Let's Talk About Porn

There's an irony to this blog that is not lost on me. I have x3watch software on my computer, which means that the moment I publish it, I probably won't be able to read it anymore. My computer will flag the word "porn" and block my own ministry site from me. But it's an important topic to talk about. Important enough, in fact, that we're not going to even try to fit it all here. Carly and I will be doing a Facebook Live video Wednesday night at 8:30 Eastern. We'll be sharing some of our difficult experiences, our best advice for dealing with porn as an addict and as the spouse or partner of an addict, as well as taking any questions that our viewers may have. Today, though, I'd like to start by dispelling three misconceptions about porn use or porn addiction - misconceptions that, I think, make it so much more difficult for people to seek, receive, and maintain the help they need to gain victory.

Porn addiction does not have a neurophysiological component like drug or other addictions do.

There's a lot of brain chemistry involved in this topic that I won't get into right now, suffice it to say that your brain likes things that make it feel good, and it's not particularly discriminatory. Cocaine, heroin, food, porn - it doesn't care. Anything that gives it a nice heaping dose of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that does a ridiculous amount of stuff. It's produced in your gut and has something to do with nausea; it has some functions in your heart; it helps you feel motivated and/or attentive. But, in this case, we're concerned with one particular function - reward. Dopamine makes you feel like you've accomplished something, and that accomplishing things is good and pleasurable. Every time you watch porn and (presumably) reward yourself with an orgasm, your brain says something like, "Go you! Wasn't that fun? We should do more of that." Your brain doesn't know the difference between the accomplishment of orgasm and the accomplishment of finishing a 5k - all it knows is that you finished something and you feel good about it. Unfortunately, the problem with things like drugs, alcohol, and porn is ease of access. Pleasure + ease of access = increased use. Increased use + time = tolerance. Well most drugs and alcohol tolerances can be solved by intensity and/or volume, porn requires a different solve, but one just as closely tied to dopamine production in the brain: novelty. The newer and more different the porn you watch over time, the more consistent the high from watching it. All of these behaviors create a neurological dependence on constantly new pornography for an increasingly fleeting sense of satisfaction, because novelty and reward don't have a 1:1 correlation. When you try to stop using pornography, much like other substances, the brain doesn't just roll with it. Your brain doesn't actually care for change and hard work all that much. If you take away it's main source of feeling good about itself, it's going to start grabbing at straws, reaching out for the highest possible reward with the smallest possible effort. These largely mental withdrawal symptoms can create profound physiological effects, including stress, headaches, aggression, nausea, nightmares, insomnia, and more.

Porn use is somehow related to a lack of sexual satisfaction.

In a romantic relationship, you'll often hear one partner talking about using porn as a sex substitute. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what sex is and does, and subsequently what porn is and does. Physically speaking, the act of sex, and subsequently, orgasm, is (normatively anyway) absurdly pleasurable. But that physical pleasure isn't actually the primary source of satisfaction that comes with sex. That primary source of satisfaction is a combination of dopamine & a second neurochemical called oxytocin. Oxytocin makes you want to be nice to people, and it's released in the brain when people are nice to you. It creates neurological, hard-wired, interpersonal connections. It makes your brain go, "Awww. Isn't she sweet? We should spend more time with her. She makes us feel nice. Ooh! Let's buy her flowers!" Here's the problem, though. Human relationships aren't all orgasms and flowers. Sometimes, human relationships are really difficult and painful. Sometimes, human relationships involve rejection. But porn is safe. Porn never rejects you. Porn is always so overwhelmed by its own acceptance of you. You can do and be anyone you want in porn, and the partner of your pornographic stand-in will always be up for whatever it is you want. So, the question is: does porn trigger an oxytocin release in the same way that sex does? Yes. Yes it does. Porn addicts form an interpersonal relationship with pornography itself, a relationship in which they are never questioned, always accepted, always appreciated, and always competent. There's a neurological dependency at play, for sure, but the true staying power of pornography is the ease with which it makes the addict emotionally dependent. It's not the sex that they're missing or dissatisfied with - it's the relationship.

Anybody can provide accountability to someone struggling with a pornography addiction.

And therein lies the real problem with getting over pornography: it's so easy to access. Even leaving aside the fact that we live in a pornographic culture, where sexually stimulating images are available plastered fifteen feet tall on billboards, six feet tall in the window of Victoria's Secret, or 60 inches across on our TV screens, and even leaving aside the fact that even if we didn't live in a pornographic culture, we'd still have the internet, which puts pornography at the tips of our fingers and in our pockets, and no amount of software, firewalls, password protections, or filters can really protect us from all of it, and even leaving aside the fact that even if we didn't have the internet, we still produce pornography in print form, because... of a reason that exists, I'm sure - leaving aside all of that - once you've seen a sexually stimulating image that costs you nothing and that triggers an oxytocin/dopamine cocktail in your brain, it's stuck in there. Probably forever. And you can access it anytime you want. You physically have to get up and go out and buy marijuana or cocaine or heroin or whiskey or Oreos or whatever else gets you high - but porn you can access from the quiet recesses of your own brain, while you're doing literally anything else. So, the accountability that address pornography addiction has to be just as available, just as easy to access. To make this simple, here are my three commandments for providing accountability to a porn addict:

  1. Thou shalt be local to the person to whom you provide accountability.

  2. Thou shalt never be off duty as an accountability partner.

  3. thou shalt never ask the person to whom you provide accountability to be your accountability partner.

The only thing worse that no accountability is bad accountability. If your accountability partner lives a thousand miles away from you, they are not in a position to meet you or to provide a safe place for you. They may be very earnest and dedicated to you, but if they can't get to you, they shouldn't be your main source of accountability. Also, as an accountability partner, you are on duty 24/7/365. Addiction rarely happens on a schedule. As an accountability partner, your best ability is availability. You have to be willing and able to drop just about anything to answer a text or a phone call from the person to whom you're providing accountability partner. Unfortunately, this isn't practical for a lot of people, which makes really good accountability partners hard to come by. If you're in a position to provide this kind of accountability, take on as many partners as you can. People need your availability. Finally, one of the most disheartening things I've ever experienced is texting my accountability partner to tell them I've messed up or I'm having a hard day, and they respond with, "Oh, yeah. Me, too, bro." Two people on wobbly bicycles will do a terrible job of keeping each other on the straight and narrow at the same time. This isn't to say that you can't struggle with the same thing as someone you're providing accountability for, but you get your accountability somewhere else. Your job is to provide accountability to that person, not to get it from them.


Carly and I have so much more to say on this subject. We'll be on Facebook Live at 8:30 this coming Wednesday night. Please come and listen, and bring your questions. If you'd like to talk to us more about this in advance of our Facebook Live, you can find our email and phone number at the bottom of this page. Call or text any time.

Paul Morales