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Of all activities on the internet, porn has the most potential to become addictive,say Dutch neuroscientists Meerkerk et al. 2006

The Reward Foundation is a pioneering relationship and sex education charity. The name comes from the fact that the reward system of the brain is responsible for our drive towards love and sex as well as other natural rewards like food, novelty and attainment. The reward system can be hijacked by artificially strong rewards such as drugs, alcohol, nicotine and the internet.

The Reward Foundation is a key source of evidence-based information about love relationships and the impact of  internet pornography on mental and physical health, relationships, attainment and legal liability.

The Royal College of General Practitioners has accredited our training workshop for healthcare and other professionals about the impact of internet pornography on mental and physical health, including sexual dysfunctions. In support of this, we make the research about love, sex and internet pornography accessible to a wide public. See our free lesson plans for schools now available both at this website and on the Times Educational Supplement website, also for free. See too our Parents’ guide to internet pornography. It is almost impossible to talk about love and sexual relationships today without acknowledging the role of internet pornography. It influences expectations and behaviour, especially amongst adolescents.

Research by the British Board of Film Classification has found that in the UK 1.4 million children a month watch pornography. Fourteen years or younger was the age 60 per cent of children first saw online porn. Most, 62 per cent, said they accidentally stumbled on it and were not expecting to see pornography. Most parents, 83 per cent, would like to see age verification introduced for these harmful sites. And 56 percent of 11 to 13-year-olds would like to be protected from ‘over-18’s’ material online.

Short Overview

Age verification for pornography

We recommend this 2-minute animation as a primer. For a good explanation of porn’s effects on the brain, watch this 5 minute excerpt from a TV documentary. It features a neurosurgeon, research from the University of Cambridge and the lived experience of some young users.

Here are some simple self-assessment exercises designed by neuroscientists and clinicians to see if porn is affecting you or someone close to you.

Internet pornography is not like porn of the past. It is a ‘supernormal’ stimulus. It can impact the brain in a similar way to cocaine or heroin when binged upon regularly. Pornography is particularly unsuitable for children who make up 20-30% of users on adult sites. This alone justifies the UK government’s age verification legislation to restrict access by children and protect their health.

Children as young as seven are being exposed to hardcore pornography because of a lack of effective age checks according to research commissioned by the British Board of Film Classification. Pornography is made for profit, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is not made to teach children about sex and relationships.

Largest Unregulated Social Experiment

Never before in history has so much hyper-stimulating sexual material been so freely available as now. It is the largest, unregulated social experiment in the history of humankind. In the past hardcore pornography was hard to access. It mainly came from licensed adult shops that barred entry to anyone under 18. Today, most pornography is accessed  for free via smartphones and tablets. Effective age verification for visitors is missing. Overuse is producing a wide range of mental and physical health issues such as social anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction and addiction to name a few. This is happening across all age groups.

Research shows that bingeing on internet pornography can reduce interest in, and satisfaction from, real life sexual relationships. Increasing numbers of young to middle-aged men are unable to perform sexually with their partners. Young people are becoming more aggressive and violent in their sexual behaviour too.

Our aim is to help adults and professionals access the evidence they need to feel confident enough to take appropriate action to help their patients, clients and own children. Temporarily eliminating masturbation, or reducing one’s frequency, is all about recovering from an addiction and porn-induced sexual problems – nothing else.

‘Industrial Strength’ Internet Porn

Bingeing on porn can have a negative effect on sexual health, mental state, behaviour, relationships, attainment, productivity and criminality. For as long as a user continues to binge, the brain changes become more entrenched and harder to reverse. Occasional use is unlikely to cause lasting harm. Impairing functional brain changes have been recorded with as little as 3 hours use of pornography per week.

Our brains have not adapted to cope with so much hyper-stimulation. Children are particularly vulnerable to the endless supply of free, streaming hardcore internet pornography. This is due to its powerful impact on their sensitive brains at a key stage of psychosexual development and learning.

Most internet pornography today does not model intimacy and trust, but rather unsafe sex, coercion and violence, particularly towards women and ethnic minorities. Children are programming their brains to need constant novelty and high levels of contrived arousal that real life partners cannot match. It trains them too to be voyeurs.

At the same many are feeling sexually inadequate and are failing to learn the interpersonal skills they need to develop healthy, intimate relationships for the long term. This is leading to loneliness, social anxiety and depression in increasing numbers.


The majority of young people’s first time watching pornography was accidental, with over 60% of children 11-13 who had seen pornography saying their viewing of pornography is unintentional according to recent research. Children described feeling “grossed out” and “confused”. This particularly applied when they saw pornography under the age of 10.

This might be a surprise for many parents. If you want to learn more, see our Parents’ Guide to Internet Pornography  . It aims to help equip parents and caregivers for those challenging conversations with your children and to coordinate support with schools if required.  Kent police warn that parents may be prosecuted for their children’s ‘sexting’ if they are responsible for the phone contract. See our page about sexting and the law in Scotland And for sexting in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


We have launched a series of FREE lesson plans for teachers that will deal with “Introduction to Sexting”; “Sexting and the Adolescent Brain”; “Sexting, the Law and You”; “Pornography on Trial”; “Love, Sex & Pornography”; “Pornography and Mental Health”, and “The Great Porn Experiment” . They comprise a variety of enriching, fun and interactive exercises and resources that provide a safe space for pupils to discuss these all important issues. There is no blame or shame, just the facts, so people can make informed choices.

The current lessons are suitable too for faith-based schools. No pornography is shown. Any language that might be contrary to religious doctrine can be modified.

Reward Foundation Monitors Research

The Reward Foundation monitors new research on a daily basis and incorporates developments into our materials. We also produce our own research, in particular reviews of the latest research so that others  can stay up-to-date with new developments.

There are now seven studies that demonstrate a causal link between porn use and harms arising from that use.

At The Reward Foundation we report stories from thousands of men and women who have developed problematic use of internet pornography. This informal research is valuable in taking account of current trends which can take a longer while to be reflected in the formal academic research. Many have experimented with quitting porn and have experienced a variety of mental and physical benefits as a result. See this young man’s story.

“Porn addiction”

Pornography companies have been at the forefront of internet development and design. Constant overstimulation by internet pornography causes the brain to produce powerful cravings for more. These cravings influence a porn user’s thoughts and behaviour over time. For increasing numbers of users this can lead to compulsive sexual behaviour disorder. This diagnosis recently produced by the eleventh revision of the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) includes compulsive porn and masturbation use. Out of control porn and masturbation can also be classified as an addictive disorder otherwise unspecified using the ICD-11.

According to the latest research, more than 80% of people seeking medical help for compulsive sexual behaviour report they have a porn-related problem. Watch this excellent TEDx talk (9 mins) from January 2020 by Cambridge University-trained neuroscientist Casper Schmidt to learn about “Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder”.

Our Philosophy

Pornography today is ‘industrial strength’ in terms of quantity available and levels of stimulation, compared to pornography of even 10 or 15 years ago. Its use is a personal choice, we are not out to ban legal pornography for adults, but children have to be protected. Excessive masturbation stimulated by pornography can lead to mental and physical health issues for some. We want to help users be in a position to make an ‘informed’ choice based on the best evidence from the research currently available and signpost recovery options, if required. Temporarily eliminating masturbation, or reducing frequency, is all about recovering from an addiction or sexual conditioning to hard core material and porn-induced sexual problems – nothing else.

Child Protection

We campaign to reduce children’s easy access to internet pornography. Dozens of research papers indicate that it is damaging to children at their vulnerable stage of brain development. There has been a dramatic rise in child-on-child sexual abuse in the past 8 years and in porn-related sexual injuries according to healthcare professionals who have attended our workshops and possibly even deaths. It is linked to domestic violence, perpetrated primarily by men against women.

We are in favour of the UK government’s initiatives to enforce effective age verification for commercial porn sites and social media sites so that children cannot stumble across it so easily.  It will not replace the need for education about risks. And who benefits if we do nothing? The multi-billion dollar porn industry. The UK government plans to deal with the porn available through social media and porn websites in the Online Safety Bill. It is not likely to be law, however, until the end of 2023 or early 2024 at best.

Going Forward

The information on this website can help people improve their chances of enjoying a successful, loving sexual relationship. If you would like any related topic added, please us know by contacting us at

The Reward Foundation does not offer therapy nor provide legal advice.  However, we do signpost routes to recovery for people whose use has become problematic. Our aim is to help adults and professionals access the evidence and support to allow them to take appropriate action.

The Reward Foundation does not offer therapy.

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