Campus Blog

Porn's Effect on the Brain

Austin Ross February 26, 2016

Today's Resource Spotlight is for the updated Cru Press resource, FLESH: A Habit of Purity in a Pornographic World by Rick James; it has been thoroughly rewritten with added chapters and, like the first edition, includes a one-month devotional as well as small group content and additional resources. The following piece originally appeared in the 2015 edition of FLESH.

Porn is the 4th-most common reason people give for going on the Internet.

It makes up 25% of all search engine requests. ¹

And it’s changing your brain.

In a lot of ways, porn acts similarly to a drug. There’s this thing called dopamine, which is a hormone and neurotransmitter—and dopamine gets released into our brains when we do things that either sustain life (like eating) or things that create life (like sex). The dopamine that’s released becomes correlated to specific acts. The more dopamine that’s released, the stronger the urge to keep doing the thing that released the dopamine in the first place. After extreme levels of dopamine get released, this protein called Delta FosB starts to build up, which leads to a more intense cycle of binging and craving. ²

It ends up creating a feedback loop, a sort-of merry-go-round that spins faster and faster over time.

Don’t get me wrong—dopamine is actually a good thing. It’s a God-given reward system that helps regulate our activity, and points us towards things that are genuinely good and joy-giving.

But for those of us alive in the 21st century (which I hope includes all of you), the amount of dopamine we have access to is historically unheard of.

Part of that is because of the nature of Internet porn. Researchers are only just realizing that pornography addiction is a thing—but porn has been around in various forms for probably as long as humans have existed…so how is it we’re just now seeing significant negative effects?

The answer is in the Internet’s ability to constantly surprise us.

You see this all over the place: we check our Twitter feed throughout the day to see what people are saying, websites like BuzzFeed post an incessant stream of articles and quizzes, and we find ourselves on Amazon, practically salivating over whatever new thing we don’t have but definitely need.

Internet porn functions in exactly the same way; it’s a labyrinth of constant novelty. You can click and click and click, and never watch the same video twice. The constant sense of novelty, that feeling of watching something new, essentially means we can spend hours and hours watching porn while a constant stream of dopamine gets released into our brains.

And it’s all so easy to access.

That’s a little disheartening.

But there is good news—just like your brain is changed by porn, it can change back. The less you watch, the less you want to watch. The dopamine your brain releases will start to get redirected in other, healthier ways. Studies are indicating that you’ll feel better about yourself, your relationships with others will be healthier, and you’ll have more time to be productive.

So what are you waiting for? Ask Jesus to continue to change you, and invite a few close friends to walk with you through this struggle. Your brain will thank you.

© 2015, Cru Press. Reprinted with permission of the author. 

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