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Why Quitting Porn Doesn’t Work

It’s a common cycle: Experience temptation, binge on porn, promise yourself you’ll never do it again, experience temptation, binge on porn…

It’s maddening.

Scripture says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and in my experience some of the most heartsick people on the planet are those who have tried and tried to quit porn or other unwanted sexual behaviors, only to return again and again. Week after week, month after month, year after year.

Shane thought he’d outgrow porn in his teen years, but it’s followed him into his twenties.

Sam thought she’d be able to leave it behind in her twenties, but she’s edging close to thirty and she feels more addicted than ever.

Pat thought he’d be able to let it go once he got married. Now it’s destroying his marriage.

Why can’t people quit porn for good?

What’s so powerful about porn that people keep getting drawn back in? Actually, it’s not porn that holds the power, but your God-given brain and body. Here’s what I mean:

God designed the brain with a cocktail of incredible neurochemicals that are released during sexual intimacy between husband and wife. As husband and wife embrace…

Serotonin gives a sense of well-being.

Oxytocin creates a sense of connectedness and bonding.

Norepinephrine produces a sensation of aliveness and energy.

And dopamine creates a map that reminds both of them where these incredible feelings came from.

So in a faithful marriage, these neurochemicals enhance closeness, reduce stress, give life, and help to reinforce the goodness of their marriage and one another.

But sexual stimulation outside a faithful marriage hijacks this process. With porn and other unwanted sexual behaviors, these neurochemicals create similar (though inaccurate) sensations: You may feel a momentary sense of well-being even when you are not well, a sense of connection even when you are alone or harming other relationships, and a sense of aliveness even when you’re actually scooping coals of fire into your lap (Proverbs 6:27-29).

All this points to why it is so difficult to not return to porn after you’ve quit. Because it’s not the porn you’re body is actually craving. It’s peace and well-being, it’s real connection—being known and loved, and it’s health and life. Incidentally, this is also why porn doesn’t actually satisfy you, because although it may give a momentary sensation of these things, it doesn’t really deliver any of them. At all. Ever. It actually delivers the opposites.

So you’re quitting porn. What can you do so you don’t go back? You need to find healthy, holy ways to pursue the life you really want, the life and love you’re actually made for.

Here’s a helpful hint: Sex in marriage is not the only place your brain releases these neurochemicals. Serotonin is released during exercise and time spent in the sun. Oxytocin is released during meaningful conversations or a good cry with a friend. Norepinephrine is released during competition, stressful challenges, and healthy risk.

With this in mind, instead of endlessly quitting porn, work on building healthy activities and good relationships into your life. And when you find yourself pulled toward porn again, practice considering what it is that you’re really looking for—is it peace, calm, connection, life, or something else?—and move toward activities and relationships that support these things in your life.

One last thing: You’ll need allies on this journey. If you’re a man, you can join our new online Awaken course and community. It’s a supportive place to help you on your way. For both men and women, Regeneration’s spiritual coaches are a great resource to assist you!

Question: How does knowing about the neurochemistry of porn use help reduce shame about how difficult it can be to leave behind porn for good?

For you,

Josh

6 thoughts on “Why Quitting Porn Doesn’t Work”

  1. Josh, excellent post! The blog is both simple to understand, yet tackles the major mechanics of porn addiction.

    Comment: The word “endlessing” is misspelled in the 2nd to last paragraph. I only noticed it because it was right next to a phrase I have a question about…

    Question: You mention in the 3rd to last paragraph about “healthy risk”. I am grateful for the fact that only by God’s grace I haven’t looked at porn in many years (although it has looked for me ;). However, this idea of risk still floats around in my head every now and then, as in, “Why don’t you do this little risky activity… no one will see… no one will know.” It is very infrequent thank God, but risk is a huge draw to going back if you will because of the tethered surge of neurochemicals. What advice can you give to kill the “unhealthy risk” thoughts and temptations and permanently move to healthy risk. Again, this is a small remnant piece of my journey, but as Christians we are called to reach milestones only to run the race towards yet another milestone. Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Joey – great question. A few thoughts that may or may not be helpful:
      1. You might prayerfully consider what it is about risk itself that remains a huge draw for you. The surge of neurochemicals (particularly norepinephrine) that accompany risk can play a part in keeping someone returning to risky behavior, but since it’s been many years since you’ve looked at porn, I’m curious if something else may also be going on that continues to make “unhealthy risk” appealing to you.
      2. Relatedly, you might consider what it is specifically you feel drawn to put at risk. Is it your reputation, your physical well-being, your finances, a relationship? If it’s a specific area or two, that may mean something. For example, I know some men who have self-sabotaged areas they feel unworthy of having, and others who felt helpless to bring about necessary change and so subconsciously lashed out just to make something happen.
      3. Lastly, you might consider whether a temptation toward unhealthy risks may be arising due to playing it safe in some area(s) of your life in ways that are actually sapping your life of God-sized meaning and purpose.

      In general I’m not sure trying to “kill” unhealthy risk would be a helpful route, so much as discerning how to honor whatever it is in you that is being drawn to risk and then redirecting that toward healthy risks that move you toward greater intimacy, fruitfulness, and God-sized meaning.

      Let me know if any of this helps.
      Josh

  2. I love the idea of not creating a vacuum by removing the unhealthy habits, but rather doing an exchange of the unhealthy habits with healthy ones. Great article!

  3. I am a male addicted to porn and other unwanted sexual behavior that I need to quit..It’s now coming to over 15yrs..,How do I join your awaken course and community?

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