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How Pornography Chemically Changes How You See Your Partner

Society tells us pornography isn’t a big deal. They almost normalize it. It’s readily available and inexpensive or even free. Heck, you can walk around the mall and find ample inappropriate pictures for young eyes.

As a culture, we are becoming desensitized to these images, which is part of the issue. In order to get people’s attention, the images get more and more risqué. Sadly, people don’t realize the addictive nature of pornography and what it does to your brain.

As I researched this topic, I was blown away by the breadth and depth of the problem. The statistics and articles I found were for the culture at large; they did not segment out the Christian community, although we are not immune from this problem. This is one way the enemy is breaking apart families and churches.

Below I will show how pornography chemically changes how you see your spouse.

How Big Is the Problem?

The American Psychological Association states that “various International studies have put porn consumption rates at 50 percent to 99 percent among men, and 30 percent to 86 percent among women.”

An article on Mentalhelp.net “estimates...the amount of internet use devoted to pornography range from 4% to 46% (of all internet use), according to the media.”

Porn can be as addictive and destructive as alcohol or drugs. Internet use is up, especially since Covid. People are working from home, creating an environment where they have more freedom during the day to “wonder.”

US revenue for the online pornography industry is hard to calculate because most of the companies are private. One report said conservative estimates were approximately $15 billion in 2018. With revenue that high and a huge captive audience, the online pornography market is not going anywhere.

As a Christian community, we have to stop ignoring this topic. We have to acknowledge the negative impact this has on marriages, families, and individuals. We need to educate our youth, especially young men, on what this habit does to your brain. I hope the mental health community will continue to research and equip us with data.

Not only has a pornography addition been shown to have a detrimental impact on marriages and families, but it’s also proven harmful for the individual. There is a connection between problematic pornography use and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Sobering statistics show 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an unhealthy pornography interest. Another study polled divorce attorneys, who reported that half of their divorce cases involved an excessive interest in online porn.

How big is the problem? Pretty big!

How Does Pornography Affect the Brain?

God’s design for sex is within a married couple. When you stray outside of his design, there are always consequences.

I am not a scientist, but I will do my best to summarize how porn affects the brain.

We are creatures of habit. Look at your morning routine, daily rituals, and kids’ bedtime rhythms. Most of our days are very consistent.

When you make a habit out of porn, chemicals in the brain are released called dopamine. These happy feeling chemicals associate the pleasant feeling with the activity you are doing. Think potty training a kid by giving them jellybeans every time they tinkle in the toilet. Same concept. With the potty training, you are intentionally trying to show your child that positive things happen when we use the big boy toilet.

If you are repeatedly turning to a screen for your sexual pleasure instead of your spouse, your brain is associating that positive feeling of release with a screen rather than a real person. You can see the problem. A screen cannot fulfill you the way an intimate relationship with a spouse can. Our brains can be tricked. Hence the problem!

Most people are aware of how addictive drugs and alcohol can be. Research shows that non-drug addictions (gambling, binge-eating, and sexual activities) seem to be affecting the brain similarly.

As Dr. Norman Doidge, a researcher at Columbia University, explains, porn creates the perfect conditions and triggers the release of the right chemicals to make lasting changes in the brain.

How an Addiction to Pornography Impacts a Spouse

Why is pornography so bad for a marriage?

People see this habit as harmless, but actually, it’s very addictive. It teaches your brain to become desensitized to real women. There is an emotional attachment during intercourse with your spouse that a screen cannot provide. God’s design is for a husband and a wife to experience the satisfaction of intercourse together, not individually.

When you look at images in a magazine or online, most have been touched up. They are not authentic. After viewing these altered images over and over again, your brain will start to view those images as normal. You cannot expect your wife (or any human being for that matter) to mimic the appearance of women in a magazine or online (who have been digitally modified). That’s not real life. God didn’t create perfect human beings. He created us unique and special. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)

If you hold your wife or husband up to an impossible standard, that’s a setup for disappointment all around.

Sheila Wray Gregoire has written multiple books on sex and marriage. She writes a helpful explanation of why a porn addiction gives you a warped view of what attractiveness is.

“Sex is supposed to bond you physically, emotionally, and spiritually with your spouse. But if porn addiction has made the chemical pathways in your brain go haywire, then sex becomes only about the body. And porn shows you that only certain body types are attractive. It’s not about the whole person; it’s just a certain type of person.”

Impact on Relationships

Let’s discuss the practical reasons for how pornography addiction can impact a family.

A husband or wife might distance themselves from family activities to create long sessions in front of the computer. They might neglect work or other responsibilities.

God made us to be in community with others. If you look to the Bible for examples, you see God created the church, the family, and communities. God is intentional about everything He does. Just as He modeled the day of rest for us, He also modeled how we should be in relationships with others.

God did not design us to be in a relationship with a computer. I know that sounds ridiculous, but God created marriage because it’s a beautiful thing. Marriage is an opportunity for you to share your life with another human being. You have the opportunity to be known, loved, and vulnerable with your spouse.

God designed sex as a gift for married couples. When you take his gifts and use them out of context, there are always consequences. If you go to the internet instead of your spouse, there will be implications. We know when we are being neglected or put second.

Marriage is not easy. Relationships require work, time, and commitment. They are so worth it. There is so much good fruit that comes from healthy relationships. Anytime we put a love (like pornography) ahead of our family, the family relationships will suffer. Your kids might not understand what is going on, but they will know you are not present. 

The Hope We Have

The great news is we can change our brains. We can “rewire” the pathways to lust after our spouse instead of a screen. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying your marriage is worth it. The other positive is there is help to be found. There are many trained counselors and other resources to assist with this problem.

Dan Sullivan states in his book Who not How, “Relationships are the purpose to life. Research clearly shows that your relationships-not your willpower-are what help you overcome something like an addiction.”

What I would add to that is we have an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God who is there to help. He will show you the way to healing if you ask.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/dangrytsku

Katie Kennedy headshotKatie T. Kennedy lives in Richmond, VA. She is married to a wonderful husband Jonathan and they have three girls. She is a writer, blogger, and employee of the family business. After a mid-life spiritual transformation, she discovered her love of writing. She loves to travel, read, be in nature, cook, and dream.  She would love to connect with you online at www.katietkennedy.com, Instagram or Facebook.

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