There is a hypnotic effect of porn that is all consuming, turning consumers into Porn Zombies. Sex and the human body was meant to captivate our attention and it is good. God created sex to be shared within the boundaries He laid out but there is a level of moral disengagement via objectification that one must accept if they are to habitually consume pornography. The male brain is predisposed for this type of objectification.
A recent study found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution—that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action. When consumed too frequently, for increasing lengths of time, compulsive pornography viewing has the potential to rewire the neural circuitry of the brain. Viewing pornography creates a superhighway to climax (dopamine reward) that was intended to be a long journey through the back roads leading to intimacy. Sex and the climax were simply meant to be the end result of that intimate journey.
Through studies, men who watch porn have shown that they are visually aroused not just by images of the human bodies they desire but also by the facial expression of pleasure shown. This is cause by mirror neurons that are cells in the brain that activate when you simply see another behavior. Have you ever watched an UFC fight where one opponent lands a giant knee to the face? What do we do in response to seeing that? We all collectively gasp and oooohh and aaaahh and wince in pain. Why? Because the mirror neurons in our brains are active, sending out signals that are similar to what the individual being punched is experiencing. As we watch porn our brains neurologically experience what we’re seeing on the screen, increasing our desire for the same experience.
Your Brain on Porn
In order to understand the effects of porn we must first explore certain parts of the brain that are in play. The following is just an overview.
The Limbic System is home to many things. First and foremost, it is responsible for rewarding behaviors the brain and body deem “good”. The word “good” is in quotes because “good” is subjective when left up to man’s definition. “Good” according to God is not defined the same way man defines it. Man defines “good” as anything that delivers pleasure or removes displeasure. Pretty simple. It’s hedonic in nature and self-serving.
Two parts of the Limbic System that are responsible for pleasure and feelings of pleasure are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala allows us to express emotions and reward behaviors that make us “feel good” so we increase the likelihood of doing them again. The hippocampus stores and retrieves memories associated with those feelings and behaviors.
It works like this; I’m driving in my car and Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi comes on the radio. When my senses take those sounds in the brain begins the process of retrieving memories attached to the song. It immediately presents the memories of a high school dance. I remember all the details with vivid clarity. I remember slow dancing with Angie, the lighting in the gym, the feelings that accompanied that nervous dance and other sights and sounds that were present (this is important to remember). Those memories trigger an emotional response in my brain and send signals to the prefrontal cortex (the smart part of my brain behind my forehead that makes sense of things and add meaning to memories and events) and if the pre-frontal cortex determines that this event was good I will then feel good as I think about it.
Take a moment and just contemplate how the regular viewing of sexual material can have a similar impact on how the brain responds to porn. Here’s an example of how this plays out: You’re at home alone while the family is at the grocery store. You’re alone (crime of opportunity) and you’re on your iPad (accessibility). Before you even begin surfing porn sites (most viewers have their personal favorites and can quickly navigate right to it) we have to resolve any cognitive dissonance (moral objections) and we use a myriad of techniques to do that. After we begin viewing the porn your mirror neurons cause you to become aroused based on what you’re seeing on your screen. This arousal builds until you have to release the tension your body is experiencing and you masturbate. This results in a climax and you experience the rush of natural endorphins such as dopamine (neural rewiring is occurring during the entire process) and the body begins to return to a normal state. It is typically at this point the we re-engage our moral compass and for some a flood of emotions rush in; guilt, fear, remorse, shame, etc., all set us up for “needing” to view porn again because of powerful pleasure reward makes those negative emotions disappear for a while (it’s hard to feel bad about yourself while having an orgasm while being caught up in a fantasy).
Repeated cycles of this and its accompanying behaviors can and most certainly will lead to neural rewiring that is habitual. If the porn was heroin (a comparable experience to orgasm) this is what we would call addiction or drug dependency. The craving for the payoff of watching pornography is compelling enough to alter our lifestyle and behaviors. We may become deceitful, coming up with ways to be alone, to cover our tracks, socially isolate, or other intimacy retarding behaviors and a host of other consequences we may not even be aware of. In our next post we will look at some of those consequences.