As a pastor I have seen first-hand what pornography can do to a marriage relationship and the devastation it leaves in its wake. I normally made my pastoral visits to each household in the church and during the course of these visits I would ask people, “Are there any issues you want to discuss, any challenges you’re facing?” People usually told me, “No,” and this was the answer I received in one particular case. Unbeknownst to me was that this person was hiding a twenty-year pornography addiction and his wife knew about it. He was trying to break his sinful pattern of behavior with his wife holding him accountable, but they were both failing. By the time this couple finally admitted to the problem it was too late.
The Scriptures are clear, to look upon a woman with lust in your heart is sinful—it’s a form of adultery (Matt. 5:28). But what many people do not know is the neurological impact pornography has upon the human mind. In other words, all sins have consequences and using pornography has many consequences, one of which is a negative impact on the human brain.
When we use our brains every activity we perform can have a negative or positive impact. Think of your hands—if you continually wear gloves, use moisturizer, and regularly get manicures, this will have an impact on your hands. They will look and feel a certain way—they will be soft to the touch, for example. If, however, you regularly use a shovel, and don’t wear gloves, then over time you will develop thick calluses on your hands. Our minds are the same way—we can either develop our minds in a positive or negative way depending upon the inputs we give it.
In his insightful and informative book, Wired For Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, Christian neurologist William Struthers explains the ways that pornography shapes the mind. He writes: “Many men can spend hours looking at pornography, continually increasing their sexual arousal and tricking themselves into preparing for a sexual encounter with another person that doesn’t (usually) happen. As they do, they are neurologically training themselves to respond to the type of images they view” (p. 44). This type of activity literally re-shapes the brain—men re-wire their brains so they find satisfaction in images rather than a real woman. This ends up impacting various aspects of one’s life—such as damaging relationships with people, most notably women, and especially one’s spouse. Men find satisfaction in images, which requires no one else but themselves and these images. This ends up isolating pornography users in emotional, relational, and sexual ways—all things that are destructive. The more a person uses pornography, the more it shapes the mind. Struthers explains: “This neural system trough, along with neurotransmitters and hormones, are the underlying physical realities of a man’s sexual experience. Each time that an unhealthy sexual pattern is repeated, a neurological, emotional and spiritual erosion carves out a channel that will eventually develop into a canyon from which there is no escape” (p. 106). In brief, when we short-circuit the God-designed nature of human sexuality, there are consequences. If we act contrary to our design, we do damage to ourselves and others.
Given the rampant nature of pornography and the ease by which someone can access it, Christians need to be aware of its sinfulness but also its physiological impact on the mind. Men, you need to be aware of these things and strive for purity and sanctity in your sexual conduct. Parents, you need to understand these things so that when and if you catch your children viewing pornography, you don’t simply rebuke them (as important as that is) but that you show them why it’s sinful and how it harms the mind. The sad but true fact is that pornography is a silent killer of sanctity within many churches. There are probably men within your congregations that regularly look at pornography. Be aware of its dangers and sinfulness and be prepared to counsel people to show them a way out.