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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Posey

Demystifying the power of porn

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

How is it that porn and sex are so powerful that they can make us behave in ways which seemingly destroy relationship with ourselves and others despite our deepest desire to nurture these relationships? After all, shouldn’t it be the case that we have total control over our own actions? In this post I hope to reflect a few thoughts on this topic and bring to mind some ways of thinking about porn and sex that demystify their influence over our behavior.

Before I get too far along in this conversation, I want to make it clear that I do not believe accessing one’s sexuality is “bad”. I believe sexuality and all the feelings and experiences that come with it are to be celebrated and valued. However, I do believe sexual behavior becomes harmful when it is used solely as a vehicle to escape anxiousness, stress, or any form of emotional distress. Anxiousness, stress, and other forms of emotional pain are signals our brain and body are sending to let us know there is a problem and that our physical or emotional well-being is in danger. In his book Wired for Intimacy, Struthers (2009) refers to studies of the brain which show the amygdala shutting down at the peak of sexual experience. Why is this relevant to this conversation? The amygdala is the part of our brain which sends signals of stress, anxiousness, fear, and pretty much all those other undesirable emotions. So, when we look at porn or have sex and then experience orgasm, we are unknowingly teaching ourselves that porn and sex is the fastest, most effective way to escape whatever we are perceiving to be threats to our well-being. To some degree, experiencing the climax of sex or porn becomes a type of survival instinct because your brain has been trained to associate that sensation with escaping experiences of fear and anxiousness which equates to successfully restoring mental and emotional well-being. While the brain and body’s association with sexual behavior and the escape from perceived threats to one’s self is not wrong, it also is not adaptive and, as you likely know, ultimately creates more stress and anxiousness. Once stress and anxiousness has been restored to the cognitive capacities of your brain as a result of looking at porn, guess where the untrained mind will be motivated to go in an attempt to alleviate the pain. You guessed it, right back to consuming some kind of sexual experience. And so the cycle continues.

Let’s go back to your brain’s desire to escape anxiousness, and emotional distress. A common mistake in one’s battle to reclaim their mind is that they must achieve freedom from these uncomfortable feelings so they don’t consume sex to resolve them. This misconception makes the problem worse because anxiousness and emotional distress are unavoidable aspects of life. Since these aspects of life are unavoidable, the pursuit to not experience them feels hopeless (emotional distress) and therefore one returns to the only surefire way they know to resolve the distress of hopelessness - sexual experience. The problem is not whether you experience anxiousness and emotional distress. The problem is in where you let these experiences move you. These undesirable experiences of anxiousness, stress, pain, sadness, whatever you are feeling are actually opportunities for us to build intimacy in valuable relationships. As an example, I was feeling anxious and stressed about completing my final projects for school last month. That signal of anxiousness and stress moved me to talk to my wife about how anxious and stressed I felt. As a result, she offered me comfort and talked to me about how I was feeling. Afterward, I felt much better and was grateful to have been known by my wife in my distress. My anxiousness and stress moved me to behave in a way which built intimacy between me and my wife.

To wrap things up for this week, if there is nothing else you get from this post, I hope that you begin to shift your perception of distressing emotional experiences from enemies to be avoided to friends which should be embraced. I don’t doubt that avoiding distress through any means possible helped you to survive at some point in your life. However, now avoidance may be causing far more harm than good. Again, the goal is not to avoid these distressing experiences, but to let them move you toward deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the right people in your life.


Struthers, W. M. (2009). Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male

brain. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

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