I’ve recently been studying and researching about the neuroplasticity that happens when watching pornography. “Neuro” meaning brain and “plasticity” meaning changeability. This means that our brain is constantly changing and adding layers and pathways based on our experiences.
We are taught about the different chemicals that are released in our brain when we experience something; like when you taste something incredibly delicious, a chemical called dopamine is released, sending a feel good signal to the brain having it take record of it. Or, let’s say when you hold hands or hug someone you deeply care about; a chemical called oxytocin is released, which helps you create a bond with people.
It has been scientifically established that dopamine is connected with addiction, because, well, the feeling in itself can become addictive in whatever way you’re decided to get that chemical release. Whether it’s in coffee, sweets, alcohol, drugs sex, or pornography.
Yes. Just like other addictive substances, pornography floods the brain with dopamine. And after consistent use of pornography, the overwhelming amount of dopamine that’s overloading the brain causes it to start taking away some of its dopamine receptors. (which are like tiny ears on the end of a neuron that hears the dopamine message.) With fewer receptors, even if the brain is putting off the same levels of dopamine in response to porn, the user can’t feel dopamine’s effect as much. As a result, the porn they were looking at doesn’t seem as arousing or exciting, and many porn users will end up hunting for more porn or more hardcore porn to get the effect the old porn used to offer.
Imagine taking a heavy alcoholic and having them slow down, or even stay at their normal pace of intake. Naturally, that person will become completely uneasy, emotional and unhappy because the amount of dopamine they’ve had flooding to the brain isn’t enough anymore. They need more. They’re addicted to the chemical that is being released, and not getting their fix will emotionally and physically send them overboard.
Once addiction sets in, the user has a whole new set of problems because addiction damages the part of the brain that helps you think things through and make good decisions.
Now, another thing that we don’t hear as often is how this cuts off the area of the brain that’s used to create. Our inspiration, our dreams, and even hopes become numb and dim.
You see, when we partner with sin, shame, guilt and impulsivity, it’s almost like putting a muffler over our phone speakers when trying to have a conversation. It becomes harder to hear and unclear. And the thicker the muffler, the harder it is to hear. The deeper that someone digs into their “guilty pleasure”, the more dimmed out Gods’ voice becomes to them. Not only does this muffle our communication with God, but it kills our creativity. It completely uninspires us and unmotivates us. Pornography creates laziness, making it harder to connect, not only with our craft but with ourselves and our heart. Our process and what we’re feeling and deeply thinking. It numbs our emotions and takes us out of touch with them, cause our body is physically feeling uneasy and needs another fix. It’s as if it takes apart our brain and scatters it completely.
I remember being completely addicted to pornography throughout my whole life. I’d notice the less attached to it I’d become, the more in touch I was able to be with my emotions, my desires, my passions and my art. I felt even more inspired and motivated to something as simple as waking up earlier in the morning, reading a book, going to the gym or making myself a meal (because God forbid ramen). But opposed from then to now, I’ve noticed an insanely huge increase in my spiritual discernment, hearing the voice of God and having the emotional motivation and energy to get in tune with my heart, my process and my thoughts. I love hearing testimonies from friend and students about their breakthrough in pornography. How it’s not a dark vortex that just sucks you in against your will. It’s a fight, but it’s a fight that’s well worth it.
The amount of spiritual, emotional, creative and physical breakthrough I’ve seen in people who’ve weeded away pornography, whether bit by bit or cold turkey, has been insanely inspiring and only reminds me how good Jesus is.
Here is the short version: the more porn a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free. But there’s good news too: neuroplasticity works both ways. That means that the damage to the brain can be undone when someone gets away from unhealthy behaviors.
One of satan’s favorite things to do is to shame us into dark, lonely corners, where we feel guilty and dirty. Here’s the truth: a person isn’t weird or dirty for having a pornography addiction. Once you’re a son or a daughter, you’re made clean and spotless. He bought that for us. He paid for that, and it’s ours. So we’re covered. And it’s important for us to remember that God created us with a sex drive, it’s in our design and in our nature and there’s nothing weird or awkward about it. What’s important is how you decide to steward your sex drive. Because as tempting as it may be to masturbate, slip a one night stand, get a feel good experience through an app or photos and videos, at the moment it seems like it’ll cost nothing, but it’ll end up costing you everything. Your relationships, your marriage, your dreams, the way you behave, think, dream and even your walk with Jesus. And Jesus paid for us to have the grace not to give into temptation, but to punch it in the face and send it back to hell where it came from in the first place.
Remember, there is an abundance of hope and mercy for this process of healing and restoration. And one of the greatest ways to start your process and pursuit after purity is bringing it into the light. You’ll be surprised with how many people currently, to this day, struggle with masturbation and pornography. Like I said, it’s satan’s goal to shame you into a dark and lonely corner. But once it is brought to light, he’s already lost his power – it’s now up to you to be intentional.
Our sex drive is a gift, and a powerful, expensive, beautiful gift. So treat it with intention and care. It’s worth fighting for.