The Neurological Effects of Pornography
The eye-popping statistics on pornography, though horrifying, seem not to alarm individuals to change. The science on the re-wiring of porn’s effect on neurochemistry (See Struthers – Wired for Intimacy: How Porn Hijacks the Male Brain) has been well-publicized, and though accurate, has not significantly altered porn use on a mass scale. In fact, even the empirical correlation between porn use and other anti human-flourishing activities (human trafficking included) have not abated porn profits at all. So, is there any value in continuing to publish prose on pornography?
The science on the re-wiring of porn’s effect on neurochemistry has been well-publicized.
In a word, yes. We owe it to ourselves. There are many reasons to substantiate this yes claim, but here are four.
1. We should defend the glory of God seen in Image-bearing humanity, which porn mars.
2. We should protect the diminished life that pornography inevitably produces.
3. We should work to heal the deep scars that porn leaves on marriages.
4. We should advise married couples against porn use, since there is a documented uptick in divorce rates among porn viewers.
With these reasons in mind, let’s look at the path that pornography typically takes into an individual’s life.
The Way In
Unlike certain items that one must search for, pornography does not require a strain. Rather, the pathway into pornography is similar to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Alice follows the rabbit into it, and once she enters the hole, she is in all the way.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.Lewis Carroll
Following a whim, like Alice following the rabbit, porn dabblers quickly find themselves in a whole new world. But while porn promises to be a wonderland, it ends up being anything but that. So what are the rabbits that men follow into the hole of pornography?
Rabbits that Men Chase (or Why Men Use Porn)
2. Play of Fantasy
3. Pleasure of Surrender (orgasm/transcendence)
4. Importance of Women’s Pleasure
5. Appreciation of the Female Form
(Cited from: Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography, David Loftus)
The Way Out
Unfortunately, porn users find that the ease with which one enters ‘porn wonderland’ is not paralleled on the way out. Why is this so? For many reasons, but I will cite but one here:
Sexually acting out in response to pornography creates sexual associations that are stored as hormonal and neurological habits. William M. Struthers. Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Kindle Locations 548-549). Kindle Edition.
Obviously, not every porn user acts out on their fantasies, but many people do. As Struthers shows above, this literally changes the chemical and biological habits in the brain and illustrates the intensity of continued porn use. Within this intense reality, is there hope?
Sanctification? Spiritual Formation?
The hope for a way out of pornography does exist, as many lives testify to this fact, and it is found through sanctification and spiritual formation:
What is critical, however, is understanding that the recovery of thought is rooted in the embodied brain and designed for the process of sanctification. As a result, it is a matter of spiritual formation.William M. Struthers. Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain
The link between the brain and sanctification/spiritual formation is a topic of great interest to my wife and myself. As we have worked with couples now for many years, we have been deeply grieved and saddened by the lack of sanctification/spiritual formation in people’s lives who are porn consumers. We have found that stymied by sexual sin, with porn generally being a steady diet along the way, there has been one pronounced theme in people’s lives who remain stuck in porn: a lack of brokenness.
Brokenness & Repentance
Brokenness is glibly tossed around in our day, but brokenness is anything but a glib reality. When we use the word brokenness, we are meaning that a person either is or is not viewing sin the way that God views sin. Often, where there is little brokenness, excuses and the justifying of one’s sin will abound. Biblically, brokenness can be understood as a humble and contrite heart:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17 ESV)
And the practice most closely associated with brokenness is repentance. I have heard godly, mature pastors say for years that they are not necessarily better at certain spiritual practices, they are just more practiced at repentance. As I have gotten older, the more I have seen this concept confirmed in Scripture and in practice. Although repentance demands its own treatment outside of this space, one Scripture may be helpful:
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:8 ESV)
John the Baptist said this – and he was basically saying: let the fruit of your life weigh as much as the repentance you confess with your mouth. Or to use a contemporary phrase: actions speak louder than words. So if you want to get free from porn, become the best repenter imaginable, choose a contrite heart, and trust God to give you His grace as you align with His Word.