May 24, 2012

What watching porn does to a woman's brain.

A study "showed that far less blood was sent to the primary visual cortex, while the women were watching the most explicit porn."
The same thing happens in the brain when a human conducts a non-visual task—like memorizing a list of words—while being shown some sort of visual "distractor" stimuli. Interestingly, when watching normal, non-smut films, extra blood is sent to the visual cortex.
Now, why would this be? Sex is nonvisual for women — that seems like the working theory. If so, porn movies don't make sense: watching causes not watching.

70 comments:

Scott M said...

How many more times and how much more money needs to be poured into "duh" studies like this just to prop up some high-forehead's career?

Dan in Philly said...

These studies are getting weird.

rehajm said...

Now, why would this be?

Because the blood flows somewhere else.

Ann Althouse said...

"Because the blood flows somewhere else."

But explain the sex difference.

Scott M said...

But explain the sex difference.

Hunting and killing things with pointed sticks requires visual acuity while maintaining non-catty, harmonious relationships between berry-pickers taps into other, less visual-centric parts of the brain. I'm sure it's somewhere in the medulla naglongata.

EMD said...

I think most of the blood flows to the indignant portion of the brain, whatever cortex that happens to be.

EDH said...

Their results showed that far less blood was sent to the primary visual cortex, while the women were watching the most explicit porn.

Old school feminists who equate porn with rape are likely to argue a that, after eons of patriarchy, women carry in them a latent "dissociative" trigger that fires when women are subjected to sex that they believe is degrading.

Dissociation

Trauma survivors and abuse survivors often rely too heavily on dissociation as a defense mechanism. Dissociation is a crucial survival mechanism that protects you during a crisis and afterwards. It helps you stay on task so you can protect yourself. If you are able to function without fully experiencing the emotional impact of an event, you can accomplish tasks until it is safer to deal with your emotions. For example, lets say a man comes up to you, points a gun at you and demands your money and jewelry. If you were to feel the terror of having your life threatened, you may not be able to fight him off, run away from him or comply with his demands. In another example, if you were a child who was physically abused, dissociation may have allowed you to endure a highly traumatic experience without having to fully experience it. Abuse survivors often report that they "go away in my mind" or "stop feeling the pain." Without the ability to dissociate, you would feel the full extent of trauma as it happens and afterwards, which could be completely devastating for you. The ability to dissociate is a critical part of people's survival responses.

chickelit said...

"Thinking of England" is an anemic affair after all.

Mitchell said...

If you click through at so-called "female friendly" porn you'll find this gem:

"Studies by Meredith Chivers (PDF), a university professor of psychology and a highly regarded researcher of sexual behavior, have determined that women and men respond to pornography with equal arousal."

I hear that coffee's back to being good for you, again.

Joe said...

It doesn't mean the brain is shut off, it means energy is redirected. My guess is that the porn triggers the non-visual erotic parts of their brain.

Plus they need to control for any type of sexual stimulation. Perhaps in women, or even all humans, no matter the stimulation blood flows away from the visual cortex. Which might explain why people's discernment of beauty drops when they are really horny.

I saw an interview with a scientist who had had been researching the effects of Viagra, or a similar drug, on women and her conclusion was that porn did a better job than the drugs.

EMD said...

I believe it was Andy Warhol who said "I watched pornography for fifteen minutes and wanted to have sex with everyone. After an hour, I never wanted to have sex again."

Awesome said...

Honestly, in most cases what woman wants to be looking at the big galloot who is servicing her? Sounds like evolution has done her a favor!

bagoh20 said...

I think it's her brain refocusing on the idea that she will need to make a sandwich pretty soon.

Scott M said...

I think it's her brain refocusing on the idea that she will need to make a sandwich pretty soon.

...while hunting for cab fare.

lol

AllieOop said...

It happens because of the sex hormone levels in the brain? Men, testosterone, women estrogen and progesterone. Or perhaps because of physical landmarks that occured during gestation because of sex hormones of the mother?

Just guessing.

george said...

So mother was right about the things that will make you go blind after all!

The palms... they must check the palms next!

rehajm said...

But explain the sex difference.

It has less to do with what's being watched and more to do with what happens in the body during arousal. The body prioritizes blood flow to the loins, away from the brain- the entire brain. An observer of the visual cortex sees reduced blood flow. The same thing would happen if we observed blood flow of woman watching the same movie at rest vs. running on a treadmill- less blood to the brain, more to the legs.

Bruce Hayden said...

"Studies by Meredith Chivers (PDF), a university professor of psychology and a highly regarded researcher of sexual behavior, have determined that women and men respond to pornography with equal arousal."

I don't know if the arousal is equal, but do know that a lot of women do get sexually aroused by porn.

xnar said...

What about when women watch the "Shocking meat video"?

Mitchell said...

Not exactly science, in "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #6," David Foster Wallace reports his feelings upon observing what an orgasm does to a woman's brain, as expressed by her eyes, as follows:

"[E]ven this moment of maximum connection and joint triumph and joy at making them start to come has this void of piercing sadness to it of their eyes as they widen to their very widest point and then as they come begin to close, the eyes do, and you feel that familiar blade of sadness inside your exultation as they arch and pulse and their eyes close and you can feel that they’ve closed their eyes to shut you out, you’ve become an intruder, their union is now with the feeling itself, that behind those lids the eyes are rolled around and staring inward, into some void where you who brought them there can’t follow."

Joe said...

...have determined that women and men respond to pornography with equal arousal.

Decades ago while writing a paper for psychology on whether porn was a causative factor in rape, I read several studies about porn in general and the all found the same results. Women were even equally turned on by pretty raunchy porn. However, most women denied they were turned on at all despite the physical evidence.

This has caused many (most?) psychologist to believe that the notion that women are less visual stimulated than men is mostly nonsense repeated out of social convention. It is a continued manifestation of the "good girls don't..." social construct.

AllieOop said...

I just read another article regarding this study, I won't give it away, but it appears that the brain is far less the sexual organ than originally thought.

Michael said...

"But explain the sex difference."

Men are more attracted to visual stimulation because they are hunters and hunters look first.

Women are more attracted to non-visual stimulations which require proximity (touch, smell) because they are cave-dwelling young-raisers who want the male presence nearby.

I'll post the address to send my grant to shortly.

TWM said...

Men are more visual than women when it comes to sex. It's a fact. Why we need to explain it baffles me.

Nathan Alexander said...

This will end up with a heading of "The Lonely Lives of Scientists" in Best of the Web.

That's a hella tight pick-up line, tho, no?

"Hey baby, want to watch some explicit porn for my scientific study?"

dreams said...

"Now, why would this be? Sex is nonvisual for women — that seems like the working theory. If so, porn movies don't make sense: watching causes not watching."

Its men who like porn because they are visual.

edutcher said...

Maybe it just shows women really are smarter.

Most porn is brain-dead, after all.

traditionalguy said...

Does this explain why women love women's bodies as much as men do. The curves and the proportions of women's bodies are fine art.

Men's bodies are not created to be art. We are just tools.

Scott M said...

The curves and the proportions of women's bodies are fine art. Men's bodies are not created to be art. We are just tools.

Hopefully you're not raising sons.

bagoh20 said...

"What watching porn does to a woman's brain"

What is...makes it invisible?

That's got to be right.

What do I win?

george said...

I would post more but Scott M's bear avatar has cut off the flow of blood to my eyes.

I'm an open minded sort but I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with the implications.

deborah said...

Some women are visual during, sex, but the attraction is the man's face, touching whiskers, etc.

I agree with Joe, just because the visual network isn't firing doesn't mean other sections aren't...toward imagination, probably.

BarrySanders20 said...

This: "The curves and the proportions of women's bodies are fine art."

I defend/justify my observation of attractive women using this very analogy, especially when my wife (who still makes me turn my head when she walks by) notices. I like looking at beautiful things and people. Just like at the art museum, as long as just look and don't touch, I feel I am within my boundaries in acknowleding visual beauty.

Male bodies are somewhat repulsive to me. Utilitarian, not artistic.

elkh1 said...

Does it mean watching porn is a distraction for women, they would rather do it?

AllieOop said...

Barry and Tradguy, I don't know, Michelangelo's David is quite beautiful to me.

Palladian said...

Men's bodies are not created to be art. We are just tools.

Wow, you're just as dumb about art and beauty as you are about almost everything else.

"I don't like looking at naked men so they're not beautiful!"

Scott M said...

"I don't like looking at naked men so they're not beautiful!"

While I disagree with the stand-up comedy level thinking behind women=art, men=tools, that's not what either of them said, is it?

Methadras said...

Yeah, that blood was being sent to the lower abdominal area. DUH!!!

BarrySanders20 said...

Allie,

David is the most spectacular sculpture ever created. It is art and beauty on an amazing scale. It's what he did with the marble that is amazing.

To me, real people are different. I wouldn't give the real model David a second look, because his flesh body would not register as beautiful to me. Others see the beauty in the male physique, and that's great.

I never implied that my belief that an attractive woman's body is like fine art -- and that a man's body is not -- was the only legitimate one.

Dante said...

Of the women I'm familiar with in this state, I know of none who keep their eyes open when deeply aroused.

Let's face it, dudes are disgusting and ugly. That's why for hetero porn they don't show two guys doing it, but often show two women doing it. Now that's arousing. I wonder if the visual centers of women are more aroused when they are looking at two beautiful women doing it.

Steven said...

This has caused many (most?) psychologist to believe that the notion that women are less visual stimulated than men is mostly nonsense repeated out of social convention. It is a continued manifestation of the "good girls don't..." social construct.

Which says more about the predispositions of psychologists than anything about the reality of arousal.

An unlubricated vagina is more prone to tearing and thus infection during intercourse than a lubricated one. It thus is perfectly reasonable for women to have evolved such that they lubricate if there is a reasonable chance sex will happen, whether or not the woman is turned on. After all, a lack of desire is hardly a guarantee that a woman will not be penetrated.

It is thus an entirely unwarranted assumption that non-conscious physiological preparations for intercourse reliably indicate psychological desire in a woman; it is to be expected that women would be evolved to lubricate whenever sexual activity happens around them, for protection of their own health.

Q said...

Does this explain why women love women's bodies as much as men do. The curves and the proportions of women's bodies are fine art.


What's the male equivalent of a "beard"? If your wife really loves women's bodies as much as you do, it's time the two of you had a serious heart-to-heart discussion of why you are together.


"Fine art" does not in fact mean "Things I really like looking at". A waterfall, a rainbow, a flower, a sunset can all be pleasant to look at, but none of these things are "art".

The great majority of women, like the great majority of men, are rather unattractive when naked. If you like looking at attractive naked women, go for it. But don't tell yourself lies about your love of "fine art".

Scott M said...

A waterfall, a rainbow, a flower, a sunset can all be pleasant to look at, but none of these things are "art".

That depends entirely on your faith or lack thereof.

Q said...

Which says more about the predispositions of psychologists than anything about the reality of arousal.


If they are going to define male sexual arousal as getting an erection (which they do) then they logically must define female sexual arousal as a lubricated vagina.

If you have better definitions of sexual arousal in men and women, feel free to share them.

Scott M said...

If you have better definitions of sexual arousal in men and women, feel free to share them.

"Beginning the launch sequence," as it's known in my casa, does not necessarily have anything to do with blood vessels filling up, although it often leads to that. An outfit, a way my wife moves, something I notice, or an especially nice, completely unexpected kiss can all get mission control to their consoles long before they start fueling up the rocket.

Q said...

That depends entirely on your faith or lack thereof.


No, it doesn't. Art is a deliberate human creation. A spiders web can be quite beautiful but regardless of whether you ascribe its creation to God or the spider, it is not "art".

Art does not mean "Everything in existence which I find to be aesthetically pleasing".

Q said...

"Beginning the launch sequence," as it's known in my casa, does not necessarily have anything to do with blood vessels filling up, although it often leads to that. An outfit, a way my wife moves, something I notice, or an especially nice, completely unexpected kiss can all get mission control to their consoles long before they start fueling up the rocket.




That's all very poetic, but when I asked for "better definitions" i meant better scientific definitions. There is nothing in your words which those psychologists you were complaining about can be expected to measure.

Scott M said...

That's all very poetic, but when I asked for "better definitions" i meant better scientific definitions.

Whatever the processes that are involved with my conscious and subconscious becoming sexually interested in the moment, prior to actually getting an erection, are undoubtedly scientifically quantifiable even if we lack the technology to do so currently. My whole point is that you can be aroused prior to an erection.

Q said...

Male bodies are somewhat repulsive to me. Utilitarian, not artistic.



I think this goes to the well-known problem of American men and homosexuality. What do you do when you encounter a male body which is undeniably attractive? (And some such certainly exist) You're forced into thinking either "He must be gay!" or even worse "I must be gay!"

Q said...

Male bodies are somewhat repulsive to me. Utilitarian, not artistic.


My computer is utilitarian. So is my refrigerator. I don't think of either of these things as "repulsive" though, and I'm pretty sure that you don't think that way either.

Scott M said...

No, it doesn't.

Yes, it does.

Art is a deliberate human creation.

That's a very limited, spiciest point of view, isn't it? Why not simply say it's deliberate intelligent creation?

A spiders web can be quite beautiful but regardless of whether you ascribe its creation to God or the spider, it is not "art".

One's lack of faith would allow one to draw an equivalence between God and a spider. If one's faith is in God, or a creator of any kind, the assumption is that the creator is the master artist. The spider's web is directly a result of the master's initial creation.

In the Netherlands a few weeks back they had four little aerobots that created a twisting columns of small bricks. It was called kinetic art at the time. If God is an artist, how is a spider, one of his creations, making it's web not kinetic art?

Scott M said...

I think this goes to the well-known problem of American men and homosexuality. What do you do when you encounter a male body which is undeniably attractive? (And some such certainly exist) You're forced into thinking either "He must be gay!" or even worse "I must be gay!"

You're really limiting yourself today, Q. I have the benefit of having this discussion, many times over the years, with friends, usually in contrasting how women respond to a beautiful, undeniably attractive woman walking into a room. With men, the overwhelming response I've always got from other men seeing an obviously and undeniably attractive man is, "hell, I bet he gets laid alot."

Q said...

That's a very limited, spiciest point of view, isn't it?


I assume you were going for "species" there and not "spice".

We are what we are and we look at the world in the fashion we look at it. A nice sunset is "nice" because we feel that way - your dog will never think that way.

Whether or not God (assuming He exists) feels that sunsets are pleasant to observe is unknown and unknowable, so I don't see the point in speculating on it.

Scott M said...

Spice has nothing to do with it, you're correct.

My original point was that it depends wholly on one's faith. If one's faith is that God is real, omnipotent, omniscient, and the creator of the universe, every little thing in that creation is do to deliberate action on His part.

If you do not believe there is a God, everything that happens in nature is purely, mathematically accidental and only a matter of probabilities. I would submit that mere presence of mathematics underlying the universe and it's various schtuff is proof of intelligent design, but that's another thread. One might also go so far as to say that humans are the result of mathematical probability and anything we do is as well. If a group of entities are mathematically probable, a subset of those probabilities will do things like put pigment on canvas in a certain way. Is it still art? Or is it just the end result of a long slew of quantum probabilities, a holistic standing wave form that we're only vaguely aware of?

Q said...

I have the benefit of having this discussion, many times over the years, with friends, usually in contrasting how women respond to a beautiful, undeniably attractive woman walking into a room. With men, the overwhelming response I've always got from other men seeing an obviously and undeniably attractive man is, "hell, I bet he gets laid alot."



That is not in any way responsive to the words of mine which you appended it to.

Using you as a sample point for your friends, I can well believe that none of your male friends are willing to respond to the sight of an attractive man with the words "Wow, he's really good looking".

But then, that was my original point.

If a woman with a great ass walks into a room containing your friends, both the men and women will be perfectly willing to say "She's got a great ass!!"

If a man with a great ass walks into the same room only the women will be willing to respond in that fashion.

I expect that we both agree on this much. Where we probably disagree in on what the discrepancy means. You seem to see it as reflecting some deep eternal objective reality, where I see it as just a manifestation of the social norms of a particular time and place. If we lived just fifty years ago your female friends would have been reluctant to makes comments about anybodies ass.

Q said...

If one's faith is that God is real, omnipotent, omniscient, and the creator of the universe, every little thing in that creation is do to deliberate action on His part.


That's perfectly true as far as it goes, but it says nothing about whether God made sunsets because he felt they looked nice, which is the second necessary part of "art". And the answer to that is, as I said, unknown and unknowable.

Scott M said...

You're on a roll of being wrong today, Q. I'm not enjoying it, so don't ask.

That is not in any way responsive to the words of mine which you appended it to.

Yes, it is. You wrote;

What do you do when you encounter a male body which is undeniably attractive? (And some such certainly exist) You're forced into thinking either "He must be gay!" or even worse "I must be gay!"

First of all, you're in the realm of thought, not spoken words, which you mentioned in your last comment. Secondly, you're forcing men to make the decision between two options that involve someone being gay. You're not allowing a man to see another man, obviously attractive (I'm assuming you mean physically, such as body proportions and handsome of face). If a man sees what amounts to romance novel cover art made flesh and bone, it's perfectly normal to see that guy and know for a fact that women are going to swoon for him, followed, most likely, by said Fabio getting laid a lot.

Why didn't you allow more than two gay options for the men?

Scott M said...

If a woman with a great ass walks into a room containing your friends, both the men and women will be perfectly willing to say "She's got a great ass!!"

Further, I don't know a lot of women, particularly girl-friends and wives sitting with their boyfriends and husbands who would enthusiastically celebrate a hot woman's ass as she walks by. In my experience in situations like that, women tend to get very catty.

Scott M said...

That's perfectly true as far as it goes, but it says nothing about whether God made sunsets because he felt they looked nice, which is the second necessary part of "art". And the answer to that is, as I said, unknown and unknowable.

What part of the opening chapters of Genesis do you not get?

Dante said...

Q, pick up any female oriented magazine, and what you will see is picture after picture of undeniably hot women.

Even Sports Illustrated is into that game.

Look at movies. Almost without exception, female movie stars are great looking. There are some nasty ones, true, but not many. Guys? Well, it's hard for me to tell what a great guy looks like, but somehow I don't think it's aging Al Pacino, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Nicholson, etc. Same goes for singers. It's a rare female singer pop singer that isn't hot. But the guys?

Obviously both men and women appreciate good looking women. That's why hetero porn has a lot of women having sex with each other, but not men having sex with each other.

Q said...

You're on a roll of being wrong today, Q.


Being patronizing is a piss poor excuse for argument, Scott. Dare I say .. it's very liberal?


Why didn't you allow more than two gay options for the men?


Perhaps the problem is not that I'm wrong, but that you are having immense difficulty in understanding what I'm saying? Men are terrified of appearing "gay", as illustrated by the comments on this very thread to the effect that "male bodies are repulsive to me".


You're not allowing a man to see another man, obviously attractive


Of course I am. Read what I'm writing. I'm pointing out that these men who see another man - obviously attractive - feel the need to disassociate themselves from this fact. You provided a fine example - your male friends who reacted to a handsome man with "hell, I bet he gets laid a lot."

Because saying the exact same thing more bluntly - "He's good looking" - would be "gay". So we get the workaround of "Women will find him good looking".

I'm not the one denying men options. Men are denying themselves options and I'm just pointing it out.

Q said...

What part of the opening chapters of Genesis do you not get?


I don't get the part where the word "good" means "aesthetically pleasing".

Q said...

If one's faith is that God is real, omnipotent, omniscient, and the creator of the universe, every little thing in that creation is do to deliberate action on His part.


If everything which God does is good and is art, then everything which exists is art. The tattered old mouse mat I'm looking at which I've been thinking of tossing for a while now is "art".

Like your definition of sexual arousal, your definition of art sounds very pretty at first blush. But it is equally useless.

traditionalguy said...

Allie... You interest me.

In the My Fair Lady musical, Prof Higgins sang. " she's got it, By Jove she's got it." You have definitely got it.

yashu said...

Hmm. I think one of the topics discussed in the comments may provide a clue into the original post's apparent paradox: how is it that when women watch porn, "watching causes not watching," visual sexual stimulation causes less visual stimulation.

Some here have observed that, generally speaking, heterosexual women seem to have an appreciation for female beauty, are interested in looking at beautiful women (cf. fashion magazines), but there's an obvious asymmetry when it comes to heterosexual men. Heterosexual men are irresistibly driven to look at beautiful women, not interested in looking at beautiful men; heterosexual women are (arguably) just as interested, maybe more interested in looking at beautiful women than beautiful men. (Cf. men's magazines vs. women's magazines: both are mostly filled with images of beautiful women. Women buy Vogue, not Playgirl.)

Let's hypothetically take this to be true. So, to put it simplistically: men like looking at images of the kind of women they desire; women like looking at images of the kind of women they desire to be, can imagine themselves being (and thus being desired by the kind of men they desire). For men, looking at beautiful women involves a desire for possession (images of what they want); for women, looking at beautiful women involves a desire of identification (images of what they want to be). Cf. the old cliche (with a nugget of truth) that what women most desire is to be desired.

The correlation to porn is obvious. To put it very crudely: men like looking at images of women they'd like to fuck; women like looking at images of women they can imagine themselves being, being fucked. Of course, it's not an absolute dichotomy, black and white, either/ or, but a matter of degree. (After all, there are women who enjoy M-on-M porn, and of course women are aroused by the sight of beautiful men, and how do you explain Tiger Beat et al?)

The point is this. Watching porn, men are sexually stimulated by the sight of what they want (e.g. a woman's body), so there's a feedback loop: the more they look, the more sexually aroused they get, so of course the more they're going to want to look. The more visual details, close up and from every angle, the better.

But with women, the dynamic is different. Watching porn, women are sexually stimulated to the extent that they can imaginatively identify with what's going on onscreen-- e.g. imagine themselves being that woman onscreen. So the more sexually aroused they get, i.e. the more imaginatively engaged they are, in a way, the less important strictly visual information is. In fact, too much attention to visual information (the details of that specific woman's body) would only get in the way of identification. Porn has to give women enough visual detail to imaginatively identify with the image onscreen-- but the sexually aroused woman's brain is less engaged in looking than in imaginatively identifying.

This would naturally explain men's overwhelming preference for visual porn (Playboy and internet smut), vs. women's apparent preference for written erotica (50 Shades of Grey and other trashy romance novels).

Just a hypothesis.

yashu said...

tradguy and Allie, sitting in a tree...

sleepless nights said...

They should not have used only women on birth control unless they wanted a really skewed study. They should do whatever it takes to find young women who haven't been on the pill in 6 months. BCP really really messes with your sex drive in all kinds of ways depending on which pill. Study just became invalid, IMO.

Q said...

I think one of the topics discussed in the comments may provide a clue into the original post's apparent paradox: how is it that when women watch porn, "watching causes not watching," visual sexual stimulation causes less visual stimulation.


Everyone is jumping to conclusions about what the study found. It did NOT find that men and women who watch porn react differently, which is the assumption many people here are working off of. The study did not examine men at all.


The study looked at 12 healthy, heterosexual premenopausal women, all of whom were on hormonal birth control pills.

Not a terrific sample there, to put it mildly.


While the researchers looked at the their brains using positron electro tomography (PET scans), the women were shown three different films: the first was a control about marine life in the Caribbean, the second two were so-called "female friendly" porn.


If I had to watch "female-friendly porn" I imagine that my own parts of the brain that process visual stimuli would shut down.

AllieOop said...

Tradguy, well all I can say is, why thank you! I have been described as a few things here, not nearly as nice as being considered interesting.

OK! I'll take it, oops I mean I'll keep it.

The feeling is mutual, there are a few conservatives here that seem to be able to break out of the attack mode and be fair minded when arguing a point, you're one of them.

Michele Rubatino said...

Reading a romance novel is my porn, and I have seen porn, and it was so gross I am still suffering the nightmares of allowing my brain to watch. How I helped my husband deal with this, is I had him watch a scene from male gay porn, he freaked out in seconds. Then I said, "oh, but don't you want it?" Or "are you suffering from penis envy?" Some say I was mean for doing that, but for what it's worth, my lesson was highly effective at getting my view point across that I am not visual, I am a verbal creature. Needless to say, he doesn't have anymore desire to watch porn either. Teaching a man the art of using his words is what makes this lady happy and ready for her man's desire. So far it is working, we have been happily married for 22 years.