What you should know about the addiction aspect of pornography

March 6, 2023

Addiction can manifest in many forms. Individuals can find themselves addicted to chemical substances, in addition to processes and behaviors. Process addictions, such as a pornography addiction, are equally as damaging to the brain as substance-related addiction, and therefore can lead to significant impact on one’s mental health. 

The Bible’s teaching on sexuality and the inherent dignity of all people should lead us to declare that pornography is a moral scourge, with spiritual consequences for all of those involved. But as we seek to serve those affected by it, research has provided us an opportunity to also understand the physical realities pornography inflicts upon a person. 

Today, more than half of the global population has access to the internet. While the growth of access to the internet can be viewed as something positive in general, it can also be viewed as something negative, or harmful. The ability to access internet pornography is now easy and anonymous and has opened the door for a serious health crisis. Pornography has even been referred to as the “new drug” to fight in the world of addictions. 

Pornography: What, when and where

Sexual material on the internet can take a variety of forms ranging from educational information about sexual practices to real-time, virtual sex shows. It is difficult to define but many scholars agree that at the most basic level, pornography is any sexually arousing material used as a sexual outlet. 1Grubbs, J. B., Kraus, S. W., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Self-reported addiction to pornography in a nationally representative sample: The roles of use habits, religiousness, and moral incongruence. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 8, 88–93. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.134

Pornographic material can include:

With the emergence of virtual reality (VR) came the arrival of VR porn, which creates unique experiences from two-dimensional pornography. 2Elsey, J. W. B., van Andel, K., Kater, R. B., Reints, I. M., & Spiering, M. (2019). The impact of virtual reality versus 2D pornography on sexual arousal and presence. Computers in Human Behavior. 97, 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.031

And pornography can be classified as softcore, hardcore, and illegal/deviant. 3Doring, N. M. (2009). The internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research. Computers in Human Behavior. 25, 1089–1101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.04.003

The pornography industry is estimated to make approximately 16.9 billion dollars each year, and their product is primarily viewed on the internet. 4Pornography facts and statistics: The recovery village. (2021, February 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/

How is pornography being accessed? Data from PornHub Insights—part of the largest online pornography company in the world—revealed that 86% of the site’s traffic comes from mobile devices. Moreover, using smartphones to access free pornography online is the most common means of viewing pornographic material. 5Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Wright, P., Paul, B., Gradus, R., Bauer, J., & Jones, R. (2020). Diverse sexual behaviors and pornogprahy use: Findings from a nationally representative probability survey of Americans aged 18 to 60 years. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 17, 623–633. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.01.013 & Ma CM, Shek DT. Consumption of pornographic materials in early adolescents in Hong Kong. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2013 Jun;26(3 Suppl):S18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2013.03.011. PMID: 23683822.Therefore, pornographic material can be accessed anytime, anywhere, via smartphones.

How porn affects the person and the brain

Easy access to the cyber pornography industry is an emerging health crisis. Individuals who struggle with addictive disorders may find themselves:

Addiction is considered a progressive disorder, which, over time, may begin to cause negative implications on one’s psychological, physical, and interpersonal aspects of life.

Pornography can literally rewire the brain. Viewing pornography begins to change the brain long before one may meet the criteria to be considered a compulsive viewer.

Sex is a naturally rewarding activity, activating the release of several neurotransmitters such as dopamine during sexual arousal and endogenous opioids during sexual consummation. 6Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Penguin Group. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes one feel good, causing individuals to search and seek a pleasurable reward. The viewing of pornography engages the reward circuit in the brain each time viewers click for new content. And research supports the conclusion that continued pornography use can lead to neuroplastic change,7 ibid. & Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction- A supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767 particularly in the arousal template. 8Carnes, P. J. (2001). Cybersex, courtship, and escalating arousal: Factors in addictive sexual desire. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. 8, 25–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720/60127560 & Carnes, P., Delmonico, D. L., & Griffin, E. (2007). In the shadows of the net: Breaking free of compulsive online sexual behavior (2nd ed.). Hazelden.

The sensations experienced when the reward (the material) is obtained (through a click), begin to fire together, causing neurons in the limbic system to rewire together. The limbic system supports long-term memory, behaviors, and emotions while ultimately storing the content viewed on internet pornography for the brain to retrieve again if wanted later.

Those who are “addicted” to pornography may view greater amounts and times of pornography. Recognizing that the use is hindering functioning in other areas of life, yet feeling as though one is unable to refrain and or stop viewing the material is common. When pornography begins to “hijack” the brain, viewers may find that their viewing of content poses physical and social risks.

A 2014 survey reported that 63% of men and 36% of women have engaged in watching pornography at work. 9Hesch, J. (2018, June 30). 2014 survey: Find out how many employees are watching porn on company time. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2014-survey-find-out-how-many-employees-are-watching-porn-on-company-time-271854721.html Pornography viewing is also linked to relationship and sexual problems. In almost 60 studies, the outcome showed that pornography viewing reduced relationships and sexual satisfaction (Your Brain On Porn, 2021).

A study conducted in Sweden in 2013 explored the impact that pornography viewing has on the brain. Using a 3-T Scanner for images of participants’ brains, researchers found that pornography viewing frequently had a significant impact on the gray matter within the brain. It was evident in the scans when patients’ brains were activating pornography material, which supports neurons anticipating a reward. Due to the anticipation, additional striatal neurons 10The striatum contains neuronal activity related to movements, rewards and the conjunction of both movement and reward. Striatal neurons show activity related to the preparation, initiation and execution of movements (Hollerman et al., 2000) are fired in hopes of a greater reward, causing an increase in gray matter.11 Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93

The stimulation from the pornography viewing is known to stimulate other areas of the brain causing an increase in the dysfunction of the circuit which can lead to drug seeking, and negative behavioral changes. Past studies for internet addiction (IA) have also shown changes in the brain including but not limited to decrease pre-frontal cortical thickness and decreases in function. The prefrontal cortex is a multifaceted region of the brain that controls one’s ability to learn new rules, exhibit executive functioning, and decipher amongst conflicts such as good and bad, present consequence and future consequences.

Types of pornography viewers

The three main types of pornography viewers include: recreational, highly distressed non-compulsive viewers, and compulsive viewers.

Recreational: One study indicates that 75.5% of recreational viewers of pornography reported that on average they watched just under 30 minutes of pornography a week.12 Vaillancourt-Morel, M., Blais-Lecours, S., Labadie, C., Bergeron, S., Sabourin, S., & Godbout, N. (2017). Response to editorial comment: “profiles of cyberpornography use and sexual well-being in adults”. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(1), 87. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.11.320 Recreational viewers self-report that the viewing of the cyberpornography does not cause distress, and it feels enjoyable. Users in this category report their lifestyle functioning has not be changed due to viewing the material, and it has not negatively impacted their relationship or sex life. 

Highly distressed non-compulsive: The second classification is called a highly distressed non-compulsive viewer. Nearly 13% of pornography viewers belong in this category of use. These viewers average 17 minutes a week but view the use as disturbing. 13Ibid. It is reported that use of pornography amongst this group was initiated to increase self-esteem and provide a soothing experience. 

Compulsive: The third category is an unhealthy attachment to pornography called compulsive pornography viewers account for approximately 12% of viewers, and the majority of those in this category are men. Those viewers in this category watch nearly 4.5 times the minutes of pornography each week than recreational viewers, and 7 times more than highly distressed non-compulsive viewers. Viewers in this category report giving up previous pleasure resources in their life to consume viewing more pornography, and many reported that they were unable to stop viewing pornography. 14Ibid.

Helping those with porn addictions

It is necessary to support those who are struggling with pornography, especially those classified as compulsive, thus experiencing an addiction to pornography. Currently 35% of downloads from the internet are pornographic. 15Pornography facts and statistics: The recovery village. (2021, February 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/ Pornography can lower self-esteem and create many negative physical, psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual consequences for individuals. It is important that individuals have access to a safe space where they can talk about their struggles and seek help. 

The impact that pornography has had on our culture and its people cannot be overstated. Every family and every congregation will experience its destructive consequences. The Church must be aware of this threat and its impact, proclaim the forgiveness of Christ, and provide resources to assist affected individuals in their journey to repentance, health, and wholeness.  

If you or someone in your life is addicted to pornography, please visit or talk with a trusted pastor and a local mental health provider.

Andreas Bienert

Dr. Andreas Bienert is the Director of the Substance Use Disorders Counseling Emphasis within the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, and a full-time online faculty member. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner and Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in the state of Virginia, and a Nationally … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24