The Porn Circuit

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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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40 thoughts on “Neuroscience Speaks: How Using Porn Destroys Your Willpower

  1. Great article! After 30 years of creating a “grand-canyon-sized gorge” in my brain, God helped me retrain my brain and smooth out those deep ruts I created. I now work with men to help them do the same and have seen great success. You have given some tremendous advice for men. I especially like your “SUDs” definition. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for posting this article and for all the great stuff you guys regularly post! I direct anyone I counsel about porn addiction straight to this blog. This information about the neuroscience of addiction is a huge breakthrough, even though it’s nothing really new, having an understanding of the brain chemistry and the HOPE that there can be change is a powerful catalyst. I thank God for His work in my life and for YOU, Covenant Eyes!

  3. Awesome information. I am ready to start practicing these things. I am grateful that God is using you to help His people live in the freedom He bought for us.

  4. Thanks for the timely article. With the start of Lent tomorrow I hope it keeps me focused on overcoming this addiction. Thanks !

  5. Great article, and good information. However the only thing you do not address(and I have never heard this addressed) is when you say that over time your brains desire for porn will end. I do not doubt this to be true. However the problem is for those of us who are single, and don’t believe in Sex till marriage. I myself am a 27 yo virgin. You say there is something better at the end of thes struggles, when a porn addiction is overcome. For those of us who have no other outlet, there really isn’t. I remember back in the day before I Used porn and masturbated, I was a very angry upset guy. When you have these “urges” and you have no way to deal with them, turning to “visual aids” really is the only other option. I have got off porn before(for 2 years) and to be honest, I hated it. Always wanting to do something you can not do(talking about sex). That is not cool. That is one area in which God has done men a major disservice. Make you want to do something every day, and provide basically no way to deal with it….anyway I didn’t mean to rant.
    the big question here is, yeah I could stop, I have done it before, but if that is the only way to make these “urges” go away, albeit only temporary, why should I stop?

    • Your position is understandable. However, even for virgins (and perhaps especially for virgins), something better awaits those who abstain. More specifically, just because you’re 27 and single doesn’t mean you’ll always be single. The real question is, do you care more about setting yourself up for a good marriage from the get-go, or do you care more about immediate gratification and personal happiness? Because if you care more about your immediate personal happiness and not the happiness of your marriage, by all means, keep using porn, and don’t bring a woman into your own life. But if you truly want to get married, then for your future wife’s sake, stop right now.

      Here’s just an off-the-cuff bullet list of what you’re bringing into your marriage by your continued use of porn:

      • Thousands of women who are airbrushed, dyed, and otherwise made up to be hotter than your wife.
      • A brain that’s hardwired to believe that variety is better than monogamy.
      • A high probability of erectile dysfunction.
      • A high probability of causing your wife extreme distress (read this post, and especially the comments from devastated wives…and I could find you hundreds of other examples).

      The first three points in that list especially all add up to the fact that marriage does not solve your sexual “needs,” thereby leading to the fourth point. In fact, your first experience of intercourse will most likely be awkward and possibly outright painful. Your wife will have her own needs and desires and emotional issues. So don’t believe for an instant that getting married will eliminate the desire to watch porn. (Read a blog post about that here.)

      I also want to address your comment that you feel that God has done a major disservice to men. From this aside, I am going to assume that you are a brother in Christ, and as your sister in Christ, I feel I must exhort you to go meditate for a while on 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 6 and 7 (on sexual temptation, singleness, and marriage), and on 1 Corinthians 10:13, where it says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Porn is nothing if not “common to man.” The real problem is that you’ve come to the (understandable) conclusion that porn is the way of escape from your anger and bitterness, when in reality it is the sin. It’s adultery against a woman you haven’t met yet (Matthew 5:28).

      To wrap these thoughts up, I’m going to quote Donny Pauling, a former porn producer for Playboy. (Check back in June; you’ll be able to read a full interview with him in our upcoming e-book, The Hardcore Truth.) Here’s what he told a high school kid about porn:

      I said, “Let me ask you this: if you had a woman in your life right now, would you fight for her?” And he sticks his chest out and says, “Of course I would.” I say, “What if two years from now, you meet the woman of your dreams, and you can say, ‘I’ve been fighting the battle of my life for you, and I didn’t even know you yet.'” He asks, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “Say no to these women that are throwing themselves at you. Be willing to fight for her even when she is not willing to fight for herself. That’s what a man does. These women that are throwing themselves at you are putting themselves on a screen – in this case, with porn – they are not fighting for themselves. What is gentlemanly about giving in and just using them?”

  6. Thanks for the reply Lisa! A lot of what you have said does make sense. I do realize that although I am single now, that may not always be the case. The main statement I still have though after reading your reply is in regards to your statement about temptation and God providing escape. That is very true. However I was not referring to temptation, but to the overall sex drive. I realize this a common issue, virtually every guy struggles with. God for some reason decided to instill such desires in us, then decided to make it almost impossible to deal with it(without sinning of course, the way women are today, there is no lack of it for the single guy, if you really wanted to go down that road) I mean instill such an urge that begins around 14(earlier or later, depending on the guy) but say nope, cant help yourself through this, you have to wait till a wife comes around(if you ever get to that point). I mean really?? How is that good? I have often prayed to God to take away the sex drive, but it seems that prayer falls on deaf ears(I mean no disrespect). I don’t know, it really has shaken my faith in the whole church thing(don’t get me wrong, I still believe in Jesus, and he is my personal Saviour) I am at the point now where I am really reconsidering the Idea of waiting till marriage, its out there, why not take some before you are too old to really enjoy it??

    • I’ll certainly grant you that it’s rough, especially as we’ve made a cultural shift towards delayed marriage. Given our culture’s general tendency to glorify the act of sex, it must be especially difficult to be a single guy who’s patiently waiting.

      So why hold out? The short answer is that God commanded it. Marriage, and therefore sexual intimacy, is meant to be a picture of how Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25-27). It’s supposed to be faithful and sacrificial, as Christ himself is faithful and sacrificial.

      We are also called members of Christ, and “shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them to a prostitute” (1 Cor. 6:15)? (Even if you’re not paying for sex, out of wedlock it’s effectively the same thing in God’s eyes.) Remember, in marriage through intercourse, “the two shall become one flesh” (vs. 16). This is backed up by science, for the record; neurochemicals like Oxytocin are triggered through physical intimacy, causing sexual partners to bond through each other. If a husband and wife only ever bond with each other sexually, their bond should only increase over time. If you walk into marriage already bonded to another, it won’t be doing your marriage any favors. (Check out The Porn Circuit for more information about the chemical side of things; it’s porn-specific, but it contrasts it to what intimacy should be.)

      So that’s at least part of the reason why God gave you a sex drive and is still telling you “wait.” The next question is “How?” I’m going to list just a ton of (mostly stream-of-consciousness) ideas, both about singleness in general and to help you rule over your sex drive instead of letting it rule over you. I apologize in advance; I know some of them will come across as trite or cliche. Please know that I’m listing even the trite-sounding ones out of a genuine concern for you as my brother in Christ.

      1. Remember that Jesus and (probably) Paul both died as single virgins. God’s not asking you to do something he himself didn’t do. (As for Paul, some scholars speculate that he may have actually been a widower, but regardless, he lived for the latter half of his wife without sexual intimacy.)

      2. Meditate on the fact that Paul describes singleness as an enviable state. Are there things you can do as a single that you wouldn’t be able to do as easily if you were married? Think both service and pleasure: you can volunteer more in churches or at soup kitchens, but you can also spontaneously decide to go out of town for the weekend, or pick up a more time-consuming hobby, or buy, gut, and rebuild a house, or whatever you like to do.

      3. Consider online dating, if you haven’t already. Paul tells people who can’t control their sex drives to get married, so start actively pursuing marriage, if you haven’t already. There’s no guarantee you’ll find “the one” even then, but online dating will at least broaden the pool. (Oh, and by the way, many Christian girls are taught to wait for the guy to make the first move, so don’t assume that if a young woman finds you attractive, she’ll approach you.)

      4. Find someone to be a mentor or accountability partner. I recommend an older single male from your church – someone who has been in your shoes for a longer time, and who can help you deal with various issues.

      5. Differentiate between sinful lust and the godly desire for intimacy with a wife. When you are interested in a single young woman, are you just thinking about how attractive she is, or are you more interested in getting to know her as a human being who you may want to be with “in sickness and in health”? The latter is a godly desire. The former may need repentance.

      6. Retrain yourself in how you think about women. This is especially true if your first thought about women is how they look. It may be as simple as forcing yourself to follow up the thought of “Man, she’s hot! I wonder if she’s single” with “I wonder what kind of person God made her to be. What are her interests and hobbies? Is there anything going on in her life that I should pray for?” (By the way, you should do this any time you evaluate a woman by her looks first, whether beautiful or ugly.) Whatever you do, the idea is to make sure you’re thinking of her not as a sexual being, but as a human being with her own life, created in the image of God.

      7. Remember that sex and marriage doesn’t solve anything. TV and movies are preoccupied with telling us that all we need is to get laid and all our emotional issues will go away. In reality, marriage is two sinners bringing their own problems into one family unit. Additionally, sex can actually be very painful! Some dear friends of mine were unable to have sex for the first year or two of their marriage because whenever they tried, the wife was caused extreme pain. They built intimacy in other ways and eventually found a medical solution, but it distinctly put a strain on their brand new marriage. So don’t buy into the lie that sex will fix all your problems.

      8. Following that, remember that even once you have a wife, marriage (and the sex therein) may be temporary. Many people become single again for many reasons (widowhood, divorce, physical injury, illness).

      9. Consider going on a media fast, or being more selective about the media you consume. I’m not even talking about just porn here. Shows like the recently-ended “How I Met Your Mother” reinforce the lie that sex solves everything. Ask yourself whenever you go to watch a movie or TV show or play a video game or read a book, “What is this telling me about sex and relationships? Is that lie at the forefront?” If it is, maybe you shouldn’t watch/play/read it. (I’m not saying that you should only watch/play/read Christian stuff. Just be selective. For example, The Avengers is comparatively clean; even the sexualized Black Widow is portrayed as a well-rounded human being.)

      10. Re-tool your prayers. Sexuality is a biological function, as you yourself mention; praying to remove your sex drive is sort of like praying that your hair will never turn gray. Rather than praying for that, pray for some of the struggles that may be leading to you having more overwhelming sexual urges. Is loneliness a contributing factor? Or maybe it’s your general anger or bitterness? Ask God for help controlling the sin, not the result. (On a personal note, about four years ago I started praying for God to deal with bitterness in my own life. While I can’t say it’s completely gone, through various situations over the years and especially an accountability relationship with a good friend who kept singing and quoting scripture at me, my bitterness has been reduced.)

      11. Consider seeking counseling. You mentioned being an angry, upset man. I don’t know anything about your life to truly make this judgement call, so take it with a grain of salt, but is there some overwhelming cause to this anger that might require professional assistance, like a childhood trauma?

      Like I said, that was a whole lot of train-of-thought. Hopefully at least something in there provided you with help and encouragement.

    • Adam,
      Lisa is telling you like it is, I just want to add something to think about. Listen Adam, God loves YOU, and He gave his one and only son, Jesus Christ, to die for YOU on a cross AND He rose to life again! Understand, Jesus is ALIVE today, this is not a fairy tale, He loves you and is today setting at the right hand of the Father ever interceding for us. I am old enough to be your grandpa but hear me, I was molested at age 12 which introduced me to masturbation, I was completely clueless about sex and thankfully, there were only 4 incidents. The first incident happened inside the Church I attended. I kept this a secret which is what sin does to us, fear raises its ugly head and we live in secrecy, porn will do the same. My wife of over 30 years is who I told first. She is an angel and if I have ever experienced the love and grace of Jesus, it has been through her. I have struggled with masturbation which alone will lead to viewing porn. I loved the lesson today, it reminded me of a story I once heard. There is two dogs living within you, a wicked dog and a good dog, which one is going to LIVE? The one you FEED the most! Your 27, do not give in to urges that are selfish and will grow into an animal you cannot control. Stay in God’s word, meditate on it and study His word, and please stay in a Bible believing Church and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s love and His Grace which is sufficient for you. Grace is unmerited favor, you cannot earn it, you cannot do your list of Christian things to get God’s favor. Always remember (even memorize) his word that says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in YOUR weakness.” God bless you Adam, don’t give in, don’t give out, and don’t give up!! Make Jesus your priority and ask Him for help, trust His leading and prompting. Last, I have Covenant Eyes on my PC, if you don’t, get it.

  7. Great article. I am beginning my journey from abstaining, and the early going is pretty rough. I am having a hard time concentrating and keeping myself on task. I’ve had addictive behavioral problems my whole life, and I am finally attacking it head on. It’s scary to live on without your coping mechanism, but it is possible. One day at a time…

    • Hi Derek,

      Yes, any time we are quitting a deeply engrained habit it will be difficult—especially one as “rewarding” as this is. You’ve really hit the nail on the head when you call it your “coping mechanism.” You recognize that porn is your drug of choice. The underlying problem is what you need to address more than anything. Find the sources of your stress and pain, and then find out how you can rush to new wholesome sources to cope. You will be better for it.

  8. I came across this through someone else’s Facebook. I chose to read this because for years I just haven’t been able to shake the urge to watch porn. Something I really liked is to channel when the urge comes up to think of the guilt you feel afterwards. Wow did that hit home. I have felt such guilt and I have prayed and tried to understand what’s going on. I am really going to use the tools you have given. I have since I can remember (around kindergarden) had the urge just to masturbate and I believe that’s because of something that happened as a child. This has lead me to start looking at porn around grade school. I have lead a seemingly normal life I didn’t drink until 21 did go to clubs but for the most part always have been the one to keep others out of trouble. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t made bad choices either. So I wouldn’t say my moral compass is way off but I want to get my mind healthy again. Thank you and wish me luck.

  9. Thank you for this article. I was looking for help, trying to find a way to overcome this pathetic habit and juvenile existence, and your words have helped. Thank you.

  10. thank God for this article, I really appreciate these steps. hv tried some of this steps it really help. hope to continue in trying because God has helped me too.

  11. mine is worse than i ever thought it has reached to a point whereby i do it every morning it has even affected my rship with my girlfriend and worse than all i have injured my penis inner parts such that a yellowish fluid is oozing from it i dont know what to do coz am feeling weak and useless

    • Hi Stephen, two major suggestions for you. First, install accountability and filtering software on any computer, smartphone, or tablet that you use, and talk to a mentor about holding you accountable for your online porn use. Second, I suggest taking part in some sort of “no porn” challenge like those run by the NoFap group on Reddit. These men have found that quitting porn and masturbation has actually fixed various sexual dysfunctions.

      Be patient, and be strong! It may take a while, but you can find healing and freedom from this.

  12. Thanks god I found this article, now I now why my porn addict destroy my social live, keep up the good work bro, thank you so much.

  13. All I can say is thank you, your articles have helped me once again to get closer to God, I came here during my first days of battling porn and masturbation now after 112 days through this and still going I am proud to say that each point of hardship you will face in this journey is worthwhile.
    My life dramatically changed compared to the life of despair and self guilt 112 days back, now after a very long time of struggling I can finally see a light out of this, God is merciful people if you stop and give him space into your life, I know that “The heart is willing but flesh is weak” but if you have the will and believe then it’s possible.
    Never give up a chance to change your life for the better because the fruits are worth your pain, be patient and pray. All is possible

  14. God or no god it’s addiction same like smoking drinking etc …. and masturbating from time to time is normal if you want to keep healthy life sex is not that safe too though if you rely on watching porn and getting off same stuff like drug addict lol

  15. Simply an astounding article!! Everything is true and it recalls me the story: You have two wolves inside yourself. One is a good one and the another a bad, they are fighting against each other. which shall win the battle? THE ONE YOU FEED!! :)

  16. Excellent Article. These are all great tools & strategies. I wish something like this article was around earlier in my fight in this struggle. I feel impressed to share strategies I had come up with on my own before I really understood how porn effects the mind. This whole mess of wanting to resist happened just as I was trying to connect with God & change my life so these starting strategies may seem ridiculous but they were effective for me in the early days of the fight before discovering helpful resources, or rather before God lead me to more substantial relationship with him.

    Im 26 & Ive been dealing with this addiction since the 2nd grade. I didnt even start fighting it until 2011, when the wake up call hit me, when something finally made me admit that I have a problem & I need help.

    I read these analogies of 2 dogs or 2 wolves fighting, but Ive come to think of it more like God awakening the man he wants me to be, & that man starting a war with the beast that sin has placed in my heart.

    Now in the beginning I noticed I pretty much gave in to the impulse immediately, so step 1 was to resist the impulse as long as possible before giving in. Sometimes it was 5 min. sometimes an hour or longer. Eventually I got to the point I could resist for a few days at a time or even a whole week before breaking down & watching porn. I adopted the idea that every minute counts in resistance. But I soon discovered that sometimes, hell many times a week or 2 of victory would be followed by what ive come to call the Binge. During the binge I would give in to my impulse at least 2-3 times a day for a week or more before I could get a hold of my self again. At first I was tempted to accept this as how my life would be, 2-3 weeks of freedom, then Binge, repeat until death. But God kept prompting me to go further & keep fighting. So during a Binge I would do anything I could to prevent or reduce the number of times I would give in. So setting goals like only giving in 1-2 times a day, limiting the hours of the day in give in, limiting how many days the binge lasted, limiting the categories of porn I watched, limiting myself to only pictures. Sometimes I would even watch war movies like Terminator & others imagining that the man that God wants me to be as the resistance & porn as the ultimate enemy. I know this is ridiculous but as in any war sometimes you have to do what ever you have to. Also during this time I would go workout for 2+ hours so I would be too sore or tired to give in more then once or hopefully not at all. Other things I tried were, over eating just a little to cause discomfort, eating things that cause me to have gas, going some where out in public to avoid being alone, playing video games, & reading the bible. I did mention that some of these maybe ridiculous right.

    So yes the beginning is rough, & there are times when its still rough as a single man. But as God has become more involved in my life I am able to experience more periods of freedom through him, & while im still struggling & still fall down sometimes I can now say that I have hope to truly become the man that God wants me to be.

    • Thanks for sharing, Struggle.

      The lie that holds us in the binge is the belief that we might as well sin big if we’re going to sin at all; if we’re going to be racked with guilt and shame, we might as well plunge headlong into sin and get the most pleasure out of it.

      We need to reject this lie when we notice it. Paul speaks squarely against this in Romans 6.

  17. Hi, Luke

    Thank you for the must-read article. Very helpful ! As for the mentioned porn-avoiding approach -Destroy Fantasies, in Buddhism, it is termed 白骨觀(Bone View) viewing human bodies as Bone-structured like through X-ray and 不淨觀(Not clean view) viewing human bodies as the combinations of blood, organs and bones. The pictured image is quite disgusting so the erotic fantasy in mind can be abruptly ended. That’s how Buddhist monks eliminate their lust when the desire is way too strong. If interested in this approach, you can Google Image with those two Chinese phrases.

    BTW, if you don’t mind, I would like to translate and share this article with a Chinese Porn-Quitting community where there are over one million registered members struggling to quit it. Of course, your name and the source will be mentioned. Thanks again !!

  18. Question: Does the bible condemn pologomy as sin? Abraham had more than many others. NT only says those in leadership in the church shouldn’t but no one else. Reason for the question is that if a man desires to be with more than one woman his he allowed to without his conscience bitten down by religious bible badgers.

    • Great question.

      While there’s some disagreement about this among Christians, here’s my take…

      I would call polygamy a “wisdom” issue, not a “sin” issue. Nowhere does the Bible condemn polygamy outright, but it does show, again and again, how those who engaged in polygamy were caught in unwise traps as a result—even most of the examples of polygamy from various patriarchs and kings are actually negative examples.

      The Law of Moses allowed for polygamy provided certain regulations were met (Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15–17; 25:5–10), and in most cases, and compared to some of the risks of widowhood, infertility, or famine, polygamy had (and has) some advantages in specific circumstances. For this reason, when Christian missionaries enter into an area where polygamy is practiced, the proper response is not to tell men to start kicking their 2nd and 3rd and 19th wives to the curb. These are legitimate marriages that ought to be honored.

      That said, the Law of Moses also spoke about the trouble associated with multiple wives (Deuteronomy 17:17)—again, not as a sin issue but a wisdom issue. Accruing multiple wives is often associated with a covetous spirit, and sure enough, those who gathered more and more wives were often men of power who were controlled by all kinds of lusts. Polygamy was often a power-play or a sign of serious discontentment.

      This is one of the reasons why elders and deacons should be “one woman” men (1 Timothy 3)—they set an example for the rest of the church about wise and holy living—an example set for us by our first parents, Adam and Eve (who were a monogamous couple), and Christ and his bride the church (also a monogamous couple).

      I would never counsel a person to take more than one wife because Scripture speaks of lack of wisdom in it. In all of this, also, is one’s culture. If you grow up in a culture that practices monogamy, it would be terribly unloving for a husband to take more than one wife against all his wife’s wishes—that’s a heart issue that definitely touches on the matter of sin.

  19. Not only does porn destroys your willpower it also destroys your personality? Where can I find information to research this subject. It would be nice to know how porn does affect your personality.

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