HeathcareBillie Eilish: how pornography affects the brain and sexual...

Billie Eilish: how pornography affects the brain and sexual habits of young people as it happened to the singer


A few decades ago, pornography was a fringe industry, part of the counterculture. It even had free speech activists in the United States among its advocates.

The opposing voices were mainly religious and conservative groups.

Pornography is now on a very different stage. Is a multibillion dollar industry, dominates a fifth of all cell phone searches and has among its strongest critics a young artist with a dark and rebellious image.

American singer Billie Eilish, 20, said in a recent interview that pornography is “a disgrace”, and said she was exposed to “violent” and “abusive” images when she began consuming such content at age 11.

The question posed by host Howard Stern was prompted by the lines “Home Alone, Trying Not To Eat / Distract Myself With Porn” from his latest album, “Male Fantasy.”

Eilish claimed that her brain was “destroyed” watching disturbing sex videos at such a young age. And he noted that many of those productions distort the boundaries of what is considered normal during sex, including consent.

  • Billie Eilish: “Exposing myself to pornography at age 11 damaged my sex life”

The advancement of pornography is intimately linked to the technological evolution and media. In much of the world in the pre-internet era, the most widely available sexual material consisted of nude magazines (mostly female) and VHS tapes rented from video stores, both with restrictions for those under 18 years of age.

The advent of the web changed the game. The increase in broadband speed in the world since the late 2000s and the popularization of the smartphone drove the amount and variety of pornography consumed, in addition to facilitate access to content.

There is little age verification control for visiting explicit content sites. In the UK, groups of child protection They have campaigned for the British regulatory body to enact such a measure.

Australia and Canada debate the use of a biometric identity for access, but there is fear of a invasion of privacy of adult users.

In Brazil, a bill by federal deputy Dagoberto Nogueira is in the House to require digital proof of age.

A survey of 9,250 preadolescents aged 10-14 from five countries showed that 14.5% of young people interviewed in Ecuador (the lowest rate) and 33% in Belgium (the highest rate) have already consumed explicit material in this age group.

The study was published in July 2021 in the journal Journal of Adolescent Health and focused on residents of low-income areas.

  • “Infantilizes the brain”: the effects of excessive pornography consumption on the mind

Pornography and technology

Over the past decade, one aspect of the fusion between pornography and technology has been highlighted: addiction.

Although there is a great debate in the medical community about the precision of the term, given that certain conditions are necessary to define it as pathology, psychologists and psychiatrists have begun to treat cases of compulsive use of digital devices.

One of these professionals is Anna Lembke, a professor at Stanford University, USA, and head of the medical clinic specializing in addictions at the same institution.

In an interview with BBC Brazil, Lembke says that “the addictive properties of any drug are enhanced with more quantity, more accessibility, more power and more novelty. The Internet and portable digital devices promote the emergence of all these domains, making pornography today is more abundant, more accessible, more powerful and newer than the pornography of the past and therefore more addictive. “


For her, “the sex addiction it is a huge problem, which grows in a hidden way “in society and which has already led some of its patients to contemplate the idea of ​​suicide.

“It is not about lifestyles or social norms. It’s about the ways in which technology has transformed the human connection, including sex, into a way to which everyone, including children, has access ”.

Dopamine discharges

Lembke published in 2021 the book Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence(Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, literally translated).

The book examines the role of this neurotransmitter (key to brain activities linked to reward and pleasure) in the context of compulsive consumption – food, cell phone, social networks, among other fields – in modern life.

Pornography is also an attraction in this dynamic determined by the dopamine discharges.

The Stanford University professor explains in her book that our bodies always try to maintain homeostasis, a condition related to body balance. One of the points of this state is the middle ground between pleasure and pain.


After obtaining a pleasant sensation, whether eating chocolate or masturbating, the brain triggers a process to make up for the other side of the scale, with the goal of returning to homeostasis. The pain side can manifest as mild discomfort, irritation, or depression.

Then there is the urge to recreate the earlier feeling of placer.

This neural dynamics occurs in everyone, but it has a different influence on the youngest, because the human brain is in formation until the age of 25.

“Neurons that ‘fire’ together create connections between them,” says Lembke. “This means that if we spend our teens consuming pornography excessively as the primary mechanism for achieving a relaxation effect, and that is what pornography addiction is all about, then we will create robust neural circuits that will take root and be consolidated into adulthood. “

Little boy

Stronger doses

Trying to recreate a feeling of pleasure over and over again can decrease its intensity over time.

That’s where the drug addiction analogy works: the search for stronger doses.

In online pornography, this often results in clicking extreme sex videos, with violence or some kind of taboo.

“Dopamine responds to novelty in an environment, whether good or bad. Because it leads someone to adopt or avoid a behavior, something fundamental for survival“, dice Lembke.

Anna Lucia Spear King, postgraduate professor at the Institute of Psychiatry of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and founding coordinator of the Digital Delete-Detox Laboratory of the same institution, addresses technological dependencies as “the tip of the iceberg to investigate what’s behind this behavior. “


In his opinion, “the dependencies in general are the result of the vulnerability of a personalong with family problems and emotional weaknesses. This is redirected to a path that appears available in their lives, “he says.

“This need to emotional satisfaction it is directed towards compulsion, for example, through online pornography. “

Encouragement for violence?

Decades of research on the influence of pornography in cases of sexual violence yield complex results that do not allow to establish a Direct relation and wide in the population between these two factors.

Neil Malamuth, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, USA who has been studying the link between violence, media and explicit content For 40 years, he tells BBC Brazil that pro and anti pornography groups are selective in their use of data on the subject.

They reject the nuances found so as not to harm their agendas or campaigns.

He points out that “only a relatively small number” of the population demonstrate the effects of media influence in episodes of sexual assault, but that “the implications and ramifications of these cases can be extended to a much larger number of people.”

According to Malamuth, it is “clear that access to many types of pornography is much greater than it was years ago and that people select the type that specifically turns them on.”

However, he says he is more concerned “about all the young people who do not have much knowledge or education on ‘sexual positivity’ and how certain types of pornography might affect them. “

The psychologist Cynthia Perovano Camargo Baumel, who has a doctorate from the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES) on the influence of pornography on relationships, says that “we do not have sex education, there are no places to discuss this, clarify doubts, Y families don’t talk about it. The parameter of being with someone (for young people) is pornography. “

The expert says that this is a problem because of “the idealization of the performance of men, on the size of the penis and the duration of the erection, and also for the women on the will to have sexual relations without questioning and without any stimulation “.

Father and son

Objectification or expression?

For Anna Lembke, “there is a level where all pornography is bad, regardless of whether we are addicted or not, because objectify and commodify human interaction at its most basic level. “

Baumel says there are a number of questions to be asked about the production of pornography today, such as the coercion and violence that is exercised on actresses and actors in the filming, in addition to consumption by young people without filter or debate.

But Baumel puts a historical perspective about the representation of sex.

“Since we walked on this earth, human beings have represented everything we do. On the walls of the caves there are representations of sexual acts. We talk about dances, we talk about food and we talk about sex, which is part of our lives.

“And this was accompanied by the technology that was being developed: we started making sculpture, there is sculpture of the sexual act. We started taking photos, making videos … There is a record of sex. So, expressing and recording what is so important for us it will always happen. There is this stance of ‘let’s get this over with, let’s hide, let’s banish it, let’s make it disappear from the face of the earth’. It does not make sense: this is expression “, dice.

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