Let’s talk about the brain. It seems like every day, scientists are discovering another way the brain influences our daily lives – shaping our choices and ultimately influencing who we become. So it’s pretty important that we protect the brain.
There are a lot of things that we can do to damage the brain, of course. We’ve all probably lost a few brain cells, whether from a bad fall, a helmet-to-helmet hit in football, wrecking hard on a mountain bike trail, or getting a roundhouse kick to the face by Chuck Norris. OK, maybe not that last one—you’d be dead.
How It Starts
Think back on a time when you were younger—before you even saw pornography: Did you feel your day was ruined if you couldn’t watch porn? Did you feel nervous or uncomfortable, or unable to concentrate because you couldn’t check out a video?
Of course not!
Your life went on just fine as a non-porn viewer. You were able to get on with your life without giving the slightest thought to porn.
But then the problem started. And like a new smoker or drinker, your body got a shock. The reason for this is that pornography is a powerful example of what scientists call a “supranormal” or “super” stimulus – something designed to be so artificially intense that it can quickly overpower and hijack the attention of most human beings. By “mimicking” real sexual intimacy, pornography - when we let it in - tricks the brain into releasing powerful neurochemicals like dopamine into the “reward pathway” of the brain, which is what provides that momentary rush.
You see, in the beginning, this intense dopamine punch leaves people feeling a little overexcited, shocked or even sick at first exposure to porn. Some also report some kind of internal resistance, like - “I’m not sure about this.”
The Cycle Continues
Over time, as people continue to use, the body gets so used to that dopamine spike that it starts to demand more and more. It’s like that guy who ate McDonald’s every meal for thirty straight days in that documentary Super Size Me. At first, he got really sick, but after a while, his body got used to the grease and the fat – to the point where he actually started to crave it.
If your body can start demanding fast food, it’s no surprise that this can happen with pornography, right? Thus users go from not needing porn, to trying it, to wanting it, to eventually to feeling like they need it.
And remember, the brain by this point has become so used to all that dopamine, that it requires large amounts just to feel a rush anymore. And that is how addiction gets started. It hijacks your brain’s natural appetites and slowly starts to take over your life, robbing you of your freedom to make your own choices.
This is more than just a physiological shift, by the way. As we go back to something like pornography over and over, our desires, interests, and motivations also start to change—to the point that a new appetite begins to emerge….introducing cravings and urges, until we think we “really want” what we used to be repulsed and shocked by…
There Is Hope
Notice something important here: we don’t start off loving porn. We start off trying it. At some point, however, this new appetite can become almost impossible to distinguish from our own deeper desires—leading some to just decide, “Hey, this is just what I want” or “This is just who I am.”
No wonder it’s not so easy to step away from this stuff…we’ve been trained in another direction – both in our desires and in the brain itself – to chase after this super stimulus anytime we don’t like how we’re feeling, anytime we want to escape.
Regardless, the good news is that this process can be reversed. A good starting point is understanding the basic scientific reasons why we’re feeling stuck in the first place.
No matter how deep you are into this stuff and no matter how long you’ve been struggling, there is hope. As long as you don’t give up the fight…and as long as you don’t try to do this alone…your brain can totally change and rewire itself back to a healthy state over time.