Sex & Sensibility

pornography & the brain

This lecture is based on material I co-present during a one-week Cambridge course in modern history entitled Sex, Science & Insanity.

The online pornography sector is worth about $15 billion a year and online use increases annually across the globe. In this talk we will consider the history, types and language of pornography, focusing on the growing body of research investigating its excessive use and the evidence that it may be associated with changes in the brain consistent with other forms of addiction. Of great concern is the acknowledgement that younger children are now exposed to pornography with some 53% of 11-16 year-olds having seen explicit material online. The younger the individual, the more significant the brain's response seems to be. We will address the effects of pornography on neural function in different age groups, whether use of pornography increases or decreases libido, and the extent to which watching pornography influences real-life sexual practices from unprotected sex to labiaplasty. We will also explore how movements such as Make Love Not Porn and 'feminist porn' are challenging conventional male-focused pornography and attitudes to how women are represented and portrayed in pornography. Finally, we consider how to tackle the problem that a new generation appears to be growing up with the belief that the sexual activity featured in hardcore pornography is representative of how sex 'is done'.

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Warning: This lecture deals with adult material from an academic perspective.   It is not salacious, however the language and themes of pornography will be referred to.

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