6 minute read

Why You Can’t Stop Thinking About Porn (And What to Do About It) 

Last Updated: September 26, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

If you’ve ever tried to quit porn—or if you’re trying now—you’ve probably noticed that it’s tough to stop thinking about porn. Why is that? Why does pornography seem to get stuck in your brain like a catchy tune?

Even more importantly, what can you do practically to push porn thoughts out of your mind? How do you wipe your brain clean of lustful images after you’ve been exposed to porn?

Let’s take a look at why porn gets stuck in our minds, and most importantly, how to stop thinking about porn.

Why You Can’t Stop Thinking About Porn

Certified sex addiction therapist Dr. Kevin Skinner has noted that the more addicted to porn someone is, the more pornographic fantasies dominate that person’s thoughts—even when they aren’t looking at porn. You can read more about levels of addiction here.

You may wonder why porn is so unforgettable—even when that’s exactly what you want to do! Neuroscience has discovered why, and you may find it helpful to understand how your brain responds to porn.

Porn “binds” itself to your brain.

When you watch porn, it activates powerful chemicals in your brain that feel really good. Not only that, but they create a chemical bond with the pornographic images you consume. We’ve written about this elsewhere:

“When oxytocin and vasopressin are released in sex, they create a deep biological “bond” between the partners. When someone looks at porn, these chemicals form a bond with the pixels on the screen. The more porn is viewed, the stronger the bond.”

If you want to learn more about the brain science behind porn, you can also read about it in our article, Brain Chemicals and Porn: How Porn Affects Your Brain.

Porn leaves a “tattoo mark” on your brain.

Neuroscientist Dr. William Struthers explains that porn also releases norepinephrine in your brain, which imprints the memory of pornographic images like a neurological tattoo. You can find the video with Dr. Struthers’s longer explanation here.  

But it’s enough to understand that pornography etches itself on your brain in a way that makes it tough to forget. The images stick around in your mind long after you put away the porn.

Is it possible to erase pornographic images from your mind?

Since porn is “bound to” and “tattooed on” your brain, it may seem hopeless to ever get your thoughts clean. It feels like the t-shirt you used to check the oil on your car—it’s stained forever, no matter how many times you wash it.

Don’t believe that, and don’t lose heart!

It’s true that you can’t “unsee” porn once you’ve seen it. However, you can learn to avoid these images in your mind and replace them with things that are good and beautiful. You can change your perspective so they’re no longer a source of temptation.

5 Steps to Get Thoughts About Porn Out of Your Head

I’ve been asked multiple times, “How do you stop those pornographic images from coming into your mind?” What are some simple steps to take?

1. Cut off the supply.

To keep the lustful fantasies out of your mind, the first step is to stop looking at porn. If your basement is flooding from a burst pipe, you’ve got to deal with the pipe before you can get rid of all the water.

If you need help, then check out this blog post on the steps to quit porn, written by a world-class sexual addiction therapist.

But it goes a bit further than just stopping explicit pornography. When you’ve been hyper-sensitized and hyper-sexualized by porn, you may need to go beyond just porn to avoid places, movies, songs, or other things that stir up pornographic memories.

2. Seek things above.

One of my favorite lust-fighting passages of Scripture is Colossians 3:1, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

The passage goes on to talk about two specific ways you do this. First, put to death the old things. Verse 5, explains “Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.” The list includes a lot of porn-related sins: sexual immorality, impurity, and lust. But notice the end, it adds “greed, which is idolatry.” There’s a connection between the pornographic images in your mind and greedy idolatry. The images don’t belong to you. When you hold on to them, they become false idols of worship in your mind.

Second, while killing the bad stuff, verse 12 says to “put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Replace your old focus on pornography with a new focus on loving and serving others. That will drive these pornographic thoughts from your mind.

3. Fill your mind with new things.

This is closely related to the second part of “seeking things above.” In her ebook, Hobbies and Habits, Covenant Eyes author Lisa Eldred talks about the “elephant exercise”:

Take a moment to look at this picture of an elephant. Study its features for a minute or two, until you can close your eyes and envision it.

Now take out your phone and set a timer for two minutes. In these two minutes, I want you to do one thing: don’t think about the elephant.

hobbies and habits elephant

Don’t think about it.

Don’t think about its long trunk, its tusks, its ears, its saggy skin.

Don’t ask yourself whether it lives in a zoo, or if it has any family.

Don’t think about the elephant.

For two whole minutes, don’t think about the elephant.

Were you successful?

If the answer was no, why not? If the answer was yes, why? Chances are good, if you had trouble not thinking about the elephant, it’s because you were fixating on the task. Maybe you even repeated the phrase “Don’t think about the elephant” to yourself multiple times.

Lisa has more helpful recommendations for how to think about other things in her ebook. It’s packed full of good advice on fun things to do instead of looking at porn. This will in turn help you fill your mind with new thoughts to replace the pornographic ones.

4. Redeem the images in your mind.

You may still be wondering, “Yeah, but can I get rid of those thoughts completely?” There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, no, you can’t erase your memory like a hard drive. If you’ve seen stuff, you’ve seen it.

But you can change those memories so that they are no longer a stumbling block for you, so you’re not returning to them in moments of weakness. How do you do that? Through prayer. Not just praying that the memories would go away, but praying for the people in the pornographic scene as people and not objects.

Here’s our good friend Matt Fradd explaining his approach for doing this:

5. Be patient with yourself.

It takes time, but the more you work on the disciplines of replacing porn with good things and redeeming those old memories through prayer, the freer you will become!

  • Comments on: Why You Can’t Stop Thinking About Porn (And What to Do About It) 
    1. Mark Rhodes

      Blessings in the Name of Jesus Christ,

      I am well over 8 months of being sober from viewing pornography and self-sex. I am so very thankful for my recovery and the people and places God places in my path and walk. My marriage is being restored and I am grateful for that. I am also an ally for two men that use Covenant Eyes on their digital devices.

      I know that without God’s intervention and the people and places that are currently in my path, I wouldn’t be the same man.

      Thank you for this timely article and for Covenant Eyes.

      Blessings and peace,

      Mark

    2. Thank you for this article. I believe I have a better understanding of this addiction and how to combat it in my mind. I still struggle with self-sex and I believe overcoming these thoughts in my mind will help. I have been porn sober for about a year now, but still those images haunt me. I feel very ashamed about the self-sex.

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