Today I’d like to have a conversation about a topic that’s a little dicey for some of us. Do you or your partner use pornography? What place, if any, does it have in your relationship? Is it helpful? Is it creating conflict? Is it possible that it’s having an influence on your relationship and you don’t even know about it? Today my guest is Gary Wilson, from YourBrainonPorn.com, and author of the book “Your Brain on Porn”.
Rather than talking about whether or not porn is good, bad, or healthy - we’re going to talk about the effects of porn use on your brain - what can happen when you or your partner uses porn - and what can shift when you remove porn from your life. We’re also going to cover how to know if porn is having a secret impact on your relationship, how to have compassion for those who are affected by it, and how to get it out of your life.
As for me, I’m curious - not so much about the rightness or wrongness of it - but about what porn does to you and your biochemistry. Is it helping you? Or not? And once you learn about what it does, you might be inclined to find a way to remove it once and for all.
We all know that porn has become pervasive and woven its way into our culture, primarily by way of the internet. The use of porn tends to have negative effects on individuals - and, by extension, their relationships, and Gary is here to discuss exactly what is happening with your body’s chemistry as opposed to approaching the subject from a religious or moral perspective.
Highlights of my conversation with Gary Wilson:
- Gary never set out to become an expert in this field. Several years ago, men started posting on his wife’s website forum (which was about relationships) about their porn addictions and the problems that were occurring as a result. Many of the men experienced sexual dysfunction, but they noticed that when they gave up the porn that they had better sexual function, better relationships, and better emotional health.
- Gary was resistant and did not want to address the subject because of the ramifications and the stigma attached to it, but he felt compelled to write articles and get the word out. He then realized the magnitude of the problem of pornography because of the widespread interest in his articles and the website he created in 2010. Even though almost all of the recovery stories are from men, many women are affected by porn either directly or indirectly, through problems with their partners’ addictions.
- Gary’s work addresses porn from the perspective of the biochemical effect in the brain. The reward circuit of the brain runs on dopamine and is most highly activated by the things that ensure the survival of you and your genes. Food, sex, achievement, taking risks, and novelty are just a few of the things that make dopamine levels rise and say, “Do that again!”
- So what is it about internet porn that makes it so addictive? Internet porn is “the perfect storm” that raises dopamine and hits us in our primitive reward center. It combines novelty and sex in a way that is almost irresistible to your brain. The curiosity, shock, surprise, and searching qualities of internet porn all work to raise dopamine levels in the brain - tapping into an innate circuitry that was already there to be exploited.
- Internet porn is a “supernormal stimulus” that appeals to us far more than normal stimuli. Think of junk foods vs. the whole foods that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle consumes. The added salt and sugar in junk food stimulates the reward center and tells us to over-consume. In the same way, the unnatural sexual stimuli provided by internet porn make its users easily addicted and captivated by it.
- Porn addiction results in the same kinds of changes in the brain that occur in drug addiction. There are several reputable studies that prove this. The changes are all due to high levels of dopamine over long periods of time and include less gray matter in the reward center, less sexual arousal, and changes in the frontal cortex.
- THAT’S RIGHT - YOUR BRAIN ACTUALLY SHRINKS FROM PORN USE.
- Porn users can also notice depression, increased anxiety (especially in social situations), and fuzzy, muddled thinking.
- What can you do if internet porn is in your relationship? Can you help your partner? First, remember that porn has almost nothing to do with you, the partner. The user sees internet porn use as normal and part of everyday life. A real person can never match the novelty of internet porn, but a real partner can provide love, caring, and touch that a screen cannot. If the partner unplugs, then over time, they will become more sensitive to real interaction and relationship.
- Create a culture of openness in your relationship. If you can not take the problem of a partner’s porn use personally, it can be freeing for the addicted partner to talk openly about the problem. Gary Wilson has videos available on his website to clearly explain those biochemical changes that take place in the brain due to pornography and depersonalize the issue.
- Internet porn addiction may be present in your relationship and you may not be aware of it. What are signs you might notice if this is going on? You may notice that your partner is distracted, not available for sex, or asking you to do things in bed that depart radically from what you normally do. You might have trouble connecting to your partner, or feeling their presence in the bedroom. Many users will “hit the wall” and experience extreme sexual dysfunction.
- What is the cycle that someone who uses porn is going through? They become so accustomed to the sexual stimuli that they need more shock and surprise to even become aroused. Everything you do trains your brain, so internet porn trains you to be rewired sexually to be fulfilled only through the internet porn and not the real-life partner.
- What will happen when porn use ends? The good news is that users who eliminate internet porn find real-life sex and their partner more appealing. However, they might have to give up the internet porn to find out exactly what problems were caused by its use! Positive psychological, neurological, and physical changes occur over time when internet porn is removed. Generally you will find yourself more tuned into what’s actually happening around you in real life, and connected to your partner.
- Internet porn use can change how you view sexuality and what excites you. Users become desensitized, which means that they need more and more stimulation to get the same “buzz.” If you spend years watching straight porn, then you might have to resort to other, more shocking and kinkier versions of porn to be stimulated and turned on. However, it’s important to realize that the type of porn doesn’t always match with the person’s sexuality but has to do with the neuroplastic changes that are occurring in the brain.
- Try a reboot. Stop using internet porn for at least 3 weeks - ideally for 90 days. See what changes! If you have severe dysfunction caused by porn use, you might have to go for longer to see major shifts.
- What strategies can be used to shift your focus and recover from internet porn addiction? First of all, you have to be motivated to quit. You must replace the porn with other activities like exercise, socializing, meditation, hobbies, reading---things that take you away from the computer.
- COLD SHOWERS - It’s been proven that taking cold showers can help with shifting away from the porn habit. At the end of a “normal” (hot) shower, you can turn the water on FULL cold - breathe rapidly, and rub your body in the places where the cold water is making contact. Shift so that the water contacts all parts of your body. Can you go for 10 seconds? 30 seconds? 2 minutes? Fringe benefit is that you’ll feel invigorated and the air outside the shower will seem toasty warm. :)
- Get support - Coaching is great - as is support from peers who are also stopping porn - or who can hold you accountable if that’s necessary.
- Create a vision for your life - Does it include the use of pornography?
- What can our society do to transform our consciousness about internet porn? This problem may get a lot worse before it gets better. Erectile dysfunction rates are on the rise: 27-33% of men under 40 report ED. There will be more exposure and more availability to our young children. Sex Education is NOT the answer unless it includes education about the brain changes in the delicate reward center in the brain and supernormal stimuli. When the adolescent brain meets supernormal stimuli, this changes sexuality even before teenagers begin to date each other. It’s a recipe for disaster!
If porn has been affecting you in your relationship, I am so curious to hear from you - especially if you try the reboot. What changes do you notice?
Links and Resources: www.yourbrainonporn.com Your Brain on Porn
by Gary Wilson on Amazon www.neilsattin.com/garyw
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