By Luke Gilkerson
Finding #5: Watching Porn Makes Us Want to Watch More Porn
As Solomon said, sex is intoxicating (Song of Songs 1:4). To his students he wrote, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always in her love,” but do not get drunk on the embrace of a forbidden woman (Proverbs 5:18-20).
Solomon had no knowledge of the human brain the way we do today, but his words on the intoxicating nature of sexuality take on a new richness as we study the effects of pornography on the mind and body.
Two weeks after the Zillmann-Bryant experiment, all participants were given an assortment of pornographic and non-pornographic films to watch in private. Those who were exposed to more pornography were significantly more likely to want to watch hardcore porn.
Continually watching pornography has been shown to produce an escalation effect. Fifteen years after this experiment, Dr. Zillmann continued research in this area, finding that the habitual use of pornography led to greater tolerance of sexually explicit material over time, requiring the viewer to consume more novel and bizarre material to achieve the same level of arousal or interest.
The hot-button issue today is the question of “porn addiction”—can someone become literally addicted to pornography? In a 2008 survey, over 90% of therapists believed a person could become addicted to cybersex. Some have proposed calling this “hypersexual disorder,” and recent studies in neurochemistry confirm these findings. In his book Wired for Intimacy, Dr. William Struthers discusses at length the various hormones and neurotransmitters triggered by watching pornography. He writes:
As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens the Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through with images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men.
Ultimately, the “addiction” label may or may not be helpful. There is no medically diagnosable line one crosses from being a non-addict to being an addict—it is a gradual move. Author Michael Leahy, a self-proclaimed recovering sex addict, has been to more than 200 college campuses with his Porn Nation: The Naked Truth presentation, and he says the No. 1 question he hears from college students is, “Can I look at porn recreationally without becoming addicted to it, and is there anything wrong with that?” Even in light of his past, Leahy chooses not to focus on the addictive character of pornography, but rather on its sexually exploitative message. “So,” Leahy responds, “do you think it’s okay if I beat and berate my wife just once a month? I mean, I’m not addicted to it.” Usually reframing the question this way helps young men and women to see the problem of pornography differently.
Regardless of the specific labels we use, the intoxicating nature of pornography cannot be denied. The more we watch pornography, the more pornography we want to watch: it is like a toxin that gets into our blood. This is one great example of what Paul calls “the law of sin,” sin’s persuasive pull, which he says resides in the physical members of our bodies (Romans 7:22-24). We can become captive to the impulses of our brains and bodies when they are trained by sinful indulgence.
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Free E-Book: Your Brain on Porn
Read the complete e-book, Your Brain on Porn: 5 Proven Ways Pornography Warps Your Mind and 3 Biblical Ways to Review It. In it I weave together a biblical understanding of sex and lust with scientific observations about the damaging effects of porn. It is also a beginner’s guide to those who want to stop looking at porn but don’t know where to start. I hope you find it helpful.
Luke Gilkerson is Internet Community Manager for Covenant Eyes, an Internet accountability service.