Your Brain On XXX

Pornography has been around for a long time. However, now with the coming of the Internet it is becoming epidemic in scope. It is no respecter of gender, age or any other socio-economic demographic. It is free, private and easily available in unlimited variety. Some people see no problem with pornography. Others think it is just a matter of moral or spiritual differences in people. This article will look at pornography from the physiological, neurological and relational perspective; what you could call the practical problems of pornography.

Brain neurochemistry and pornography
The human brain operates on chemicals and electricity to state it simply. The chemicals in our brain are called neurotransmitters because they transmit electrical impulses across neural pathways to our nerves. One of these neurotransmitters is dopamine. It is present when we experience pleasure and cravings along with reward-learning cycles. Every time we think, we change our brain and create new neural pathways. We refer to this as neuralplasticity. Dopamine surges with novelty until eventually the thrill of the newness fades and the dopamine levels fall. This is why buying something new, a new experience, or new relationship is so exciting and pleasurable. In relationships we refer to this as the infatuation stage. However, everything new eventually becomes old and the thrill and pleasure fades.

Sexual stimulation releases one of the biggest blasts of dopamine. This chemical is also part of our sense of motivation and anticipation as well as cravings and pleasure. You can see how dopamine can set a person up for a cycle of addiction. It begins to be released in anticipation of using (in this case, porn) and peaks with the actual use. The problem is when the novelty wears off it takes more of the same thing to get the high. That is the “great” thing about the Internet: there is unlimited novelty.

Physiology and pornography
As was stated before, the point of this article is not to deal with this subject from a moral or political perspective. For a Christian who truly seeks to follow the teachings of Christ, the Bible is clear about God’s view of human sexuality. It is for the pleasure and bonding of the marital couple, as well as for the procreation of the human race. People can argue over what they think pornography is or is not, and whether it is or is not harmful. However, we cannot change our physiology. We are biological beings programmed to respond sexually to certain stimuli. The neurochemistry of our brain as discussed earlier explains how this works. I mentioned before how this can set a person up for a cycle of addiction. In this case it would be sexual addiction. When the Internet is involved, some would argue that it is not so much sexual addiction as an Internet addiction. In either case, addictions are always harmful to a person.

Addictions are usually identified by the “four C’s” – a compulsion to use; a continued use in spite of negative consequences; a failure to control; and cravings, either physical or psychological. It should be obvious that such characteristics do not make for a productive lifestyle or healthy relationships.

Relationships and pornography
Addictions involve lying, deceit and manipulation. All of these things destroy trust, which is necessary for a lasting relationship. Pornography has usually been thought of as a male problem. However, research is showing widespread use between both genders today. Allow me to present a common scenario from the counseling room in regard to the problem pornography often causes in a relationship.
Our culture puts extreme pressure on women to compete in the areas of youth, beauty and body size more so than men. The man’s use of pornography often makes the woman feel rejected and inadequate – that she is not enough for him. It is an unfair comparison to feel you have to compete with photos that have often been retouched and are eternally young. Another problem is that porn can add a third party to the marriage bed. Your mate can wonder if you are thinking about them or the pornographic image in your mind.

Research has shown that three chemicals, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin are powerfully related to human sexuality. Oxytocin is the chemical released in women and vasopressin is released in men. A major purpose of each chemical is to create a bonding affect between the couple during sex. One problem with any addiction is tolerance; it takes more of the substance to get the same “high.” It is the principle that more pleasure leads to less pleasure because of desensitization and tolerance. This is where the need for novelty comes in that was mentioned earlier. This can lead to sexual dysfunction between the marriage partners because of the lack of novelty compared to the pornography. Other byproducts of all this can be depression, anxiety, “brain fog” and an inability to concentrate.

Just because a couple might agree to use pornography in their relationship does not mean it is good, wise or healthy in the long run. The facts would seem to point in the other direction.

Dr. John Hawkins :