Your Brain on Porn Series - Part 6

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Heavy porn users arrive at our site with lots of different symptoms. Below are some of the most common, but there are a lot more. Many people do not make the connection between such symptoms and their heavy porn use. However, it’s surprising to me that a 20-year old with erectile dysfunction doesn’t make the connection.

These are not in any particular order:

Symptoms of Internet porn overuse

It makes perfect biological sense that these symptoms can arise from one cause: the numbing of the pleasure response in the reward circuitry, and, of course, the rewiring of the brain.

How can we know this? Well, we can’t yet look into the brain, but as they say, “the proof is in the pudding.” These same symptoms tend to fade away as heavy users get off of porn.

What do you do if you have a porn addiction? First, recovery from any addiction is complex, and involves changes on many levels. This presentations focuses on the brain mechanics, and that’s where I’m going to stay. If you have numbed out your pleasure response and rewired your brain.

You take a “time out.” That may not sound easy, but that’s what you want to do. On our site, we call this “rebalancing the brain, and there are two parts:

1. Rebooting: This is restoring the sensitivity of your reward circuitry. In other words, allowing your dopamine receptors to return to previous levels.

2. Rewiring: This is basically unlearning and relearning. It involves weakening your addiction pathways, and, of course, strengthening your rational, logical pathways.

The best way to reboot and rewire is to give your brain a rest from all intense sexual stimulation: porn, masturbation, orgasm and sexual fantasy. Wait until your brain returns to normal responsiveness.

Sounds weird to say, “Stop masturbating,” but for most porn users masturbation is tightly linked to porn fantasy and that can trigger you into using again because it activates those addiction pathways. If you do masturbate during this rebalancing, really focus in on the sensations—and skip the fantasy.

Remember this image?

Dopamine receptor changes

You’re trying to move from the bottom picture, where you probably are now, to the top picture so your sensitivity is restored. You’re trying to increase the number of dopamine receptors.

As you recall, overstimulation caused the nerve cells to reduce their dopamine receptors to protect themselves. Numbed brains are desperate for stimulation. Of course, that is the root of cravings.

As time passes without porn, you’ll sprout more and more receptors. The cravings will weaken. This process can take different amounts of time for different people. It is definitely not a linear process. There are ups and downs.

As time goes on, you’ll experience more pleasure from everyday activities. That’s what others report. Basically, what you’re doing is healing your brain.

Think about this, if you sprain an ankle, it’s best to stay off of it and allow it to heal. If you test your ankle along the way, you’re likely to increase the time you need to heal.

You also want to rewire, or “unlearn and relearn.” At first you have a really strong “Go for it!’ pathway, and an unusually weak impulse control, or “Think about it” pathway. In this state, it’s really easy to follow the path of least resistance. Why? Because that pathway leads to your reward circuit—and your reward circuit is screaming, “Do it!” Your goal is now a balanced brain, so you can hear from the rational part of your brain and not just your impulses.

As scientists say, “When neurons fire apart wires depart.” That’s the “unlearning” aspect of this process. When you stop using porn, the pathways associated with it start to weaken. And since you are using your impulse control more, the “Think about it” pathways will get stronger.

This process can be difficult at first. There’s no denying that. The brain can no longer rely on that fix of dopamine that porn provides. However, as time goes on, this becomes easier because your reward circuit comes back into balance. And the brain pathways for porn and porn fantasy weaken, which is really good.

As I said, these addiction pathways will weaken, but they will probably never disappear. So it’s a good idea to be aware of your cues and your triggers so you can avoid falling back into using those pathways.

If you’ve gotten anything out of this presentation, I hope it’s that being hooked on porn is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness, but evidence of an addiction process at work, which is changing your brain.

If you want to learn more, you can visit our website: It is a science-based, totally non-commercial site. There you will find the research we used to make this presentation, stories and tips from recovered users (very useful), FAQs and many useful articles.