YOUR BRAIN ON PORN:

HOW PORN IMPACTS OUR BRAINS, SOCIETY & RELATIONSHIPS

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

With the rise of the digital age, porn has never been more accessible. It’s found on TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones. Within seconds, you could be watching porn right now. And unlike 15-20 years ago, where you were constrained to just what was on late-night television, porn is now like a menu at a fast food joint. There is anything and everything. All types of people. Races, genders, sexualities. All types of positions. All types of roleplay. Most sites have dozens of categories, ensuring that you can find a scene that will help you achieve the biggest orgasm. OnlyFans has now made it possible for you to become “repeat customers” to the same sex workers and models, if someone in particular really turns you on. It’s now estimated that porn sites garner nearly 6 billion visits a month, meaning that most of the people in the world that have access to the internet likely watch porn at least on a monthly basis. Not only is porn more accessible than ever, but the public opinion is also more positive than at any other point in modern history. Porn is seen as something that could be part of a healthy sex life, especially in circles that tend to lean more progressive. In the words of actress Scarlett Johansson, “I think porn, like anything else, can be enjoyed. It can be productive for both men and women.” Popular media outlets like Refinery29, VICE News and GQ regularly coach people on how to use what they call “ethical porn”. Cosmopolitan advocates for spicing up your sex life with your partner by watching porn together. "Watch some porn together. Even the process of picking something you're both into can make you feel super bonded as a couple. See if it inspires any ideas or new positions." Even Forbes seems to be for integrating porn into your sex life. In the past, there was a large stigma attached to porn. Back in the 1970s, the feminists were the ones who were clashing with Hugh Hefner over what they felt was exploiting women in the pages of Playboy. But today, there’s been a total 180. Some who claim to be feminists are leading the way in advocating for porn. The thought goes… we have a sex drive. We have needs. And porn is just another outlet to satisfy those needs. Sex workers in Netflix’s 2023 documentary Money Shot even went as far as to say it would “harm people who are looking to consume porn in a healthy way” if the government were to take any measures to limit access to porn. Keyword: healthy. The funny part about porn is that many of us watch it, but on a personal level almost no one wants to talk about it. It’s still something that we do in the shadows. If we were to talk about it, that means admitting that we use it. And because so few of us want to talk about it, this means that rarely do any of us step back to evaluate the impact of it. We don’t ask questions like.. What is it doing to our brains? Our society? Our relationships? What is it doing to the people who are in the videos, especially in the cases where non-consensual content is uploaded to porn sites? In fact, sometimes we actually tune out any criticism against porn as white noise, viewing them as opinions coming from conservatives or the religious right that only serve to limit our sexual freedom.  But as with anything, we should never mindlessly participate in and consume something without first knowing the truth about what we are doing.  For example, ultra processed food is often mindlessly consumed in the United States. It smells good, tastes good and feels good, but it also causes many diseases. We could ignore that, but it would put our future health at jeopardy. In the same way, masturbating to porn could feel really good. Those you are most attracted to – and can make you get off the hardest – are only a tap away.  But as with disease and processed food, all of our porn consumption has an impact. After reviewing the data you could even argue that how we respond to porn’s impact will determine the sexual health and future of our society. So as objectively and as nuanced possible, let’s investigate each aspect of this conversation – starting with what porn is doing to our brains.

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PORN & YOUR BRAIN

As many know, Harvard is not only an Ivy League school, but also ranks consistently as the number one university globally. Which goes to say, who better to tell us about the impact of porn than the most brilliant institution in the world? If anyone could give us the facts, it must be them right? Psychiatrist Kevin Majeres, of Harvard Medical School, has conducted studies on what happens to the brain when we view pornography over and over again.  He used rats as a simulation of what would happen if we were literally offered up one sexual partner after the other. In his study, he found that a male rat repeatedly exposed to new female partners would keep mating with them...to the point of near death.  While most of us likely wouldn't die from pleasuring ourselves to porn, there is much to learn from our furry friends. How and why does the rat keep going, even when he's served his purpose? One word: Dopamine.  Due to all of the media attention it has received in recent years, many of us have probably heard of this neurotransmitter before. In the short-term, the release of dopamine makes us feel good. Harvard calls dopamine the “pathway to pleasure”.  Knowing this, many tech companies have designed their products (i.e. social media) with dopamine in mind, with the ultimate goal of getting us to stay on their app longer. Dopamine is why we can’t stop swiping and scrolling. When it comes to porn, dopamine is even more intoxicating, because as sex researcher Dr. Gloria Broome puts it, “an orgasm is the biggest non-drug blast of dopamine available.”  As many of us have experienced first-hand, over time our brains become conditioned to need more stimulation to get the same rush. Here's Majeres: "This is why pornography causes a vicious circle. When someone views pornography, he gets overstimulated by dopamine; so his brain destroys some dopamine receptors. This makes him feel depleted, so he goes back to pornography, but, having fewer dopamine receptors, this time it requires more to get the same dopamine thrill; but this causes his brain to destroy more receptors; so he feels an even greater need for pornography to stimulate him. So as guys keep gaming the dopamine system, they start to find that they have to use pornography for longer and longer periods to have the same effect, and they have to visit more and more sites." Dr. Anna Lembke of Stanford University (the #3 university in the world), speaks extensively to the pattern unfolding here in her New York Times bestseller Dopamine Nation. She explains, “neuroscientists have determined that pleasure and pain are processed in overlapping brain regions and work via an opponent-process mechanism. Another way to say this is that pleasure and pain work like a balance.” It’s essential that this pain-pleasure balance remains at an equilibrium, but when we watch porn, we put ourselves at great risk of the balance becoming fried. In the process called neuroadaptation, we start to “tolerate” the old scenes that used to get us off, and we need more and more to get that same powerful rush.

“With repeated exposure to the same or similar pleasure stimulus, the initial deviation to the side of pleasure gets weaker and shorter and the after-response to the side of pain gets stronger and longer (neuroadaptation). That is, with repetition, we need more.. to get the same effect.”

There is a come-down effect from porn, as there is from social media. We can’t stop swiping and scrolling, yet when we finally do stop, we don’t feel good. The longer we indulge the cycle, the harder it becomes to enjoy pleasure of any kind. As seen in the 2013 film Don Jon, which starred Scarlett Johannson, some people even struggle to have sex with people in real life because the dopamine blast doesn’t compare to what we’ve experienced with porn. In the midst of their research, both Lembke and Marjares found that frequent porn use can lead to the destruction of dopamine receptors and numbing. Majeres says this affects our ability to “feel the more subtle joys of life.” Of course, this all exists on a spectrum. Some of us can relate to this experience and we feel as if it’s articulating our daily lives. Others, not so much. Not everyone starts with a pain-pleasure balance that is leveled, by the way. Some people are more prone to porn dependance (or addiction) than others. “Those with anxiety, depression and chronic pain start with a balance tipped to the side of pain, which may explain why people with psychiatric disorders are more vulnerable to addiction,” Lembke writes. However, the key takeaway from science is how great a risk porn poses to our mental and sexual well-being. Lembke believes that our brains are not designed to have this level of exposure to dopamine. But of course, our tendency with most things is to view ourselves as an exception to the rule. Even with advice from scientific experts, we live by the motto everything in moderation and are adamant that nothing will control us. As Dr. Lembke put it in a recent interview: "When we're..chasing dopamine, we do not see the damage it's doing, unless it's super extreme."  So let’s move on to our other three areas of study, starting with how porn affects our world and our society at-large.

PORN & THE WORLD

On December 4th, 2020, the porn world was rocked. New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof dropped a bombshell investigative piece called "The Children of Pornhub” that exposed a dark side of the porn industry that many people were previously unaware of.  He revealed that child pornography, rape pornography, and other abusive practices have been found on PornHub and XVideos, two of the world's most popular porn sites. Over and over again, Kristof found that many were abused or violated by having their content non-consensually shared on the platform.  Kristof wrote that porn sites, “monetize child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. After a 15-year-old girl went missing in Florida, her mother found her on Pornhub – in 58 sex videos.” Within the next week, Pornhub experienced a huge backlash that led to them temporarily purging millions of unverified users and videos. Kristof followed up that piece in the spring of 2021 with a column entitled "Why Do We Let Corporations Profit From Rape Videos?

Due to public outcry, Pornhub released a transparency report in April of 2021 which found that 653,465 videos contained “minors, nonconsensual content, hate speech, animal harm, incest, bodily fluids like blood and feces, and/or violent content.” 

Horrifying.  All that to say, Pornhub has been drowning in lawsuits over the last two years. In the summer of 2022, Visa and Mastercard stopped processing payments for Pornhub’s advertising arm, due to outrage that they helped profit off of child porn. In 2023, Virginia and Utah blocked access to the website. All of this was documented in Netflix’s 2023 hit documentary Money Shot: A Pornhub Story, which gave a behind-the-scenes look into Pornhub’s rise and fall.  One major problem that was revealed is how porn is moderated. As one moderator explains, “when I worked [at Pornhub], there was a little over 30 moderators. Every moderator had to review 700 videos per day, but it was expected for us to do more. We were scrubbing through videos as fast as we could.” If you run the math, this means that they were expected to do at least 87 videos per hour, which is literally impossible. Since they had to go so fast, they didn’t have the sound on and would miss if women were yelling or screaming. Pornhub boasted that every video is reviewed by their 30 moderators, yet their site traffic rivals Facebook. And how many moderators does Facebook have? 15,000.. who report being very overwhelmed Even so, the reality is that there is no real way for a porn site to know how much of their content is legal or not. Even if they had 30,000 moderators. As the Pornhub moderator explains, “I can’t tell from a video the age of somebody. They could be 14 or they could be 19. Basically, we would just guess.” The reality is that there are thousands of underage teenagers who likely have non-consensual material uploaded regularly. As for XVideos, the site has a reporting system for CSAM, (an acronym for "child and sexual abuse material") but the form only gets checked if it has a detailed report attached to it. Otherwise, it's discarded and ignored.  Fight the New Drug asks some urgent questions when it comes to this faulty reporting system: "Why would they ignore even a single report of CSAM, details included or not? Are there so many CSAM reports they have to go through that they have to discard some for lack of detail? Does this seem to be a reporting system from a site that takes claims of CSAM as seriously as it should?" Moreover, the line has become so blurry that it's impossible to fully tell if a person's participation in pornographic material is consensual or sexual abuse/rape.  As Dr. Jill Manning, a therapist and trauma specialist put it: "You cannot guarantee that when you're looking at an image on the internet that someone is not being exploited in that. You cannot guarantee the age of someone. You cannot guarantee what that image will be used for down the road. Maybe that image, if it is someone of age that has chosen to do that, maybe that image will be used to groom a child down the road." As Kristof found, people are often recorded or filmed without their consent. They're lured in by online predators who feign intimacy, but the ultimate goal is to record illicit material. And the porn sites aren't helping. Here's Kristof describing a Canadian teen's nightmare meeting and its ensuing upload to XVideos: "Just after she turned 14, a man enticed her to engage in sexual play over Skype. He secretly recorded her. A clip, along with her full name, ended up on XVideos, the world’s most-visited pornography site. Google searches helped direct people to this illegal footage of child sexual abuse...she recounts how she begged XVideos to remove the clip. Instead, she says, the website hosted two more copies, so hundreds of thousands of people could leer at this most mortifying moment of her life, preserved forever as if in amber." In her interview with Kristof, the woman recounted feeling immense shame, which later caused her to commit suicide. In many cases, porn becomes sex trafficking, which is an offshoot of human trafficking – the buying and selling of other humans. Or in other words, slavery.  When you think of sex trafficking, you may imagine someone being kidnapped to be a sex slave or a prostitute. And while this does happen, more often than not there's no contact whatsoever. Vulnerable people are frequently lured in online by faces they will never see. Per a recent report, 59% of encounters were non-physical forms of coercion.  Porn has been defined as sex trafficking when it:
    • Involves minors under the age of 18
    • Forces people into doing sexual acts and records, uploads, and shares them without consent
    • Tricks people into performing sexual acts or sharing pornographic material
    • Coerces, threatens, manipulates 
 For many, this will be the first time you've heard of these types of stories. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of users have no clue this is going on and how porn is shaping our world, society and children. Nonetheless, despite the dark underbelly and the horrifying realities unfolding on porn sites, many of the sex workers in Netflix’s Money Shot advocate that porn can (and should) be consumed in a “healthy” way.  They argued that they have a right to make money however they choose and proposed a path forward. They defined “healthy” as a two-way marketplace where verified users who are 18+ can upload their own content (i.e. sex workers) and those who want to watch porn can consume it with a clear conscience –  no child abuse, rape, non-consensual acts or sex trafficking.  Healthy, as they defined it, is consent from all sides. In comes OnlyFans. Since 2020, the popularity of the platform has exploded, and has replaced Pornhub as the darling of porn.  Sex workers and models often use social media platforms as bait, posting provocative content that entices users to click the link in their bio and pay for exclusive access to their pornographic OnlyFans content.  But as Evie Magazine reported in early 2023, sex trafficking, under-age content and child exploitation are happening on OnlyFans as well.  Not to mention that the owner of OnlyFans, Leonid Radvinsky, ran a collection of websites in the early 2000s where he advertised access to illegal and hacked passwords to porn sites, allowing users to access “the hottest “underaged hardcore” containing 16-year-olds, the “best illegal teen passwords,” and the “hottest bestiality site on the web.” As you can see, it’s incredibly difficult to create a porn platform that is 100% free of evil people or practices. The reality is that if we continue to support OnlyFans, Pornhub and/or any other porn sites by using them, we give these sites the very fuel they need to exist. This in-turn allows them to create pathways for exploitation, abuse and trafficking. For argument’s sake though, let’s entertain the perfect world vision of Money Shot's sex workers. Let’s set aside what we learned about the brain and let’s say we can consume porn in moderation. Let’s say there was a platform that was full of verified users and all consensual content, that was 100% free of exploitation. How would that impact our next area of examination: relationships?

PORN & YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

Dr. John Gottman is perhaps the number one relationship expert in the world, who has written many bestsellers including The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work With a “Love Lab” based in Seattle, Gottman has studied over 40,000 couples in the last 40 years and famously is able to predict divorce with 90% accuracy. Here’s his take on pornography: “Use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction…We are led to unconditionally conclude that for many reasons, pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony."  Though Cosmopolitan advocates for watching porn with your partner, a strong case could be made that porn heavily conflicts with what science has shown humans need through attachment theory. For many reasons, porn is not going to lead to the advancement of a secure bond with your spouse. Whether you are watching porn with your spouse or by yourself, it will naturally take the focus off of your relationship, and onto your desire to have sex with another person (i.e. the person in porn).  Dr. Gottman says, “intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. When one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction.” This only becomes heightened through “the perfect world vision” of Money Shot’s sex workers. Watching porn from verified accounts takes away the anonymity, and you are logging back online to “have sex” with that same person regularly. Especially in the case of OnlyFans, that same performer is giving you exclusive access to naked photos, to themselves masturbating and/or having sex with other people. Essentially, you’re cheating on your spouse (in your mind) and then getting the biggest non-drug blast of dopamine possible from someone else. A psychological connection will inevitably form with them, especially if you are using the chat features back and forth. It’s not improbable for you to enjoy them making you orgasm through their content over having sex with your own spouse. While the person you are masturbating to is behind the screen, they are still a real person. Let’s say by chance you walked by them on the street while you were with your spouse. How awkward would that be? They would not know you, of course, as you are one of thousands paying them behind a screen. But you would already know them – intimately, in fact – and know how hard they make you orgasm. How WOULDN'T all of this threaten secure attachment? The reason why they might make you orgasm so strongly is because everything is happening inside your mind, which is not natural to how a sexual experience between two people would unfold. You are in total control, where as with two people, there is the added dynamic of sharing control of what unfolds. You can imagine whatever fantasies you want in your mind, and orgasm without having to deal with anyone else’s feelings, emotions or desires.  As Dr. Gottman explains, “when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner.” All of this may lead to further dysfunction in the bedroom. The “normal” nature of regular sex may not be able to match what you’ve experienced through porn, as we referenced earlier with the example of the 2013 film Don Jon. You may develop unrealistic expectations with your spouse, in addition to feeling burdened by having to share control of the experience. None of this is natural or beneficial to what science has shown we need through attachment theory. And even if you’re not married or in a relationship, based on all of these data points porn use is not going to set you up for relational success in the future.

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PORN & YOUR SEXUAL FANTASIES

The last area is the one that remains most hidden in the shadows, which is how porn shapes your sexual fantasies. In his book Tell Me What You Want, sex researcher Dr. Justin Lehmiller surveyed over 4,000 about their sexual fantasies. One of his biggest findings? “Our porn-viewing habits influence who and what we fantasize about.. For instance, the more porn that heterosexual men watch, the bigger women’s breasts are in their fantasies. Likewise, the more porn that heterosexual women watch, the bigger men’s penises are in their fantasies.” Naturally, this leads many people down the “which came first: the chicken or the egg” debate. Did we search for porn with big breasts because we already fantasized about that? Or was porn the reason we started fantasizing about that? We would argue that in the vast majority of cases, it is the latter, especially when we go down rabbit holes to achieve stronger and stronger orgasms. As sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski explains in her New York Times bestseller Come As You Are, “You learn the sexual language you’re surrounded by. Just as there are no innate words, there appear to be almost no innate sexual stimuli. What turns us on (or off) is learned from culture.” One of the more sinister aspects of porn sites is that they seem to want to encourage pedophilic fantasies. In fact, the algorithms serve up content like “young tiny teen,” “extra small petite teen,” “tiny Asian teen” or just “young girl.” At the time of Kristof’s writing for the New York Times, “a search for “r*pe,” turns up 1,901 videos. “Girl with braces” turns up 1,913 videos and suggests also trying “exxxtra small teens”. A search for “13yo” generates 155,000 videos. To be clear, most aren’t of 13-year-olds, but the fact they’re promoted with that language seems to reflect an effort to attract pedophiles.” Whatever your stance is on porn, we need to ask ourselves, why are porn sites encouraging fantasies about children and teens? Or non-consensual acts? Or dads and 16-year-old babysitters? A study from Fritz, et al., found that out of 7,000 sample pornographic videos, 97% of physically aggressive and abusive acts were towards women.  Within that study, they also found: "45% of Pornhub scenes included at least one act of physical aggression, while 35% of scenes from Xvideos contained aggression. Spanking, gagging, slapping, hair pulling, and choking were the five most common forms of physical aggression." So it should be no surprise that one of the most common fantasies that Lehmiller found amongst his participants was BDSM, which stands for bondage-discipline-dominance-submission. While porn is not the only influencer of where sexual fantasies come from, you have to wonder how much of what turns us on comes from our history with porn. The problem with this is not all sexual fantasies are good, healthy or even morally neutral. This is obvious in the case of the pedophilic fantasies, but not as obvious as it relates to other things and the impact they can have on our relationships.

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WHAT COUNTS AS PORN?

So where does this leave us?  There is a major justice surrounding porn, where heinous acts are being committed on every major porn website, including everything from rape videos, sexual assault and sex trafficking to child porn, incest and bestiality.  Sex workers seem to think we can solve this, but the task is nearly impossible when it comes to verifying age and consent. Even so, you’re still left with all the other troubling data points. Nearly every scientific expert who has any degree of authority in this area warns about the dangers of porn, especially those who have studied neuroscience, the brain and attachment theory. It’s hard to ignore how easily porn can fry the pain-pleasure balance in our brains. Or the detrimental impact porn can have on our relationships, on our attachment needs and our ability to develop healthy intimacy with our spouse.  Not to mention how porn shapes and molds our fantasies, often in ways that are incredibly unhealthy and go as far as encouraging pedophilic fantasies.  Personally, relationally or culturally, it is hard to argue there is any benefit to porn’s existence outside of sex workers arguing that it provides them an income stream when they are struggling to get by. But there is a flipside to that as well, which is that some sex workers have shared that porn exposure caused them to have massive mental health issues. All of the data points strongly point in one direction, which is that objectively porn is not good for us or our society. One could argue that aligning with this and fighting against porn is actually the most sex-positive perspective you could have.  With all of that said, you might be thinking… what exactly counts as porn? The word itself comes from the Greek word porne (πόρνη), meaning prostitute. So technically it can be any means by which we are prostituted or exploited sexually through visual means. For much of human history, pornographic material was limited to what could be drawn or captured on a page.  You could argue what influencers post on their Instagram profiles today rivals what was found in Playboy fifty years ago. Which means that porn is not just limited to video content featuring penetration on PornHub or OnlyFans.  It could really be any sexually suggestive content with little-to-no clothes on all the way up to full-on sex scenes. All of this content can be distributed through digital and/or visual means (i.e. film, TV, social media, newspapers, magazines).

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

We have plenty of information at our disposal when it comes to nearly every aspect of our life. The food we consume. The products we buy. The clothes we wear. The gas we put in our car.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we will do anything with that information. For example, we may be informed that our favorite sneakers were made in a sweatshop in India, but what's going to fully stop us from buying a few more pairs? Most people aren't heartless, nor do they want these broken systems to continue. However, many feel boxed in.  "I can only afford this pair of shoes." "I'm just one person -- am I really making that much of a difference?"  This mentality might be similar to how we would approach the justice-oriented issues around porn. Is watching this one video, which clearly features an adult having consensual sex, REALLY going to make that big of an impact? And then there are all the psychological factors that surround porn, including all of the data that Majeres and Lembke laid out. Some people reading this right now may be hooked on porn, in the worst way. Others might just be tired, stressed out or lonely, and it’s a habit they’ve developed. Some people could have the strongest willpower or the greatest intentions, yet still find themselves watching porn.  You know it’s just a tap away, then you give in, only to think “how did that just happen?” When we're in the moment and surrounded by content that makes us feel really good, it's hard to step back and remember the information or convictions that we have.  The urge is real, and it's available to us at the drop of a hat.  However, if you're sitting here thinking, "I do want to curb my porn habit," know that there is a path forward. Of course, there will be days when you feel a regression coming on. If porn really is a drug, as Dr. Lembke would put it, it may not be the easiest thing to quit. But with the right intentionality and support, there are practical ways to begin changing those habits.  Here are some things to consider:

Indulge beauty, not shame

One of the most common themes you’ll read from experts across the board is the destructiveness of shame. This includes shame about our bodies, our fantasies and our porn usage.  The consequences of shame have been heavily documented.  In his book Dr. Lehmiller writes, “the more shame.. people feel about their sexual desires, the more likely they are to avoid talking about sex at all, and to experience sexual performance difficulties, finding it challenging to become (or stay) aroused or to reach orgasm.” As we’ve talked about in our blog on our sex drive, sex is a beautiful thing. Which means we should see our sexual desires through the lens of beauty, not shame.  Our desires are pointing to something greater. As therapist Jay Stringer writes in his book Unwanted, “sex, if we allow it, will awaken us to the deepest reservoirs in our souls for pleasure and connection.” We long to be connected with another human being, in a securely attached way, where we can explore the fullness of our sexuality.  And that’s a very, very good thing. So when we stumble and cave to watching porn, we should not dwell on it and bask in shame. Shake it off and move forward.

Change The Language

It may seem simple, but one of the first steps to changing a habit is reclassifying the way it's talked about in our daily lives. We started out this blog by talking about how casually porn is treated in our culture. Words are powerful, and often they have the ability to alter our perception. If we can see porn not as a socially accepted junk food, but rather as a threat to mental health, social justice, and gender issues, it'll change how we approach it. Walter Mischel, who is credited as being the father of the science on self-control, has confirmed the effectiveness of this strategy. In his book the Marshmallow Test, he explains how we view the attractive stimulus is very important, which in this case is the sexy person across from you or on your computer. Everything might feel like it’s raging in you to give in, but part of this has to do with how you perceive the situation. “The power is not in the stimulus, however, but in how it is mentally appraised: if you change how you think about it, its impact on what you feel and do changes. The tempting chocolate mousse on the restaurant dessert tray loses its allure if you imagine a cockroach just snacked on it in the kitchen.”

Finding a substitute

In the late 1970s, the Swedish company AB Leo unveiled Nicorette, a series of products (such as gum and patches) to help curb smoking cigarettes. Following the theory of Nicotine Replacement Theory (NRT), the company surmised that people could quit their smoking habit if they could slowly taper off of nicotine without going cold turkey.  The same idea applies when trying to reduce porn use. What if you could find another outlet that serves as a "release" or "stress relief" of sorts? Many have found that channeling their energy into something like walking, running, or another form of exercise can help get their mind off of porn while still getting that dopamine and adrenaline rush they seek after from porn. In psychology, Freud originally came up with the theory of sublimation, which is the practice of channeling your sexual desires into something. Mischel gets at a similar idea, where he found that some who were successful in delaying gratification distracted themselves by engaging in another behavior. Eventually, with distraction, the sexual urge goes away.

Self-binding

When it comes to self-binding, Lembke explains:  “It is the way we intentionally and willingly create barriers between ourselves and our drug of choice in order to mitigate compulsive overconsumption.. Self-binding openly recognizes the limitations of the will.” For those who struggle with food, this is a commonly employed strategy that works. Just don’t have cookies or sweets in the house and it will make it easier not to indulge every night. The same idea applies in the sexual domain, especially with porn. Creating obstacles will go a long way to not engaging in the behavior. Sometimes this even involves putting physical barriers between yourself and what’s causing you to stumble, like not having your phone in your bedroom at night if that’s what you keep watching porn on.  But self-binding doesn’t always work. At times, the urge to engage may grow stronger or you’ll find yourself trying to overcome the obstacles that you yourself put in place. This leads us to another strategy – advance planning.

Advance planning

Mischel calls these “If-Then” plans.  If situation [y] happens, then I will do [x]. If this person texts me to come over to their house to have sex, then I will do.. If I’m alone at home at night, and I have an intense spontaneous urge to watch porn, then I will do… Mischel explains that these strategies are “simple, but surprisingly powerful.. helping people deal more effectively with a wide variety of otherwise crippling self-control problems – even under very difficult and emotionally hot conditions, when they were trying to pursue important but hard to achieve goals.” In Unwanted, Stringer advises us to study our sexual behaviors. And when we do, we’ll start discovering patterns of when and where we’re most likely to engage in certain behaviors. “Study the predictable times, places and themes associated with your unwanted sexual behavior. When you do, you will likely find they are predictable. The most common themes I hear about are loneliness, frustration, futility and boredom.”

Radical honesty

As we mentioned in the opening paragraphs, porn is something that largely stays in the shadows. While it might be viewed more favorably by the general public, that does not mean we want to talk to other people about our personal use of porn. But to overcome any problem, dependance, addiction -- whatever you want to call it -- it requires bringing other people into that struggle.  Dr. Lembke is a huge advocate for radical honesty, and cites all the scientific research that surrounds the idea of honesty and vulnerability. In Dopamine Nation, she writes:  “Radical honesty promotes awareness of our actions. Second, it fosters intimate human connections. Third, it leads to a truthful autobiography, which holds us accountable not just to our present but also to our future selves.” Then of course there is Brene Brown’s famous 2011 Ted Talk on vulnerability, which she discusses the extensive power behind it. Vulnerability and honesty might be hard when it comes to porn, but it’s necessary. It’s important to find someone that provides a safe space for you, perhaps even someone to which you can hold them accountable as well. These are just a few strategies for overcoming the temptation to watch porn. If you want to learn more, we expound on each of these strategies in our full blog “A how-to-guide to curbing your porn habit”.

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