Viewing porn out of context 'makes women feel sick'

Physiological response is similar to what they feel when confronted with revolting food

A study conducted at Groningen University in the Netherlands has shown that when women are exposed to graphic pornographic images without any context, they experience the same physical revulsion as when viewing pictures designed to induce nausea. 

Dr Charmaine Borg and her colleagues observed twenty healthy women with the use of an fMRI-scanner. The women were shown a variety of images including neutral depictions, nausea-inducing photographs and explicit images of sexual penetration. For all pictures, context information was kept to a minimum, and there were no faces depicted.

The researchers found a strong overlap in the areas of the brain that became active in response to viewing the nausea-inducing pictures, and those showing the pornographic scenes. “It’s just like when you see disgusting food. The emotion that is triggered by for example the smell, ensures that you don’t want to eat it, ” Dr Borg said. According to the researcher, a woman’s body “immediately goes on the defensive” when seeing porn out of context, a response that could be explained by the relative susceptibility to infection that women face in comparison to men. 

The level of brain activity in response to the pornographic images was linked to the women’s attitudes to the pictures. The more strongly they associated the pictures with disgust, the more prominent the activity observed in specific areas of the brain. This was especially true for the participants’ “implicit” attitudes towards porn, as measured by an association test based on reaction time.

Previous research has shown that the majority of men respond very differently to pornographic imagery, in most cases by becoming sexually aroused. High levels of brain activity similar to those observed in the current study, have previously been linked to erectile dysfunction in men.

According to the researchers, their findings show that brain activity in response to sexual imagery does not necessarily reflect a pleasurable experience, as is often assumed. They point out that human sexual behaviour is complex, and that many psychological and societal factors contribute to our attitudes towards sexually explicit material. These influences appear to play a larger role in women's relationship to pornography than men's. Reasons for a negative attitude towards porn could include unpleasant past experiences with this type of representation.

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