he said, “Avert your gaze.” Also, he , informed us that such (unrestricted) gazing is the Zina (adultery and fornication) of the eyes.

May Allaah protect us all from the evil of such trials.




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