How Porn Affects And Changes the Brain

I’ve heard a lot of people say, “It’s not a big deal if I look at porn, it’s my choice, and it doesn’t affect anyone.” This comment often reflects the inability of an addict to look outside of themselves, and even if you find yourself saying the same thing, I want to show you why porn affects you – how it harms your brain.

Pornography addicts backslide owing to the fact that pornography addiction is a serious habit that is similar to alcohol or drug addiction. The will to stop isn’t sufficient for pornography addicts to have the ability to beat the power of the addiction. While it was once thought that addictive drugs adjusted the makeup of the brain, current research demonstrates that pornography addiction and other “natural” addictions similarly affect the brain. The changes in the brain because of addiction are what makes it so difficult for people to recuperate, much of the time, ultimately driving them to relapse.

If you envision a normal electrical circuit, it has a restricted electrical limit, and just like the movies if you surpass this limit by overloading the circuit a meltdown occurs. Fires breakout and noteworthy damage is done. The same thing happens to a brain affected by pornography use. Except because of the brain’s adaptive ability, when it becomes overloaded by dopamine it alters how it is wired. This eventually rewrites how pleasure is perceived.

The addiction to internet pornography is an easy trap because adult content is easily accessible and there are more than enough varieties to choose from. It becomes easier to turn away from this appealing temptation with a better understanding of how porn hijacks the brain.

The Coolidge Effect

The brain responds to a process known as the “Coolidge effect” that is studied with mouse. There is a sexual intercourse marathon when a male rat is placed in a cage with a female rat. The male gradually tires of that particular female, but when a new female is placed in the cage, it becomes very “excited.” The male rat will always be excited about every new female he is introduced to until he dies from sexual exhaustion. The driving force behind the conduct of the male is a brain chemistry called dopamine. No other drug on earth can come close to releasing the dopamine produced by sex because our body is driven to carry our genes onto the next generation.

Just as the rat loses interest in every female, the human brain loses interest in every pornography video because it finds a new rush to raise the dopamine levels to match the first visual images seen. This is extremely harmful because the brain needs something more and more extreme to feel that high. Compared to drugs, this is known as a tolerance development that requires a higher dose.  When this tolerance is acquired, the user starts to severely alter the levels of dopamine in the brain, making joy almost impossible. The fascinating observation is that addiction begins with pornography, but after enough content, it is difficult for a person to find joy with anything in life.

The Limbic Brain

Pornography alters the perception of reality by causing the recompense circuitry in the limbic brain to be desensitized. World renowned sex and relationship therapist Wendy Matlz says: “This primitive brain region understands how we see the world. When it is in balance, we tend to see things more clearly and more optimistically. When impressions are out of balance, they are often distorted.” A chronic over-stimulation leads to a satisfaction failure and a person becomes totally insatiable when he tries to find happiness. There will soon be a conflict between the virtual reality of the user and the physical reality that leads to brain confusion. This confusion results in resentment and leaves a person unusually irritable and absorbed. They tend to concentrate on what life does not offer instead of what it does and develop a cynical view of life and women in particular.

This is not just a disease that affects one in thousands of people, but it is shocking because of the insatiable demand for pornography recorded by internet servers. There are about 4.2 million pornography websites, which accounts for almost 15 percent of all websites. There is no exact number of how many men may have a problem, but symptoms of withdrawal are like any other drug. There will be a short time of restlessness, but the brain eventually corrects itself, and most men report a quality of life unlike anything else they have ever experienced.

How Porn Affects The Brain

1. When we experience very arousing stimuli like porn, the level of dopamine in our brains increases. This is new to our brain and begins the so-called ‘ Coolidge’ effect. We are drawn to this exciting new experience. Neurochemicals of pleasure in the brain react as we continue to engage the stimulus and over stimulate ourselves. This is when we go beyond normal activation of pleasure and neurochemicals can begin to damage patterns.

2. Once this over-stimulation has been maintained, our brain adapts to a tolerance level. What once was over-stimulation is then the new normal. In response to the same stimulus, the brain begins to produce fewer pleasurable neurochemicals, so more stimulus is needed to recreate the old pleasure sensation.

3. A third change in the brain is desensitization. Once the normal reward system of the brain is bombarded with high dopamine levels, it begins to shut down. The dopamine receiving neurons  shut down their receptors to prevent over- stimulation, but the sending neuron continues to send. The result is dopamine loss and also a failure to respond to dopamine. You feel lousy when this happens; it’s difficult to feel pleasure. Unfortunately, the only thing that can release extra dopamine to make you feel good is increased porn use. The brain has an embedded trap.

4. There is also sensitization, this is the experience of the brain becoming familiar with what it expects to see. An analogy is thinking that you see your spouse or child whenever you see someone who resembles them vaguely- your brain is looking for them. When porn is what your brain expects, you begin to see a sexualized filter in which the bodies of people begin to become sexual objects. It is very difficult to reverse the effects once your brain has been adapted in this way.

To make important changes, many people need help and support. Below I have outlined the key issues created by porn and how to help your brain.

Objectification

As mentioned, when the brain changes, parts of the body become sex objects and relationships fall by the wayside. Many men have told me that overuse of porn makes it impossible to talk to women without fixing on one part of the body. This dislocates sex and relationships. The aim of sex, which is to bind relationships and procreate, is no longer functional.

Pleasure decrease

We do not feel well when dopamine is deregulated. Depression and hopelessness soon follow in a world in which nothing happy or meaningful is experienced. It is difficult to share with the many joys of life because there seems to be only one (sex) joy! This is extremely problematic and interferes with the ability of people to get up and work or enjoy their family.

Isolation

Isolations are a common experience if pleasure, motivation and relational interest are low. In addition, porn addiction can make people spend countless hours in secret in search of porn. Unfortunately, the common isolation also creates further despair and negative experiences.

It is possible to wrestle free of porn hold on the brain. The key ingredients are accountability and room for the brain to rewire. Accountability helps end isolation and supports changing behaviours. Setting limits, removing access and refraining from sex will slowly recalibrate the brain’s reward pathway. Coupling relational growth and brain rewiring are a powerful practice, because relationships can be satisfying and maintained. Then sex can finally be enjoyed again in the realms of its intended function.

Short-term mentality

Porn watching can also make people value immediate payoffs over delayed gratification, according to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research. Compared to people who abstained from eating their favourite food, people who were asked to abstain three weeks from porn showed a lower rate of “delay discount,” meaning they were willing to wait longer for a reward. Delay discounting refers to the phenomenon in which the longer one has to wait to receive a reward becomes less valuable. The researchers have found that simply avoiding porn can put people into a more long-term mindset.

If you have had a bad habit of pornography and trying to quit to no avail, it may be time to look honestly at your relationship to pornography. There are many other ways in which pornography erodes your whole person, leaving you weak, confused and uncertain about any direction in life. Start your recovery today and reclaim your life.

2 Comments
  1. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My blog discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!

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