A few years ago my sister walked up to me on the campus of Liberty University, seeking comfort from her older brother. A magician had just attempted to manipulate a kiss from her via his magic trick.
She came to me for safety and protection. But as I heard her story, I felt no emotion. Does that sound off to you? I mean, big brothers are supposed to be protective of their sisters, right? But in hearing that some guy had tried to kiss my sister, I honestly felt nothing. I remember thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a kiss.”
My years of watching pornography had desensitized me to healthy love. Love lost its beauty.
For 50+ years, Josh McDowell Ministry has been leading seekers into a deeper knowledge of God’s truth and power. We offer you our accumulated knowledge and research to help you find truth and encouragement to live a healthy and whole life in Christ.
Love: A Chemical Reaction?
When I first heard Josh McDowell speak on love, he claimed that it’s just a chemical reaction. That didn’t sit right with me, as I thought love was the good feeling we get when we really like someone. It felt like the word “chemical” took the emotion out of it.
But Josh is right; we feel the emotion of love because of a chemical response. When we feel incredible joy, excitement, or sadness, it’s because of a release of chemicals in our brain.
Take the chemical, dopamine, for example. Dopamine is known as a pleasure chemical. When we satisfy a craving for hunger, or are complimented for doing something well, this feel-good chemical is released in our brain. This makes us feel great. Likewise, when we kiss, hug, or have sex, dopamine is released.
Many mental health disorders are linked to too much or too little dopamine in different parts of the brain. Dopamine can fuel addiction.
The Big Problem
But here’s an interesting fact: the chemicals in our brains that produce bonding, good feelings, or love, are morally neutral. That’s right, the chemicals in your brain lack a moral code. That means they don’t know the difference between sex in a loving marriage relationship — or rape.
Which is why we have to tell our brains what is and is not acceptable. What is right and what is wrong. Otherwise dopamine and other chemicals will have free reign to lead us where we have no business going — whether that’s consuming too many cookies in one sitting, or developing a habit of porn.
I remember the first time I saw porn. It was in my neighbor’s basement. I was in kindergarten. I felt repulsed — as I should have. But in choosing to return to porn years later, those repulsive images became pleasurable to me.
Repeated porn viewing creates an addiction to see more. As the dopamine overpowered my repulsion, I began to associate pornography with pleasure. My brain was being rewired and desensitized. I allowed this ugly habit to grow bigger because seeing the graphic images felt good — even though I knew, from my Christian upbringing, that it wasn’t good for me.
Our brain likes pleasure. So if something feels good, we tend to return to it for more of that good feeling.
After gaining pleasure from seeing so many horrific pornographic images, my brain viewed porn as normal. So, by the time my sister came running to me for empathy, I had none to give her. Watching porn had totally skewed my view of physical touch.
I had begun to think of women as objects for my pleasure, and that sexual acts outside of marriage weren’t all that bad. This became scary to me, because my parents had raised me with this truth: sex is God’s beautiful design to cement a couple’s love inside of marriage.
The Healthy Solution
God created our emotions and ability to experience love in the context of His design. He also created our brains with the ability to learn — and unlearn. We can be desensitized to our addictions, even a strong addiction like pornography.
In Romans 12:2, Paul states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Our brains can return to a state of health, by what we feed it, so that we gain a healthy, biblical view of sex and love.
I’m not going to lie: this renewal of the mind takes hard work. We get there by daily starving the unwanted behaviors, thoughts, or beliefs in our head, and replacing them with healthy ones. I know this to be true because I have personally experienced this transformation. I have spent the past three years pursuing health and freedom from my porn addiction. Today, I can truthfully say that I am free of it and have found health.
When my sister and I now speak of this old memory, she clearly remembers the numb expression on my face. I regret not being there for her. If she came running up to her big brother today, would my response be different? Yes!
Now I would be able to feel her hurt and embarrassment and be there to console her. And if I am honest, I might have to go deal with that magician. After my experience with porn, I don’t want anyone to have the opportunity to cheapen love or physical touch for her.
Porn desensitized my brain to see women as objects. But now I see each person on this planet as loved and cherished by God. And I can now clearly see that His design for sex and love is very good, because it is healthy, selfless, and affirming.
I am deeply grateful that, for me, love has no longer lost its beauty.
Porn turns people into objects. Porn turns sex into self-pleasure. Porn causes love to lose its beauty.
- In this video, Sean McDowell asks, “What is the best definition of love?“
- In this post, Ben Bennett answers the question, “How do we overcome the shame caused by desensitization?“
- Please read my article “Living in Freedom From Addiction.“
- How does porn affect our brains? Check out Josh’s research in “The Porn Epidemic.”