The Brain Science Behind Pornography & Sexual Addiction:

“Why do I keep giving in to thoughts, urges and behaviors 

that are destroying my life and most important relationships?!”

 

Mark B. Kastleman, BCC, BCPC 

 

 

Anyone who has battled with pornography and sexual addiction knows the complete bewilderment and utter frustration with what I call the great mystery. Why do we repeatedly yield ourselves to the siren’s call when it goes against everything we believe and hold dear? Why do we cast aside or ignore those we love most to narrowly and coldly pursue pleasure? Despite having endlessly vowed to never give in again, why do we continue making the same selfish, foolish, destructive choices? Here’s how a close friend described his long experience with this baffling mystery: 

 

"When my addiction urge would hit, it was like another totally separate person would take over. That guy didn’t care about anyone or anything except his sexual goal. He was completely narrowed, calculating and unfeeling. When the acting out was done, it was like my real self would wake up and come back into focus. That’s when the hell would always start. This condemning voice would shout in my head—”What have you done?” “What were you thinking?” “How could you have given in again?” “You’re just a worthless pervert!” “You’ll never be free of this!” 

 

"No matter how much I analyzed it, pondered on it and broke it down, I could never understand how I could become something so uncaring and cold. I would see it coming and try to resist and be strong, but it was relentless and ruthless and I usually ended up giving in to 'that other guy.' The confusion, frustration and self-hatred were overwhelming and brought me close to suicide several times." 

I can so deeply relate to this good man’s honest description! For decades, I too was buried in the frustrating confusion and utter mystery of my addiction. But through a series of miracles and divine interventions, God led to me to the man who would shine a guiding light in the darkness and help me solve the great mystery and overcome porn addiction

 

Dr. Page Bailey 

It was fall, my favorite time of the year. I was on one of many calls with my teacher and mentor, neuropsychologist Dr. Page Bailey. The study topic that day was prompted by a simple query: “Page, why is it that so many good men can forget everyone and everything they care about under the influence of pornography and sexual temptation? Why is it so powerful?” 

 

That was the day Dr. Bailey introduced me to the concept of The Porn Funnel, which forever changed my understanding of my own addiction challenges, and in the years ahead, would become a foundational principle in all of my counseling, teaching and training work. 

 

The Sexual Funnel 

Imagine in your mind an hourglass, wide at the top and slowly narrowing down to a very small passageway in the center and then expanding to a wide opening at the bottom. This illustration can help you understand how the brain behaves during a sexual experience, including pornography viewing coupled with masturbation. As Dr. Bailey so often reminded me: 

 

"Mark, sexual climax is the most narrowly and powerfully focused biological event in which the brain can engage. This crescendo experience can only take place on a very narrow runway. In order to reach this place, the brain must narrowly focus its attention and block out all distractions. This is achieved in the Funnel." 

 

When we feel sexually aroused and decide to pursue that urge, the brain immediately starts to narrow its focus as it releases a wave of internal chemicals, including: dopamine, testosterone, endorphins, norepinephrine, serotonin and oxytocin. These neurochemicals cause the brain to block out all distractions and focus full attention on the sexual process. They can also provide a host of positive benefits or extremely negative consequences, depending on how we choose to use the Funnel.   

 

The farther down the Sexual Funnel we travel, the more narrowly focused the brain becomes in its thinking and attention. The brain’s primary goal is to eventually arrive at the very narrowest part of the Funnel, sexual climax, where a final tidal wave of internal chemicals is released. After this crescendo experience, the neurochemicals dissipate and the brain returns to its wide perspective.

One Funnel, Two Very

Different Outcomes 

God designed the Sexual Funnel experience to be highly intense and very powerful. Why? Because He needed his children to pro-create and form families. He also intended to give married couples a divine gift that would benefit and bless them in the myriad trials and opportunities of married life. To understand why the Funnel is so powerful, let’s look at it from two very different perspectives—healthy marital intimacy and illicit sexual behaviors. While the same kinds of chemicals are released in both scenarios, the experience and especially the outcome are radically different. Viewing pornography will be used as just one example among a host of illicit sexual behaviors to which the Funnel principles can be applied. 

The Sexual Funnel in Healthy Marital Intimacy:

In a healthy marriage relationship, the Sexual Funnel experience causes husband and wife to focus narrowly on each other, block out the world and any negatives in the relationship. The Funnel creates a healthy dependency between husband and wife. Each spouse can remember the smallest details of their beloved’s features, actions and cherished moments together. The special and sacred shared intimacy is locked in the memory and can be a strength and buoy during life’s trials. 

 

The Funnel experience forges a powerful bond between husband and wife, producing a feeling of oneness, closeness and attachment. This bond is as strong as the bond a mother and father have with their newborn child. The Funnel creates deep feelings of calmness, satisfaction and release from stress. 

When husband and wife emerge from the narrow part of the Funnel, their wide perspective returns. The intimate experience leaves them feeling deeper love and appreciation, a stronger bonding and attachment, more fulfilled, energized, positive and better equipped to work individually and together to succeed in their overall lives and family responsibilities. 

The Porn Funnel: 

With pornography use, the healthy Sexual Funnel becomes an addictive and destructive Porn Funnel. The chemicals released in the Porn Funnel cause the viewer to focus intensely and exclusively on the sexual images. His brain shuts out all other truth and reality, including thoughts of God, family, beliefs, consequences or future goals. 

Because the Porn Funnel creates temporary feelings of escape, self-soothing and release from the stress and pressures of life, it creates a powerful chemical dependency linked to the images. This is why brain imaging studies have shown that pornography viewing can create a "drug addiction" to the brain's own internal chemicals. The Porn Funnel causes the brain to record and remember every sexual image with vivid clarity, years or even decades later, resulting in a constant, frustrating battle to eradicate them. 

Many jump into the Porn Funnel when they’re feeling lonely, disconnected, emotionally needy and craving real human intimacy. Because the pornography experience is all fantasy, with no real human connection or sharing, the viewer is left feeling even more empty, lonely and wanting than before.

The Porn Funnel can quickly create a huge barrier to healthy marital intimacy. In fact, over time, pornography viewing can rewire the brain to the place where the Porn Funnel becomes preferred over the Sexual Funnel in a healthy marriage relationship. This leads many to agonize over the pressing questions, "Can our marriage survive porn?"

 

The Hopeless Dialogue 

When the porn viewer emerges from the narrowest part of the Funnel back to a wide perspective, his rational thinking returns and the hopeless dialogue begins: “What have I done? What was I thinking?” 

The answer is, he wasn’t—and in fact, couldn’t—think. When he descends into the Porn Funnel outside the safety of its divine purpose, he gives up his ability to “think.” The overpowering flood of chemicals overrides his cognitive thought and reasoning abilities. “What about my wife, my children, my values, my faith?” he pleads. 

He can’t believe how easily he has fallen yet again into the trap. He is hopeless in the face of his nemesis, his Goliath. How it all happened is a mystery to him. What he doesn’t understand is that when he allows himself to enter the Funnel outside of marriage and pits his beliefs and commitments against one of the most powerfully focused and narrowed events the brain can experience—climax—his willpower fails every time! 

 

Removing the “Mystery”

One of the remarkable outcomes of the Reclaim program is that the “mystery” of why you turn to pornography addiction and sexual addiction is completely removed! We help you become an “expert” on the workings of your own mind. You learn EXACTLY why you turn to pornography and sexual addiction outlets. You learn to immediately recognize the various emotional, physical, relational and environmental “triggers” that pull you into the Funnel. 

 

Most importantly, you learn to recognize these triggers early—way in advance of acting out—and precisely HOW to use specific tools to shift your thoughts, emotions and urges BEFORE you end up in the Funnel. Remember, it’s about SKILL not WILL! This is a grand key to placing yourself on the path to overcoming porn and sexual addiction. Contact us when you're ready to start down your amazing path to freedom!