What happens when you do internet porn (summary)

[This is a summary of the full length explanation available here; where you probably just came from.]

I know, I know, the summary below isn’t all that short but at least I got you to this page and it’s really important for you to know what happens in your brain as you pull your favourite porn stars closer for a bit of one on one. 

What your brain was NOT designed for

If you’ve been doing internet porn for a while, it has been over-stimulating your brain and has actually, physically changed your brain; you were simply not neurologically designed to cope with the chemical changes that porn (and specifically internet porn) induces in your brain.

The Coolidge Effect

The ‘Coolidge effect’ is the phenomenon that mammals (so that includes you):

  • experience a declining interest in current sexual partner over time, and a
  • renewed vigour when a new, novel sexual partner comes along – even if you’re tired or just had sex.

Your brain has a limbic system and a reward circuit.

Here’s a newsflash:  your sexual desire and libido lives in your brain and not in your genitals, as you may be forgiven for having thought!  Here’s how it works:

  • The limbic system is all about avoiding pain and repeating pleasure; it does not have the capacity to understand or appreciate the consequences of your actions.
  • The reward circuit is activated when we eat, have sex, achieve things, fall in love, see a beautiful sunset etc.

Dopamine

Dopamine is the chemical that turns on the reward circuit; like petrol for a car.  Eating sugary foods release a lot of dopamine and it’s actually the dopamine that your reward circuit is really after, and not the sugar.  Oh, and more dopamine is released even in expectation of a reward (so that’s why you get so excited and it feels so good when you even think about doing porn!!!)

After an increase in dopamine levels, yep you guessed it – there is always a decrease. What goes up …

Dopamine loves novelty like a new car, a new iPad and yes, a new internet porn site,  movie, actor or actress.  According to the Coolidge effect, the same stimulus produces less dopamine over time – that’s why the novelty of a new car, iPad or the same porn site, move, actor or actress usually wears off fairly quickly; now your reward circuit needs something new and novel to raise your dopamine levels again.  So you either

  • spend more time doing internet porn, or
  • develop an appetite for more, shall we say, tasty, unconventional or extreme porn which, if you continue down this track, will actually change your sexual desires and preferences … now there’s a thought! For example, more straight men are now looking at gay internet porn than ever before.

This ‘dopamine loving novelty’ thing explains why you keep looking for new internet porn instead of looking at the same old clip or picture every day:  your reward circuit craves that shot of dopamine that comes with the excitement of finding a new porn site (which, incidentally, your brain interprets as an unlimited number of potential sexual partners- woo-hoo!!) and voila, a big squirt (no pun intended) of dopamine … and you feel great.  For a while, at least.

But… dopamine is also called the molecule of addiction which doesn’t really bode well, but it does help you understand why it’s been so difficult for you to kiss internet porn bye-bye. Addiction is wanting it more but liking it less, that is, you need more (and more, and more) to create the same level of feel-good.

How nerve cells communicate and internet pornography (or any) addiction is born

Nerve cells in the brain communicate by sender cells sending chemicals (like dopamine) and receiver cells receiving the chemical message through receptors.

If the brain gets flooded with dopamine (which is exactly what happens when you do internet porn), the receiver cells get overwhelmed (well, sort of) and close down some of their receptors. Less receptors means that less dopamine is taken up by the receiver cells, which means

  • you don’t feel so good anymore
  • you may even become depressed or have low energy and listless
  • the same daily pleasures (ice cream, foreplay, your favourite TV show) become less exciting and rewarding.

You probably already know where this is heading, right?  Yep, as you feel less good you naturally want to feel better; ah, and what’s that feel-good chemical called again?  Dopamine!!  And which activity releases a lot of dopamine again?  Porn, and especially internet porn!

Doing the porn thing then releases a lot of dopamine, which overwhelms the receiver cells who then shut down even more receptors, which leads you to feel worse, which leads you to want to feel better (bring on the dopamine!!), which sparks your porn craving … and there, ladies and gentlemen, before your very eyes the cycle of internet porn addiction is born.

Another quick note on neuro-plasticity (a fancy way to say that you can teach an old dog new tricks) which is 101% relevant to internet porn:  the way nerve cells work, the more you do something, the more likely you are to do it again – even if you don’t want to.

Bummer.

And there’s more bad news: Strong emotions reinforce the addiction even more!

Strong emotions like excitement, shame, guilt, fear, shock and disgust form strong memories – and even more so when adrenaline or dopamine is secreted at the time of a particular event.  So … if you feel any of these feelings while you do internet porn you are actually strengthening the memory of your porn use, which means you are more inclined to do it again – whether you want to or not – because the limbic system takes over, wanting you to do it (remember, it does not care about consequences) and simply overrides your rational brain.

That’s why you can promise yourself ‘No porn tonight, OK?’ and before you know it you’re cuddling up with your laptop in bed or sneaking off to the study to ‘check emails’.

If you were ever looking for a good reason to release guilt and shame (and not only for porn use) – now you have one.  So if you thought that feeling bad about being addicted to internet pornography was going to help you overcome it…think again:

Guilt, shame, embarrassment etc actually makes it physiologically more difficult to quit internet porn.

The literally endless supply of internet porn (you can never watch all of it and it’s never ‘out of stock’ or ‘rented’ by someone else) simply adds to the excitement factor (hello, dopamine) which makes it even more addictive. It’s also always available, on-line, on your phone and in your memory banks (recalling those images).

Now just a minute, so what does my porn habits say about me as a person?

Nothing.  Zip.  Nada

By now I’m hoping that you’ll clearly see that porn addiction is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness; hopefully you’ll also understand better why you’ve not had much luck trying to stop doing porn just using willpower.

Habit or Addiction?

You may have noticed that I’ve started talking about addiction (as opposed to habit) even though you may view your porn pleasure as a habit.  If you haven’t yet, you may want to do this test (will open in a new window) to find out what the white coats think.

And of course, either way it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a habit or an addiction because here’s what’s true:

  • Your brain wasn’t designed to cope with porn use.
  • If you’ve watched porn, you’ve changed your brain.
  • The more you do it the more you want to do it.
  • Over time you need more of it to get the same buzz (you’ll either spend more time doing it, or need more extreme versions of it).
  • There is help, and it’s here.

Now to go back to where you left off click here (there’s some more interesting bits on that page; no really!)

On the other hand, if your brain is screaming ‘Enough with the information, just give me the answers!!!!’ then go right to the solution.

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