Your Brain on Porn

Your Brain on Porn Ebook Cover

Watching just 5 hours of porn has been proven to significantly change people's sexual beliefs and attitudes. Find out 5 distinct ways that porn warps your brain, as well as 5 biblical ways to renew your mind and find freedom.

16 thoughts on ““Porn Addiction is a Myth”: The Debate Continues

  1. The addiction classification is really important for those whose porn dependency has escalated to a compulsion. My husband went to the church first, saying he “struggled” with porn. No, he was addicted. He was using it as a masturbation aid 5-8 times a day. He couldn’t stop using at work, even though he knew it could get him fired. It was so beyond a “struggle”. The church had no idea how to help someone so desperately addicted. They prayed with him, for him, but even going hours without porn left him with classic withdrawal symptoms. The church told him to pray harder, make better relationship with God, to read the bible more often, but it wasn’t until he started therapy and involvement with 12-step addiction groups that he made any progress at all. If pastors look at porn addiction as both a sin and an addiction, they can suggest appropriate treatment for true addictive dependence. Our church was unable see that his addiction required medical intervention and treatment, because they just saw it as a spiritual sin, and disregarded the neurological and psychological dependence. .

    • I’ve heard similar stories from many men and women. Of course, a man like Dr. David Ley isn’t coming at this from a Christian perspective (nor are many of the people quoted in this article).

      Personally, I think the advice to “pray more” and “read the Bible more” is, at best, surfacey advice for someone dealing with any kind of sin, regardless of whether it is an addiction or not. We misread the Bible and we misread people when we fail to understand that sin runs deep and impacts our whole being—body, mind, and soul.

    • I totally understand your insight regarding the lack of dealing with addictive behaviors from the churches perspective. So many churches don’t know or want to understand that this is an epidemic that has protruded into the very ministry that they are involved in. I, too, struggled with these and many other behaviors for years until I came to myself and realized I had a problem. I nearly lost everything I had, including my marriage. But I acknowledged my issues, sought help through several resources, including “Every Man’s Battle” with New Life Ministries, and they helped me turn my life around. I renewed my relationship with God where He gave me a new heart, a new mind that focused on being pure in His sight. Now, after being free from that life since 2000, I’m a facilitator for our men’s group – “Men of Redemption” – where our senior pastor has endorsed, accepted and promoting our ministry to our church, desiring to strengthen the men of our church so that we will have strong marriages and families. There is no shame or condemnation when dealing with addictive behaviors. We encourage and disciple men to become who God created them to be by incorporating new structure in their lives with constant and consistent accountability 24/7, 365 days a year. We getting men healthy, guiding them back to a restored relationship with God. Our church is in agreement and there is no shame or guilt where freedom is being received. I applaud your efforts and pray that your husband continues his efforts with all diligence. Trust God!

  2. Luke, I’m concerned you are being misled, or at the very least, caught up in the agnotology surrounding porn addiction. That is to say, you are presenting the topic of porn addiction as if there are two opposing sides with somewhat equal evidence. This is not true in the slightest. There are several important things missing here:

    1) Most importantly. Porn addiction is not sex addiction. Many porn addicts have never had sex, or are unable to have sex. How can you be addicted to something you have not used/experienced or cannot use/experience? This is a question I have asked Weiss and he has yet to answer. You will repeatedly hear the “other side” mix these two up. 

    2) Internet porn addiction is a type of internet addiction. There is no mention of the 70+ internet addiction brain studies in this post. 70+! All showing evidence of addiction related brain changes. Some even showing causation. The “other side” do their best to avoid talking about these, because if “internet addiction” exists, internet porn addiction can exist. In fact, a few of the internet addiction studies included porn use.

    3) The Nicole Prause study was not just critiqued, it was incorrect and actually had no correlation to support it’s claims. It claimed that there was a correlation between EEG readings and Sexual Desire Inventory scores, which did not exist. It was a lie.  Her study didn’t even have a control group to compare brain readings too. She has no clue what a non addicts brain response would look like. However, it did contained a heterogeneous group of subjects (males, female, non-heterosexuals) viewing straight porn, and questionnaires that do not accurately assess compulsive Internet porn use, as they were not made to assess porn use, or made for females, which the study included. 

    Prause made public claims like “The reason these findings present a challenge is that it shows their brains did not respond to the images like other addicts to their drug of addiction.”

    This is not true. The subjects showed a greater response (higher P300 reading) for porn images than neutral images. This IS like other addicts respond to their drug of addiction. Commenting on the claim prause made Psychologist John A Johnson had this to say – 

    “My mind still boggles at the Prause claim that her subjects’ brains did not respond to sexual images like drug addicts’ brains respond to their drug, given that she reports higher P300 readings for the sexual images. Just like addicts who show P300 spikes when presented with their drug of choice. How could she draw a conclusion that is the opposite of the actual results? I think it could be due to her preconceptions–what she expected to find”

    For the best critique of this study check this one – http://pornstudycritiques.com/uclas-span-lab-touts-empty-porn-study-as-ground-breaking/

    4) Ley’s points are easily refuted. 

    “Sex addiction, he says, is just pathologizing male sexuality, high libido, and undesirable sexual behavior.”

    No. First of all let’s keep it on “porn” addiction, or change the title of this post. Second, “addiction” is just describing the physiological changes in the brain after using or engaging in a substance or behavior. The whole reason ASAM changed the definition of addiction in 2011. Ley is just throwing dust up in the air and showing he doesn’t understand current research on addiction. 

    “there are already classified disorders that include a hypersexual component. These are often the problems that undergird and drive what many experience.”

    Porn addicts often times report LOW libido for real partners, erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation, inability to masturbate without porn, etc. Chronic consumption of internet porn is having unique effects on people, especially adolescents. Ley wants everyone to believe ANYTHING other than porn is causing the problems. So he will say things like “porn addicts are simply sensation seekers.” When in reality they are seeking sensation more because they have been desensitized and need a great level of excitement to feel normal. Internet porn is unique, and there needs to be a differentiation between it and any other condition.

    “The advocates of sex addiction who use brain science are merely building credibility with what he calls “valley-girl science.” Advocates will say, “sex addiction is like an eating disorder, it’s like a heroin addiction.” Ley says this form of argumentation is very weak: “When they tell you that sex addiction is like an eating disorder, they don’t tell you all the things that are different about it. They live by anecdotes, because they don’t have good science.”

    Ley is up against decades of addiction neuroscience and ASAM. Again, it is well known that ALL addictions share the same fundamental brain changes. Ley is not an addiction expert.

    “he term “addiction” means the person has a disease, and while many find this comforting in the face of relationally destructive behavior, Ley says this means people really can’t own up to their choices as choices.”

    This is not about personal responsibility. It is about physiological brain changes. More dust that frustrates him, and clouds the layperson from seeing the base argument of whether porn addiction exists or not. 

    “Ley contends that careful scientists know there are absolutely no differences between the brains of alleged sex addicts and non-sex addicts.”

    Careful scientists…. like Prause? Who in the critique linked above is shown to be anything but “careful.” Actually, all brain research to date, yes all, shows that the brains of internet addicts/porn addicts have differences. And as the Kuhn study from this past year found, even moderate users show differences that correlated with years of use.

    I could go on… but I just wanted to point out that your describing a dust cloud not a “debate.”

    Sincerely hope that helps. Much Love

    • Hi Gabe,

      I agree that porn addiction and sex addition are not the same thing, though they do sometimes go together. Knowing the differences are very important for helping those caught up in either one.

      In this article, I’m focusing more on a specific line of argumentation about the existence of either of these addictions at all—something Dr. Ley would deny. I agree Internet addiction is a real problem today, but this post was deliberately focused on Ley’s theories (and those like him) and how others contend with his theories. If you know of any research critiquing Dr. Ley’s ideas that specifically point to the element of Internet addiction, please let me know. Since Ley’s critics do not introduce the element of Internet addiction, I did not either.

      My lack of citing specific research about Internet addiction was not an oversight. Indeed, I cite almost no “studies” at all, not even concerning sex addiction or porn addiction, aside from quotations and analogies by various professionals.

      The reason I quoted the Prause study is primarily of Dr. Ley’s defense of it. This is why I said that the study provoked a widespread response, saying that the critics of it think the study was fundamentally flawed.

      I am inclined to agree with you that Dr. Ley’s ideas can be refuted, but my underlying reason for doing so comes out at the end of the article as I address the politics behind the words we use and the “clinical usefulness” of our terms. Part of Ley’s theory is that a sex addiction diagnosis is unhelpful and motivated out of a deep-seated prejudice against certain sexual desires. This, I thought, deserved attention because Dr. Ley represents an academic expression of thoughts common in our culture.

      In the end, I welcome your critiques, as the scope of this article was deliberately limited (as all articles should be).

    • “I agree that porn addiction and sex addition are not the same thing, though they do sometimes go together. Knowing the differences are very important for helping those caught up in either one. In this article, I’m focusing more on a specific line of argumentation about the existence of either of these addictions at all—something Dr. Ley would deny. “

      Internet porn addiction is an addiction to screens, endless novelty constant clicking, voyeurism, seeking searching and masturbating. It is consumed via the internet and is considered a category of internet addiction by the real experts. Sex addiction was coined long before the internet. Behaviors are focused toward involving real people. Ley’s goal is to conflate Internet porn addiction with sex addiction. That way he can base his rhetoric on sex addiction, such as – LEY – “First, what many call sex addiction is just being human: human beings enjoy sex, some enjoy lots of sex, and some enjoy taboo sex. Moreover, when people desire sex it is normal for them to make bad decisions that have negative impacts. Sex addiction, he says, is just pathologizing male sexuality, high libido, and undesirable sexual behavior”

      With this paragraph Ley frames the argument – and you spend the rest of the article playing on the sex addiction field. He has already won the debate: It is now about guys just being guys (Tiger Woods), and not about how the internet is a unique, never before seen stimulus. Ley’s sex addiction set up had nothing to do with Internet porn in 2014. The article should be about a 12 year old boy clicking from hard core video to video, day after day, perhaps for years before he has his first kiss. Ley’s framing has nothing to do with adolescents’ conditioning his sexual response to screens and constant novelty. Ley’s argument has nothing to do with the symptoms reported by young such as loss of libido, ED, delayed ejaculation, acquiring weird fetishes, and wanting to act out porn scenarios with their 16 year old girlfriend.

      Read this for more: http://yourbrainonporn.com/porn-addiction-not-sex-addiction-and-why-it-matters

      “I agree Internet addiction is a real problem today, but this post was deliberately focused on Ley’s theories (and those like him) and how others contend with his theories. If you know of any research critiquing Dr. Ley’s ideas that specifically point to the element of Internet addiction, please let me know. Since Ley’s critics do not introduce the element of Internet addiction, I did not either.”

      Yes they do. Why didn’t you link to this 2014 Ley and Prause “review” – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11930-014-0016-8

      Followed by this complete dismantling of it – http://pornstudycritiques.com/the-emperor-has-no-clothes-a-fractured-fairytale-posing-as-a-review/

      You cannot win the sex addiction debate, but you can win the Internet porn debate (What this article is about). Researchers who publish studies on internet addiction classify internet addiction into subgroups: video gaming, cybersex, social media, and general internet use. This is accepted. See this review – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034340/

      Both Ley and Prause argue that behavioral addictions do not exist, and take it further by suggesting that visual/auditory stimuli are incapable of inducing addiction related brain changes. This is at the heart of their argument and completely ignored in your response.

      The reason I quoted the Prause study is primarily of Dr. Ley’s defense of it. This is why I said that the study provoked a widespread response, saying that the critics of it think the study was fundamentally flawed.

      But you didn’t cite the most complete take down of it. Not sure if you came across it yet but it’s the one I cited above. Here it is – http://pornstudycritiques.com/uclas-span-lab-touts-empty-porn-study-as-ground-breaking/

      “I am inclined to agree with you that Dr. Ley’s ideas can be refuted, but my underlying reason for doing so comesout at the end of the article as I address the politics behind the words we use and the “clinical usefulness” of our terms. Part of Ley’s theory is that a sex addiction diagnosis is unhelpful and motivated out of a deep-seated prejudice against certain sexual desires.”

      The last sentence says it all. Ley has won once you repeat his framing as “certain sexual desires”, rather than Internet porn – which did not exist until the 90’s and only in its current form (Tube Sites) since 2006. When in history have young people had unlimited access to streaming hard core? Never. Only in the last 8 years. This is what the article should be about, not deep seated prejudice against sexual desires. The title of the article “Is Porn Addiction a Myth” and the web address “porn-addiction-like-drug-addiction” suggest that the article is talking about whether porn addiction exists or not.

      “This, I thought, deserved attention because Dr. Ley represents an academic expression of thoughts common in our culture.In the end, I welcome your critiques, as the scope of this article was deliberately limited (as all articles should be).”

      All debates should be limited. In this case it should start with Internet porn is not sex, and any mention of sex addiction is disallowed. Ley must only discuss internet porn when talking about if porn addiction exists or not, with no venturing in sex addiction rhetoric.

      I only care because of the title of this article. So far we don’t have a debate. We have one side with growing evidence to support it, and another side kicking dust in our faces so they can publish misleading and dishonest “studies” and “reviews” while the lay person is scratching their eyes trying to see.

    • Looking back over my article, I can see that I’m not distinguishing (or calling out specifically) “sexual” addiction and “sex” addiction in the clearest way. As you can see in the article, I often mention “porn addiction” and “sex addiction” as two different experiences, but I tend to lump them under addictions that are “sexual” in nature.

      I’m probably framing “sexual desire” similarly to how Dr. Ley is, defining sexual addiction more broadly—an umbrella term for a variety of conditions. I would consider looking at porn a “sexual” act, even though it is a very specific kind of sexual act that includes an addiction to novelty, constant clicking, voyeurism, masturbating, etc. In other words “sexual addictions” include porn addiction and sex addiction, in the sense that both involve our sexuality, but they are distinct experiences. “Sexual addiction” is broad umbrella much like “behavior addiction” or “process addiction” are broad umbrellas. Perhaps that is too broad or confusing, as Gary Wilson argues, and I’m willing to concede to that.

      Gary Willson’s concerns seem to be both PR related and treatment related: if we say porn addicts are like classically defined “sex addicts” we both diminish the visibility of the problem (because true “sex addicts” are rare), and we end up treating porn addicts as if they are sex addicts. I would agree wholeheartedly with Wilson’s assertions here. My use of the term “sexual addiction” is not nuanced enough in the article to distinguish it from “sex addiction” specifically. My bad.

      In my research, I did come across the pornstudycritiques.com article you mentioned, but since there was no author attached to it or credentials of the author, I was unsure how to cite it. As for the Brand, Young, and Laier paper, it is very good research, but they don’t critique Dr. Ley or address the issue of “sex addiction” as a misdiagnosis. I will look over the pornstudycritiques.com article again, for sure. Do you know who authored it?

  3. Hi Luke,

    The terms “pornography addiction” and “sexual addiction” is junk science and we born again, evangelical believers in America have bought into it hook, line and sinker. It is a manufactured epidemic that has caused God’s children to doubt and question their new life in Christ that was sealed with Jesus’ Blood in the New Covenant. Furthermore, the focus on so-called pornography addiction and sexual addiction has cheapened and diminished the terrible reality of what true addiction actually is. For a reminder, please see this testimony link from the 700 Club:

    http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/amazing/rwr54_mark_and_cheryl_edwards.aspx?cpid=EU_DD_2014_276

    Just out of curiosity, do you consider the products advertised on this particular website to be pornography?:

    http://www.welcomed.com/videos/

    • Hi Ed. I’m interested why you think the terms “porn addiction” and “sex addiction” are junk science. Are there scientific findings you believe more accurately represent the truth?

      Thanks for the article about Mark and Cheryl’s story. Very powerful testimony. My question is why you believe porn addiction or sex addiction cheapen the reality of addiction. Personally, I’ve spoken to hundreds of individuals whose lives have been devastated by their relationship to porn or sex—an out-of-control madness that took everything but their life from them. If someone manifests a relationship to porn or sex that is akin to a destruction relationship one can have to alcohol or a drug (both neurologically and psychologically) is that not an addiction?

      I’ve not seen the video content for the products advertised here, so I’ll avoid passing immediate judgment on them.

  4. Interesting article. I think those that take issue with some of it’s content need to pay attention to the last three paragraphs because that’s where Mr. Gilkerson’s point on this whole issue is and I agree with it. The church battling porn attachment/addiction/usage among it’s members should not be reduced simply to “scientific” reasoning to convince people. It should support the primary reason because of it’s sinfulness and where the Bible stands on sexual sin. That is what his point is. Unfortunately, the church often shies away from calling sin sin because they don’t know how to do so without coming across as judgmental or condemning. Very few people can do this well. To call a person’s sin out (there’s no two ways about it, uncovering a person’s sin makes them squirm), but then to immediately offer Jesus’ loving hand of healing is a prized ability, as I said few can do well. And that’s why I think some Christian healing groups hide behind the scientific so it makes more people feel comfortable and they don’t want to turn people away, but are they really helping anyone if they don’t tell people they HAVE to go through the “valley of the shadow of death,” before they get to the green pastures and still waters?

    Of course some of Dr. Ley’s and some of the other doctors quoted assertions have no merit because they do not come from a Biblical perspective. I don’t think Mr. Gilkerson is giving credit to those assertions. That’s why I think his last paragraph is the key of this whole article.

    • Thanks, Brett. You’ve assessed my intention correctly. The article is meant to be (1) an informative piece about the state of the debate among counselors about the nature of sex addiction and/or porn addiction, focusing specifically on Dr. Ley and his theories, and (2) a caution to the church that we should not make scientific findings about addiction the basis of our ethics.

  5. Luke, I don’t even need to cite a study or quote from the book “The Myth of Sex Addiction” — I can use simple logic. The truth is that you can’t universally define what porn is because it is dependent on a hundred different perceptions and cultural filters. There is power in being able to make distinctions and you aren’t able to do that with the societal concept that is called “pornography”.

    If I’m an alcoholic, I can make factual distinctions about the physical effects of bourbon vs. whiskey vs. beer vs. wine vs. 100 proof whiskey on my body. But you can’t do that with porn, can you? How can you get “addicted” to something you can’t universally define? Furthermore, how can you avoid something that you can’t universally define?

    By virtue of your background and history, you are presumed to be sort of an expert on the subject of pornography addiction. Yet, I asked you to verify whether the website I listed: http://www.welcomed.com/videos/ was in fact, advertising pornographic products and you declined to answer (which is your choice). I wasn’t asking you to order the products and watch the videos or do an intensive internet researching the company that produces the videos: I was merely asking you to make a reasonable determination from the advertising for the videos as to whether they are are pornographic.

    If Covenant Eyes is all about pinpointing and confirming inappropriate sexual material, then this should be a snap for you. Why the reluctance? Why the reticence? This is an opportunity to demonstrate the value of Covenant Eyes by making a real world distinction regarding a form of sexual media that is out there on the internet.

    If you can’t make a rational distinction about these products, then I guess you that you can’t define pornography itself, let alone porn addiction.

    • Hey Ed,

      For the sake of conversation, let’s paint a scenario using one of the definitions of porn—one that is put forth by Adult Video News, the major trade magazine of the adult industry. Here, porn would be defined as any of the films and photos that are considered for awards at their annual conventions. This is more of an industry/economic definition of porn—and, of course, only one definition among many. Let’s say you meet someone who says he feels “addicted” to this kind of material and you investigate his claim. Upon investigation you find that despite repeated vows to quit watching the AVN video material, he finds his willpower totally lacking. He gives into his compulsive cravings and watches the material every day for hours a day. He manifests all signs of tolerance, withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit, and progression. He neglects all other life’s duties to pursue this material or else go mad trying to avoid it. Then, let’s say you did a brain scan on this person and found significant loss of volume in the frontal lobes (similar to the loss we see with cocaine or methamphetamine addicts, which thus explains his symptoms of hypofrontality). One could conclude from this that this person is “addicted” to this kind of material that the folks at AVN call “pornography.”

      Are you trying to argue that this person does not have an addiction to the material he views every day simply because he can’t get other people around him to agree to a standard definition of the material? If he said, “I’m addicted to watching videos that are considered awards at the AVN convention,” would you agree with him?

      On your other point, I’m not sure you understand our rating system. The Covenant Eyes’ rating system doesn’t include a “porn” rating. Our website rating system has six ratings, from E for Everyone to HM for Highly Mature. What many consider “porn” would fit into the Highly Mature category, but so would other types of material. The specific page you showed us is currently rated M for Mature (our second highest rating), though other pages on the overall url might be rated higher or lower based on the maturity of the content present. At a glance, I would surmise that some of the video material, if streamed online, would be rated HM, but I have not viewed it to confirm that.

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