At this point, “several brain regions, called the higher cortical component, have to decide, ‘What’s the best way to deal with this?'” says Struthers. “The problem is, these cortical systems can shut off—that is, they may receive less blood as the visual and arousal systems become more active. Essentially the decision-making system is turning itself over to the experience; it’s almost like the men are hypnotized. This is the classic male stereotype: When men think with what’s below, they don’t make good decisions.” Or, the decisions are made for them.
Scientists have linked the motivating power of porn to the “mirror neuron system,” a part of the brain that compels us to simulate action we see other humans perform. In a 2008 study in the journal NeuroImage, for example, men who watched erotic videos experienced mirror neuron activation and reported a desire to replicate the sex acts they saw. The stronger their mirror neuron response, the harder their erections tended to be. (This parroting effect may be more pronounced in response to videos, which have more action cues than photographs do.) “When you’re viewing something sexual, the mirror neuron system enables you to vicariously experience it,” says Struthers. However, simply watching isn’t sufficient to elicit an orgasm. This is why the need to masturbate or to seek an actual sex partner becomes so overpowering that men can’t resist it.