Pornography: How It Works and How to Reverse Its Effects (Part 1 of 2)
Below is more or less a paper I wrote in preparing for a men’s Bible study at my church. I hope you find it helpful.
Pornography is defined as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement,”1 and it is obvious that pornography is an epidemic in our society. It is imperative that we as Christians understand this epidemic and equip ourselves to live righteously in its midst.
It should be clarified at the outset that the activity of researching this topic leaves one overwhelmed by the myriad of resources that have been written in reporting on and responding to this epidemic. Moreover, when one’s habit of study is not in the field of medical science, there is a certain hesitation and humility that comes from leaning so much on the words of others. It is not my intention to misunderstand or misrepresent the sources cited below. Nonetheless, what follows below is one man’s meager attempt at examining how pornography works and how to biblically reverse its effects for his own sake and the sake of those who listen.
A 2006 study indicated that the US spends an annual $13 billion on pornography, and $3 billion of that total is for pornography through the internet.2 Pornography has become so mainstream in our world today that free porn has led to a 50% decline in porn revenue worldwide since 2007.3 In other words, porn is so common that it is abundant and free. Why even pay for it? Just look at how this epidemic affects society today:4
- $3,075.64 is spent on pornography every second.
- 28,258 internet users view pornography every second.
- 372 internet users type adult search terms into search engines every second.
- A new pornographic video is created every 39 minutes in the United States.
- There are 4.2 million pornographic websites, which is 12% of all
The average age of seeing porn for the first time is 11 years old.5 One study suggests 1 out of 5 teenage men view pornography “every day or almost every day.”6 The Washington Post reported, “According to a report commissioned by Congress, some 70 million individuals visit pornographic Web sites each week; about 11 million of them are younger than 18.”7 Proven Men Ministries hired the Barna Group to conduct survey of a representative 1,000 adult men in the US in 2014. Reportedly, “Approximately two-thirds (64%) of U.S. men view pornography at least monthly,” and sadly, “The number of Christian men viewing pornography virtually mirrors the national average.”8
Temptation lurks in every corner. Are you part of those statistics? If so, do you realize what porn does or has done to you? How do you reverse its effects?
How Pornography Works: A Physiological Explanation
Porn Gives Instant Pleasure
Men receive sexual pleasure by the mere sight of explicit pornography. The pleasure received from this experience is similar to taking a drug. This similarity is described in this way:
“Once we got a peek into the brain . . . our understanding of how addictions work changed. It turns out, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs have more in common than you might think. Sure, on the outside, some are poured into a glass while others are lit on fire and smoked. But once they’re in the body, they all do the same thing to the brain: flood it with a chemical called dopamine. That’s what makes them addictive. And porn does the exact same thing.”9
As mentioned, pornography pleasure through the release of dopamine, “a chemical that makes you feel good.”10 One article describes dopamine and similar chemicals released by one’s body in this way: “They help us feel pleasure and to bond with other people, and they motivate us to come back to important activities that make us happy.”11 The means whereby dopamine will “motivate us to come back” to the activity that produced its release is by its relation to the protein iFosB. One article explains,
“When a person is aroused by porn, their brain releases a chemical called dopamine that makes them feel pleasure. As the dopamine goes through their brain, it leaves behind a pathway created by a protein called iFosB (pronounced delta fos b) that connects feeling aroused to looking at porn. Basically dopamine is saying ‘this feels good; let’s remember how to get back here,’ and iFosB goes to work building a brain pathway to make it easier for the person to do that again. When this happens with healthy behaviors it is a good thing, but when it happens with unhealthy ones it can lead to trouble.”12
Putting these thoughts together, the instant and overwhelming pleasure of pornography motivates the user’s behavior to repeat this experience and to do so in addictive manner.13
Porn Is Never Enough and Leaves You Wanting More
How does this addiction take place? Despite the instant pleasure that pornography provides, this pleasure wanes over time. The pornographic experience must be enhanced in order to achieve the same level of pleasure again.14 Here is a description of this addictive process:
“Just like other addictive substances, porn floods the brain with dopamine. But since the brain gets overwhelmed by the constant overload of chemicals that comes with consistent porn use, it fights back by taking away some of its dopamine receptors—which are like tiny ears on the end of a neuron that hear dopamine’s message.
“With fewer receptors, even if the brain is putting off the same levels of dopamine in response to porn, the user can’t feel dopamine’s effect as much. As a result, the porn they were looking at doesn’t seem as arousing or exciting, and many porn users go hunting for more porn or more hardcore porn to get the effect the old porn used to offer.
“As a frequent porn user’s brain acclimates to the new levels of dopamine flooding through it, regular activities that would normally set off a burst of dopamine and make the person feel happy aren’t strong enough to register much anymore, leaving the user feeling down or uneasy whenever they go for a while without looking at porn. That’s one reason why pornography can be so addictive.”15
As the user becomes addicted to pornography, this “addiction damages the part of the brain that helps you think things through to make good choices—the brain’s limit setting system.”16 The cumulative effect is that, as the user feeds his addiction to porn, he is less and less able to choose to break his addiction.17 Moreover, he seeks out more and more sensational pornography as his addiction continues.
In our advanced technological setting, one has the ability to feed this addiction all the more. As one author describes it, “Thanks to the Internet, porn now mixes the most powerful natural dopamine release the body can produce with a cocktail of other elements—endless novelty, shock, and surprise—all of which increase the dopamine surge.”18 Princeton University professor Dr. Jeffrey Satinover describes this situation accordingly:
“With advent of the computer, the delivery system for this addictive stimulus has become nearly resistance-free. It is as though we have devised a form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before, usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes. It’s now available in unlimited supply via a self-replicating distribution network, glorified as art and protected by the Constitution.”19
Porn and Its Behavioral Effects
A porn user’s behavior is affected by his seeking more porn, and porn of such a nature that allows him to feel the same pleasure as in his previous pornographic experiences. As the addiction increases, other activities in life decrease in their significance to the user and fall by the wayside in order to feed the addiction to porn because the use of porn is more fulfulling. This addiction can often lead to the use of personal funds for more sensational porn.20 Eventually, even the most pleasurable of pornographic experiences will begin to wane, and the user’s addictive behavior may lead to acting out upon what he has seen. Of the many examples that we could give, Dr. Satinover gives two:
“Since the 50s, as pornography became mainstreamed and pushed the envelope of normal sexual conduct, law enforcement reported that sex crimes mimicking comparable acts were being inflicted on women and children.”21
“Testimony from victims and police commonly finds pornography to be an on-site-sex abuse manual.”22
In general, one could say that the rapid production of more and more pornography over the past years is a behavioral illustration of the fact that no porn is ever enough. For the individual, computer usage increases (desktop, mobile, etc.), family relationships disintegrate (especially with one’s spouse), the act of sex loses its original pleasure, infidelity increases, etc.23 People involved in romantic relationships with the user feel “hurt, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, lonely,
isolated, humiliated, jealous, and angry.”24
A Biblical Understanding of Enjoying Pornography
Seeing the physiological description of how porn works and giving an all-too-brief survey of its effects can leave anyone discouraged and wonder if a remedy for this epidemic even exists. Indeed, there is such a remedy, but let us not forget to look first at the survey above through the lens of Scripture.
Biblically, lusting after another person is sin in and of itself (Matt 5:28). Both the production of pornography and the enjoyment of such are also acts of sin. Sexual pleasure is to be enjoyed with one’s spouse alone (Gen 2:24; Heb 13:4), not through producing pornography for the enjoyment of others or being the one to enjoy it.25
For the user of pornography, it should be added that lust often leads to acting upon such lust. As one is tempted as lured and enticed by his own desires and these desires are provoked by porn, one may just act upon such desires, leading to spiritual death (James 1:14–15). Remember that for David, looking was not enough, especially when it is relatively easy to act upon these desires (2 Sam 11:2–5). And for the one who acts upon such desires, there will be consequences for his sin that will never go away (cf. 2 Sam 12:7–15; Prov 6:33).
Next week I’ll conclude with “How to Reverse the Effects of Pornography: A Biblical Perspective.”
About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003), s.v., “pornography.” [↩]
- CovenantEyes, “Pornography Statistics: Annual Report 2014.” Online: www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- All statistics in this list come from “Internet Pornography Statistics.” Online: http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics.html. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. These statistics stem from a study conducted in 2006. [↩]
- “Internet Pornography Statistics.” [↩]
- Covenant Eyes, “Pornography Statistics: 250+ facts, quotes, and statistics about pornography use (2013 Edition),” p. 15. Available online: http://blog.clinicalcareconsultants.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/porn_stats_2013_covenant_eyes.pdf. This study consisted of 813 students from six schools in the US. [↩]
- The Washington Post, “Protecting Kids Online.” 1 Jul 2006. Online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19307-2004Jun30.html. Accessed 16 Jan 2015. The author of the present paper could not find a copy of this study for himself, and the online article did not give this source a detailed citation. [↩]
- Proven Men Ministries, “Pornography Use and Addiction.” Online: http://www.provenmen.org/2014pornsurvey/pornography-use-and-addiction/. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. For a helpful report on multiple surveys on this topic throughout the world, see Mike Genung, “Current Porn Statistics.” Online: http://www.roadtograce.net/current-porn-statistics/. Accessed 15 Jan 2015. The statistic given above differs somewhat from a report by Luke Gilkerson, “Get the Latest Pornography Statistics.” 19 Feb 2013. Online: http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/. Allegedly, “Regular church attenders are 26% less likely to look at porn than non-attenders, but those self-identified as “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to look at porn.” [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn is Addictive.” August 8, 2014. Online: fightthenewdrug.org/porn-is-addictive/#sthash.X4KlqVYZ.dpbs. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn Changes the Brain.” August 8, 2014. Online: fightthenewdrug.org/porn-changes-the-brain/#sthash.wZ9K17FU.dpbs. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn is Like a Drug.” August 8, 2014. Online: fightthenewdrug.org/porn-is-like-a-drug/#sthash.MaGHW4LD.dpbs. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn Addiction Escalates.” August 8, 2014. Online: http://fightthenewdrug.org/porn-addiction-escalates/#sthash.9Oy50nDL.dpbs. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn is Like a Drug.” [↩]
- Albert Mohler, “Hijacking the Brain – How Pornography Works.” February 1, 2010. Online: http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/02/01/hijacking-the-brain-how-pornography-works/. Accessed 26 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn Changes the Brain.” [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Ibid. For empirical research on this conclusion, see Macrina Cooper-White, “Watching Porn Linked To Less Gray Matter In The Brain” (2 Jun 2014). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/02/porn-less-gray-matter-brain_n_5418607.html. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn is Like a Drug.” [↩]
- Jeffrey Satinover, “Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction and Effects of Addiction on Families and Communities.” Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, November 18, 2004. Online: http://www.ccv.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Judith_Reisman_Senate_Testimony-2004.11.18.pdf. Accessed 14 Jan 2015. Satinover is quoted in brief in the previously referenced article as well. [↩]
- Fight the New Drug, “Porn Addiction Escalates.” [↩]
- Satinover, “Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction and Effects of Addiction on Families and Communities.” [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Covenant Eyes, “Pornography Statistics,” pp. 9–10. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- I would add that pornography within the confines of marriage is unwise at best, if the question must even be asked. It allows one spouse to engage in sexual pleasure without the other spouse, even though the absent spouse is “present” in the form of pornography. Also, watching videos of one another engaging in sexual relations or doing so while actually engaging in sexual relations with one another would seem to distract one another from the pleasure God intended to be derived from solely enjoying one another. Moreover, what if someone were to inadvertently stumble on such pornography? When does one choose to dispose of such pornography? Will the children or others have to identify and dispose of this pornography when their parents pass away (cf. Gen 9:22)? What if they, like Ham, have the perverse desire to look on the nakedness of their parents? Yet still, what if an older couple watches videos of themselves when they were young? Is that really seeing themselves for who they are in the present? The proliferation of technology creates many interesting questions for sexual ethics, but perhaps it is best to let “one flesh” mean as much today with respect to technology as it did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. [↩]