It’s so common. Patient after patient discusses their pornography use. Most bring it up in conversation the first time while avoiding eye contact. In a softer than normal voice they’ll first admit they look at porn, and then they’ll begin to hesitantly detail their viewing. Very rarely do I encounter someone who doesn’t feel shame about using pornography. Many can identify tangible ways it’s affected their life and relationships. Others express extreme fear of being found out.
According to a survey conducted by the Barna Group in the U.S. in 2014, 79% of men and 76% of women aged 18-30 say they viewed pornography at least once a month. In that same age group, 63% of men and 21% of women say they viewed pornography several times a week. Use of pornography isn’t exclusive to this age group, 50-68 year olds were represented in the same survey. For men, 49% viewed at least once a month. For women, 4% reported viewing porn at least once a month. If so many look then what’s the big deal?
Pornography viewing releases dopamine in the brain. This actually occurs in any type of sexual stimulation. Since dopamine supplies a sense of pleasure, it’s release trains the brain to return to the same source to get more of it. In the context of a marriage relationship, this release of pleasure-inducing dopamine can be a force helping partners return to each other for sexual pleasure. Pornography points the individual back to porn. If viewed for long periods of time, surges of dopamine can create an unnatural high in the brain eventually leading to fatigue. Once fatigued, the brain limits it’s release of dopamine, leaving the individual wanting more but unable to reach satisfaction. At this point the brain has become desensitized.
Desensitization is a result of an individual’s brain reacting to the dopamine dump induced by pornography viewing. In his book, Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel explains that experiences shape brain structure. Brain structure, in turn, shapes brain function. He states:
“Although genetic information also determines fundamental aspects of brain anatomy, our experiences are what create the unique connections and mold the basic structure of each individual’s brain.”
Said in a different way, experience is biology. This is scary when we think about the process of becoming desensitized to pornography use. The continual experience of viewing pornography has actually shaped brain structure, which has shaped brain function. Pornography shapes who an individual is.
In an E-book titled Your Brain on Porn created by Covenant Eyes, there is identified 5 tangible ways porn effects the brain. The article references a study from the 1980’s conducted by Dr. Dolf Zillman and Dr. Jennings Bryant. Their research found:
- Watching porn decreases our sexual satisfaction
- Watching porn disconnects us from our real relationships
- Watching porn lowers our view of women
- Watching porn desensitizes us to cruelty
- Watching porn makes us want to watch more porn
Those are some powerful effects. Perhaps the scariest part is how the study defined “Massive exposure group”. This group consisted of people exposed to 5 hours of porn over a 6 week period! With the accessibility to pornography at an all-time high, what would a study of this kind conducted in 2016 reveal?
Pornography is damaging and addicting. If you struggle with pornography use I hope you’ll consider how much it’s affecting your life and relationships. I hope you’ll consider seeking out and asking for help from others committed to walking with you in your journey to freedom from addiction. Support groups, accountability partners, and therapy can all be helpful. Taylor Counseling Group is conducting a therapy group focused on recovery from pornography. If you’d like more information please contact us at (214) 530-0021.