Why Do Men Binge on Porn? Resources to Help!

Understanding the Neuroscience Behind Online Harems

A wife who stumbles on the Internet tracks of her husband’s porn tour is often shocked at the number of images and videos in this cyber harem. Why so many? Why so varied?People, and even some scientific studies, have offered simplistic answers to explain the depth and breadth of a man’s cyber trough, but the real reasons lie in the neurochemistry of our incredible brains.

Simplistic Explanations

A prevalent explanation for the cyber brothel is that guys are acting on their evolutionary impulses to breed as many females as possible. This concept is based on a phenomenon known as the Coolidge Effect, which has been seen in testing a variety of mammals since the 1950s.

The scenario goes like this: a male rat is placed in a cage with a willing female with which he excitedly breeds until he is satiated. Though he’s no longer in the mood with the current female, as soon as another female is introduced he immediately overcomes his boredom and mates with the new gal. He becomes bored again, until a new female is introduced, and the scenario repeats itself until the male rat is physically exhausted.

Some analysts, citing these studies, believe that evolution tells guys, “Get it while the getting is good. You are exposed to a limited number of possible mates on the Savannah of life, so when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.” The same can be said of eating high fat foods and engaging other behaviors that propagate the species or ensures survival. And since this applies to other mammals, it must be all-consuming for people, too.

Similarly, another simplistic explanation is that guys are not designed to be monogamous in the first place. Evolution urged them to roam, find herds of women on the open plain, and compete to mate with as many as possible. That’s why guys skip through a multitude of Internet mates or are constantly targeting new females to breed; they are not designed to find a lifelong mate but to spread their seed far and wide.

One Australian study set men and women in a room and showed them the same porn film 18 times. Initially, they were aroused, but after watching the same movie over and over, they became uninterested. But lo and behold, when a new porn flick was introduced the subjects gained new interest. This test is similar to others, so to some analysts it proves that people get bored with the same mate and need to roam to keep sex interesting.

Advances in understanding

But more and more therapists and neurologists say these studies fall flat.

In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge argues that instincts, like that of the rat, resist change, and that human sexuality is not based on instinct. The human libido isn’t hardwired by biological urges, but rather it is often finicky and altered by an individual’s psychology, experiences, and sexual encounters.

“Much scientific writing implies otherwise and depicts the sexual instinct as a biological imperative, an ever hungry brute, always demanding satisfaction—a glutton, not a gourmet,” Doidge writes (p. 95). “But human beings are more like gourmets and are drawn to types and have strong preferences; having a ‘type’ causes us to defer satisfaction until we find what we are looking for, because attraction to a type is restrictive; the person who is ‘really turned on by blondes’ may tacitly rule out brunettes and redheads.”

Rats are only attracted by sight and scent, said Dr. Doug Weiss, an author of 23 books and a sex addiction therapist in Colorado Springs. But people have many ways to become attracted, such as sharing an affinity toward specific entertainment, politics, ideas, religion, and situations. Their childhoods and adolescence contribute to their sexual desires as do the rest of their experiences in life. People experience emotional and cognitive levels, including fantasy or imagination, that are unavailable to the rat.

“Every guy or gal reading this has seen a man or woman at a distance who they thought was attractive until that person opened their mouth,” Weiss said. “So attraction goes way beyond the physical for human beings.”

As for the studies that suggest familiarity lessens sexual interest, Weiss says, “I think the study is just flawed. There is no control group. It has no validity.”

What would a control group look like? Weiss suggests showing a Charlie Brown cartoon. Lots of people like to watch Charlie at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but show the same film 18 times and just about anyone would grow bored. Then introduce the movie Captain America and watch a group gain interest.

“Show me 12 red blocks and I’ll want to see a blue one,” he said.

So why isn’t one porn image enough?

People learn through life experience to be sexually aroused by body types, places, and situations, and this list of sexual interests can be very short or a mile long.

In the past, a single image would have been enough to arouse a man who now looks at a stream of Internet pornography to maintain the same arousal, says therapist Dr. Peter Kleponis of Integrity Restored. But overtime this man has neurologically attached his brain to be aroused when viewing a wide variety of images and acts.

“He conditions his brain to only really be sexually aroused to this constant parade of different women, of different sexual images,” Kleponis said.

The neuroscience behind porn

Indeed, the variety of porn on the Internet has an appeal. But the reasons behind it are more complex than a rat’s attention to a parade of new mates.

Doidge explains that “human beings exhibit an extraordinary degree of sexual plasticity compared with other creatures” (p. 94). By “plasticity” he means that our brains and our sexuality are molded by our experiences, interactions, and other means of learning, which is why people vary in what they say is attractive or what turns them on. The brain actually creates neural pathways that say a specific type of person or activity is arousing.

This may help explain why men combing through Internet pornography often delay orgasm until they find an image “worthy” of climax.

In fact, some porn addicts have no interest in variety.

“With over 25 years of working with sex addicts, there are some men—and women for that matter—who stick to vanilla, whatever vanilla is,” Weiss said. “They are neurologically attached to vanilla, and they never up that.”

This means some people who use pornography—even addicts—never sink deeper into porn than the models of Playboy or Playgirl.

So what about 32 flavors?

So why do some people who were once programmed for vanilla now entertain many more flavors at the ice cream bar? The brain likes novelty, Kleoponis said, especially if it perceives a possible release of dopamine or other neural chemicals that are natural rewards that provide feelings of comfort or euphoria.

“The immediate attraction will give you a little bit of a rush or a sense of novelty…but that will wear away quickly if it’s not reinforced by the neurological release of masturbation,” Weiss said.

The opiates released during orgasm help seal the deal that this new and novel sexual concept is not only arousing but worth returning for in the future. Add it to the shelf of hot stuff: this one is a keeper. With repeated interaction the arousal becomes more engrained, and with more exploration the brain adds more containers found to be exciting, even things a person once found disgusting.

Porn websites generate catalogs of common kinks and mix them together with images. Sooner or later the surfer finds a killer combination that presses a number of his sexual buttons at once. Then he reinforces the network by viewing the images repeatedly, masturbating, releasing dopamine and strengthening these neural networks. He has created a kind of “neosexuality,” a rebuilt libido that has strong roots in his buried sexual tendencies. Because he often develops tolerance, the pleasure of sexual discharge must be supplemented with the pleasure of an aggressive release, and sexual and aggressive images are increasingly mingled—hence the increase in sadomasochistic themes in hardcore porn (p. 112, The Brain That Changes Itself).

Why have pornographers added so much aggression and violence to today’s porn? Because they are trying to keep their customers satisfied. But apparently, it’s never enough.

Can’t get no satisfaction

So if a human masturbates to a wider range of images or videos, does that satiate? The simple answer is no.

Dr. Doidge explains that porn is more exciting than satisfying because humans have two separate pleasure systems in our brains: one for exciting pleasure and another for satisfying pleasure. The “exciting system,” fueled by dopamine and anticipation, is all about appetite, such as imagining your favorite meal or a sexual episode.

The satisfying system involves actually having the meal or having sex, which provides a calming, fulfilling pleasure. This system releases opiate-like endorphins, that provide feelings of peace and euphoria.

Pornography, Doidge writes, hyperactivates the appetite system. But the satisfying system is left starvingfor the real thing, which includes actual touching, kissing, caresses, and a connection not only with the body but also the mind and soul. The satisfying system releases oxytocin and endorphins that says, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, Baby.”

In a nutshell, porn is so addictive because:

  • the variation of porn online exposes men to more and more body types and scenarios;
  • through masturbation a man bonds neurologically;
  • these types and scenarios are added to the list of stimuli that his brain learns is exciting and they are associated with a neurochemical reward;
  • the neural pathways are formed that make the excitement easier;
  • and yet his appetite system is better fed than his satisfying system leaving him hungry for more.

Want to learn more?

Neurologist Dr. William Struthers, author of Wired for Intimacy, talks at length about porn addiction and the brain in this detailed interview, filmed at the Covenant Eyes headquarters.

Here is more helpful information from Covenant Eyes.

Internet Pornography: A Ministry Leader’s Handbook—This free e-book, written by pastors and counselors, helps ministers who struggle with pornography understand the importance of confession and accountability. It addresses why pastors are particularly vulnerable to pornographic temptations and what should be done to bring this truth into the light.

10 Stories of Pastors in the Struggle — Read, watch, and listen to the stories of pastors who have struggled deeply with porn and sex addiction and how God set them free.

PornToPurity.com — Jeff and Marsha Fisher were church planters until Jeff’s porn addiction came to light. After he was removed from church leadership and found help in overcoming his sin, he started PornToPurity.com, a website for anyone trapped in sexual temptations.

Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, by Michael John Cusick — Michael was sexually abused and exposed to pornography as a child. Later in life, serving as both a youth pastor and a counselor at a Christian university, his sexual struggles only became more acute with porn and prostitutes. This book talks about what he learned in the midst of recovery

Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction, by T.C. Ryan — Pastor Ryan had a lifelong struggle with sexual addiction and secrecy. This book shares his story of learning to let the gospel of Christ transform him into a man who can be open, honest, and unashamed before God and his Christian family.

Breaking the Silence: A Pastor Goes Public About His Battle with Pornography, by Bernie Anderson — Bernie Anderson battled behind closed doors with pornography for years. In this book, Anderson tells his personal story of struggle and how God changed his life, giving practical tips to protect yourself and your family.

My Struggle, Your Struggle, by David Erik Jones — Pastor Jones struggled with porn as a pastor. This book is his personal story of porn addiction that lasted 20 years and how he found freedom while serving in the ministry.

Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough, by Justin and Trisha Davis — Justin didn’t just struggle with porn. As a pastor, he also began an affair with another church staff member. This book shares Justin and Trisha’s story and how their marriage recovered.

The Pornography Trap, by Dr. Mark Laaser and Ralph Earl, Jr. — This book addresses what should be done when ministry leaders (pastors, deacons, choir directors, Sunday school teachers, etc.) struggle with Internet pornography. The authors share the core issues related to sexual sin and how to develop a biblical view of healthy sexuality.

Restoring the Soul of a Church, edited by Dr. Mark Laaser — This book from the The Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute describes the devastation that can happen to a church congregation when a pastor sexually sins and is removed from the church. It gives insight about the neglected secondary victims of abuse: the congregation, the wider community, other clergy, the wider church, the offender’s family, and the pastor who takes over.

Stone Gate Resources — Dr. Harry Schaumburg has been counseling Christian men and women about sexual and relational brokenness for years—with a special emphasis on caring for pastors and ministry leaders caught in sexual sin. His intensive counseling is known around the world as one of the best for sexual addiction.

ThrivingPastor.org — This is a ministry of Focus on the Family for pastors, including apastoral care line for ministers who need to speak with a trained counselor.


8 Resources for Ministry Leaders Who Want to Equip Their Church

Porn-Free Church: Raising up gospel communities to destroy secret sins — This free e-book is for church leaders who want to create a safe community where taboo sins can be confessed and people can find healing.

False Love and True Betrayal — This video series by Summit Church is designed for small groups or recovery groups focused on the pain caused by sexual sin. False Love walks men and women who struggle with sexual sin through a step-by-step process of repentance and restoration. True Betrayal walks spouses of sexual strugglers through the same process as they overcome the pain of sexual betrayal.

Pornography Statistics: Annual Report — This conglomeration of more than 250 stats, quotes, and facts about pornography can help any pastor preparing to teach others about this subject.

A Bird’s Eye View of Lust and Pornography — This free sermon series can give pastors a place to start for talking with their congregations about pornography in a way that is biblically sound and practically helpful.

Fight Porn in Your Church: What works and why it matters — This free white paperfrom Covenant Eyes looks at how real churches are addressing the issue of pornography and gives practical ideas for programs churches can implement today.

Confessing Sin: How Matt Chandler preaches a culture of grace — Matt Chandler of Village Church understand that church leader set the pace when it comes to being open about sin. In this sermon clip, Chandler talks about not being afraid to be honest about sin and being vigilant to fight it.

The Quick Reference Guide to Sexuality & Relationship Counseling, by Dr. Mark Laaser and Dr. Tim Clinton — This book gives pastors, counselors, and everyday believers the information they need to help congregants, clients, and friends with their most intimate sexual and relational issues.

Join1MillionMen.org — This movement, spearheaded by Pastor Jay Dennis, is equipping church leaders nationwide to bring the issue of pornography into the light where church members can find help and healing.

Reprinted from Covenant Eyes. Luke Gilkerson. Used by permission.

Comments + add a comment