5 Brain Chemicals in Healthy Sexual Act and How it is Different from Pornography Addiction
In his book The Drug of the New Millennium, the Brain Science Behind Internet Pornography Use, Mark B. Kastleman (founder of Candeo Can program) provides a very detailed description of the process that takes place inside a pornography viewer’s brain.
In order to understand these processes, the author first examines how the brain is designed to work in a healthy sexual relationship. Then he compares it to brain activity during the pornography viewing session.
He describes both processes as “going down the funnel”. The top of the funnel represents our normal state of mind, where we are completely present and aware of what is going on around us. As we begin to engage in a sexual activity, our attention span begins to narrow down, until the sexual climax is reached. After that, we begin to slowly return to our normal, wider view of the world.
The author also provides a detailed description of internal chemicals that are being released during this process. The following excerpts from The Drug of the New Millennium explain this process.
The Narrowing Process of the Healthy Marriage
In a healthy marital relationship, sexual intimacy creates powerful physical, emotional, and chemical changes:
A Narrowing Process: At the top of the funnel, the married couple enjoys a wide perspective of the world and the people around them. Then, as they become physically intimate, their brains begin to narrow in focus. Climax is the most narrowly and powerfully focused singular event that the brain can engage in. To make this happen, the brain must narrowly focus its attention and block out all distractions (work, the children, paying bills, etc.)
The Release of Natural Chemicals: To aid this narrowing process, the brain begins releasing a flood of endogenous (meaning produced from within) chemicals. These natural chemicals include the following:
Dopamine: Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce extremely focused attention. This chemical causes each spouse to focus intensely on the other at the exclusion of everything else around them. A release of dopamine is associated with craving and dependency in addiction, which may be why it can help produce a healthy attraction and dependency between the spouses.
Norepinephrine: This chemical generates exhilaration and increased energy by giving the body a shot of natural adrenaline. Norepinephrine has also been linked to raising memory capacity. Whatever stimulus is being experienced in the presence of this chemical is “seared” in the brain. This helps explain how a couple in love can remember the smallest details of their beloved’s features.
Testosterone: Testosterone is known as the hormone of sexual desire in both men and women. For men, however, it is the key hormone of desire, triggering feelings of positive energy and well-being.
Oxytocin: The flood of oxytocin at climax acts as a natural tranquilizer, lowering blood pressure, blunting sensitivity to pain and stress, and inducing sleep.
Serotonin: This natural chemical is released right after climax, bringing on a deep feeling of calmness, satisfaction and release from stress. Anti-depressant drugs like Prozac are designed to increase levels of serotonin.
The Experience is More Than Just Physical: As husband and wife move down the funnel together, there is more to the experience than just chemicals released in the physical body… the mind, heart and spirit are all joined together…
A Climax of Many Things: The final crescendo is a culmination of all the things husband and wife have shared – doing the dishes, paying the bills, raising the children, all that make up a marriage.
A pornography viewer goes through a similar process as couples in a marriage but the involved chemicals produce a completely different result.
The Narrowing Process of Internet Porn
When an individual enters the funnel through pornography viewing, the physical and chemical processes are virtually identical to those in marital sexual intimacy, but with some radical differences…
A Narrowing Process: At the top of the funnel, before beginning to view pornography, the individual enjoys a wide perspective of the world. Pornography addicts describe the top of the funnel as reality: their public self. Just as in the marriage funnel, the porn viewer begins blocking out distractions – but he is blocking out much more. He is alone. The object of his narrowing is pornographic images. Details of daily life, such as work and paying bills, slowly fall into disarray as the person starts blocking out all thoughts of God, his marriage, family, morals, commitments, and consequences…
The Release of Natural Chemicals: The porn viewer’s brain begins releasing endogenous chemicals. The viewer feels highly aroused – all of the stress, pressures, anxieties and pain in life begin fading away as his system is flooded with endogenous drugs. The viewer is able to self-medicate and escape the reality of life.
Dopamine: Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce extremely focused attention. This causes the viewer to focus intensely on the pornographic images at the exclusion of everything else around him.
Norepinephrine: This chemical induces feelings of exhilaration and increased energy by giving the body a shot of natural adrenaline. Norepinephrine also increases memory capacity. This explains why porn addicts can recall viewed images with vivid clarity years later.
Testosterone: Pornography triggers the release of testosterone which in turn increases the desire for more pornography.
Oxytocin: Oxytocyn acts as a natural tranquilizer. The individual seeks an Oxytocin rush to cope with the stress and pressure of life.
Serotonin: The release of this natural chemical evokes a deep feeling of calmness. Individuals turn to porn to self-medicate and escape the stress.
The Experience is More Than Just Sexual: There is a lot more going on in the Pornography Funnel than sexual arousal. In fact, if you remove sexual arousal from the process, any similarities to sexual intimacy in a healthy marriage would cease. While sliding down the Pornography Funnel, a tidal wave of conflicting and confusing images and messages wash over the viewer. Visual images are stored as emotional memories in the brain before the logic center realizes what has happened. When the logic brain catches up, it brings on a “fight or flight” type response. The adrenaline gland sends out cortisol, the “stress hormone,” which in turn activates myriad body-system processes to counteract stress. In essence, the entire pornography process is intensified and supercharged, far beyond what sexual arousal alone would accomplish. The human system is not designed to deal with this overwhelming level of conflicting stimulations.This is why many neuropsychologists refer to pornography as “visual crack cocaine”.
An Empty and Hollow Climax: When one uses pornography to reach climax, the brain desensitizes to the images, habituates to them, and eventually becomes bored. An increase in the variety of images and/or time spent on the Internet is required to maintain stimulation levels. In a healthy marriage relationship, sexual intimacy is only a part of everything else going on in the couple’s life. So when the couple “brings all of that into the bedroom,” it is highly unlikely that the brain will habituate to the sexual process.
When Reality Returns – the Hopeless Dialogue: When the porn viewer emerges from the narrowest part of the funnel back to a wide perspective, the heartless “drug-high” of pornography and climax quickly dissipate. Suddenly his rational thinking returns and the hopeless dialogue begins: “What have I done? What was I thinking?” He wasn’t thinking; that was the problem! Once he descends into the Pornography Funnel, he gives up his ability to “think”. The overpowering flood of chemicals overrides his cognitive thought and reasoning abilities. The frontal lobes – the logic center of the brain – are virtually shut down and the limbic system, which controls the pleasure/emotional center of the brain, takes over. (Kastleman, p39-57)