Today, thanks to breakthroughs in neuroscience, scientists have been able to view the activity of the brain as it functions. Researchers have been able to unlock a whole new world of data. In his book, Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity, Dr. Douglas Weiss says “sex produces powerful, even lifelong, changes in our brains that direct and influence our future to a surprising degree.” Weiss goes on to say, “Your brain is the pleasure center for your body, especially when you have a sexual release.” This is a good reason for learning about the connection between sex and your brain.
Here are four things you should know about pornography and the brain:
1. At the time of a sexual release, you receive a potent rush of chemicals. The most important chemical in the brain in terms of reward is dopamine (the feel-good chemical). It also influences your behavior, cognition, and motivation. Sex is one of the strongest producers of the dopamine reward. We know from research that dopamine surges when a person is viewing different kinds of pornography. This has a negative effect on lasting relationships, because erotic images trigger more dopamine than a long-term partner. Thus, what God intended to be the ultimate pleasure is replaced by porn images and fantasy. This explains why teens are especially vulnerable to falling into the habit of dopamine reward for unwise sexual behavior. It helps explain why so many young people are getting hooked.
“We can change who and what we do by what we see, hear, say, and do. It is important to choose the activities for our brains to be well trained…We make choices that change our brains and ultimately change who we are.”Nancy Andreasen
2. We know from neuroscience that sexual imprinting takes place when you look at pornography. William M. Struthers, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College, says the unfortunate reality is that when you look at porn and act out (often by masturbating), there are hormonal and neurological consequences. In short, you are designed to bond with the object you are focusing on. In God’s design, this would be your wife, but for many guys it is an image or video on the computer screen, which has the inevitable effect of taking control of the response intended to exist between husband and wife.
3. Overstimulation leads to desensitization. Why do guys seek out a variety of new sexual images rather than being satisfied with the same ones? Neuroscience helps us to understand what has been called the Coolidge Effect. It is a neurological effect where the guy has renewed sexual interest when introduced to new partners—again the brain is changed. Too much stimulation of the dopamine reward circuitry also creates desensitization. This means the brain doesn’t respond as much and there is less reward from pleasure. This results in the porn viewer seeking out more extreme stimuli or longer amounts of time viewing porn. This all has a numbing effect on the brain. The sad impact of this is: teens eventually find themselves looking at and getting aroused by very degrading and dehumanizing images.
4. The brain stores and creates triggers. Neuroscience has also helped us to understand that when arousal and response are activated it is stored in the brain. This influences how we are triggered and process things emotionally. Spiritually speaking, when you sin sexually, this is stored in the body. This works either good or bad depending on what is stored. For example, a young guy had a fantasy that involved girls using dirty language. This was a powerful emotional trigger for him. He worked at a fast food restaurant, and one day a co-worker used certain dirty talk. He immediately felt a strong attraction and he joined in making some sexual comments. The situation nearly exploded on him, because the girl accused him of sexual harassment. Fortunately, both workers were disciplined for their actions, and he kept his job. He learned a hard lesson.
[tweetthis]You are designed to bond with the object you are focusing on. In God’s design, this would be your spouse.[/tweetthis]
What makes porn unique and especially dangerous for teens?
Gary Wilson identifies a number of reasons, including: (1) With Internet porn one can escalate both with more novel “partners” and by viewing new and unusual types (and a lot of it is free to view); (2) There’s no need to limit consumption. Unlike food and drugs, escalation is always possible because the brain’s natural satiation mechanisms don’t kick in unless one climaxes; (3) Internet porn will not activate the brain’s natural aversion system—after all, who can’t bear to look at just one more erotic image? and (4) The age users begin viewing porn. A teen’s brain is at its peak of dopamine production, making it susceptible to addiction and rewiring.
You have significant power to determine your own brain development. In her book Brave New Brain, prominent neuroscientist and psychiatrist Nancy Andreasen puts it this way: “We can change who and what we do by what we see, hear, say, and do. It is important to choose the activities for our brains to be well trained…We make choices that change our brains and ultimately change who we are.”