Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Porn on the Brain Channel 4 Documentary Review

My view of the channel 4 show "Porn on the Brain" which is all about how teenegers might be being impact by watching porn online.


I have just finished watching "Porn on the Brain"  (if you live outside UK Tunnel Bear can let you watch this) a Channel 4 British documentary by a previous editor of Loaded (lad mag) Martin Daubney. In this documentary Martin looks to try and find out what is the situation of porn and teenagers. Now sometimes the show becomes a little sensationalist with phrases like "The internet brought about the end of innocence" but behind some hype is some interesting stuff. With Martin spending 15 years of his life dedicated to (soft core) pornography with his work in loaded his perspective on the porn industry is not naive, he describes himself as an "wanking expert". Early in the show he makes a judgment of how he views the changes in the porn industry. 

"Porn has lost its sense of humour and become something macabre" 

Don't let the alarmist sensationalist tone of this documentary distract you from the core message, below I have bullet pointed the key points from my watching I think this show makes. I finish with a couple of paragraphs on my views of these key points 


  1. The type of porn being consumed by teenagers has drastically changed in the last 10 years. 
  2. Their study using a Functional MRI scan of 20 self declared porn addicts showed an identifiable addiction response similar to substance misuse disorder. 
  3. The special nature of the teenage brain that makes it particularly vulnerable to addiction. 
  4. If porn addiction is real teenagers are super sensitive/vulnerable to porn addiction due to brain development and natural hormonal levels of puberty. 
  5. Their is a longstanding difficulty in proving connection between porn use and a rise in sexual violence. 
  6. No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender. but clinically we are sure of a connection. 
  7. Internet filters always have holes, they are never perfect. They have some value to help parents reduce exposure but "we can't rely on filter"   
  8. Lots of young people turn to porn because their sex education doesn't meet their needs
  9. Parents of secondary school children need to have the "porn Chat" 


  1. The type of porn being consumed by teenagers has drastically changed in the last 10 years. 
    I think this has been clearly evidenced when you look at the history of the porn industry.   Porn Land by Gail Dines (who is featured in the show) does a brilliant job of explaining the historical changes in the industry over the last 50 years. The Sex Education Show vs Pornography show (also by channel 4) showed the same. Teenagers are experiencing porn that over 25s have not even heard of or imagined.
  2. Their study using a Functional MRI scan of 20 self declared male porn addicts showed an identifiable addiction response similar to substance misuse disorder. 
    I have no reason to dispute the findings of this study showing that these 20 people showed an addictive brain response to hardcore pornography. However, the scientist in me must highlight that a study of 20 people is not a large scale investigation. It may be a true representation of a significant proportion of the UK population or these 20 individuals may represent a tiny % of uk population. In summary whilst the results of this study are interesting a larger scale study is needed to prove the hypothesis. In particular I think a study would need to look at people across the spectrum of porn use. Equally i would be interested to see if any such addictive response could be identified in consumers of written erotica or is this just a visual stimulation addiction.

  3. The special nature of the teenage brain that makes it particularly vulnerable to addiction. 
  4. If porn addiction is real teenagers are super sensitive/vulnerable to porn addiction due to brain development and natural hormonal levels of puberty. 
    This section builds on a much broader scientific base, looking at teenage brain development and the fact that young people develop their reward centre before their risk control department is widely accepted. From my study and experience I believe this is undeniable, young people are predisposed to take risks and therefore may risk engaging in more addictive behaviours. But to say that they are at greater risk of porn addiction does require the acceptance that porn addiction works the same as other addictions/risk taking. The shows study was not broad enough to make this concrete but I believe it is likely. Again more study is needed but ethical issues arise when trying to create a scientific study of the impact of porn on children.


  5. Their is a longstanding difficulty in proving connection between porn use and a rise in sexual violence. 
  6. No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender. but clinically we are sure of a connection. 
    I believe scientifically this is the weakest part of the show and the show resorts to anecdotal evidence and emotional stories. This is a real shame as it could be seen to undermine any scientific base the show was trying to build up. I believe the real difficulty with this topic is exploring what kind of connection exists. I think it would be hard to deny some form of connection, but is it a strong connection or weak. Key to this is the important scientific fact that causation and correlation are not the same thing. I believe their is a correlational link between violent porn and sexual violence but at this point I do not believe we can scientifically say that the link is also causational. It may well be but we have not yet proven this. If and when a causational relationship is proven we will still need further study to understand the scale and scope of porn's power. Are all consumers of violent porn on the path to becoming sexually violent and it is just a question of the timetable for when they become violent? Or are only a proportion of the population going to become sexually violent by watching violent porn? Sexual violence existed before internet porn and clearly this is a very complex issue. I am glad the show touched on this topic and was honest enough to say "No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender." but equally we could be watching a growing problem emerge.
  7. Internet filters always have holes, they are never perfect. They have some value to help parents reduce exposure but "we can't rely on filter"   
    It was a short section of the show but i am glad they made it very clear that whilst internet filters have some advantages, they are blunt tools that never work 100%. For example I am writing this in Starbucks who have an internet filter. That filter blocks out this blog, so I can post new blogs but cannot view my own website. However, it let me watch the complete channel 4 od show which included lots of nudity and porn (I was in a corner, no one could see my screen, I had headphones in and I had the show playing in a small window). Internet filters are dumb, blunt and full of holes. Therefore they should be used with caution and not presented as a magically technical fix for a technical problem. I fear the governments focus on ISPs making filters the default is more of a popularity stunt then a genuine help to most young people. It is a great way to look like you are tackling a problem without having to tackle the underlying issues of bad Sex and Relationship Education in schools and a lack of some parents helping young people make sense of sex and relationships. Its much more popular to blame the internet companies then look at our school system and parenting in the UK.

  8. Lots of young people turn to porn because their sex education doesn't meet their needs
    This claim in the show lacks the scientific base of the shows beginning but it is such a constant reality of my work I can not help but agree. Outside of the show we do have significant evidence of the failings in the UK's Sex and Relationship Education. The Sex Education Forum does a great job of researching and collecting evidence of the true sex and relationship experience of most UK young people. It would have been great if the channel 4 show made reference to this body of evidence. I think it is telling that every sex educator I know actively tackling pornography has a common theme, BISH UK talks about how on Planet porn things are different than real life, on the show Jonny Hunt  talks about a skewed view of sex from porn and my own lesson is titled "distortions of the media". It's no coincidence that 3 sexual health educators have approached the topic the same way. From the ground there's a desperate need to give young people the tools to recognise Porn for what it is. a Blurred example and a bad teacher of happy healthy sex and relationships.
  9. Parents of secondary school children need to have the "Porn Chat" 
    I kind of agree with this point but dislike the attitude of having a single one off "Chat" instead I believe all parents need to be willing to have an ongoing frank sex and porn dialogue. It is not a one time hit and run job but a constant and consistent attitude of openness and honesty. Easy to say difficult in practice for many parents. 

In conclusion I think this show did a good job of raising an important issue. It was great to see some new scientific evidence (even though the study was small scale) of the nature of porn consumption and the brain. Lots of the arguments about greater SRE in schools have been repeated again from previous shows, news stories and the mouths of school based educators but they do not diminish by repetition. This message must be repeated and repeated and repeated until communities take it seriously.