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Do Certain Brain Chemicals Play a Role in Porn Addiction?

Dr R. Y. Langham

Aug 01, 2022

When you continually view porn, your brain reacts, causing a new habit to be formed. This “habit” starts the process of robbing you of your mental health and livelihood. Eventually, your “porn habit” turns into full-fledged, uncontrollable porn addiction.

At this point, it may become impossible to “shake it” on your own, primarily because your brain views porn as “pleasurable.” When something is enjoyable, we return to it – and we keep returning to it because it feels good. This even applies to porn. Porn elicits happiness, euphoria, and/or sexual arousal and satisfaction, so people continue to use – until they lose control over it. Dr. Judith Reisman refers to porn as an “erototoxin,” an addictive chemical released in the brain after viewing porn.

According to Dr. Reisman, using porn can damage the brain in some aspects. She believes that future brain studies will show how “porn use” triggers an influx of hormones and neurotransmitters that negatively impact the brain. Thus, “porn use” and porn addiction are more serious and life-altering than many assume. Porn can change your brain and life in unfathomable ways. However, you can quit porn and restore your vitality.

With patience, persistence, time, and effort, combined with porn addiction treatment, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy, porn addiction support groups, porn addiction books, forums, and apps, mindfulness meditation, hypnosis, and Stop Together, a porn recovery program designed to help you kick your porn habit and reclaim your life, you can finally be free of porn.

If you would like to learn more about how porn affects your brain, keep reading because this article will help you understand how porn is wreaking havoc in your life – even if you do not realize it. Hopefully, the knowledge you glean from this article will prompt you to take steps to stop your “porn habit” before it changes who you are inside and out.

So, do certain brain chemicals play a role in porn addition? Absolutely!

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Can Porn Affect the Brain?

Yes, porn can affect the brain.

Urges to view porn resemble urges to do drugs or overindulge in alcohol. When you repeatedly use porn, a part of your brain – the part responsible for executing good judgment, making rational decisions, and demonstrating willpower actually starts to diminish or “shrink.” Brain chemicals designed to trigger sexual pleasure are “rewired” to crave porn instead of sex with a flesh-and-blood person. Because porn affects your brain, quitting it for good can be extremely challenging.

Is There a Relationship Between Brain Chemicals and Porn?

Yes, there appears to be a relationship between brain chemicals and porn.

According to Sam Black’s, “The Porn Circuit,” various hormones and neurotransmitters are “activated” when a person uses porn with each element contributing to his or her porn addiction.

When you use porn, dopamine, a hormone/neurotransmitter, is released into the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and emotions, thereby, triggering urges to use porn.

People, who are addicted to porn, feel like they must use it to be happy, to be sexually aroused or satisfied, to get relief, to be entertained, etc. Porn is pleasurable to these individuals. Thus, each time they watch porn, dopamine is released into the brain. In other words, your brain says to you, “Remember, how much fun or how much better you felt after viewing porn? Well, you can get those same pleasurable feelings again, simply by entering this porn site.”

Another hormone/neurotransmitter released while viewing porn is norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is responsible for concentration and focus. This hormone/neurotransmitter mimics adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline alerts your brain that something dreadful is about to happen and you need to prepare for it. Porn also triggers the production and release of oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones responsible for creating and retaining memories.

Oxytocin and vasopressin link your memories to pleasurable experiences, so you are compelled to keep returning to them. When you use porn, your body also produces extra endorphins, hormones that are released when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, bored, ill, etc. In return, endorphins trigger a natural “high” that travels through your body. Once you have an orgasm from using porn, your serotonin levels change causing you to feel calmer and more relaxed.

The good news is that you can get this same feeling while having sex with a real-life partner. The truth is the sexually-explicit images you see on the screen are just a mirage. In other words, most of what you see on porn sites is not real. It is largely unattainable in the “real world.” However, with a real-life partner, you can experience a “high” that is natural and tangible. You can also experience a more pleasurable experience, a deeper connection with someone, and a more profound “calmness” after having sex or engaging in sexual activities (due to norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin).

Every time you are physically intimate with someone else, you are essentially creating or strengthening your emotional bond (due to oxytocin and vasopressin) with him or her. Eventually, the urges to view porn are replaced with a desire to be physically intimate with a flesh-and-blood person. A real connection is formed, which enhances your sexual experiences – a connection that was disrupted by your “porn use.”

What Happens in My Brain When I Use Porn?

Your brain involves billions of neurons and functions like a computer that is tasked with processing large amounts of information, prompting your movements, and forming your thoughts and emotions. Thousands of brain chemicals combine to provide you with a variety of sensations and experiences, such as sexual arousal and satisfaction, pleasure, pain, anxiety, depression, anger, excitement, boredom, happiness, etc. Thus, your brain is designed to adapt to a variety of stimuli and environments.

Porn triggers the same pleasurable brain chemicals as drugs, sex, and alcohol. However, porn is an illusion. It is not a real, meaningful encounter or experience. It actually disrupts your natural proclivities to copulate or have sex with a partner. Viewing porn causes neuropathways to form, thereby, creating a “porn habit” that could eventually turn into full-fledged porn addiction.

In other words, your brain “bonds” or “attaches” to the porn, causing you to keep returning to it. More specifically, your brain memorizes how you felt and what you experienced while watching porn (i.e., euphoria, a “high,” sexual arousal and excitement, etc.), so each time you become stressed, overwhelmed, bored, emotionally distressed, upset, angry, lonely, etc., you automatically turn to porn for “relief.”

The truth is porn stimulates your brain and increases brain chemicals so you experience an “artificial high.” According to Gary Wilson, physiology teacher, TEDx speaker, “The Great Porn Experiment,” founder of YourBrainOnPorn.com, a website that offers research, resources, self-help tools, and reports on the effects of porn on the brain, and author of the best-selling book, “Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction,” males, who view porn, experience an influx of dopamine in the brain.

After viewing porn and experiencing “relief” or sexual satisfaction, your brain becomes fatigued and dopamine production ceases, causing you to crave porn again, but without an ability to achieve the “high” previously associated with it. As a result, things that used to trigger excitement no longer have the same effects, which causes you to seek out newer and more intense or “taboo” forms of porn to get the desired results (i.e., sexual arousal and satisfaction, entertainment, comfort, etc.).

This imbalance in brain chemicals and function can cause a host of problems, such as sexual dysfunctions, like impotence, porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), premature ejaculation (PE), low sex drive, etc., excessive porn-induced masturbation that still leads to sexual dissatisfaction, low motivation, lethargy, anxiety, extreme stress, depression, inattention, or an inability to focus, and a desire for more “taboo,” peculiar, or unconventional porn.

Studies suggest that the brains of “heavy or chronic porn users” or porn addicts resemble the brains of drug addicts and alcoholics. More specifically, researchers have found that the ventral striatum, a brain structure, plays an important role in your internal reward system (located in your brain). When you continuously view porn, it triggers this internal reward system, which causes neuropathways to form in your brain.

The result? A porn habit or addiction. This occurs in the same region of the brain that “electrifies” when a drug addict sees an image of a blunt, weed, a needle, etc. Studies also suggest that viewing porn can weaken the cingulate cortex, a part of the brain responsible for morals, ethics, values, beliefs, decision-making skills, and willpower.

Can Porn Trigger or Worsen Anxiety or Depression?

It is possible…

Studies suggest that there is a link between “porn use,” and anxiety and depression, especially among people, who believe that using porn is “wrong” or “evil,” and those, who want to stop, but cannot. Religious people (i.e., Christians), who view porn, are particularly prone to anxiety or depression. According to a 2021 study, “heavy or compulsive porn use” is positively correlated with anxiety.

However, critics doubt that there is a direct relationship between porn use and anxiety, citing a direct cause of the anxiety, such as religious beliefs and/or moral convictions. Still, these individuals acknowledge that porn can impact relationships, self-esteem and self-confidence, employments, etc., which could lead to anxiety or depression.

Can I “Rewire” My Brain and “Rebalance” My Brain Chemicals?

Yes, you can!

Listed below are ways you can “rewire” your brain and “rebalance” your brain chemicals, disrupted by porn:

Form a Strong Support Group

The truth is you cannot carry the weight of porn on your shoulders alone – without crumbling. Similar to how you cannot walk on a broken knee without tumbling to the ground. What does that mean? It means you need support to keep going. And, just like the song by Ben Withers, “Lean on Me” says, we all need someone to lean on. So, find “your people” to help you weather this storm.

Friends, family members, and other trusted confidants can help you on your porn addiction recovery journey. The key to success? Sharing your struggle with people you trust, who can offer advice, support, and unconditional love.

Do not be afraid to share your fears, concerns, and doubts with your support group because they are there to hold you accountable, pick you up when you fall off the horse, and celebrate with you when you are victorious (i.e., reducing or quitting your “porn use”). So, turn to your support group when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and when you have urges to view porn. They will keep you afloat when you feel like you are drowning.

Make Some Changes

You have likely spent a long time grappling with porn addiction, so “rewiring” your brain and “rebalancing” your brain chemicals is going to take time, effort, and persistence. Why? Because your life probably revolves around your porn habit and scoring your fix. You cannot help it – porn has taken over your life. More specifically, it has caused a brain chemical imbalance and caused unhealthy neuropathways to form.

Although you may not be able to directly balance your brain chemicals when it comes to your porn addiction (unless you have a mental health condition, like anxiety or depression that is causing you to turn to porn), there are some lifestyle changes and treatments that can help you form new, healthy habits, such as:

  • Getting quality sleep
  • Practicing stress-management skills, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, hypnosis, etc.
  • Surrounding yourself with positive affirmations
  • Adopting a healthy diet
  • Moving around and being active (i.e., swimming, jogging, walking, biking, etc.)
  • Socializing (i.e., if you are out socializing with other people, you will have less time to spend viewing porn)
  • Identifying and avoiding your porn triggers
  • Reducing the amount of time that you spend on the Internet or your smartphone, laptop, desktop computer, tablet, etc.
Try Something New

Replace your porn habit with a healthier one, such as learning a new skill or hobby, exercising, volunteering at a non-profit organization or helping those in need, etc. The truth is you cannot fully quit porn until you find something that will distract you from it. If you are busy on a new task, you will have less time to “fixate” on porn. The key to making this tip work is pre-planning what you will do when urges to view porn arise.

Be Honest with Yourself

The truth is it may take several “tries” to fully rid yourself of porn. Porn addicts rarely quit porn for good after recovering from it for the first time. It is common for porn addicts to successfully quit porn for a few weeks, months, or years, only to relapse after a particularly stressful time in their lives. However, instead of blaming and criticizing yourself for “falling off the horse,” try to identify what went wrong so you can prevent the same thing from happening again.

So, ask yourself what went wrong. Do you lose a loved one, friend, or pet? Did you have an important presentation at work that triggered the urge to view porn? Have you been having relationship issues? Or, did you simply have a bad day at work? Once you figure out what went wrong, the next step is to determine what changes need to be made to be successful in the future.

Avoid Your Porn Triggers

If you avoid your porn triggers long enough, your “porn fixation” will diminish. In other words, porn will lose its power over you. So, if you tend to watch cyberporn at night once your partner has gone to bed, try to go to bed when he or she goes to bed so you are not up alone late at night viewing porn.

Or, if you typically view porn on your electronic devices, install an anti-porn blocker on them to prevent you from accessing porn sites. If sexy movies trigger your porn cravings, opt for thrillers or comedies instead. Whatever triggers your porn obsession and compulsion – make a conscious effort to avoid it.

Talk to Your Partner

If porn has caused you to become disinterested in your flesh-and-blood partner, then talk to him or her about how you are feeling. Do not be afraid to tell your partner the truth because it will only make you stronger as a couple. Add your partner to your support group because he or she will likely want to help you conquer your addiction.

Maybe your partner can offer helpful advice, support, compassion, and/or a different perspective on your porn addiction. If he or she truly cares about you, he or she will be there for you as you address your “porn use.”

Note: Porn can cause you and your partner to drift away from each other. Porn replaces your real-life partner, thereby becoming the “love of your life.” Talking to your partner helps re-establish your connection. Do not only talk about your porn habit but other things as well. In other words, get to know each other again.

Engage in Foreplay

Foreplay is underrated – and it should not be. Foreplay or touching each other without it leading to sex is a great way to emotionally and physically connect with each other. So, remove your clothes and lie naked on the bed with your partner – then explore each other’s bodies. In other words, discover every crevice of your partner’s body and encourage him or her to do the same thing to you. Pay attention to the sensations in your body and try to stay in the moment. Take your time and enjoy the experience.

Seek Therapy

Porn addiction therapy typically involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), although it may also involve other therapies, such as addiction therapy, couples therapy, marriage therapy, grief therapy, trauma therapy, and/or individual therapy. Porn addiction therapy can help you view your “porn use” and addiction in a different light so that you can change your behavior – and quit porn.

Note: Porn addiction support groups, forums, apps, and books can provide you with support, and answers to your questions while you address your porn habit.

Try Vitamin & Mineral Supplements

Certain vitamins and minerals may help “rewire” your brain and “rebalance” your brain chemicals.

If you are unable to obtain these vitamins and minerals through your diet, you may want to try the following vitamin and mineral supplements:

Citicoline

Citicoline is an essential B vitamin that comes from choline. It not only has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties but also boosts the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in the brain and helps bind them together. Citicoline appears to be beneficial for brain function, mental health, and addictions, like substance abuse and porn addiction.

Theanine

Theanine, an amino acid, is known to trigger mental and physical relaxation. Theanine, a common ingredient in tea, has a variety of brain and mental health benefits. This vitamin “calms” the brain by boosting GABA and dopamine production in the brain. A major benefit of theanine is that it does not cause grogginess or sleepiness.

Theanine also protects your brain from harmful substances and activities, like “heavy porn use,” helps “balance” your brain chemicals, and reduces oxidative stress in the body. Thus, similar to drug and alcohol addictions, researchers have concluded that theanine not only has anti-addictive properties that can help prevent you from becoming addicted to porn, but may also reduce urges to use porn, ease porn addiction withdrawal symptoms, and lower your risk of porn addiction relapses.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are “healthy fats” primarily found in “fatty fish,” like salmon, sardines, tuna, olive oil, walnuts, soybeans, etc. Your body does not naturally produce this nutrient, so it must be obtained through foods or vitamin supplements. Omega-3 is necessary for healthy brain and nervous system functions.

More specifically, it helps “balance” your brain chemicals, alleviate anxiety, and improve mood, sleep quality, learning, and even your memory. Omega-3 may also lower your risk of porn addiction, reduce your porn cravings, and prevent porn addiction withdrawal and relapse symptoms.

Magnesium

Magnesium, an essential mineral, interacts with hormones and neurotransmitters and can have a significant impact on your mood and brain function. Studies suggest that magnesium may also reduce opiate, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamine, alcohol, and porn addictions, and decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Researchers have also found that addicts who take magnesium daily have lower relapse rates – as compared to those, who do not take it.

Get a Prescription

If you believe your porn addiction is stemming from anxiety or depression or another mental health condition, you may need a prescription for medications like antidepressants (i.e., SSRIs) or anti-anxiety meds. The hope is that if the original health issue is addressed, your need to use porn will diminish and eventually go away. So, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression and porn addiction, consult your doctor for guidance.

Invest in an Online Porn Addiction Recovery Program

Investing in an online porn addiction recovery program, like Stop Together, can help you rewire your brain and “rebalance” your brain chemicals. Stop Together offers online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques, audio recordings, a library of resources, and post-therapy support – all to help you combat your porn addiction.

References

  • Reisman, J. A. (2011). 2004 testimony: The science behind pornography addiction. The Reisman Institute. Retrieved from http://www.drjudithreisman.com/archives/2011/06/2004_testimony.html
  • Wilson, G. (2017). Your brain on porn: internet pornography and the emerging science of addiction. Commonwealth Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Your-Brain-Porn-Pornography-Addiction-ebook/dp/B00N2AH8NW
  • Wilson, G. (n.d.). Curious about the latest research on internet porn’s effects? YourBrainOnPorn.com. Retrieved from https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/
  • Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A review and update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388–433. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5030388
  • Hilton, D. L., & Watts, C. (2011). Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2, 19. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4103/2152-7806.76977
  • Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption: The brain on porn. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827–834. Retrieved from https://doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93
  • Perry, S. L. (2018). Pornography use and depressive symptoms: Examining the role of moral incongruence. Society and Mental Health, 8(3), 195–213. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/2156869317728373
  • Brem, M. J., Shorey, R. C., Anderson, S., & Stuart, G. L. (2017). Depression, anxiety, and compulsive sexual behavior among men in residential treatment for substance use disorders: The role of experiential avoidance. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(6), 1246–1253. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2085
  • de Alarcón, R., de la Iglesia, J. I., Casado, N. M., & Montejo, A. L. (2019). Online porn addiction: What we know and what we don’t – A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(1), 91. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8010091
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  • Darcey, V. L., & Serafine, K. M. (2020). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vulnerability to Addiction: Reviewing Preclinical and Clinical Evidence. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 26(20), 2385–2401. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612826666200429094158
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