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Hypofrontality: How Using Porn Destroys Your Willpower

Last Updated: January 16, 2024

Hypofrontality isn’t a word you see every day—but it might hold the secret to why you keep looking at porn.

Neuroscience now knows that willpower is a function of the prefrontal lobes of the brain. Scientific studies have also confirmed that using porn over and over actually reshapes these areas of the brain, literally eroding our willpower and our moral compass.

Neuroscientists call this hypofrontality. Hypofrontality is a state in which there is decreased blood flow to the prefrontal lobes of the brain. Hypofrontality is observed in schizophrenia patients and is also observed in all manner of addictions.

What Is Hypofrontality?

In his ebook, The Porn Circuit, Sam Black explains what hypofrontality is for the porn viewer.

“Compulsiveness is a good descriptor of hypofrontality. Many porn users feel focused on getting to porn and masturbating even when a big part of them is saying, ‘Don’t do this.’ Even when negative consequences seem imminent, impulse control is too weak to battle the cravings.”

Compulsiveness is one way to describe hypofrontality. The porn-addicted brain has trouble thinking logically. When impulses and desires come from the midbrain, instead of being moderated, the brain feels these desires as compelling needs. The prefrontal region is supposed to be able to weigh consequences and situations and judiciously shut down cravings, but hypofrontality means the addict’s ability to do this is impaired.

To the addict, when the craving for porn surfaces, their whole body gears up for action. As unhindered hormones are released and neurotransmitters fire, the craving consumes them. The heart begins to race, blood pressure rises, and the addict is consumed by a single thought: “Just one more time.”

Another way to put is simply “lack of willpower.”

What Causes Hypofrontality?

Compared to other creatures, humans have a very well-developed prefrontal region. When our prefrontal lobes are working properly, we have “executive control” of the processes in our brains. It is where we do our abstract thinking, make goals, solve problems, regulate behavior, and where we suppress emotions, impulses, and urges.

But the more one masturbates to porn, the more dopamine is released in the brain. Eventually dopamine receptors and signals in the brain fatigue, leaving the viewer wanting more but unable to reach a level of satisfaction. The viewer becomes numb to things once considered pleasurable. “To escape this desensitization, people, and men especially, expand their pornographic tastes to more novel stimuli,” Black writes. This leads, again, to more fatigue.

Desensitization impacts the prefrontal cortex. As dopamine receptors decline in the brain, so do the amount of neural cells in the prefrontal lobes.

How Do You Regain Your Willpower?

To bring the prefrontal lobes back into working order, a two-pronged attack is needed: (1) the old neural pathways must be starved, and (2) new neural pathways must be built and fed, increasing dopamine levels in a way that builds up the prefrontal cortex.

1. Starve: Stop All Pornography and Fantasy

Don’t give in to the urge to look at porn. As the prefrontal lobes are given plenty of time to rest, executive control will be strengthened over time.

This advice feels to many like a catch-22. “You tell me I’ve killed my willpower by looking at porn. So now the way to increase my willpower is by willing myself not to look at porn. How does that work?” Isn’t that like telling the alcoholic to “just stop it”?

The big difference between “just stop it” and a conscious effort to rewire your brain is this: The man being told to “just stop it” has no hope that the cravings will ever be different. When he hears “just stop it,” he hears, “Live with these intense cravings the rest of your life and never give into them.” To the addict, porn is life. Telling him to stop is like telling him to die.

However, informed by the process of how our brains can change, the addict can avoid porn and fantasy knowing that real change is possible. Hypofrontality can be cured. Change is built into the very fabric of our brains. Change is exactly what our brains are designed to do. When this person abstains from porn, he thinks, “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.”

You can learn more about brain chemicals and porn addiction. Here are some helpful tips for avoiding pornography:

Redirection

When you feel the urge, get into the habit of distracting yourself with another activity that you can start immediately. This can be as simple as a breathing exercise or journaling your thoughts. It can be as involved as making a meal or going for a jog. It will be difficult to do, but each time you choose to redirect, your brain will build new neural circuits.

Avoid All External Triggers

Remember, you’ve carved a grand-canyon-sized gorge of neural circuits in your mind. It is easy for everyday experiences to become triggers. If the trigger is a specific channel on TV, refuse to visit that channel. If the trigger is a type of person you see walking down the street, choose to bounce your eyes away from that person. Learn what your triggers are and for the first several weeks or months, completely avoid them—no exceptions.

Avoid Internal Triggers

External triggers are things you experience in the world. Internal triggers are emotions or states of mind. For some, when they feel lonely, this has become a trigger for porn. Porn has become their release valve to make themselves feel good. Identify what your internal triggers are (loneliness, boredom, exhaustion, anger, etc.), and create an escape plan when these emotions pop up. Call a friend. Journal your thoughts. Do something creative.

Avoid SUDs

“Seemingly Unimportant Decisions.” These are the rationalizations you say to yourself to get you one step closer to porn. “I’m just going to see what’s on TV.” “I’m just going to check my e-mail.” “I’m just going to get on Facebook.” Get honest with yourself and learn what your SUDs are. Be ruthless against these rationalizations.

Avoid Inactivity

Fill up your social calendar to the brim. Refuse to give yourself an open window. Check out our post on 50 Things to Do Instead of Watching Porn for help!

Finish the Fantasy

When the thought of looking at porn enters your mind, immediately finish the fantasy: imagine yourself having just orgasmed and the feeling of regret or shame that normally follows. Vividly experience the emotions.

Destroy Fantasies

As a fantasy or thought enters your mind, picture the image being eliminated. Draw a red X over it. Smash it with a hammer. Put it through the shredder. Flush it down the nastiest-looking toilet you’ve ever seen.

Make Yourself Accountable

Pornography thrives in secret. When you’re not only honest with yourself, but also with a trusted ally, you’ll find your willpower is much stronger than it ever was in isolation. 

2. Feed: Build Up Your Brain

Much like a muscle, the more you exercise the prefrontal cortex, the stronger it becomes. The goal is to engage in new habits that will increase your dopamine and dopamine receptors.

Meditation

Making a habit of meditation has been shown to increase dopamine release by up to 65%.1 Even after only 11 hours of meditation spread over a month, changes are observable.2 (See here for a Christian approach to meditation).

Exercise

Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase dopamine receptors3 and decrease cravings4 for those bound in addiction.

Socializing

Porn-watching is a very anti-social habit. By reforging connections to real people, and spending pleasurable time together, you will establish new neural pathways of pleasure.

Accountability

Accountability isn’t just about starving your brain from porn. It also helps you build deep and meaningful relationships that fill the void in your life you used to fill with pornography. 

Change Is Gradual, But It Will Come

Summarizing these above two points, Sam Black writes in The Porn Circuit:

Whatever rewarding activity is pursued, it needs to be an activity that is reoccurring. Building new rewarding neural pathways requires time and ongoing repetition…

Neurons that fire together wire together. Repeating a pleasurable activity instead of the compulsive activity, such as porn use, forms a new circuit that is gradually reinforced instead of the compulsion.

Neurons that fire apart wire apart. When a person refuses to act on a compulsion, like porn and masturbation, it weakens the link between the activity and the idea that it will provide relief.

The prefrontal cortex is one of the things that makes us unique from other creatures on Earth. By reclaiming it we are reclaiming more than our willpower. We are reclaiming our humanity.


1http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926641001001069

2http://www.news-medical.net/news/20120614/IBMT-linked-with-positive-structural-changes-in-brain-connectivity.aspx

3http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2959886

4http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17949827

  1. Morhad

    Thanks for this article I was looking for proof that my lack of focus and my terrible life was related to my addiction as I didn’t see it as an addiction… Porn is the most horrible addiction on earth…Saying that it’s ok once sometimes is wrong…hope a day we won’t have anymore this on the internet.

    I will read this article always when I feel that urge coming back.

    God please do not let me get back into it.

  2. Pornography is directed at children in order to legitimize everything that is produced for viewing in society so that the people who are in authority over what is allowed to exist within the ability of people to shelter their existence with their own skulls is possible and the determination of what is good for you will come from the ability of your own lifes understanding of its ability to survive on the earth with the presence of the knowledge and use of whatever remains at the forefront of events perceived in the attention span of awareness of ourselves and our senses and the experience that our senses allow our understanding of what we experience to teach the people who are learning how we value their existence and how we value what we have received our world from our teachers who hopefully are somewhere in mind still caring about children who are learning to overcome their own weaknesses and inadequacies and accept the fact that we are all individual beings with minds of our own who also must understand that we aren’t alone and we are responsible for everything we are because everyone is part of humanity which we all should think about because we didn’t create ourselves but we have been given life and we should honor it in all living beings who are more valuable than media portrayals of them which pornography is

  3. Dean

    Porn, social media e.c.t, no wonder it does harm to peoples self esteem . It gives a misconception and an illusion of sorts. Have been going through the same disturbance at times on my journey. relationships have been strained and some loss due to porn. it always leaves you wanting more and more it plays with your satiation mechanisms. i Have come to the conclusion that “enough is never enough syndrome” is partly down to you subconsciously believing YOU arent enough, as we are conditioned by our behavior and experiences we have had throughout our lifetime.
    Porn wrecked havoc with me at early 20s through a break-up, it led me to believing sum thing was wrong with me, it took away my wings for a time, and it has been affecting me to lesser degree here and there ever since. What i have come to the conclusion is, is that all we are is experiences. There is no good or bad its all neutral, only our false self -ego gets in our way. its depends how you respond to the situation will determine the quaility of your life experiences, that is always under your controll. And even though its cloudy and dark at times the light is still there behind that.
    Darkness can only survive in our absents not in our presents, keep fighting the good fight, we are all worth it.

  4. Nikki

    My decisions to watch porn within a few months of getting married has cost me my relationship. Not only that, but caused her a great deal of sadness and depression, and has in turn sent me on this journey to be free of porn, and honestly there are so many great reasons to stop. One of the things I’ve started doing, is every time I think about porn, I will watch a video or read an article about how bad porn is. That is how I ended up here. I hope to continue my journey through the path of faith in God, but also knowledge and educating myself of why it’s bad.

  5. Peter Machado

    I’m 63; I’ve had a life-long addiction that started maybe when I was 4 or 5. It started as images, controlling my imagination, and later on to porn on the pc. I’m still fighting this!
    I’ve had some success with Christian Meditation (mantra style), learning to avoid the porn images with distraction, much like we do with the mantra by learning to avoid thoughts. I’ve confessed – many time, and will continue to do so. I’ve offered my life to Jesus.
    I think I’m on the right track, but I will probably have to spend the rest of my life fighting this – and that’s not all bad, because it means I can never let my guard down, so the good fight must go on.
    Many times I’ve said “I’m now over this for good” – but have come to the realisation that thinking that only serves to make me more vulnerable to another onslaught of porn images.
    I think that by extension, we can learn to battle many other negativities in our lives, i.e. 1)porn addiction, 2)food addiction, 3)addiction to leisure (which to me means just laziness) 4)any other types of addictions.
    Each day I say to myself, not today, and am taking it one day at a time now. I just said that today, it’s 9:24 am, and got the urge to porn a few minutes ago – and after fighting that I googled this site.
    Thank you so much for this site – may God bless you!

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