Is it possible to rewire your brain–to get back to normal sexual arousal–after a porn addiction?
It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own marriage posts in the link below.
Today I want to tackle an all-too-common problem. Here’s an email that a young man sent me after reading my post on the top 10 effects of porn:
I think it’s likely I’m suffering from a porn addiction. It started off when I was 12 due to classmates and my desires would get worse through the years due to things getting boring. I was wondering wether you have any tips applying to an 18 year old college guy on how to re-rewire myself to feel normal arousal patterns again and start having normal relationships?
So many things to deal with here! Our letter writer isn’t married, but it’s still an important question. So I’m going to answer his question, and then give some specific advice to porn users who are married. Since 30% of porn users are female, I’m not just addressing this to guys, either. So let’s dive in.
First: Two Things to Understand About a Porn Addiction
Most people get started with porn early.
This young man was shown porn by classmates when he was 12–and that started an addiction to internet pornography.
This is NORMAL. Most porn users report something similar. Women: if you’re married to a guy who uses porn, please understand that he’s likely been battling this since before he even knew you. I know it hurts; I really do. But fight the porn WITH him; try not to fight him. Here’s a post that explains what to do when you discover your husband uses porn.
And please–protect your sons and daughters! Get something like Covenant Eyes installed on your computer and devices when your kids are young, so they can’t seek out porn without you knowing. It’s important to stop it before the addiction cements.
Porn Changes the Sexual Arousal Process
We’re created so that as we become emotionally intimate with someone, desire kicks in. Desire is supposed to flow out of relationship (and, of course, out of physical attraction). But it’s built on attraction and it’s focused on one person.
Porn directs the arousal process internally. It’s not about a person; it’s about your own sexual gratification regardless of relationship. And because porn is usually accompanied by masturbation (and thus sexual release), your hormones cement this. Now you get aroused by the porn rather than a person, and it becomes more and more difficult to get aroused by a person.
Here’s a free ebook from Covenant Eyes that explains what porn does to the brain:
Second: How to Reverse the Process
Pray a Ton
Willpower alone cannot help you quit porn. Only God can truly transform your heart.
So pray constantly. Don’t always pray about the porn, either; just keep a running conversation with God going all day. Tell Him what you’re doing. Talk to Him about decisions you have to make. Practice riding in the car without the radio on so that you can talk to God. The more you talk to God, the more you think about God, and the more God can start to work on your heart, even without you realizing it.
Look for the Root of Porn
Why do you turn to porn? When do you turn to porn?
If you can answer those two questions you’re a lot further ahead at quitting.
Most people turn to porn for one of two reasons: they’re stressed or they’re bored. When someone feels stressed, especially if you feel as if your choices are limited, people aren’t listening to you, or you’re failing at what you’ve set your mind to, porn can be intoxicating. Porn is all about satisfying you. It makes you feel like a king. It gets rid of those feelings of inadequacy.
But it’s all fake.
If you can instead name your issue: “I feel out of control”, “I feel inadequate”, “I feel like a failure”, and then you try to deal with that issue instead, you’ll be so much further ahead. And if you can understand the role that porn plays in your life, then it’s easier to leave it behind.
Find Something to Replace Porn with
I tried to quit Diet Pepsi many times–I knew the aspartame was bad for me. But it only stuck when I decided beforehand what I was going to replace the Diet Pepsi with, and filled my house with it (I chose looseleaf teas).
You won’t be able to fully quit porn until you figure out what you’re going to replace it with. If you’ve been using porn when you’re bored, then you need something else right at hand for you to grab when you’re bored. Maybe it’s a gripping novel. Maybe it’s a friend you call. Maybe it’s an exercise bike. But decide beforehand that when you get the urge to watch porn, you will turn to X instead.
Realize You Likely Will Relapse
Not everyone does; but many people quit successfully for a few weeks or months, but then during a particularly stressful period they go on a binge again.
Rather than berating yourself and feeling like a total loser, “turn a bad day into good data.” Analyze this particular relapse. What happened? Did you let yourself get bored? Did you not have anything to replace porn with handy? Had you just had a fight with your girlfriend/wife? If you can figure out what was different about this incident, you can prevent it happening again.
Flee from Everything that Reels You In to Porn
You’ll be battling not just the pull towards porn, but also the pull to objectify the opposite sex. If something else pulls you in the same direction–say, watching Game of Thrones or reading a magazine or going to a bar–then stop that, too. It isn’t about porn per se; it’s about the whole way you think about sex and relationships. It’s better to detoxify all at once then to just get rid of one part of the equation.
Third: Special Ideas for Married Readers
Make intimacy sexy again!
But how is that possible? You have to retrain your brain to feel aroused not by an image but by your spouse.
And you can do that by increasing the intimacy and vulnerability in your marriage.
I’ve written a longer post about rebuilding your sex life after a porn addiction, but here a few quick thoughts:
1. Pray together a ton–and even pray naked!
It’s very vulnerable to go before God together. Experience that kind of intimacy. Just revel in it.
2. Talk again
Most spouses of porn addicts will say that they could never put their finger on what it was, but they never felt like they truly “knew” their spouse while that spouse was using porn.
That’s because porn stops intimacy of all kinds. In many marriages, the couple doesn’t really share on an emotionally intimate level either. Porn trains you to think of your spouse as an object, as a means to an end, rather than a living, breathing person.
So start talking again and really getting to know each other. Get some conversation starters and use them every night. Go for a walk after dinner. Get to know each other!
3. Practice holding and touching each other while naked–without anything else
Hold off on intercourse. Just take turns touching each other. Let yourself feel your spouse touching you. Don’t try to rush it (porn users have a difficult time being “in the moment” because the focus is on the end result).
4. Learn how to be a good lover
Porn users tend to be self-focused during sex because they’ve trained themselves that sexy is about what happens to you, not what you do for others.
Take a few weeks where the goal of the sexual encounter is to make your spouse hit the moon. You can do this any way you want–you don’t even need intercourse (especially if you’re having issues with performance due to porn use). Watch the effect you can have on your spouse. Learn how much fun foreplay can be.
5. Schedule sex
If you’re going to get good at something you need to practice! I know many couples where the husband (or wife) has successfully quit porn, but they’ve also quit sex entirely because they never figured out how to make sex work any other way.
It’s going to take time and patience and lots of practice. Don’t flee from sex. Don’t be afraid that you’ll fail. It’s okay to finish other ways. But make sure that at least twice a week you’re connecting and trying. You’ll find that the more you get intimate, the more your body will start to respond. You’re reawakening real desire, and that’s a good thing. Scheduling sex may feel fake–but it’s actually a good habit when you’re trying to reawaken real desire.
If you’re having a hard time with this one, my book, 31 Days to Great Sex, is filled with ideas and conversation starters that let you start slow and build up to a great sex life–maybe even for the first time in your marriage! Check it out.
Rewiring your sexual response will take time. You have to quit entirely; you have to be so vigilant in what you think about; you have to do things that feel unnatural (learning to talk again; learning proper foreplay).
It isn’t easy.
But it is so healing. And God is in the transformation and healing business! He wants to help you–but you have to decide to be part of the solution, too. Fight hard. It’s really worth it!
Now it’s your turn! Do you have a marriage post to share with us? Leave the URL of your post in the Linky below. And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great marriage posts, too!