The components of the adolescent brain and its unique sensitivity to sexually explicit material

J Adolesc. 2019 Apr;72:10-13. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.01.006. Epub 2019 Feb 10.


Introduction: The focus of this brief literature review is to explore whether there is a relationship between the unique anatomical and physiological paradigms of the adolescent brain and an increased sensitivity to sexually explicit material.

Methods: The EBSCO Research Data bases were searched using the following key terms: adolescence, adolescent brain development, neuroplasticity, sexually explicit material, sexualization, and pornography.

Results: The literature highlighted several components of the adolescent brain that are different than the mature brain. These include: an immature prefrontal cortex and over-responsive limbic and striatal circuits, heightened period for neuroplasticity, overactive dopamine system, a pronounced HPA axis, augmented levels of testosterone, and the unique impact of steroid hormones. The physiological response to sexually explicit material is delineated. The overlap of key areas associated with the unique adolescent brain development and sexually explicit material is noteworthy. A working model summary that compares the response of the adult and adolescent brain to the same sexually explicit stimulus is outlined.

Conclusions: The literature suggests that the adolescent brain may indeed be more sensitive to sexually explicit material, but due to a lack of empirical studies this question cannot be answered definitively. Suggestions for future research are given to further advance the work in this applicable field of today.

Keywords: Adolescence; Adolescent brain development; Neuroplasticity; Pornography; Sexualization; Sexually explicit material.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Erotica*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology