Monday, January 7, 2013

A Good Enough Reason to Resist When Porn Seems Irresistable

Understanding why porn becomes so attractive can help us stand up to the pull of cravings.

Of all the input our nervous sytems register and process, perhaps none activate our "gotta have it" circuitry like a sexually appealing image or scene that matches nicely our personal arousal template. Nothing else so effectively takes our breath away and turns our brains seek-or-relax switch from "at ease" to "pursue it! now! don’t let up! no matter what!"

Only after either orgasm or the gradual and reluctant fading of that “seek!” signal does the thinking cortex come back on line and offer a different view on the matter: “Porn is ruining my relationship. I’d been doing so well. Why in the world did I succumb again?”

Following our initial exposure, porn may instantly become the most gratifying of all our pleasurable pursuits. Nonetheless, before becoming addicted, we retain other high altitude peaks in our profile of pleasures. If masturbating to porn registers a 10 on the enjoyment scale, rollerblading may be a 5, building a snowman with your kids a 6, making out with your wife an 8, reading an espionage novel a 4.

The problem is, those other pursuits require more patience since their gratifying moments are peppered amidst more boring ones. Your tailbone aches from falling on the asphalt. Your kids' hands are freezing and they want to go back in the house after five minutes. Your wife has garlic breath today and when you've nuzzled up close and are about to go in for the first smooch she asks if you paid the utility bill. You have to slog through Tom Clancy’s dissertations on the specs of military weaponry. Since porn is an easy and sure road to gratification overflow, the more we’re exposed to that ready bliss, the less tolerant we become of routes requiring discipline.

The process of turning a gratifying pursuit into a compulsion is partly biological: porn floods the brain so well with the pleasure chemical dopamine that the body responds by trying to rebalance the system. Dopamine dumps lead to the “downregulation” of dopamine receptors. Just as a child plugs her ears when it gets too loud, the brain starts killing off its own pleasure receptors when it registers an overabundance of dopamine in the system. It’s trying to reestablish equilibrium.

The brain may be trying to do us a favor, but what we experience in the spaces between porn-savoring sessions is an increasingly barren enjoyment landscape. Other stuff stops delighting us the way it used to. No wonder we’re more irritable.

Now complicate this state of affairs by trying to go without porn. We’ve hammered our own enjoyment circuitry and now we start depriving the receptors that remain of the chemical that completes them. The “want it!” signal is coming through louder and clearer than ever, but we're try to deny our brains the relieving bliss of “now you getta have it!”

Before an addiction developed, we would not have experienced pain as a result of avoiding porn. But once the pleasure circuitry has been desensitized, we’re dealing with a dopamine void where there was once overflow.

This interesting experiment was done to ascertain the effects of dopamine depletion. A high functioning Swedish med student was diabolically drained of dopamine. (Okay, it wasn’t diabolical, but it would have been if the researchers could have foreseen the outcome of their own study.) The poor subject went from outgoing and confident to paranoid and depressed. He felt uneasy, out of sorts all the time. He felt so tortured that it eventually became clear to all involved that it would be inhumane to let him linger in this state until the study’s pre-appointed end date. The concern that gripped him most in the throes of dopamine depletion was this: How much longer am I doomed to suffer thus? Mercifully, they chemically aided the restoration and rebalancing of his system, putting all involved in the study out of their misery.

Having seen what dopamine depletion does to a person, this experiment would never again pass a human subjects review committee nor be repeated by reputable and humane scientists. Yet this is the very experiment we volunteer for and self-administer a tiny bit more each time we dose up on porn and try to re-flood our nervous systems for pleasure's sake. 

Now let’s consider how these factors come together to make porn feel irresistible once we’ve become addicted. We have fewer dopamine receptors than we once did, and thus we feel less often lifted, more often icky. A state of depleted vitality has become our new normal. And we suffer a relative dearth of options for enhancing our enjoyment; fewer things manage to float our boat. But porn is always there for the seeking. It draws us not only for the pleasure it provides but for the psychic and physical pain it eases. And until we succumb to its pull yet again, we will suffer, we will crave, we will obsess, and it won’t be easy.

We slog through a Death Valley-like pleasure landscape, few foothills and nary a mountain in sight. And then we remember the peak experience of porn and discover there’s a helicopter, always waiting, destined for that slowly sinking mountaintop. There’s an empty seat and we’re being beckoned on board.

Here is reason to resist: We’re not in Death Valley! Our life has only come to seem that way due to the deteriorative process to which we’ve been subjecting ourselves. And among all blessed truths there’s this jewel: our nervous systems can reboot, recover, rebuild, rebalance, and rejuvenate. Once we step out of the cycle and stop the insanity. 

Don’t doom yourself to even more dopamine depletion. Put an end to your personal experiment. Porn will always feel preferable—to the pleasure-seeking portion of the brain. Fortunately, we’re human beings, not earthworms. The thinking mind can override and hold firm to a commitment to do what’s best in the long run for a brain that doesn’t even know what’s best for itself.

Shakespeare knew way back when what neuroscientists promise still today: “Refrain tonight and that shall lend a hand of easiness to the next abstinence; the next more easy; for use can almost change the stamp of nature and either curb the devil or throw him out with wondrous potency.”

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Here's something you may not realize: If you decide to recover normal functioning of your pleasure system by becoming porn and masturbation free, you'll be joining a worldwide, rapidly expanding movement. Since the process will be tough, it can be very helpful to hear from others who are on the same journey and share your experiences with them. Here are my two favorite forums for doing so:

Check out what all these men are saying. You'll be inspired and challenged. Most of them fail and try again, fail and try again early on. When you hear they're stories, you'll see they struggled just like you but they didn't give up and now they're making it. What amazes me most is the consistency in the themes of the reports of those who've gone awhile without porn and masturbation. They'd sound like paid actors spouting testimonials in an infomercial, except they've got nothing to sell you but the rebooting and rebalancing of your own brain. Here's a good example:

"During the third week is when I started to see something. Midway through the week I noticed that as I was effortlessly talking to people without giving it much thought. I was having random chats with everyone about stuff that I wouldn't know what to say about before. In the supermarket, I was talking to the cashiers, people around me if the opportunity came, without any hesitation or uncomfort. During the fourth week I woke up one day feeling extremely confident. I felt like I was worth something, if you know what I mean. I thought about how good my life was (note that 4 weeks earlier I wanted to kill myself) and all of my good qualities, and around this point I thought about all the insecurities I used to have and how I was dramatizing them 10x while no one around me gave a sht. Two months in these effects kept on increasing but I then started getting random boners. Girls looked really nice, I loved having intellectual conversations about anything with anyone. Then one day I woke up feeling like a completely different person. All this confidence, everything, it felt like I was on the next level of it. I thought about how I wouldn't want to be anyone else in the world right now. My future was looking bright (i.e. instead of thinking I failed first year of uni, I thought about how this was an important lesson that I learned early) and I was just putting a positive spin on everything in life. My voice got deeper, people were respecting me more, I didn't take sht from anyone (response came naturally), I got funnier, had the ability to talk confidently."

There are lots of men posting whose lives don't change as dramatically as Excalybur's. Still, they're plenty glad they stood up to their urges back at first when the waves pounded them hardest. Now they've reclaimed their lives and they'll never go back. 

If you decide to start this journey or are already well on your way, we'd love to hear how it's going for you!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful insight, thank you for sharing! I am linking to this on our Women for Decency Facebook page.