The Science of Porn Addiction

scienceofpornI recently wrote an article titled The Shade of Sexual Temptation in response to the best seller and hit movie, The Fifty Shades of Grey. Within the article I showed how sexual temptation is just one of many symptoms that are part of the three main temptations that all the world has to offer mankind (1 John 2:16).

The lust of the eye’s, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

The Science of Porn

The movies draw was not the plot (the movie was trashed by the critics as tedious and boring), it was popular because it contained pornography. (As of the writing of this article, the movie has made over $500 million dollars worldwide). While The Shade of Sexual Temptation focused on the spiritual and moral dangers of pornography through the lust of the eyes (Job 31:1-12) , this article will focus on recent studies of how the brain can actually become damaged by viewing pornography. This consequence can also occur by indulging in any other addictive behavior which can result from succumbing to one or more of the three temptations of the world (1 John 2:16).

The Plastic Brain

In the last few decades, a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity has been discovered. In other words, Scientist have discovered that a brains neuro pathways constantly change based on your experiences and the choices you make.

In essence, the more times you repeat a action, a neuro pathway is created in the brain that widens and will eventually allow you to do the action without even thinking about it. For example, the more you practice learning how to play notes on a guitar, the better you become. At first, placing your fingers on the correct strings and applying the right pressure between the frets to make a pure sound seems ungainly and hard. The more you practice, the easier it becomes and eventually will become second nature as the correct steps are stored away in your brain cells. guitarpracticeA neuro pathway is created so information sent from the brain to your fingers lets you start placing them in the proper position on a subconscious level. This will allow you to focus on the sheet music and play the notes in the correct tempo. There are two chemicals that help create and solidify these pathways: dopamine and acetylcholine. These neurotransmitters help consolidate the mapping changes you made while practicing. (Dopamine reinforces reward (accomplishment), and acetylcholine helps the brain “tune in” and sharpen memories.) 1

It is all about repetition. Good and bad habits are created this way. While picking your nose is by all accounts a bad habit, it is a social error and at the most will have people skirt around you as they walk by and think twice before shaking your hand!

However, habits that are formed by the pride of life, the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh can cause a physiological addiction that can literally damage your brain. No wonder why God warns us not to succumb to these temptations!

These temptations can come through any of or a combination of the five senses of the body (Sight, Smell, Sound, Touch, and Taste) which can lead to addictive behaviors such as narcissistic self-centered pride, overeating, drug use, and especially sexual immorality.

How do addictions form?

It starts with dopamine – which is not bad! God created it and it is a critical part on how the brain functions. Dopamine is called the reward transmitter, because when we accomplish something— run a race and win— our brain triggers its release. Though exhausted, we get a surge of energy, exciting pleasure, and confidence and even raise our hands and run a victory lap. The losers, on the other hand, who get no such dopamine surge, immediately run out of energy, collapse at the finish line, and feel awful about themselves.2

dopamninepathwayDopamine is also released into the brain during sexual arousal and activity. Within the covenant of marriage, this was God’s design. Along with another neurotransmitter called Oxytocin, a married couple coming together sexually will create a physiological bonding and in essence become addicted to one another! Within marriage, this is good! Outside of marriage, this is a train wreck waiting to happen. Note that while this article is focusing on how God created these processes of the brain, there is also a spiritual bonding that occurs when two become one flesh. Indeed the marital bonds that exist between the soul and body of a married couple may relate in ways we are not yet aware of.

What happens to the addicted brain?

Almost all illegal drugs and addictions to the temptations of the world such as the lust of the eyes, make the pleasure- giving neurotransmitter dopamine more active in the brain. Arguably one of the most addictive vices that exist in our world today is pornography. By hijacking our dopamine system, addictive substances including porn gives us pleasure without our having to work for it. The same surge of dopamine that thrills us also consolidates and strengthens the neuronal connections responsible for the behaviors that led us to accomplish our goal, in this case taking a drug or viewing porn.synapse

An important link with porn is that dopamine is also released in sexual excitement, increasing the sex drive in both sexes, and activating the brain’s pleasure centers.3 What was meant to be a pleasurable experience within the covenant of marriage, becomes an addictive hook as porn draws the person back to view the images that fired the dopamine into the brain.

This is the same process that occurs when someone takes illegal drugs such as cocaine. It creates a cyclical bondage of addiction that will eventually destroy your body and soul.

What does porn physically do to your brain?

Can your brain actually become damaged by pornography? The answer is yes!sidebox

In the www.fightthenewdrug.org article titled: Porn is Addictive, the post documents that “when a person is looking at porn, their brain thinks they’re seeing a potential mating opportunity, and pumps the brain full of dopamine”. Unlike a healthy sexual relationship that occurs within marriage with a husband and wife, porn offers an endless stream of hyper-sexual images that flood the brain with high levels of dopamine every time the user clicks to a new image. Because porn use floods the brain with high chemical levels, the brain starts to fight back. Over time, the brain will actually cut down on its dopamine receptors—the tiny landing docs that take the dopamine in once it’s been released in your brain. As a result, porn that once excited a person often stops having the same effect, and the user has to look at more porn, look at porn more often, or find a more hardcore version—or all three—to get aroused.4

Eventually, as the brain acclimates to the overload of dopamine, users often find that they can’t feel normal without that dopamine high. Little things that used to make them happy, like seeing a friend or playing their favorite sport, can’t compete with the dopamine flood that comes with porn, so they’re left feeling anxious or down until they can get back to it. On top of that, dopamine doesn’t travel alone. When the brain is getting a hit of dopamine, it’s also getting new pathways built into it with a protein called “ΔFosB” (pronounced delta fos b).

Essentially, ΔFosB’s job is to help you remember to do things that feel good or are important. While dopamine is motivating your brain to do things and rewarding it for doing them, ΔFosB is quietly leaving trail markers in your brain, creating a pathway to help you get back there. When this happens with healthy behaviors, it’s a very good thing. However, as little as one dose of many drugs will also cause ΔFosB to start building up in the brain’s neurons, and of course porn’s powerful dopamine surge causes ΔFosB to build up as well.

The more a user looks at porn, the more ΔFosB accumulates, essentially beating down the brain pathways leading to making it easier and easier for the user to turn back to that behavior, whether they want to or not. Eventually, if enough ΔFosB accumulates, it can “flip a genetic switch,”. Flipping this switch causes changes that persist long after the drug (porn) is stopped, leading to irreversible damage to the brain’s dopamine system and rendering the person far more prone to addiction.

For teenagers, the risks of addiction are especially high, since a teen brain’s reward pathway has a response two to four times more powerful than an adult brain—which means teen brains release even higher levels of dopamine. Teen brains also produce higher levels of ΔFosB, leaving them extra vulnerable to addiction.1

Have you been pulled into the addictive world of pornography?

Is there any hope of recovery? Do not despair! An addiction to internet porn is not an “unforgivable sin.” God can and will forgive you! An addiction to internet porn is not an “unconquerable sin.” God can and will enable you to overcome it! Commit your mind and eyes to the Lord. Commit yourself to filling your mind with God’s Word (Psalm 119:11). Seek His help daily in prayer; ask Him to fill your mind with His truth and block unwanted thoughts and desires. – Read more at http://www.gotquestions.org/overcome-internet-porn.html#ixzz3Uhdc7FmX

Get addicted to God’s Word!

Word of God

GOOD NEWS! Neuroplasticity is a term that has been created to describe one of the processes God designed into how the brain works. For someone who is addicted to pornography or any other vice that originates out of the lust of the eyes or flesh, the following verse will give you a hope.

Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)

The same process that will destroy a person when submitting to the temptation of the world, will help edify and build them up when they continually, habitually read and study the Word of God. The Bible itself says to “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.” (Colossians 3:2, also see 1 Peter 1:13). Neuropathways will be created that will solidify your mind to center on God and His Purpose in your life. Consider the following passage in Philippians 4:6-8:

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Creating a habit of reading and studying God’s Word will also help your transformation out of addiction by creating new neuropathways of habit. But reading Gods Word has a deeper effect than just physically affecting your brain. The Bible is more than a book, it is supernatural in that God’s Will is behind every word that appears in the 66 books that make up the Holy Bible. In fact, John 1:1 states that:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And later in John 1:14 : And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us… referring to Jesus Christ.

That is why whoever diligently reads the Word and seeks to know who God is will receive a supernatural revelation (Rhema) from Him. (Proverbs 28:5, Matthew 7:7) God will come after the readers and draw them through His Holy Spirt to receive the free gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23, John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10).

From that point it is a decision of following after Jesus Christ and walking away from the temptations of the world. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, 1 Peter 1:15-16)

Building Dikes and Hedges

As you can imagine, kicking an addiction is not for the faint hearted. Dikes (levees) and hedges (Hedgerows) are two visual examples of protection that are relatively small in contrast to the immense forces they hold back. In Holland we see that dikes literally hold back the ocean from flooding the countryside. In medieval times, thick hedges were planted too create a natural impassible barrier to help keep out wild animals and help settlements fend off from attacking forces.

dike_hedgerow

In regards to pornography, here are some steps that can enable you to create a defensive barrier around your life so you can have victory!

  1. The old saying is knowing the problem is half the battle in conquering it! I pray this article has brought a better understanding on how the temptation of the lust of the eyes and flesh works. The physiological as well as the spiritual warfare side where the enemy will put temptations in front of you when you are at your weakest.
  2. Immerse yourself in the Word of God and Prayer! This by far is your most powerful defensive and offensive weapon in battling porn. (Ephesians 6:13-17)
  3. Get enough sleep (at least eight hours per night)! In our fast paced, techno saturated world, this has become a real problem that affects and impairs your cognitive and physical health. When you are tired and worn down is when you are more susceptible to temptation.
  4. Set your computer shields on high! All search engines (Google, Bing, Ask, etc.) and many apps have settings that will filter explicit content. Usually by default they are set to “moderate”. Adjust all settings to the highest filtering level. While not foolproof, this will help mitigate the possibility of inappropriate images popping up. Remember that you do not have to be looking for porn in order for it to appear in an image search. Pornographers have no scruples and will chum the web hoping someone will take the bite.
  5. TV’s, DVD’s, and Cable boxes Oh My! Same as above, set the filters on your TV’s, DVD players, Cable , Video and Satellite boxes to at least PG13 or lower. This will help unwanted images from appearing to you and family. Setting your DVD player will prevent it from playing a DVD with a rating higher than your setting.

Parent Note: Did you know many video game consoles will allow you to access and search the internet? Ensure you set the filters on your game boxes.

  1. Staying in a hotel? First thing you do is go to parental filters on the TV and filter to at least PG13 and code lock the TV. This creates a hedge that will help keep tempting images from your eyes.
  2. Install porn filtering software on your computers AND your mobile devices. There are several quality internet filtering programs that will completely block your computer from accessing pornography, such as Covenant Eyes and Net Nanny. Another great tool is available at X3Watch.com. X3watch is accountability software. It tracks your internet browsing and sends a report of any objectionable websites you have visited to an accountability partner of your choosing. Your temptation to view internet porn would be greatly reduced if you knew your youth pastor, parent, friend, pastor, or spouse would receive a detailed report about it.

Parent Note: The advice not too long ago was to keep the computer in the public area of your house. While still a good idea, with the popularity of laptops and tablets, it is no longer very realistic. And many parents do not realize that a smart phone (iPhone, Android, Win8 phone) is a fully functional computer. Let me put it this way, letting your kid have a smart phone without filtering software is like sending them to an adult bookstore to do their homework… not a good idea.

Net Nanny provides mobile filtering software.

  1. Get an accountability partner! Find a mature Christian who can help keep you accountable and pray with and for you towards victory. This may be a spouse (Genesis 2:18), accountability group, or someone who is your same gender willing to hold you accountable. (Proverbs 27:17, Matthew 18:20, 1 Samuel 23:16, Hebrews 10:24-25)
  2. Further Reading, There are some excellent books and websites out there that focus on overcoming porn addiction.


  1. Know that porn destroys lives. Not only the people who view it but the people who are shown in the pornographic images. The porn industry is directly related to increasing Human Trafficking (Slavery), Drug Addiction, Rape, Sexual Child Exploitation and Abuse, Bestiality, Suicide and Murder.

The following video is an interview with Dr. James Dobson and serial killer Ted Bundy the night before his execution. Ted reveals that pornography was one of the vices that started him down the dark path of murder for sexual gratification. It is sobering to note that Mr. Bundy only had access to magazines and xxx movie theaters during his time. Now, porn is literally everywhere…

7. Intercede with Prayer, educate, get involved. Pornography by its very nature is a subject of embarrassment and shame for not only those involved in it but for those that are not. This is one of the big reasons why it continues to grow. It needs to be nipped in the bud. Join or volunteer to help in a pornography recovery program at your church. Covenant eyes has an accountability program that you can use in your church or small group.

 Covenanteyes There are also secular sites such as http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/ which is dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of pornography and offers a recovery program.

fightthenewdrug

In conclusion, do not give up the good fight! Remember, No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

May God bless you as you seek Him out through prayer and study of His Word, The Bible!

Want to know more? Please check out A New Life In Christ!

Related articles from www.GotQuestions.org:

What is wrong with viewing pornography, if I don’t lust after the person?

What does the Bible say about pornography?

What does the Bible say about sex addiction?

Should I tell my spouse about my pornography addiction?

What does it mean to make a covenant with your eyes?

Research information from: http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/porn-changes-the-brain, http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/porn-is-like-a-drug
Citations:
  1. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, Chapter 3. pg. 70
  2. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, Chapter 4. pg. 106
  3. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, Chapter 4. pg. 107
  4. www.fightthenewdrug.org/porn-is-addictive

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  • Jessica

    Thanks so much for this article…I’m 65 live alone and have not been with a man since 2001 when my husband left me after being married over 29 years…I pray that the Lord helps be stay focus on him and the word, tell myself that my body is the temple and it has sustained for for many years, but I still be lonely at times but not so lonely where I need to lay with a man outside of marriage.