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Pornography Warps Your Mind

Posted by Kristina Croft on Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Luke Gilkerson of www.CovenantEyes.comwrote a series of articles about the 5 proven ways pornography warps your mind. I thought they were very profound and wanted to share his findings with you...

Finding #5: Watching Porn Makes Us Want to Watch More Porn<?

As Solomon said, sex is intoxicating (Song of Songs 1:4). To his students he wrote, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always in her love,” but do not get drunk on the embrace of a forbidden woman (Proverbs 5:18-20).

Solomon had no knowledge of the human brain the way we do today, but his words on the intoxicating nature of sexuality take on a new richness as we study the effects of pornography on the mind and body.

Two weeks after the Zillmann-Bryant experiment, all participants were given an assortment of pornographic and non-pornographic films to watch in private. Those who were exposed to more pornography were significantly more likely to want to watch hardcore porn.

Continually watching pornography has been shown to produce an escalation effect. Fifteen years after this experiment, Dr. Zillmann continued research in this area, finding that the habitual use of pornography led to greater tolerance of sexually explicit material over time, requiring the viewer to consume more novel and bizarre material to achieve the same level of arousal or interest.

The hot-button issue today is the question of “porn addiction”—can someone become literally addicted to pornography? In a 2008 survey, over 90% of therapists believed a person could become addicted to cybersex. Some have proposed calling this “hypersexual disorder,” and recent studies in neurochemistry confirm these findings. In his book Wired for Intimacy, Dr. William Struthers discusses at length the various hormones and neurotransmitters triggered by watching pornography. He writes:

As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens the Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through with images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men.

Ultimately, the “addiction” label may or may not be helpful. There is no medically diagnosable line one crosses from being a non-addict to being an addict—it is a gradual move. Author Michael Leahy, a self-proclaimed recovering sex addict, has been to more than 200 college campuses with his Porn Nation: The Naked Truth presentation, and he says the No. 1 question he hears from college students is, “Can I look at porn recreationally without becoming addicted to it, and is there anything wrong with that?” Even in light of his past, Leahy chooses not to focus on the addictive character of pornography, but rather on its sexually exploitative message. “So,” Leahy responds, “do you think it’s okay if I beat and berate my wife just once a month? I mean, I’m not addicted to it.” Usually reframing the question this way helps young men and women to see the problem of pornography differently.

Regardless of the specific labels we use, the intoxicating nature of pornography cannot be denied. The more we watch pornography, the more pornography we want to watch: it is like a toxin that gets into our blood. This is one great example of what Paul calls “the law of sin,” sin’s persuasive pull, which he says resides in the physical members of our bodies (Romans 7:22-24). We can become captive to the impulses of our brains and bodies when they are trained by sinful indulgence.

Finding #4: Watching Porn Desensitizes Us to Cruelty

David’s daughter Tamar was beautiful, and David’s son Amnon secretly loved her from a distance. Amnon described his obsession and lust as so great, it “tormented” him to the point of being ill (2 Samuel 13:2), and eventually he hatched a plan to get her into bed. When the moment came and they were alone, he forced himself upon her and raped her. Then, the Scriptures say, after he had his way with her, he “hated her with very great hatred” (v.15) and threw her out of his house.

A story like this shows the insidious nature of lust. True love leads us to serve one another as human beings created in God’s image. Lust leads us to use one another, to see others as expendable. And just like the case of Tamar, a mind that only sees women as objects of lust can also easily be numbed to cruelty towards women.

In Zillmann and Bryant’s experiment, when asked how common certain sexual activities were in society— activities like anal sex, group sex, sadomasochism, and bestiality— the percentages given by the Massive Exposure Group were two to three times higher than the No Exposure Group. Pornography led them to believe these more violent sexual activities were more common.

Watching pornography also conditioned participants to trivialize rape. Participants were asked to read about a legal case where a man raped a female hitchhiker and then recommend a length for the rapist’s prison sentence. Males in the No Exposure Group said 94 months; the Massive Exposure Group cut this by nearly half, recommending only 50 months.

Pornography essentially desensitizes us to sexual violence and cruelty, even when the pornography is considered “non-violent” in nature. Unfortunately, aggression is common in pornography today. A 2000 study discovered the presence of violence in 42% of online pornography. Today, it is not uncommon for even the youngest Internet users to be exposed to graphic material. By the age of 18, for instance, 39% of boys and 23% of girls have seen acts of sex involving bondage online.

In a 2007 presentation, Robert Wosnitzer, Ana Bridges, and Michelle Chang released the results of their study of the 50 top-selling adult DVDs. After analyzing 304 distinct scenes in these films, they found 3,376 acts of verbal or physical aggression—that’s an act of aggression every minute and a half. About 90% of scenes contained at least one act of aggression. Verbal aggression, such as name-calling, was present in about half of adult video scenes. In 73% of instances, men were the aggressors, and when women were the aggressors, most of the time they were being aggressive to another woman. In 95% of the scenes, the person receiving the aggression reacts neutrally or positively to it. Positive or healthy sexual acts, such as kissing or compliments, were found in only 10% of scenes.

These numbers give us a glimpse of the sexual education porn consumers receive. Routinely, pornography depicts acts of aggression, cruelty, and degradation, and teaches viewers that women enjoy these acts.

Finding #3: Watching Porn Lowers Our View of Women

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said C.S. Lewis’ Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.”

The Scriptures tell us both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). The implications of this idea are far-reaching. As image-bearers we “reflect” God in a way no other creature on earth does. As far as God is concerned, to assault someone made in His image is a great crime (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). Knowing we are made in God’s image should impact how we see ourselves and one another.

It is not only men who bear this image, but women as well. In human history the failure to appreciate this fact has led to all manner of abuses to women. And in our increasingly sexualized culture, it is women who are often the most dehumanized as they are constantly rated for the size, shape, and harmony of their body parts. Often pornography, and even mainstream media, portrays women as people who are glad to be used and objectified. It isn’t surprising to find women increasingly devalued in our porn-saturated culture.

In the Zillman-Bryant experiment, the Massive Exposure Group was far more likely to believe women in society really fit the stereotype of the women they saw in pornographic films. In other words, they were more likely to believe all women are really “as hysterically euphoric in response to just about any sexual or pseudosexual stimulation, and as eager to accommodate seemingly any and every sexual request” as the porn girls.

Participants in the experiment were also asked to rate their overall support for women’s rights. Men in the Massive Exposure Group showed a 46% drop in support compared to the No Exposure Group. And among women participants, this drop was 30%.

“Free porn” is a misnomer. Pornography always costs somebody something. And it’s the women and girls in our culture, surrounded by boys and men with porn expectations, who often end up paying the highest price.

Naomi Wolf, writing for New York Magazine, puts it best: “Today real naked women are just bad porn.” The onslaught of porn doesn’t train men to value women as people made in the image of God, but instead trains people to see fewer and fewer women as porn-worthy.

Finding #2: Watching Porn Disconnects Us from Real Relationships

“Casual sex” is not new to our generation. Even 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul planted churches in places like Corinth—a city with a reputation that would make a Las Vegas brothel owner blush. In Corinth, sex was a religion—literally. The temple to Aphrodite was home to thousands of priestesses—glorified prostitutes—who serviced the worshippers. The loose sexual mores of Corinth were even lower than those of the rest of the Roman Empire, and the verb “corinthianize” was coined to describe this lifestyle of decadent sin.

Paul’s word for this way of life was porneia: a persistent lifestyle of sexual immorality. To the church in Corinth, surrounded by these depraved influences, Paul writes, “Flee from sexual immorality….Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 6:18; 7:2). Paul commends a lifestyle of very regular sexual intimacy between husbands and wives because the temptation to sin was, at times, very strong (7:3-5). For Paul, sexual passion found its proper expression in marriage, not in the sensual Corinthian culture.

Today, watching pornography is one expression of casual sex, the opportunity to experience sexual pleasure without the bother of marital commitment. We see this even among the younger generations who have taken up the habit of “sexting,” sending racy photos or videos of themselves to others—essentially becoming someone else’s pornography. As one 17-year-old girl put it: “There’s a positive side to sexting. You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit STD’s. It’s a kind of safe sex.”

Pornography is not only an expression of casual sex but feeds a desire for it. After their experiment, Zillmann and Bryant concluded the more porn someone saw; the more likely they were to prefer sex without emotional involvement. After watching less than five hours of pornography over a six-week period, the Massive Exposure group was more likely to devalue marriage, the idea of having children, and the importance of faithfulness in a relationship. They also showed a greater acceptance of premarital sex.

Dr. Gary Brooks, author of The Centerfold Syndrome, explains how pornography alters the way men think about romantic relationships. The glossy magazine pictures or pixels on the screen have no sexual or relational expectations of their own. This essentially trains men to desire the cheap thrill of fantasy over a committed relationship. Pornography trains men to be digital voyeurs, to prefer looking at women more than seeking out genuine intimacy.

We might say the real problem with pornography isn’t that it shows us too much sex, but that it doesn’t show us enough—it cannot possibly give us an experience of real intimacy. Porn treats sex one-dimensionally, packages it in pixels, and rips it from its relational context. It only titillates us with images of sex but cannot offer the experience of closeness with another person.

Finding #1: Watching Porn Decreases Sexual Satisfaction

God is not the enemy of pleasure. He is the Creator of it. The Bible proclaims it. Even the demons know it. But it is human beings who are most likely to forget it.

The demon Screwtape, in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, reminds his young demonic apprentice of this truth. “[God's] a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures forevermore.’…He has filled the world full of pleasures.”

Sex is one of these God-created pleasures. To highlight the goodness of sexual pleasure, God inspired King Solomon to write a little book of romantic melodies called “The Song of Songs”—a title that means, “the best love song of all.” This book expresses—at times in erotic detail—the pleasure and joy of marital sexuality.

But like all good things, sin aims to twist this pleasure.

In their experiment, Zillmann and Bryant found a direct correlation between the amount of pornography one viewed and one’s overall sexual satisfaction in real relationships. Participants from the Massive Exposure Group reported less satisfaction with their intimate partners: they were less likely to be pleased with their partner’s physical appearance, affection, and sexual performance.

Zillmann and Bryant concluded that porn consumers eventually compare their spouse with images of porn models. Another study appearing in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 2002 found similar results. When men and women were exposed to pictures of female centerfold models from Playboy and Penthouse, this significantly lowered their judgments about the attractiveness of “average” people.

When people become more and more entrenched in pornography, this ends up only deluding and deadening their libido. Dr. Mary Anne Layden concludes, “Having spent so much time in unnatural sexual experiences with paper, celluloid and cyberspace, they seem to find it difficult to have sex with a real human being.” Pornography, she says, “is toxic miseducation about sex and relationships,” training men and women to expect online “designer sex” in the real world.

This comparison isn’t merely about body type or sexual performance. Someone exposed again and again to pornography also can end up comparing the whole fantasy experience to their sex lives. Instead of being drawn to one woman or one man, they end up being turned on by the variety and novelty porn offers them.

Neurobiologist Peter Milner explains that our brains are wired to be attracted to that which is unfamiliar and novel. This inward drive is what helps us to learn new things and adapt to our environment. But, he explains, it is possible “to become addicted to novelty and uncertainty.” Over time the brain that feeds on erotic media is trained to equate sexual excitement with the novelty and variety of pornography. Eventually the familiar face, body, and sexual performance of a spouse doesn’t arouse the way it used to.

For all of Solomon’s romantic wisdom and marital passion, even he was ensnared by a lust for “variety.” In 1 Kings 11 we learn Solomon eventually accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines because “he loved many foreign women” (v.1). Solomon was a man who was richer than Bill Gates, more spiritually influential than Billy Graham, smarter than Einstein, and yet he has a harem bigger than Hugh Hefner’s.

Pornography essentially trains men and women to be consumers, not lovers; to treat sex as a commodity; to think about sex as something on-tap and made-to-order. Dr. Judith Reisman rightly concludes, pornography “castrates” men visually, training them to retreat into the realm of fantasy if they want to be aroused.



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