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.

clip_image001He 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)

I hope you now have a better understanding of why pornography can be so addictive.

In the next chapter, we are going to take a closer look at the addictive cycle.

I am really glad you have found this free course!

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P.S. Recommended Resources:

  • Sex Addicts Anonymous
    I cannot imagine my recovery without this program.
  • Mindful Habit Course by Coach Craig
    Great advice from a great person.
  • Free Podcast and Mini Course from Candeo Can
    I owe my first 90 days of continuous sobriety to this program and highly recommend it.
  • Internet Accountability Software
    Using this software allowed me to get truly honest with my internet usage for the first time in my life. For some reason knowing that my every step was being observed and reported on, made it really easy to use internet only in a healthy way.
  • Treating Pornography Addiction by Kevin B. Skinner Ph.D.
    I have read over 15 books on Pornography and Sexual addiction and this truly is one of the best books on the subject. The reason is I recommend this particular book is because it is full of excellent actionable steps. Other books do a good job describing the problem, but don’t really offer a realistic solution.
  • Your Sexually Addicted Spouse – How Partners Can Cope and Heal by Barbara Steffens Ph.D.
    I know that about half of visitors to our site are spouses of people who might be suffering with pornography and sex addiction. To the best of my knowledge this book is one of the most helpful books for the partners.
  • Free Consultation from Coach Craig
    Coach Craig has been a good friend and supporter of this site since January 2013. He has worked with people from all over the world, including famous musicians and other high profile individuals. Yet, he is only a phone call away and would be glad to give you a free consultation. Call him anytime, with any question you might have, and I am know he will be extremely happy to help in any way he can.

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Comments

  1. Reader Alex says

    Just want to say good job and thanks. Stay encouraged. Writing this article was really awesome. It’s appreciated.

  2. Gary says

    I have a very active and fulfilling sex life with my wife, we are fantastic together in that area, but I still feel the need to watch porn every now and then. She satisfies like no other, there is nothing lacking, any answers PLEASE!!!!

  3. Anonymous says

    This is hilarious. Seriously. I laughed out loud at this whole use of science to back up your religious doctrine. Wow. Just wow.

  4. Emily says

    I am a 19 yo female. I began watching pornography about 5 months ago. It was occasional, but recently it is a horrible craving. I’m trying to stop. I have a question, though. Will this brief period pornography viewing hurt my future marriage? I know it won’t help it, but can I get to the point where I can have a healthy sexual relationship with my future husband?

    • Alex says

      Don’t let it get to you. Most people go through that stage. I am sure it will have no effect on your future relationship. They only way it might hurt you is if you keep obsessing over it.

    • Elle says

      Emily,

      My boyfriend began by watching only a little porn and it turned into a 9-year addiction that he’s currently in the process of overcoming. I don’t know where you’re at with porn, but from what I’ve gone through with my boyfriend, and from all the research I’ve done (for a paper in college last semester), I would highly advise against it. Porn can have serious, lasting effects, and what might seem harmless now could become devastating later.
      Please let me know if you’d like to talk more about it.

      Elle

  5. objective47 says

    Interesting read until the mention of “God,” followed by a series of ridiculous logical fallacies that is ultimately a christian diatribe against masturbation. I was looking for something a bit more scientific and well, more thought out. Sounds like a conspiracy theory blog. “That’s why they are able to remember in vivid detail years later.” What kind of crap is that lol. Im able to remember my aluminum silver umbrella in full detail years ago. Was I pumped full of adrenaline when I touched the handle? Lol

      • Anonymous says

        Thanks Alex , keep up the good work. We are behind you on this, I mean the divinely enlightendd believers. Am a Christian.

      • Nelik says

        In order to understand one cannot have “their own version” of events. You can’t understand Spanish when you only know English. So, you also can’t understand addiction when you only know God.

        Faith is not a substitute for knowledge, and misplaced faith is the devil’s playground.

  6. shocked says

    Narrow view. You really should study this more before touting your cure all. Watching anything that interests and excites you can become habit forming. Watching any video whether live TV, movies or porn is an escape from reality. Becoming so involved in that escape that it starts warping your sense of reality is a problem. If you are watching porn or anything else as a substitute for the real experience you are missing out and should find out what you need to change to get back into the real experience.
    The natural chemicals that the body produces for the good of the body during arousal and orgasm do not turn into drugs due to the lack of a married partner. They are the same nutrients and hormones and regulation chemicals whether you are having sex with a partner or masturbating. What changes the chemical composition is whether the experience is pleasant and loving and you are in a consensual act of mutual pleasure or whether you are engaged in a defiant taking of pleasure from another by forcing your will and desires or are watching such an act in pictures or video. Think about it, are you trying to provide as much pleasure or more than you receive or are you demanding the pleasure you deserve. Its not the chemicals its the mental state that makes the differences.
    Watching porn all of a sudden is attached to masturbation. Narrow again. Couples watch porn. Is there a down side to porn? Yes it is a warped view of the intimate act. It is typically depicted as more violent, pure animal lust and a greedy act of self pleasure than a healthy normal relationship. It does the opposite of teaching how both partners can get the greatest euphoric high out of it. You totally miss this point in your rush to morally judge any non marriage couples pursuit of the many physical benefits of orgasm. There are many issues with pornography causing all sorts of problems with relationships and an impact on society, but you missed them all.
    Finally, you really shouldn’t just keep posting comments to article as if you are different people. Its so obvious due to the singular view point you keep repeating with the same poor grammar and language use that its just one person 90% of the time. That just kills all credibility you might have had. If you are going to lie about who you are, what else are you lying about?
    I’m glad you are not watching porn since it bothered you so. But you really need to seek a better understanding of what a good relationship with a woman is. Forget religion, forget science. Think respect, equal status, putting your partners good above your own, and above all remember tolerance. No one will be exactly like you and you will need to tolerate differences in thought, needs, wants, desires that are not as your are. Control, force and demands to change to suite you is not love.

    • Leo says

      hey
      you are very very naive, you are probably defending someones else porno viewing or been.brainwashed by some ass that it is good.

    • says

      It’s not just having a good relationship with your spouse or partner and sharing that intimacy, it is the science and depending on you or your spouses beliefs , spirituality and Or God are relative. As with anything our reality is dependant on everything extrinsic and intrinsic. Everything is part of the whole.

  7. jeecob says

    today i deleted 2.2 Gb of porn clips. i want to change my life .i was a brilliant one but this “HEROIN ADDICTION” has ruined my future.due to my memory loss.i will neither see any porn nor i will do masturbate. i am not religious person. i felt watching a porn that there is relation between “brain” and “porn”.feeling of tiredness ,weekness,weekness of eye sight may be due to this one.loss of memory. i was unable to recall what i have studied even 10 mints before. but there was a time when i was only 15 i can remember all the books and was able to revise them without wacthing a topic. new year is coming 2014.and thanks to this thread creator who gave me knowlege and awareness.after reading many threads and forums and after lot of searech on internet finally i concluded that it is harmfull it is devastating my life

  8. Me says

    There is no longer any doubt among doctors and therapists that the supposed negative effects of masturbation are false. It is a perfectly normal and healthy form of sexual expression. Ninety-five percent of men begin to masturbate at puberty, and many continue to do so throughout life without negative consequences.

    Masturbation only becomes a problem if it becomes a substitute for other forms of sexual activity.

    It is important however to masturbate in a way that will help you learn how to control ejaculation so that when you do have a partner premature ejaculation will not be an issue.

    No man is born with the ability to control. Controlling ejaculation is something you have to learn just as you had to learn to control your bladder as a child. We get taught to control our bladders but no one teaches us how to control ejaculation.

    This porn/masturbation “addiction” stuff is largely just a bunch of bible thumping born again christian catholic guilt trip bullshit in my opinion.

    The only way I could see it being a real problem is if you are spending so much time watching porn, masturbating, or even having sex that it radically interferes with your life, such as ruining your marriage and relationships or getting you fired from your job, etc.

    The biggest problem is that many of you feel the need to keep it as secret and lie to your partner or spouse about your porn and masturbation.

    If possible you and your partner or spouse should enjoy watching porn & and masturbating together or masturbating each other if you are too busy or tired to have intercourse. This can be just as loving and intimate.

    Most of the time when people view porn or masturbate it is because they are aroused, but their partner is not available, or is too tired or just not in the mood.

    Often men just need to experience the easy pleasurable stress release that masturbation provides without having too worry about pleasing their partner, or because they are too tired or stressed out from work to engage in intercourse with their partner.

    This is NOT WRONG!

    In fact I’m sure that most of you would agree that watching porn & masturbation are preferable to having an affair and cheating on your spouse or partner with someone else.

    There is nothing morally wrong with enjoying the pleasurable feelings of your own body.

    If God didn’t want us to masturbate, He would have made our arms too short for our hands to reach our genitals.

    THINK ABOUT IT!

    • Me says

      Also a 2003 Australian study found that men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer. Regularly flushing your system, so to speak, keeps your semen healthy and prevents the build up of cancer-causing chemicals.

      Another study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that frequent ejaculations, 21 or more a month, were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men, as well, compared with less frequent ejaculations of four to seven monthly.

      • Stephen says

        You both missed the point a bit. This website isnt saying that masturbation is evil or wrong. This website is here for the people that have taken their porn habit to the level of an unhealthy addiction.

        I am here, not because I do not want to masturbate, but after about a decade of force feeding myself pornographic 2D images, I cant stop. The fact that I have no control has been killing me for a while. That ends here.

        Masturbation isnt the issue. Using porn as a crutch is.

        • Hope says

          me a boy at age of 25 in a country where the sex in illegal and also true or false religious views cause me to become addicted to porn and the masturbation, you know when a chemical is released body begin to adjust itself with this chemical, as an example a man who drinks, at first one is enough then it become more and more, so masturbation one day become over-masturbation and all doctors are agreed that, it is so harmful for us, you need to produce more chemicals then you need some better scenes so you begin to watch porno. and after 5 years like me, you understand that you have spent whole your best years of your life watching porno and masturbating. and you want to quit but you can’t because you are addicted more than addiction to heroine and cocaine. so stop this and find the best way to satisfy your sole and body, Marriage!!!!!

    • Mok says

      I am sure watching porn and masturbating hast an negative effect an your ability to have intimate loving relationship. While watching porn you try to have an intimate loving act with an image.
      Think about that! This is NOT normal.
      Masturbation hast many negative consquences on your capaility to love but you may not notice them if you have not a deep relationship and it
      may not be that fatal but it is just unecessary (Your hypothesis about ejaculation is just not true! ) and you can easily get addicted then at least it is fatal.

      I hope you understand it bevor it is to late. Good luck.

    • somebody says

      The Primary Reason God Gave Us Longer arms Is Not Because He Intended Us To Masterbate, but So We Could Tend To Personal Hygiene..
      Think About It… :)

    • says

      I have thought about it and disagree with you wholeheartedly. Pornography does ruin lives and relationships and families. Pornography has a way of destroying the true presence of Beauty and turning it into a side show or an atrocity… It’s no longer an act of nature but a sickened lust…of course you can mitigate it’s significance by shrugging your shoulders and telling yourself it’s not a bad habit … Without control or willpower which many individuals lack in present time there is addiction and as a practical precept of psychology any addiction one has is not good behavior because first you are missing out on the joys of life and the freedom that allows us to enjoy it. Addicts act upon their addiction at any given time and therefore other individuals become a nuisance and are in the way….
      The voice of experience trumps the novice who tends to express an attempt to validate addiction… Been there done that!

  9. Lani says

    I just want to say thank you for being inspired to help all of us. Your info has helped me to be able to look myself in the mirror and not hate what I see. My hatred of my addiction has control my whole life for the past 15 years. It has made me have a conscious the size of the universe that has consequently made me feel a constant state of guilt. This has driven me to do many misguided things such as spend thousands of dollars on friends family and strangers because “I am a terrible human being”. Also, it has driven me to become a united states marine in a desperate attempt to finally be ok with myself. Now I feel like there is hope to be free and that I can live my life and it not be dictated by guilt. You have changed my life. :-)

  10. Anonymous says

    Just reading this I want to die….I don’t want to take this pain. My boyfriend/best friend has a porn/mas. problem and is seeking help through this and covenant eyes but is still working through it. Knowing how it works makes the emotional pain almost unbareable. I’m glad I know the facts though…. I have work today and I don’t even know how I can go…I can’t even go to sleep I’m so upset. Upset at the fact that porn/addictions exist…Upset at the porn industry and how it is so praised and sometimes excepted by main stream culture.
    I am looking for answers from God on how to get through this with my boyfriend and desperately want to get through this….Where do you even look in the Bible for encouragement and counsel in the bible?

  11. John says

    Feels like i hit rock bottom…..I been really struggling with porn addiction for the past 6 months or so. Well that is when it really got serious givin the fact I use to watch porn a lot but never felt bad about it. Was when I decided to pay for a site and that’s what made me realize I need to stop. The constant thought about porn is always floating in my head and its making me real worried. I always feel fatigued and its hard to breath sometimes. These last few days I been going to war with myself and had thoughts on giving up on life. Don’t know what to do :( haven’t watched porn in 3 weeks but the thought is always there. I was wondering if erotic stories counted as porn? Since you are using your brain to make imagines of looking at words and not the actual porn itself.

    • Jay says

      Hey John,

      Maybe Alex should be the one giving advice, but all of us over here have been struggling with the issue for some time, & the very fact of it being an addiction means that you’ve developed certain compulsions that can nevertheless be changed.
      Try the drills suggested by Alex, I found the ERP drill on this page to help: http://www.feedtherightwolf.org/2010/05/how-to-stop-porn-addiction-stop-watching-porn/

      Good job on not watching porn. Learning how to react when those thoughts spring up in your mind is exactly what we’re striving for.

  12. Jay says

    Thank God for the wisdom that He has placed in you,

    And for making you able to touch so many lives. Hard battle to get past, but no weapons formed against us shall prosper.

    Thank you Alex

  13. deadsoul says

    Now that we know what chemical activity is happening on our brains when we watching porn. I think what we (porn & masturbation addicts) need is a drug. A drug that can snap you out of that moment of sexual desire . Inhale the drug each time you feel like watching porn/masturbating. I believe that one of the solutions we should look into. Deadsoul200@gmail.com

  14. DepressionAddiction says

    This article is very useful in its description of brain chemicals. However, it doesn’t address people who plan to live the remainder of their lives single. These people might simply have issues that make them unattractive to the opposite sex; or people who lose spouses to death or other tragedies early; or people like me, who have been through one marriage, have kids, and don’t want a whole new marriage.

    This article it admits that porn allows the viewer to “self-medicate and escape the reality of life.” That’s a great benefit, considering how harsh life can be. So what are people who aren’t in relationships supposed to do? Just deal with “the reality of life” with no “medication”?

    To begin, let me say that I do have a porn addiction problem, and have struggled with excessive porn and masturbation use for years. So I recognize the problem and am searching for ways to deal with it.

    I am also going through a divorce that absolutely must happen. It is not a result of my sex addiction; if anything, the bad relationship made dealing with the addiction harder, because life was so miserable. I’m more motivated to deal with the problem now that I’m single again.

    I cannot have a relationship with the mother of my children/my ex-wife. She is abusive and impossible for me to live with. I have a good relationship with my young children. I grew up in a home where the parents “stayed together for the kids.” I was miserable. I feared growing up and being as miserable as my parents obviously were. I will not put my children or myself through that.

    I also don’t want to get married again. I don’t want to take responsibility for someone else’s kids, and I don’t want to ask someone to take responsibility for my kids when I won’t have kids with them. On a more immediate level, I’m not interested in going through the complex process of building another relationship with a woman, to the point of getting married. Most of my “family” and “love” energies are focused on raising my kids.

    Yet I’m a healthy male with a fierce sex drive. My body churns out sperm and semen on a daily basis, and waits, patiently, for me to do something about it. If I go for a week without masturbating, I get very edgy, and start waking up from intense sexual dreams.

    Basically, I’m a sexual being that sees no further purpose in having sex for procreation. Yet, just as if I was married, the sexual experience provides much-needed relief from the mental stresses and trials of life.

    What does someone like me do? From what I can tell, my basic options from this site’s perspective (unstated, but implied) are chemical castration, surgical castration, a vow of celibacy, or force myself to enter into a committed permanent relationship with a woman just so I can get laid (since there’s no other reason for me to get married).

    Is that it? Is that what the single porn addict has to look forward to from this site’s perspective?

    • Alex says

      Well, I am guessing you are asking my opinion since I am the one who wrote this article…

      What I suggest to everybody is to find what works for you. What might work for some, might not work for others.

      For single people, I encourage to experiment with something called “healthy masturbation” masturbation within defined limits of what feels right and what not feels wrong. For example no more than 3 times a week, no more than 1 time a day, and with no exposure to visual stimulation. T
      his is just a sample though, and I have no experience with it at all. So I am just basing my sample on what I’ve heard from other people. But I do think that this could work for single people.

      I hope this helps.

      Regards,
      Alex

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