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Dysregulation of Brain Chemicals in Porn Addiction Makes you Stupid

Imagine two funnels, each inverted onto the other. Both the top and the bottom of the funnel represent the cerebral cortex of our brains. It’s what distinguishes us from animals. Rational processes and higher level thinking live in the cerebral cortex. The middle part of the funnel, the constricted part, represents the limbic system of the brain, responsible for instincts, feelings and survival (including food and sex).

At the top of the funnel, before beginning to view pornography, the individual enjoys a wide perspective of the world. Porn addiction describes the top of the funnel as reality: their public self. Just as in the marriage funnel, the porn viewer begins blocking out distractions – but he is blocking out much more. He is alone. The object of his narrowing is pornographic images. Details of daily life, such as work and paying bills, slowly fall into disarray as the person starts blocking out all thoughts of God, his marriage, family, morals, commitments, and consequences.

The Release of Natural Chemicals: The porn viewer’s brain begins releasing endogenous chemicals. The viewer feels highly aroused – all of the stress, pressures, anxieties and pain in life begin fading away as his system is flooded with endogenous drugs. The viewer is able to self-medicate and escape the reality of life.

Dopamine: Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce extremely focused attention. This causes the viewer to focus intensely on the pornographic images at the exclusion of everything else around him.

Norepinephrine: This chemical induces feelings of exhilaration and increased energy by giving the body a shot of natural adrenaline. Norepinephrine also increases memory capacity. This explains why porn addicts can recall viewed images with vivid clarity years later.

Testosterone: Pornography triggers the release of testosterone which in turn increases the desire for more pornography.

Oxytocin: Oxytocin acts as a natural tranquilizer. The individual seeks an Oxytocin rush to cope with the stress and pressure of life.

Serotonin: The release of this natural chemical evokes a deep feeling of calmness. Individuals turn to porn to self-medicate and escape the stress.

The Experience is More Than Just Sexual: There is a lot more going on in the Pornography Funnel than sexual arousal. In fact, if you remove sexual arousal from the process, any similarities to sexual intimacy in a healthy marriage would cease. While sliding down the Pornography Funnel, a tidal wave of conflicting and confusing images and messages wash over the viewer.

Visual images are stored as emotional memories in the brain before the logic center realizes what has happened. When the logic brain catches up, it brings on a “fight or flight” type response. The adrenaline gland sends out cortisol, the “stress hormone,” which in turn activates myriad body-system processes to counteract stress. In essence, the entire pornography process is intensified and supercharged, far beyond what sexual arousal alone would accomplish. The human system is not designed to deal with this overwhelming level of conflicting stimulations.This is why many neuropsychologists refer to pornography as “visual crack cocaine”.

An Empty and Hollow Climax

When one uses porn addiction to reach climax, the brain desensitizes to the images, habituates to them, and eventually becomes bored. An increase in the variety of images and/or time spent on the Internet is required to maintain stimulation levels. In a healthy marriage relationship, sexual intimacy is only a part of everything else going on in the couple’s life. So when the couple “brings all of that into the bedroom,” it is highly unlikely that the brain will habituate to the sexual process.

The Heartless “Drug-High” of Porn Addiction

When the porn viewer emerges from the narrowest part of the funnel back to a wide perspective, and climax quickly dissipate. Suddenly his rational thinking returns and the hopeless dialogue begins: “What have I done? What was I thinking?”

He wasn’t thinking; that was the problem! Once he descends into the Pornography Funnel, he gives up his ability to “think”.

The overpowering flood of chemicals overrides his cognitive thought and reasoning abilities. The frontal lobes – the logic center of the brain – are virtually shut down and the limbic system, which controls the pleasure/emotional center of the brain, takes over.

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Dorothy Hayden, LCSW has 20 years of experience treating sex and porn addicts, love addiction, codependency, fetishes, sadomasochism, "kink friendly", crossdressers and their wives, partners of sex addicts. She has been interviewed on "HBO", "20/20" and Anderson Cooper 360. Ms. Hayden has authored the book "Total Sex Addiction Recovery - A Guide to Therapy"

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