The Porn Circuit

The Porn Circuit Ebook Cover

Science shows us why porn is highly addictive. Learn how our neurochemistry is easily hijacked by porn to create compulsive behaviors, and discover how the brain can be rewired to escape porn's allure.

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45 thoughts on “Hot Bods, the Bible, and the Brain: Understanding Porn Addiction

    • My ex-husband left me and my children over porn addiction. He has been addicted for 33 years. What are the chances he will change and want his family back? Should I even want him back after what he did to us?

    • It is not wrong to want your husband back, even after his sin. You share a bond with him that is unbreakable in this life. That said, forgiveness is often a difficult thing, and regaining trust can be a monumental task. I cannot say what “the chances” are he will change, because I’ve seen both drastic turn-arounds and stubborn resistance, often in the most “unlikely” people.

      Have you found help for your own wounded heart in all of this? What you’ve been through, with his porn addiction and the desertion of his family, has had to be very difficult for you.

    • That dualism you mentioned is a basic tenet of neoplatonism, and made me think of a term coined by Randy Alcorn called “Christoplatonism” — basically the thought that physical things are evil and spiritual things are good. Thanks for the article.

  1. Hey Luke,
    Thank you for writing up this blog. I think it is tremendously important, as a Counselor myself in a Christian context and church, that we begin to open up this discussion to the church. Having walked with many through understanding pornography addiction, reduction to a simply “morality” is not enough to change anyone. God made us, and our brains, and in understanding our brains, we can understand God more.

    I am also a big fan of integrating faith and neuroscience, as my experiences thus far continue to show that whether it is porn addiction, or marriage counseling, or anything else, it continues to validate God’s truth claims, not negate them.

    One critique or question I might raise for you, and perhaps you can work up another post on this- is discussing cause versus consequence. As I am reading this post, I completely agree that what Sam Black and others point out is that the use of porn decreases healthy brain function and turns our dopaminergic system upside down, completing distorting “normal”. However, many tend to get lost in the neuroscience discussion as if it is saying it is a “cop out” to the cause- the initial cause.

    I believe that spiritually speaking, we’d agree that the cause of one initially turning to porn is a worship issue, however, I do think that the cause is also neurologically relevant, as we understand a fallen brain prior to porn exposure. This post seems mostly directed at the consequences of ongoing use, both spiritually and neurologically, which I think is also good and necessary. I’d like to open up a more complex understanding, neurologically and spiritually, of what initially makes one more predisposed to use pornography.

    And here’s my concern, if I am not making complete sense, is that often times those addicted to pornography have wrongly defined their problem, as if they “just really like porn”, when in actuality, many times, they happen to stumble upon pornography and due to life circumstances (ex. my parents are getting a divorce, I am failing at school, I have no friends, I am being bullied- any number of things that tap into the things you listed above from Tim Chester), the marriage of porn use and emotional pain become powerfully married.

    But, what is going on that brain- perhaps the adolescent brain- prior to the porn exposure, and what makes certain situations, both in real life and neurologically, a breeding ground for addiction?

    These are some things I have examined on my own, but I’d love for the church to work on a continuing to redefine and deepen this, rather than seeing it as a simple morality issue.

    Thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope we can continue this discussion.

    • Great questions, Tyler. You are correct that the article is intentionally limited in scope, describing the man or woman who is already entrenched in the habit. It does not try to unlock how the fall impacts the brains of “normal” (i.e. not yet exposed to porn) people, and that is indeed a more complex question. It would most definitely deserve a post of its own.

      Do you have any thoughts on this (other than what you’ve already said here)?

  2. Great article. I recently got covenant eyes and I feel like a new man. But the problem is many people are making fun of God and saying belief in God is not rational since an all powerful God who really cares about people would not let evil exist – in other words they say evil is ultimately God’s own fault because he allowed it and deluded humans into thinking they had free will. I can’t think of any way to answer this, and it makes me wonder if God is just a delusion I created in my mind. Please help.

    • “How could a Good God allow evil to exist?”

      First of all, He would not, and He did not! If He did, then He is not good or He is not God. He, being infinitely holy and good could not create anything but what is holy and good, and as we read in the creation (Genesis1-3) everything was “good.” But man and woman chose to reject the goodness of God with their ingratitude as they listened to the Devil (serpent) convince them that God was the cruel tyrant who was withholding something from them. They “chose” to eat of the forbidden tree thereby declaring with their actions that God was not good and disobeying Him was. Sin and evil were born into this world as result.

      Why would a good God put something so desirable (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) in the garden and then tell Adam and Eve they cannot have it? Understanding that God who is infinite in love and overflowing with it created man as a receptacle in which He can pour out this uncontainable, overflowing love. If you had a container that was spilling over with its content, wouldn’t you look to find something that could catch the overflow? When you are overwhelmed with feelings of joy and love, don’t you look for someone you can share that with? How painful is it when that love is not returned? How blessed would you feel if that person only loved you because they were “programmed” to love you without a choice? How would you ever know that they truly loved you by choice unless there was a choice not to love you? We are a people who want to be loved by people’s choice are we not? Now do you understand why God would give man a choice? He desires, like we do, to be chosen out of the myriads of other “choices” and when we choose to love Him, we are doing what we were created for and thoroughly pleasing the heart of God, our Creator.

      Why would God allow evil? He would not and did not! As soon as Adam and Eve sinned and the curse of evil entered the world, we read in Genesis 3:15 how God immediately set out in His infinite love and goodness to redeem man. God promised there that He would solve the problem of evil that the serpent inspired by crushing his head by a descendant of Eve (which as you study the Bible, learn to be Jesus the Messiah who fulfilled that promise on the cross of Calvary). We also read in Genesis that God covered up Adam and Eve with animal skin, which means that an animal was sacrificed to cover their sin. Remember, God said if they ate of the fruit they would surely die. If they did not, then God was a liar or He was wishy-washy and not steadfast. A God that is eternal, perfect, and the First Cause of the entire universe could only be immutable (unchanging). He can only fulfill all He says because He “spoke” the world into existence. Since we came into being through His spoken Word, then if He changed the word He spoke, all existence would change too. Adam and Eve listened to the words of the serpent (the Devil who is only a liar) rather than God’s Word which is eternally Truth, and they sinned against God. However, the first thing God did, being moved by His infinite love and mercy, was cover their sin. He before promised them that sin would be punishable by death, but animals (innocent creatures) paid for their sin so they would not have to. As animals were sacrificed mankind would have to face the ugliness of sin and evil, and the goodness of God who would do such a mercy so they would not have to die apart from Him.

      Why would God allow evil? He did not! He solved the problem of evil already when He sent His Son Jesus to be the final sacrifice for sin on the cross. Evil and sin is solved at the cross. All who complain about evil or sin refuse to go there and receive the most wonderful Gift that God has ever given, His only Son! You should be very glad that God did not come and just obliterate evil, because you (and I) would have been in that number and eternally cut-off from God with no hope, left with only evil forever!

      Let’s say God came down right now to remove evil from the world and left all those who are “good.” When is the last time “good” people never did anything evil? Has history not proven that “good people” corrupt? So that means God would have to continually come down over and over and over to remove the evil people that had corrupted from their “goodness” the last time He came. No, an infinitely wise God would never have such an absurd and foolish solution as this! He would come ONCE, and only once to solve this dilemma we call evil.

      God came down and took on the form of man (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus left His heavenly throne to take up a Roman cross; He set aside His Royal Crown to put on a crown of thorns; He left the palaces of heaven and lived like a nomad in the world He created. He was born the target of assassination, served like a pauper, and suffered and died like a criminal. Jesus did not consider His divine equality with God as something to be held onto, but instead He “emptied Himself… and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8). In Hebrews it says, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross” (12:2). Emptied, humbled, and sacrificed: This is the “Man” that joyfully left all He had to find you, sold all He had to purchase you, labored with all He had to raise you up from the dead, and spent all He had to unite you with Him in eternal life. Apparently He sees you as that precious of a treasure. Can you do the same for Him?

      “Why do bad things happen to good people?” plagues the thoughts of many people. On the other hand, we could just as easily ask, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” The solution to this unexpected conundrum can be found by examining our corrupted assumptions. In simpler terms, we wrongly expect justice (righteous people receiving righteous things and wicked people receiving wicked things) even though life itself has continuously proven this preconceived notion to be pure fantasy. Solomon saw this injustice of life and called it futility.

      First, you might expect that bad things should happen to bad people (wicked outcomes for wicked people, etc.). Be careful here not to agree to swiftly; if this “justice” of yours were the case, we would all be doomed to be under God’s wrath forever. Our hearts should be overflowing with worship and gratitude that God has not given any of us what we really deserve (death) and has given what we never would deserve (eternal life). The “futility” that Solomon saw was the real futility.

      The solution to this seemingly futile problem is found at the cross: Jesus, the only One who is righteous, getting what the wicked deserve (eternal death apart from God), so we who are all wicked could get what only He deserves (eternal life with God). The next time you are plagued by the foolish question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” you need to ask the right question: “Why do good things happen to bad people” Better stated, “Why did the best thing in history happen to me? What did I do so good to get Jesus to save me?” If you are demanding justice, be careful, you just might get what you demand! Get into the habit of saying this: “Death was mine and Jesus took it; Life is mine and He lost it.” God did not desire to remove evil; He did infinitely better than that— He dealt with its root of sin, and He did it by giving Himself to death on our behalf. The problem of “evil” has been solved. The Cross changes everything!

      Q: Why did the worst thing in history (crucifying Jesus, God Incarnate) happen to the most righteous Person in history?
      A: To conquer the reason “bad things” happen to people (sin and evil).

      For more info on this topic, I wrote an article called, “God’s Divine Dilemma.” Here is the direct link: http://davidandkimfrazier.com/files/Gods_Divine_Dilemma..pdf

    • Hey Harris, Norm Geisler has written a book, “If God, Why Evil”, that explains the existence of evil. Your question will be answered in this book. You may also find Norm Geisler on You Tube explaining the existence of evil. Evil is not a thing, evil is a lack in a good thing. Like rust on a car or a wound on your body and is the result of free will.

  3. Forgive my annonimity, but I have a personal experience that began in 2006. In a nutshell I was advised to seek professional assistance for “sex and love addiction”, I have had the blessings of having the ability to seek the world’s best therapists, using the most advanced modalities of therapy including neurocognitive feedback. Basically I lost ten years of the prime of my life, and everything except my life itself, but have finally been granted freedom and healing, even purity in my soul from none other than the Lord, no doubt. (Four months absolute purity/no sexual thoughts entertained for more than a passing second). Have not put “story” together as much of time was bedridden depression (3years), but know God has spared me to tell. Maybe you could offer some advise as I’m just now starting to think their might be hope, for me, in THIS life. I submit this in love and frailty, please honor annonimity, for now anyway.

  4. A very good and educational read. Keep up the good work. Addressing these issues early on with kids and family should be encouraged. Our children are exposed to suggestive language and materials early on in life and as a parent I believe that the right information and tools are vital for everyone.

  5. Luke – I am in a terrible situation. I was exposed to porn when I was 10. My dad had stash’s of movies and magazines. I have fought this most of my life. My wife has always hated it when she found out I had looked at porn on the computer. Last year I found out she was actually cheating on me with several men. I thus went out and had sex with several women. After several months I got my head back on. I have made the fight of my life to quit porn forever. I went to a week long inpatient therapy, I have been reading everything I can related to kicking the habit. I go to therapy every week. after loosing my wife of 20 years and knowing that porn was a contributing factor I am still having a hard time quitting even though I hate it so much. I have covenat eyes on my computer because I have to use it for work. WHAT AM I MISSING????? WHY CANT I SEEM TO STOP?? AFTER 3-4 DAYS IT IS LIKE AN OVERWHELMENING DESIRE I CANT CONTROL? PLEASE HELP!!!

    • Hi Bobby,

      You’re asking a good question. One I wrestled with for years. I feel your pain.

      First, understand that there is no formula to this. For years I looked for the magic pill or the missing piece of the puzzle that would solve the problem. Addiction to porn doesn’t work like that. There is nothing you can do in a given moment that will make the craving for porn simply go away. You’ve trained your mind to crave porn, and now you need to train it to desire something else.

      It is helpful knowing how through deliberate action, we are actually changing our brains. Informed by the process of how our brains can change, the addict can avoid porn and fantasy knowing that real change is possible. Change is built into the very fabric of our brains: change is exactly what our brains are designed to do. Know that each time you feel the urge but abstain from porn, you can think, “Okay, this really stinks for now. I feel terrible. But I will not always feel this way. In fact, I aim to reclaim my brain so I can experience real, lasting pleasure again.”

      What do you do in your therapy sessions?

  6. Great article Luke,
    Addiction vs Moral responsibility was a great read and a main reason why I struggle to label it addiction, but more a destructive habit that is hard to shake once there has been neurological change supported by hormonal. Keep up the great work your team does, I am a CE user and am very thankful for the CE teams commitment to help those who struggle with porngraphy and provide family’s with a great internet safety application tool.
    I often wonder if the pornography issue, effects Christian men and women more intensely as it is also so taboo enhancing the ‘thrill’ (for lack of a better word) of looking at porn. I have non Christian friends who talk quite openly and honest about the porn they like to watch or have seen, not that I suggest that is a good thing or very helpful to me as I do struggle with porn, but the very idea they understand they have a natural desire to view it seems to be a step ahead of the Christian community I feel, after all it is a natural desire, it has just been hijacked.

    • I think there is something to what you’re saying. This is something I explored in an article a while back about Christians using porn.

      On some level, every person experiences guilt for breaking God’s laws. Paul writes, “work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). But we also know that this guilt and shame is heavily suppressed by those in the world. “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24).

      As for Christians who have consciences invigorated by the Word of God, porn has the thrill of the forbidden. This is exactly the enticement Folly gives: “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). We want what we are told not to have. This is exactly Paul’s experience in Romans 7: when he heard the command not to covent, it awakened in him all kinds of covetous desire.

      My article explores some of the answers to this. Read it and let me know what you think.

  7. Yes, yes, yes. A Christian view of the mind is much needed in the ‘porn discussion’. I remember seeing lives changed due to the information on the atheistic blog http://yourbrainonporn.com which shares an honest view of how porn distorts our plastic brains. Understanding this will allow leaps towards winning the battle and it was about time that Christians use these resources to encourage young men in their battle for purity.

    Bravo!

  8. Good article, it points to the idea there is physiological effects on the body from sin. The biblical solution remains the same whether we know of the effects or not. It helps our understanding of why this is so difficult to overcome, but nothing is impossible with God. That is so comforting.
    I do have a concern with the use of the word disease. It is freight with baggage, and needs to be defined with precision. It’s just my custom in counseling to stay away from that word, and speak on sin, enslavement, etc. I just prefer to use biblical terminology while counseling.

    • I prefer biblical terminology as well, which is why I quoted Ed Welch’s commentary about the Bible’s use of disease terminology. I don’t disagree that we need to define our terms, but we don’t need to be afraid to liken sin to disease the way the Bible does.

      Isaiah talks about sin as a head-to-toe sickness: “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds” (Isaiah 1:6a). Jeremiah likened sin to sickness when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), which is why he later likens salvation to healing: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise” (17:14).

  9. Good article – it was encouraging.

    The section that really resonated with me was the 6 “R”s. When guys I hold accountable sin sexually, I am less interested in the “how” (though we want to close that loophole) and more interested in the “why”. In other words, what has been going on in the days or hours before the sin manifested itself. If we simply account to each other the number of times in a week we acted out, then we aren’t getting to the root. Likewise, when I struggle with sexual sin, I now (after many years of input from sources like this article, Purity Battles, counseling, etc,) ask myself what am I medicating – failure, rejection, disappointment, loneliness, pity, etc. My questions are basically summarized in the 6 “R” s in your article. It is the same questions I would ask a coke addict, gambler, overeater, workaholic.

    it is important to find the holes in the fence so we can cutoff access (CE, filters, accountability partners, new routes home, etc.) but we must go further to determine why we are seeking the holes at all.

    God bless you, Paul

    • Thanks, Paul. I agree. The whys are very important. We must get to the idols of the heart and the ruling desires that drive our actions. What are we worshipping? What are we using as a God replacement? And how do we repent at the deepest level: repenting of the way these desires have ruled us and become our masters?

      Take a minute and read the article linked above the 6 Rs. I’d love to get your thoughts on it.

  10. I very much appreciated this article. I am a recovering sex adict myself, and definately can relate to the detox comments you have made.

    I have been in active individual treatment counseling (Christian based) for over a year, and also a member of Sexaholics Anonimous for almost as long. Both have helped me tremendously.

    If there is anyone out there that even thinks they have a porn problem, please seek help. You CANNOT kick this addiction by yourself.

  11. Wow, more confusing psychobabble. Of course we all have brain damage. It’s called sinful nature and without Christ, it just gets worse. All of your suggestions have to do with what YOU can do. Our solution only comes from what CHRIST can do. Porn or any other sin is not overcome by mental exercises. All sins, great or small are overcome purely by the power of Christ at work within the broken and contrite, dependent on Him alone and not on human power. Noone can take credit for their own bravery or might in resisting sinful nature or the habits it inevitably produces. Taking credit for what the grace of God accomplishes in us is very dangerous. We should give God glory for every sinless moment we experience. Our sinful thoughts and deeds should be sqaurely layed at the feet of Christ to overcome in His method and in His timing. Our prayers should be like that of Judah facing impossible odds.
    2 Ch 20:12 O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.” (NLTse)
    If it were possible for man to simply dig in his heels, then why did Christ have to die?

    • I disagree. Talking about the idols beneath our sinful behavior is far from psychobabble. And as far as what we can do vs. what Christ does for us, I don’t agree with the dichotomy (at least, not the way you put it). Of course only Christ can sanctify us and make us his own. But we are commanded throughout the New Testament to change the way we think as a means of God’s grace to overcome sin. Where in my article do I suggest people should take credit for their own change? Even in my recommendations about presenting the members of our body to God, the emphasis is on laying these things before Christ, not just playing mental gymnastics.

      Nothing in my article suggests that changing your brain makes you right with God. You’re reading something into my article that simply isn’t there.

  12. This was a very in-depth article on porn. I am quite sure that in quoting Dr. William Struthers in his outstanding book “Wired For Intimacy,” reveals the common connections of the brain and porn.

    Also that he stated that men are having fantasy sex with the image on the screen in masturbation. Most men detach themselves from their wives for a number of reasons. However, most will agree that self sex, used as a pharmaceutical act to achieve the dopamine or satisfaction drug in the blood stream, is a serious addiction. When a man or woman masturbates, satisfaction is achieved without dealing with the aspects of relationship.

    As long as porn is the fuel and he is able to achieve self satisfaction in masturbation, unless he stops masturbation, he may never recover. A man could masturbate out of memory and muscle memory. Many people believe that masturbation is healthy. Planned Parenthood, alias Klanned Abortionhood affirms masturbation as part of a man’s sexual exploration. Nothing could be further from the truth that masturbation is self imposed slavery because a man or woman seeks to be loved, affirmed, and satisfied.

    In a failure to look to the Lord for these things, he engages in achieving these things through false sex. It’s the carrot on the stick that will never be eaten. I trust that more will be shared about the “Seamless Fabric” and interlocking connections of porn and masturbation.

    Thank you for your article.

  13. Hi Luke,

    I just rescanned this article and will comment briefly here per your request, and list a few books that you may or may not have. Your article is well researched, logically outlined, and very helpful as usual.

    A perspective on science:
    Neuro-science and all sciences rightly presented and interpreted will always confirm the Word because Special Revelation and General Revelation come forth from the same God. The danger is that “science” is man’s work, and is never to be taken as Truth. Only Special Revelation (The Bible) can be considered Truth. Scientific theories, experiments, and conclusions can only intersect with truth at points. Science can enhance our understanding but should never become a filter over the Bible to become the basis of our worldview. Since the fall, man actively seeks to suppress the truth and mock it with man’s wisdom – Ph.D level and beyond. Rom 1 and 2 Pet 3. This pattern increases in the last days.

    Having said that, the “putting off” of sin is a complex process, especially with sexual sin because it profoundly effects the body. I think these advances in neuro-science help us in part to understand 1 Cor 6:18 better, “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

    I appreciate your response to Matt above. His simplistic hit and run comments demonstrate a lack of mature understanding regarding progressive sanctification. What we DO is not the grounds of our acceptance in Christ. It is our response in obedience to Christ as part of the God-ordained plan of redemption. Rom 7 and many other places speak of the struggle we have here. All grace is from God. All praise goes to God, but we have responsibilities to use the means of grace as you said.

    Here are some books that have more to do with my comments on the other/current article:

    1. The Useful Lie – William Playfair, MD
    2,. Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology – Ed Bulkley, Ph.D
    These two, along with Addictions, by Ed Welch are must reads for anyone working in our field.

    These four are the gold standard books of biblical counseling as far as I am concerned:
    1. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands – Paul D. Tripp
    2. Curing the Heart – Eyrich and Hines
    3. Idols of the Heart – Elyse Fitzpatrick
    4. How to Help People Change – Jay Adams (still the Martin Luther of BC)

    One more, a booklet on sexuality from a positive biblical perspective – only 50 pages – a must!
    Biblical Principles of Sex – Robert D. Smith, MD – for married men or women.

    All are available on Amazon. Hope this is helpful Luke!

    Brian

    • I don’t think we’re in disagreement here, although I’ve only read some of the books you’ve suggested. Is there something in my article that gives you the impression we wouldn’t agree?

  14. Thanks Luke. I am glad you agree with the view on “science” I presented above. The only possible disagreement goes back to the issue of “disease.” If you read the first two books mentioned above by Playfair and Bulkley, you will see why I shy away from the term disease relating to any addiction or aspect of mental health. I think it is more than just a hijacking of the term, but an actual Satanic intrusion into the church, attacking the realities of sin and the cross. This is why I am not an integrationist in counseling.

    Dr Smith’s booklet on sex may also be very helpful in your work with CE. You are often dealing with the dark side of sex, this gives a wonderful view of the positive side – put off/put on.

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