Home Campus COVID-19, the brain, and porn

COVID-19, the brain, and porn

The brain is malleable, according to Fight the New Drug, an organization dedicated to pornography awareness and addiction recovery. The brain absorbs and shapes based on how it is used. The brain molds according to what we consume each day. The extra downtime living in quarantine, working from home or doing school online provides society with more opportunities to get caught in the whirlwind of pornography.

Holden Higginbotham, a BYU-Idaho biology professor, explained how the brain reacts when one views pornography.

“Our visual system has connections to the emotional and autonomic portions of our brain, which are the parts of the brain involved in motivation and sexual behavior,” Higginbotham said. “Those images can activate those areas.”

Higginbotham explained that this area of the brain is more primitive and helps classify humans as animals. The frontal cortex is located above this part of the brain and is how the brain reasons and keeps the emotional and autonomic portion of the brain in check. The relationship between the two parts of the brain equals our self-control and willpower.

“The frontal cortex is the braking system,” Higginbotham said. “Over time, its connection to the more primitive autonomic and emotional areas can be strengthened or reduced, producing more or less willpower, respectively.”

Pornography triggers dopamine to release, which overrides the frontal cortex and causes one to feel rewarded for viewing pornography, while also breaking down the willpower and connection between reason and emotional desire. It becomes harder to say no.

“Dopamine is released in anticipation of viewing porn, and it motivates one to seek out sex or porn,” Higginbotham said.

Many students, children and parents consume media more frequently due to the new online norm of working or schooling from home. Screen time increases social interaction decreases and the risk of pornography exposure sky-rockets.

An anonymous student struggling to recover from viewing pornography said, “With any other addiction, you have this obsession with whatever it might be. It’s pornography for me or alcohol or smoking for someone else, and you can’t stop thinking about it until you actually give in a little bit to the compulsion to do whatever you’re thinking about.”

Although pornography is an addiction, individuals can seek methods of recovery to get out of the chains. The brain is a muscle that strengthens or weakens according to use. Because pornography rewards without work and trips out the frontal cortex, adjustments to thoughts and one’s self-control are needed to change.

“You would need to strengthen the connection with the frontal cortex, changing habits and thoughts,” Higginbotham said.

Help is available through several programs and resources such as Fight the New Drug, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Counseling Center at BYU-I. These programs are designed to help retrain the brain to think differently.

Awareness allows one to understand what is going on within the brain. Once understood, a person can focus on what will improve the relationship between the emotional and autonomic part of the brain and the frontal cortex, which together produce willpower.

“I better understand what triggers pornographic feelings for me or lustful feelings for me, and I avoid those triggers,” an anonymous student said of his recovery process. “I also spend more time in social situations, so that way I have less time to be alone. I am also busier with school and work and internships and second jobs to just have less time on my hands.”

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