Doing Life Together

home-office-2838944_1920John regularly uses pornography. He wonders if he is addicted or is developing an addiction. The Head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Norma Volkow, supports the inclusion of sexual addictions, with pornography as a contributor to the larger field of addictions.

Volkow and colleagues describe a three-stage model of neurobiochemical addiction. The three stages include 1) binge/intoxication b) withdrawal/negative affect and 3) preoccupation/anticipation.[1]  Impulsivity becomes compulsivity. In fact, a 2013 study at the University of Leicester, UK, lends support to the idea that pornography use may be more compulsive than addictive. In that study, researchers found that certain traits that make people more vulnerable to compulsivity, were correlated with pornography use. [2]

Norman Doidge, in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, also discusses how viewing pornography results in the continued release of dopamine into the reward system stimulating neuroplastic changes that then reinforce the experience. These changes result in brain maps for sexual excitement. The more these pathways are used, the more they dominate mental space. These newly established brain maps create tolerance for “normal” sexuality, explaining why porn users often progress to more explicit and graphic pornography for stimulation.

In the Bible, St. Paul proclaims in Romans 7:16, I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. This brain process of the compulsion to seek and use, the loss of control, the emergence of a negative emotional state when access is prevented is beginning to be explained by neuroscience.

The good news is that God built the capacity for change into our brains. Change is possible when one starves the pathways and rewiring occurs. Using the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we can change our brain through the use of distraction when we feel the urge to use pornography. We can also avoid external triggers that have been carved in to the neural circuits of the brain, substitute other behavior to respond to the internal triggers of loneliness, anxiety and other negative affect states, and take captive the fantasy that begins to develop in the mind.

Starving the brain and meditating on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable changes the brain whether we classify pornography as addiction or not. This is why abstinence from viewing pornography is so important. The “rest’ from viewing helps the brain to rewire.



[1]Volkow, N.D.; Wang, G.-J.; Fowler, J.S.; Tomasi, D.; Telang, F. Addiction: Beyond dopamine reward circuitry. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2011, 108, 15037–15042.

[2]Egan, V. &Parmar, R. (2013) Dirty Habits? Online Pornography Use, Personality, Obsessionality, and Compulsivity, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. Vol 39, Issue 5,