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Porn, Masturbation, and the Zeigernik Effect
When you opt for the easy bliss of relishing sexy thoughts about strangers, the Zeigernik effect kicks in. Bluma Zeigernik was a Soviet psychologist who noticed that waiters could remember what diners ordered up until they paid their bill, but then quickly forgot. Based on that observation, she articulated this more general truth: we will continue to experience dissonance until we complete an objective we've begun to pursue. If we try to turn our focus to other goals, intrusive thoughts will haunt us and hound us until we go back and wrap up the unfinished business.
Relishing sexy thoughts about strangers whips the Malamutes of your mind into a frenzy. They take off down a path and heave the dogsled of your body to follow.
That's why porn and masturbation go together, as the song from Grease puts it, like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong... and will always always be like one, wa wa wa one.
Every now and then I have a client who takes pride in viewing porn without following through on the urge to masturbate. One said to me recently, "I saw some things online, but I didn't act out." The problem is, ingesting porn without masturbating--or viewing a lot of porn before masturbating--only serves to heighten the Zeigernik Effect.
In fact, I've wondered if people who view porn and more readily masturbate to it may have an easier time overcoming the habit than those who prolong the process because those who just get it over with haven't spent so much time in dissonance--the dissonance of holding their body back from doing what their mind has been eagerly anticipating.
By pursuing the easy bliss of entertaining sexy thoughts about strangers, they give the brain a ton of business and ask it to tolerate not finishing it. Just let that unfinished business sit incomplete. Let the domino tilt but then hold; smell the cake, maybe even take a bite, but don't swirl your tongue or swallow.
Couples who refrain from sex before marriage know all about this. The longer they go, the more eager they are to consummate. The Zeigernik Effect is one of the ingredients that helps them fall more and more deeply in love.
When we relish sexy thoughts about strangers we know the brain will be wanting to complete the loop and come full circle to climax. And thus we sign up, for the umpteenth time, for mission impossible. And, unfortunately, the compulsive part of our brain falls more and more madly in love with masturbating to porn-fueled fantasies.
Your Amazing Future Starts Now
Fortunately, we have options. We are comprised of more than our Malamute brains. Our soul is still alive and well. Instead of being dragged, WE can do the dragging.
Your brain wants a quick and easy fix. But you can take a minute to look out the window and consider what else you might do for a break right now besides getting online. You might take a walk or a drive. You might decide what to make for dinner or which flowers to plant where this spring. You might break out your sketch pad and doodle.
Your brain wants excitement. But if you know that reaching your goal of becoming a pharmacist requires passing Chemistry 101 this semester, you can drag your brain kicking and screaming to the library for an hour or so, even when it sounds like the most boring thing in the world.
Your brain wants to dwell on your comfort and pleasure. But you can crack open your Bible on Wednesday afternoon, think about the members of your Sunday School class, and pray to know what one or two of them might need to hear this week.
Your brain tells you not to take risks. But you can flirt with your wife and channel all your sexual energy in her direction. When she says sorry, she's not coming to bed yet, instead of pouting like your brain wants you to, you can enjoy that you were genuine with her instead of pretending you don't long for a more connection.
Your brain says sex with your wife isn't as passionate as relishing sexy thoughts about strangers. But when lovemaking starts to feel routine and mechanical, you can remind yourself that it may take a while for your brain to adjust to this porn-free way of life. You can get her attention and look her in the eye. You can interrupt what you're doing and just hold each other. You can hold out and keep your eyes open and interest piqued for the joys of sexual intimacy only available to monogamous couples.
Your brain will know, of course, that you're barking up the wrong tree. It will scream that its path is SO much better than the dingy one you're starting to trudge. Your brain's not stupid! It wants no part of this life!
But you--your body + spirit = soul--have been dragged along by your brain enough times to know there's no escaping the mouthful of sand you always swallow in the bleak desert just beyond the seeming oasis of relishing sexy thoughts about strangers.
Are you ready to trust that, despite the challenges, despite how your brain will kick and scream along the way, the creative, at-times-boring, selfless, vulnerable, deeply-connected life is actually, in the long run, a much better life?
Trust that, live that, and your future will amaze you.