Porn’s Effect on the Visual Cortex

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Ever look at studies, surveys, polls, marvel at the results and think “Well, they sure didn’t ask me”?

I think it all the time and until recently when a survey was released that pin-pointedly, exactly, almost alarmingly targeted precisely my demographic: straight premenopausal women on hormonal birth control. If they had kicked in “with bad eyesight and a Mac preference” I’d have felt stalked.

The survey had to do with where our eyes go when we watch adult entertainment and the answer seems to be a simple: “away.” Slate reports that researchers from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands did PET scans on a dozen women in the subcategory above while they were looking at “female friendly” pornography and found that while blood typically goes to the primary visual cortex while watching videos far less blood went there while watching the most explicit adult material (a video of tropical fish was used as a control).

It doesn’t mean that watching porn makes premenopausal, etcetera women go blind; what it might mean is that, much in the same way you sometimes fail to notice objects you’ve seen a thousand times before, you just don’t really put that much effort into seeing it. Slate says it might be that the brain “recognizes the erotic trajectory” of what’s onscreen – in other words this plot going where it always goes – so why waste time paying attention?

Actually when you think about it, it’s pretty ironic that such a taboo form of entertainment is also so formulaic that you’re visual processors go on autopilot when it’s on.

The other part of the equation seems pretty plausible too: the brain, having divined yet another happy ending, may be “sending that blood to other areas of the body “rather than the brain’s visual processing area.” So while seeing it may become ho-hum, it seems that feeling it never does.

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