The Pathway to Choosing Pixels over People: Pornography

Lisa May, Executive Director Live The Life South Florida

The first known use of the word pixel was in 1965. The creation was from pic + element to form pixel. /piksel/ Google defines it as a minute area of illumination on a display screen, one of many from which an image is composed. “The camera scans photographs and encodes the image into pixels.”

Live the Life South Florida was launched in 2014. In 2015 we had about 800 people participate in one of our programs. All participants are asked to complete an anonymous evaluation of the class, and at that time they were asked to circle as many as five items they were struggling with. Of the 800 respondents, 600 circled pornography. To destigmatize those entrapped and warn the curious, we hosted 22 informational events with Fight the New Drug. 

Sadly, we continue to see the pain and destruction of relationships due to pornography, but there is hope. Although porn kills love, love can kill porn.

 

How did we get here?

What allowed us to begin choosing images over relationships with people? Pornography has been available for years! As a child, I recall seeing magazines covered in brown paper behind the counter in the minute markets. Hugh Heffner cloaked it as an art form and surrounded it with interesting articles to legitimize Playboy magazine and glamorized sexual promiscuity with glittering parties at the Playboy mansion. The sexual revolution was birthed in the ’60s and has changed the culture of our nation and families with a ripple effect that continues to be felt and seen. 

The late ’80s and ’90s was the decade of the internet. In the early 2000s, Facebook launched on college campuses. Pornography has moved from print to web to social media and live (real-time) streaming in 2007. It has captured the hearts and minds of both male and female, single and married and has become an addiction for many. 

Psychologist Al Cooper attributed the explosive growth of pornography addiction to what he termed the Triple-A Engine: Anonymity, Availability and Affordability. You can view it without anyone knowing; it’s highly available, only a click away, and it’s free!

 

How Prevalent is it?

Porn is a worldwide $97 billion industry with the US consuming $12 billion a year. Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined each month, and in  2016 Pornhub alone had over 64 million visitors to the website each day. Sadly, it’s reported that every second on the internet, 28,257 users are viewing pornography and spending $3000+.

 

How can we become addicted to an image?

As explained by Fight the New Drug:

The brain becomes overexposed to chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and epinephrine. The brain rewires itself to accommodate the chemicals, and you build up a tolerance and dependency on the chemicals just like with a drug. When a person is looking at porn, their brain is fooled into pumping out dopamine just as if they really were seeing a potential mate. It triggers the reward center, which sets off a cascade of chemicals, including a protein called DeltaFosB. DeltaFosB’s regular job is to build new nerve pathways to connect what someone is doing  (i.e., consuming porn) to the pleasure he or she feels.

But DeltaFosB has another job, and this is why its nickname is “the molecular switch for addiction.”  If enough DeltaFosB builds up, it flips a genetic switch, causing lasting changes in the brain that leave the user more vulnerable to addiction. For teens, this risk is exceptionally high because a teen’s reward center in the brain responds two to four times more powerfully than an adult’s brain, releasing higher levels of dopamine and producing more DeltaFosB.  

Overloaded with dopamine, the brain will try to defend itself by releasing another chemical called CREB  (It’s called CREB because no one wants to have to say its real name: cyclic adenosine monophosphate response element binding protein!) CREB is like the brakes on a runaway reward center; it slows the pleasure response. With CREB onboard, porn that once excited a person stops having the same effect. Scientists believe that CREB is partly why consumers have to keep increasing their porn intake to get aroused. That numbed-out state is called “tolerance,” and it’s part of any kind of addiction.  

As porn consumers become desensitized from repeated overloads of dopamine, they often find they can’t feel normal without a dopamine high. Even other things that used to make them happy, like going out with friends or playing a favorite game, stop providing enjoyment because of the dulling effects of CREB. They experience intense cravings and often find themselves giving more of their time and attention to porn, sometimes to the detriment of relationships, school or work. Some report feeling anxious or down until they can get back to their porn. As they delve deeper into the habit, their porn of choice often turns increasingly hard-core. And many who try to break their porn habits report finding it really difficult to stop.

 

What are the side effects?

  • Although pornography doesn’t kill you like other drugs, twice as many people who watch porn report severe clinical depression as compared to non-users.
  • It’s directly related to negative perceptions, attitudes and aggression toward the opposite sex.
  • Research shows that one in three women watch adult context at least once a week. Married women who watch porn are almost three times more likely to want a divorce.
  • It decreases your desire for real relationships and increases your appetite for more porn.
  • An otherwise healthy male may experience inability to maintain an erection during sex. A common problem with porn addiction is the inability of the addicted individual to achieve an orgasm with their partner. The brain finds this person not the visual stimulation needed to achieve an orgasm. The emotional disconnect turns into a physical problem and turns into sexual dysfunction or erectile dysfunction.
  • It increases the infidelity rate by 30 percent.
  • Fifty percent of divorces have at least one partner with an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.
  • Married couples who watch porn almost double their risk of divorce.
  • Pornography use begets loneliness. In fact, for each “unit” of porn use, loneliness increased significantly by a factor of 0.20.
  • Pornography use is associated with relationship distress, disrupted attachment and strain on pair bonding.
  • It’s linked to child porn and sex trafficking.

 

What are the Warning Signs?

  • Sexual tastes have changed.
  • An excessive amount of time online.
  • Your devices’ internet histories are empty.
  • Your partner or child seems emotionally “distant” or withdrawn.
  • Your partner or child seems more antisocial.
  • Your partners’ financial patterns have changed.
  • Your partner or child has become secretive, evasive or defensive.
  • Your partner has become critical of your appearance.
  • A feeling of powerlessness to resist the urge to view porn.
  • Frequently spending more time or money on porn than initially intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to limit or stop viewing porn.
  • Spending a significant portion of time viewing porn, thinking about porn, or engaging in activities that will enable access to porn.
  • Neglecting family, social or work obligations to view porn.
  • Continuing to use porn despite experiencing negative consequences.
  • Passing up opportunities, or considering passing up opportunities, to have more time to use or view porn.
  • Feeling anxious, stressed, or irritable if unable to access porn.

 

Who is the most vulnerable?

The average age for exposure online is 11, and the most extensive use of internet porn is 12 -17.

  • Children under the age of 10 now comprise 22 percent of online porn viewing of children under the age of 18.
  • The under 10 years old group accounts for 10 percent of all visitors to porn video sites.
  • Over a quarter (26 percent) of 13-to-17-years-old teenagers admit to viewing pornography at least once a week.

 

The Church isn’t immune.

  • 87 percent of Christian womenhave watched porn.
  • 57 percent of pastors say porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation. And 69% say porn has adversely impacted the church.
  • 70 percent of Christian youth pastors say they have had at least one teenager come to them in the last 12 months for help in dealing with pornography.
  • 68 percent of church-going men view porn regularly
  • Of young Christian adults 18-24 years old, 76 percent actively search for porn. Barna 2016

 

What can we do?

As a society, we reach out to the alcoholic and the drug addicted. We provide opportunities in our churches and in our communities at large to come alongside those struggling with addictions. We give them a safe place to reach for help. We’re patient, kind and compassionate about their struggles. We refer to them as diseases, a medical issue. Sadly, we don’t typically respond the same to the porn addicted. We react in horror and shame.  The first line of defense is opening the door for a safe place to openly discuss the struggles to find help.

Begin the age-appropriate conversation with your children, so they are aware of the dangers. As adults reach for help through your church, counseling center or online. Consider preventative and protective software for digital devices.

 

Below is a short list of recommendations:

Fight the New Drug offers an online (ftnd.org) anonymous recovery program. 

Many churches offer recovery programs such as the Conquer Series. 

Locally, Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale offers help and can be contacted at MySAFEgroup.org and Spanish River Counseling in Boca Raton.

Preventative and Accountability software for digital devices: Covenant Eyes, X3watch, Accountable2You, NetNanny, K9Web Protection and Lion. 

Lastly, remember Philippians 4:13: “ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 

Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida etc. She can be reached at [email protected] or by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308

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One Response to “The Pathway to Choosing Pixels over People: Pornography”

  1. Lisa,

    I would love to get a copy of your article. I could definitely cite it on the topic of the link between porn addiction and sex trafficking, about which I have spoken numerous times here in Memphis. Appreciate what you are doing in your ministry efforts. Soli Deo Gloria.

    Russ White, formerly of Rogers, Morris & Ziegler law firm in Ft. Lauderdale

    Reply

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