There is no way around it—overcoming a struggle with pornography is a strenuous and sometimes a never-ending battle. Due to the fact that some of you have never experienced the thought process of someone recovering from pornography, here is a taste of it:
A man turns on his computer to research where to vacation with his wife in the Bahamas. He clicks on a website about a resort and in the corner of the page is beautiful swimsuit model. He tries to take his eyes off of it, but cannot. Just a glimpse of the bikini-clad woman triggers a return of those images from the porn he has seen repeatedly since he was a young boy. A sensation throughout his body begins and he feels that “amazing high” experienced from the last time he looked at pornography. As the high wears off, feelings of shame, guilt, disappointment and failure fill his mind. He feels powerless and weak. Swelling up within is the thought that he’ll never be able to beat this cycle. He wonders if he should just give in – at least he will be able to enjoy the few seconds of pleasure that surge through his body when he lets his mind wander to the porn. Then his wife calls him…
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What is wrong with this guy? It’s just an advertisement and she’s not even naked!” The sad truth is that when one struggles with pornography, triggers are everywhere, especially in the hypersexualized media all around us. It often takes just a simple image to set off the chemical reaction in the brain, which first develops by looking at pornography.
Sadly, simply turning off the computer is not enough when the brain has been deeply affected by viewing pornography. If someone continues to view pornography, the effects on their brain can worsen over time and become quite extreme.
According to an article by Fight the New Drug (FTND), “Porn Changes the Brain,” the brain is constantly laying down new pathways during new experiences. This process is called neuroplasticity, neuro meaning “brain” and plasticity meaning “changeability.” Over the years, studies have found that pornography has a similar effect on the brain as drugs. Studies have found that drugs and pornography affects the brain’s “reward pathways.”
In another article by FTND, “Porn Affects Your Behavior,” it explains that the job of the reward pathways is to reward you by releasing dopamine when you do something that enriches your life with satisfying experiences and relationships. The brain’s release of dopamine is what makes us feel pleasure and builds new pathways created by a protein called FosB. This protein enables us to remember what made us feel pleasure by linking a way of thinking to a certain behavior.
In a real, intimate relationship, this is great; but it becomes detrimental if one partner is viewing pornography frequently. Arousal and pleasure become associated with viewing pornography due to the dopamine release, influencing them to continue watching pornography rather than seeking out real intimacy.
Due to the repetitive release of dopamine, the brain becomes overloaded and reacts by cutting down on the dopamine receptors. According to the article, dopamine receptors are the tiny “ears” on the end of the neuron that “hear” dopamine’s message. Since a person will need even more dopamine than before to become aroused, their cravings to watch pornography will intensify.
The repetitive viewing of pornography damages the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and logic. Any damage to this part of the brain will make it much harder to exercise willpower and self-control. As the cravings increase, it becomes easier to give in to watching pornography more often. At this point, they grow accustomed to the pornography they have already seen and the amount of dopamine released when they view it. Those images will no longer give them the same “high” and they must then move on to more intense (hardcore) pornography to fulfill their needs and increase the dopamine released.
Pornography also affects the brain during arousal by removing the viewer’s ability to see the women in porn as real people. They are so focused on their own physical responses and on the sex acts they’re viewing. The failure to see women who appear in pornographic material as worthy of empathy means the users do not comprehend that women are often being abused.
A 1984 study by Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of Massive Exposure to Pornography,” concluded that “people who were exposed to significant amounts of pornography thought things like sex with animals and violent sex were twice as common as what those not exposed to pornography thought” (FTND). As the sexual template created by porn becomes unhealthier, the likelihood increases users will attempt to fulfill those fantasies in real life.
In order to do this, they will engage in purchasing an actual person for sex. Not only has the user’s dependency on pornography prevented them from comprehending the violence against women in pornography, is now so distorted that they see purchasing a prostituted woman (or child) for sex as acceptable. The more someone views pornography, the more flawed their perception of women and relationships become.
As impossible as it sounds, there is hope. You can overcome a dependency on pornography. As explained in the beginning, the brain becomes dependent on behaviors and changes to cater to the addiction. One way to change this is by replacing reward pathways with something else that makes you feel pleasure in a different way. These replacements could be starting a hobby you enjoy, spend more time with friends and family, or joining a sports team.
Another important step is to train your brain to become aroused by a real partner. If you are married, take steps to restore and find pleasure in your relationship with your spouse.
Your dependency on pornography has not always existed. Just like struggling with a drug addiction, this dependency can end and it can be changed! It can take time to figure out what these steps look like but it can be done!