Defeat Lust & Pornography A girl who doesn't like porn but is looking at it anyway.
Defeat Lust & Pornography 5 minute read

What Is the Difference Between “Liking” and “Wanting” Porn?

Last Updated: December 21, 2022

Can you want something you don’t even like?

Many people who try to leave their porn addiction are confused by their own desires. They genuinely wish to stop. They may even feel disgusted by pornography, not to mention the effects it has on their lives. But they still want it irresistibly. If this is you, rest assured: You’re not alone. The Apostle Paul himself grappled with similar struggles, “For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).

“I hate porn because I feel genuinely dirty from it. I am afraid of being separated from God. Porn has no redeeming value. I want freedom.” Covenant Eyes Blog Comment

“It’s been so hard to not want it denying its pleasure makes it harder to stop.” Covenant Eyes Blog Comment

“I quit watching porn 2 years ago. I don’t need porn [and] I don’t want it, but **** recovery is a long road.” Covenant Eyes Blog Comment

In this article, I want to share with you some important research that sheds light on these struggles, and the difference between “wanting” something—such as porn—and “liking” it.

The Brain Science of “Wanting”

Since the 1950s, scientists have gained a rich understanding of the role that dopamine plays in human physiology and psychology—including its vital role in our motivation. Take away someone’s dopamine (as they’ve done with lab rats) and they quickly lose motivation to do anything, even eating and drinking for basic survival.

Studies into drug and alcohol addiction reveal how this natural system goes haywire in a drug-addicted person. Scientists call this “mesolimbic wanting.” It produces cravings if they attempt to quit and lowers their ability to enjoy normal things. More recently, brain scan technology shows that dopamine plays a similar role in behavioral addictions as well, including pornography addiction.

The Brain Science of “Liking”

For many years, psychologists assumed that this dopamine-based system controlled what we like and dislike. However, psychologist Kent Berridge made a surprising discovery. Dopamine fuels our wants and desires with chemical rewards, but this does not determine our likes and dislikes.

There are chemical rewards involved when we like something, but these rewards are different from the dopamine rewards. Berridge explains:

“For a long time it was thought that the issue with addiction was withdrawal… you get rid of the withdrawal and you get rid of the addiction. But if it’s sensitized wanting, it can emerge in a person who isn’t getting much pleasure from the drugs [or behavioral addiction] any more. They have a sincere cognitive desire to not take drugs because they know what it does to them.”1

I’ve heard many people say, “If you don’t like porn, just don’t watch it.” But Berridge’s discovery reveals that “liking” porn may have very little to do with our impulses to watch it.

Bible Teaching on “Wanting” and “Liking”

Since the time that Paul reflected on doing the things he didn’t want to do, many Christian thinkers have struggled to put words to this cognitive dissonance. St. Augustine reflected on “disordered desires,” when the things we want don’t line up with our love for God. Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise on “religious affections,” thinking deeply about the relationship between our true desires and how we act.

Like Berridge, the Bible shows us that not all sins are committed because we “like” them. Sometimes our “wants” go astray. Make no mistake: Sin is still sin, but we can take comfort that God understands the challenges faced by Christians who struggle with porn. Psalm 103:13-14:

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.”

Unfortunately, just knowing that you don’t like porn doesn’t help you stop wanting it. But we can look to Jesus’s words for further encouragement and practical help in dealing with these unwanted desires. While he was awaiting the cross in Matthew 26:41, Jesus told his disciples:

“Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

“The spirit is willing,” meaning we may “like” the things of God and “dislike” the temptations of the enemy. Nonetheless, “the flesh is weak”—we often give into the impulses of our bodies (“wants”) even when we believe it’s wrong and we don’t want to.

Stay “awake” to temptation.

Jesus tells the disciples to be on the lookout. Temptation comes most often when we’re relaxed and have let our guard down. Remember that “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.

Is prayer a last resort in your fight against porn? According to Jesus, that’s a big mistake. It’s not enough to be wary of temptation; we need to pray actively that God would keep us on the path. If you need help with praying against porn, check out this blog post.

Remember the weakness of your flesh.

We often overestimate our own strength—I know I do. Jesus gently reminds his disciples that however spiritually minded they are, their flesh is weak. That means their physical bodies, their emotional reactions, and their “mesolimbic wanting.”

This weakness should drive us to Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). When we feel strong, we can quickly start to rely on ourselves instead of God. The temptation to look at porn can actually serve to point us back to Jesus when we’ve started to put confidence in ourselves rather than him.

Lean on others for help.

Part of remembering your weakness is understanding that you can’t do this alone. Hebrews 3:13 says “encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”

You need a system in place to deal with your wants, and it needs to involve other people. It’s especially important to have an ally—a trustworthy friend who can help you pursue the good things you truly love and desire.

  1. William Cookson

    I think the reason why people regularly indulge in porn is because they DO like it, and when enough time passes after the last images were seen, they WANT it again. The porn addict will ALWAYS like and want it for the rest of their lives. These individuals must be willing to count the cost of losing a clear, guilt free conscience, lost time, and lost productivity (doing other important tasks). Conquering an addiction must be driven by comparing rewards and consequences of the two pathways in their lives. Once the behavior changes, then after a long period of time, the impulsive feeling diminishes, but never vanishes. Some people need help from others, and others can manage it alone. It takes intelligence and discipline to continually review the anticipated outcome of keeping the habit or renouncing it. Success is ultimately up to the individual and their God-given freedom to exercise judgement and do the right thing. It is not easy and sadly many people expect victory when their will cannot be exercised anymore, ultimately with their death.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related in Defeat Lust & Pornography

Editor's Picks

Close-up portrait of male student with head on knees sitting by wall in college

Defeat Lust & Pornography

My Sin Owned Me

I have long struggled with lust, first giving in to pornography as…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A young boy praying in a Catholic church.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Was an Altar Boy Addicted to Porn

Since I was young, I’ve battled with a deeply personal struggle: pornography…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A young man embracing his wife.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Overcame My Fear of Abandonment

My struggles have been with pornography, masturbation, fanaticizing, objectifying, and lying. It…

3 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Young man taking a break while hiking.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

My Imperfect Journey

My journey to overcome and avoid the temptation of pornography has been…

3 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Close-up on the hands of a group of people learning to trust one another.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

How to Trust People

After helping people overcome pornography for more than two decades, one thing…

7 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A young man training for an endurance race.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

Running the Race With Endurance

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart…

4 minute read

Read Post

Related in Defeat Lust & Pornography

Close-up portrait of male student with head on knees sitting by wall in college

Defeat Lust & Pornography

My Sin Owned Me

I have long struggled with lust, first giving in to pornography as…

I have long struggled with lust, first giving in to pornography as a 6th grader. As I approach my junior year of college, I see the destruction that my addiction has caused and the further…

4 minute read

0 comments

A young boy praying in a Catholic church.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Was an Altar Boy Addicted to Porn

Since I was young, I’ve battled with a deeply personal struggle: pornography…

Since I was young, I’ve battled with a deeply personal struggle: pornography and masturbation. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this addiction took hold of me, but that first encounter remains etched in my memory.…

4 minute read

0 comments

A young man embracing his wife.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

I Overcame My Fear of Abandonment

My struggles have been with pornography, masturbation, fanaticizing, objectifying, and lying. It…

My struggles have been with pornography, masturbation, fanaticizing, objectifying, and lying. It started after dealing with intense feelings of loneliness following my graduation from college and first job in ministry. I was spending a lot…

3 minute read

0 comments

Young man taking a break while hiking.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

My Imperfect Journey

My journey to overcome and avoid the temptation of pornography has been…

My journey to overcome and avoid the temptation of pornography has been a long and difficult one. It started at the age of 8. Some of my friends came over to my house one day…

3 minute read

0 comments

Close-up on the hands of a group of people learning to trust one another.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

How to Trust People

After helping people overcome pornography for more than two decades, one thing…

After helping people overcome pornography for more than two decades, one thing has become clear: Defeating porn requires trustworthy relationships. Pornography develops a powerful grip on people that can’t be overcome in isolation. We need…

7 minute read

0 comments

A young man training for an endurance race.

Defeat Lust & Pornography

Running the Race With Endurance

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart…

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). This passage has been the one I’ve been able to…

4 minute read

0 comments