There is no more frequent and stern warning given by leaders to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints than to avoid pornography. One only needs to go to and do a General Conference search on pornography to get quite a list of talks on the subject. It seemed to be of particular importance to former president Gordon B. Hinckley.

While the church has been appropriately ‘heavy’ on the evils of pornography, they have also (in my opinion) been ‘light’ on how one can break the addictive habit. I was very pleased to see that the book, ‘The Brain the Changes Itself’ addresses pornography to some length. One section ended with the hopeful conclusion:

As for the patients who became involved in porn, most were able to go cold turkey once they understood the problem and how they were plastically reinforcing it. They found that they were attracted once again to their mates…they stopped using their computers for a period to weaken their problematic neuronal networks, and their appetite for porn withered away. (p. 130)

It is my hope to help those who may struggle with this addiction. I hope that by passing along something about the nature of the problem, and it’s plastic reinforcement, someone may benefit by kicking the pornography habit.

Pornography, delivered by high speed Internet connections, satisfies all of the prerequisites for plastic change in the brain. Some may feel that pornography is something of an instinctual matter, and the result of millions of years of evolution. But pornography is more of a dynamic phenomenon, and is something of an acquired taste.

Pornography addiction is a progressive addiction. At first one gets hooked on what may be called ‘soft’ pornography. But over time, this will not be enough. And the addict will progress on to more, and more ‘hard’ porn. This same progression is seen over the years in society, as pornography from decades ago is different and ‘lesser’ than what can be seen today.

The growth of the porn industry in extraordinary. It accounts for 25 percent of all video rentals, and is the fourth most common reason people give for going on line. An MSNBC survey found that 80 percent of viewers felt that they were spending so much time on pornographic sites that they were putting their relationships and jobs at risk. All this porn has it’s affect. As Dr. Doidge points out:

Yet the plastic influence of pornography on adults can be quite profound, and those who use it have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it. (p. 103)

Dr. Doidge treated a number of men who had the same story – they had acquired a taste for pornography that troubled and disgusted them. This habit had a disturbing affect on their sexual excitement and a negative impact on their relationships. These men were not fundamentally immature, socially awkward, or withdrawn. They were pleasant, thoughtful men with successful relationships.

These men get hooked by some playboy type site or picture. It may be through an e-mail, what might look like a harmless web site, or some other source. But they find themselves hooked. After getting hooked, they begin to have difficulty being turned on by their actual partners, though they still found them objectively attractive. Initially the pornography helped, but had the opposite long term affect.

This pattern continues as one builds a tolerance for porn. Pornographers may boast about how they are being creative by pushing the envelope by introducing harder themes. But what they do not tell you is that they must push the envelope because of the tolerance that is built in their customers. These customers (mostly men) often experience a type of impotence. But not the kind that developed from aging or blocked blood vessels in the penis. The problem is in their brain.

The addiction to pornography is no metaphor. And as with other addictions there can be no safe moderation. The addiction comes from the release of dopamine into the pleasure centers of the brain. The brain becomes sensitized to this release of dopamine, and begins to crave it. Thus the vicious cycle – a sensitized craving for dopamine creating the desire for more porn, combined with the tolerance to porn requiring new and harder porn.

Pornography is more appetitive and exciting than it is satisfying, and since it is dopamine related it raises the tension level. This is in contrast to the satisfaction pleasure centers of the brain which attends having actual sex with your partner, which is an endorphin based release that brings a calm and peaceful bliss.

So, like rats in an experiment, people sit in front of their computers, clicking the mouse to get the addictive release of dopamine into the pleasure centers of the brain. They are seduced by this pornographic training session which brings plastic change to their brain maps. This can bring about a type of sexual impotence and damage important relationships.

So, how to break the habit? It must start with a strong desire to change. One must then recognize pornography for the harmful addiction that it is. One must also realize that there is no safe moderation for one so addicted. Make a clean and complete break from the habit, staying away from the computer entirely for a couple of months if necessary. I would add that praying for forgiveness, and for strength from the spirit will help as well.

I hope that we can heed the important warnings from modern day prophets and avoid this destructive addiction.

(Note:  This is the third in a series on Brain Plasticity.  Earlier posts are here and here.)

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