Sexually explicit material has a particularly detrimental effect on kids because their brains are different than adults.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for self-control and rational thought. It does not fully finish maturing until the early-to-mid-twenties.

The amygdala is the emotional hub of the brain and is activated in response to an emotionally significant stimulus like pornography. It is more easily activated in youth than in adults.

The basal ganglia is the part of the brain responsible for impulsivity and immediate gratification. There is an enhanced response in youth compared to adults.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain that produces pleasure all the way up to euphoria and has the unique ability to cause craving. Dopamine drives all addictions, from drugs to pornography. The dopamine system is more active during adolescence, which makes this age group particularly vulnerable to addictions. Pornography causes the release of dopamine.

The nucleus accumbens is the pleasure center of the brain. It has an exaggerated response in an adolescent compared to an adult with the same stimulant.

The HPA axis releases cortisol, which is considered the stress hormone. Cortisol is released when viewing pornography. Cortisol impairs functioning of the prefrontal cortex. The HPA axis has an enhanced response in an adolescent compared to an adult, resulting in greater inhibition of the prefrontal cortex, or thinking part of the brain.

Testosterone is linked to sexual anticipation and aggressiveness. Testosterone levels are highest in adolescents and young adults.

Scholastic Implications

Because pornography stimulates the emotional parts of the brain and causes the release of cortisol, resulting in the prefrontal cortex going “off line” so to speak, there are many implications for behavior. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for behaviors like concentration and studying, sitting quietly in a classroom setting, and the ability to understand new scholastic concepts like geometry or calculus. All of these behaviors would be weakened by exposure to sexually explicit material. Of course, different kids will be affected to different degrees due to genetic tendencies.

It is not known how long it takes the prefrontal cortex to reset itself after exposure to pornography, and certainly there will be genetic differences in regard to this. But, what is known is that kids are not as cognitively flexible as adults, and the prefrontal cortex does not recover as quickly from intense stimulation.

With the availability of electronic devices, there could easily be exposure to sexual material via sexting or by kids sending each other inappropriate pictures between classes or even during classes. This environment of chronic sexual inundation is detrimental to the functioning of the prefrontal cortex and has the ability to weaken scholastic achievement.



In addition to pornography inhibiting the prefrontal cortex, it also stimulates the basal ganglia. This translates into decreased stress coping behavior and emotional self-regulation and an increase in impulsivity. Because of the inherent brain imbalance in teenagers, they already have the reputation to do things without thinking and have the tendency to be irritable. A chronic exposure of sexually explicit material will only exaggerate these tendencies.

A stimulated basal ganglia leads to impulsive behavior. One applicable scenario is a teen behind the wheel with a basal ganglia in overdrive because of recent pornography exposure, who takes chances on the road or drives with an aggressiveness as a result of his altered brain dynamic.

The implications for behavior at schools makes the job of teachers that much more difficult. There aren’t any parents that want their kids to be more moody or have a decreased ability to handle stress.


It is important to understand that the basis of all addictions is dopamine. Individuals are not addicted to substances or sexual images, but the dopamine that is released in response to these stimulants. Because the dopamine system is in a state of overdrive during adolescence, an adolescent will feel more of a stimulation from a sexual stimulant than an adult would, as well as an increase in craving. Youth are very vulnerable to addictions. The feelings adolescents have from a pornographic image are different than adults.  This is in part due to the overactive dopamine system

Sexual promiscuity and aggression

The effects of testosterone are more applicable to boys because they have higher levels of testosterone than girls. Pornography results in a release of testosterone that particularly primes boys for sexual activity. Testosterone causes sexual anticipation. There are very real implications for society because of the increase in sexual promiscuity among youth as a result of pornography exposure. Increased sexual activity has many sobering consequences including pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and the tendency to disconnect responsibility and loyalty to sexual encounters.  This leads to a decreased ability to participate in a healthy marriage in the future.

Testosterone is also linked to aggression. Boys with a diet rich in sexually explicit material could be more aggressive to parents and teachers which could manifest itself as disrespect or talking back. Aggressive tendencies can also affect relationships with peers, such as fighting or bullying.


Long term brain implications

The term neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change in response to stimulation. Kids have a marked ability for their brains to undergo neuroplasticity because their brains are still developing. Because sexually explicit material impedes functioning of the prefrontal cortex, this area of the brain can be developmentally weakened over time. The opposite is true of the amygdala and the basal ganglia. These areas of the brain can be artificially bulked up. Think of the brain like a muscle. Areas that are exercised will become stronger over time and areas that are rested will become weaker.

A brain chronically stimulated by pornography during development can alter the sensitive balance between the prefrontal cortex and the emotional parts of the brain. The basis of nearly all emotional problems like depression, anxiety, and mood disorder are a result of an imbalance in these areas of the brain.

Cortisol and testosterone also have the ability to affect actual long term brain development during the adolescent window of organization brain development. This impact is unique to adolescents and is not found in children or adults. These hormones that are released from pornography have the potential to affect the ability to handle stress and emotional self-regulation in adulthood.


The adolescent brain is very different than an adult brain and has the ability to be manipulated and molded in response to outside stimulation. Pornography releases a flood of hormones and neurotransmitters that instruct the brain how to work both in the short term and in the long term. The brain has a delicate balance between the thinking areas and the emotional areas. Pornography has the potential to disrupt this balance, which can negatively affect emotional and behavioral control and can impede scholastic achievement.

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