Today, I want to share an insightful video by Dr. Trish Leigh that I’ve transcribed down below. In it, Dr. Leigh shares two steps to implement in order to break the cycle of pornography use–habit replacement and changing the reward. Why is porn even a problem? The more porn we watch, Dr. Leigh argues, the more we lose control of our brain. The more stimulation we need to achieve sexual satisfaction, which negatively influences our relationships with real life partners.
Our brain, in a word, becomes hijacked. In order to “boot the hijacker,” Dr. Leigh advocates for replacing the habit of watching porn with some other wholesome activity. Instead of battling our urges, we may choose to work out or wood-work or otherwise occupy our minds with something else. This is called habit replacement.
In the second place, Dr. Leigh suggests that we change the reward into a negative consequence. Porn supplies instant gratification, an we should implement some negative consequence after we watch porn to rewire the way our brain looks at the habit. Dr. Leigh says, for example, that we may consider revoking some privilege, like going out to our favorite spot, or donating to a political candidate we don’t like. Something negative (without going overboard), that can get us back on the right track. This is called changing the reward.
I think this is a fascinating take. As far as habit replacement, I completely agree with its practical benefit. I’ve published articles on sexual transmutation and libido management, and will probably talk about it more in the future. The idea of our brain being “hijacked” also reminds me of sin as it is described in the Bible—a force that seeks to tule and dominate us.
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.Genesis 4:7
In the case of changing the reward, I am certainly familiar with the concept and you should consider whether it can be an effective strategy for you. In the Hebrew Bible, sacrifices were offered for sins, and I know that sitting in silence after moral compromise is helpful for me in my bid to get back on track.
One thing you never want to do is further isolate yourself. The less connected we feel with others, the more we often struggle with various temptations.
Overall, a very effective, practical take and I encourage you to check out both the video and transcript. For lots more content like this, check out her YouTube, Brain Rewire.
For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.
How to heal your brain from pornography use? I’m Dr. Trish Leigh, let me tell you how.
OK, so, stay with me in this video because I am going to give you the two steps that you need to implement so that you can break the cycle of pornography use, so that you can free yourself from the chains that you have found yourself in. You may or may not know yet that they are chains, but they are chains indeed, and let me tell you why, but stay with me so you can get the tips on how to break the chains at the end of this video.
Now this is what is proven to happen in neuroscience when you form a pornography-watching habit. What is shown to happen in your brain is that your brain becomes hijacked. Think about a car being hijacked. If you’re driving your car, and, all of a sudden, somebody hijacks you, are you in control of your car anymore? You are not, the hijacker is. Now in this case, pornography is the hijacker, and you may not even see it coming.
Now science shows that with continual pornography consumption, the more you watch, the more you’re literally hijacking your own brain. And your frying your brain. I know that’s not a neuroscience term, but this is a study by Dr. Coon, and if you look that up, what I’m about to tell you is all true.
What happens is the reward center in your brain actually becomes desensitized. What the scientists thought were going to happen was that the reward center would be firing more, but in fact, it is not. It fires less. What happens is you can watch more and more pornography, and you need more and more stimulation to get the same amount that you used to. And so, what it’s doing is basically frying out the circuits in the brain.
Now it’s happening in very specific areas, and then it’s happening between areas in terms of communication, which is called connectivity. So the main areas that are being fried are the pre-frontal cortex up here, an area deep in the brain called the striatum, which the striatum is for habit formation, and the reward center in the brain.
Get how this plays out for you. How it plays out is the pre-frontal cortex is involved in judgment. Now you have to make a judgment call if you should watch porn or not. What do you think you’re going to say? The hijacker. It’s not you, it’s the hijacker in your brain. The hijacker is going to say “Yeah! Let’s do it because we want more of a reward.” The reward center is saying, “I need more of a reward.” And the striatum says, “Yeah, this is our habit. This is what we do.”
So you need to break that cycle in the brain to become free. Now, at the same time, what is happening is that it is having implications in your life, whether you know it or not. So here is how you break free from those chains, you have to break the cycle. Without any judgment, you have to break the habit, and you have to stop giving your brain the reward.
It looks like this. Instead of watching pornography, you need to implement habit replacement. You need to come up with a new habit that you do in the short run, so that you can make it so that you are not deciding if you’re going to watch porn or not. So, when the compulsion, or the feeling inside you comes that you want to watch porn, you need to do the other thing.
The other thing may be working out. You might find that you’re watching porn at work, and you can’t just do a set. You could maybe do some push-ups, but you can’t go for a two-mile run, so you may need to scroll Instagram. Obviously, make it appropriate feeds, so you’re not feeding that wolf in your brain. You need to break the habit with a better habit that is socially acceptable.
I know men that instead of pulling up porn on their phone, they pull up wood-working, for example, and that becomes a new thing that they explore instead of watching pornography, which is a perfect way to replace that habit in the short run. But, of course, if you’re at work, you shouldn’t be going on your phone to watch anything, and we will take this baby steps. So #1 is habit replacement.
#2, what happens if you watch pornography? You have to change the reward into a negative consequence. So, what does that look like? Every time you watch pornography, there has to be something bad that happens to you that you put in place. Nobody else is going to hold you accountable until you seek out help.
And I am here for you when you are ready, but in the short run what you need to do is, if you watch pornography, then you don’t get to go to the place that you wanted to go out tonight. If you have the ability to do that. If you don’t have the ability to do that, then you need help. You need somebody to help you through this journey. But, if you watch pornography, you have to donate $50 to a cause that you are not a fan of. So, in this election, whatever candidate you think should not be in the white house, you will donate $50 to their campaign, and that should be pretty painful, especially in this political environment. So you donate $50 every time that you watch pornography.
That breaks the reward system, and it makes it a punishment or a consequence, so now you’re breaking that cycle. Now it is imperative that you break the cycle because your brain has been hijacked. You need to boot the hijacker. You need to get the hijacker out of your brain so that you can be free of the chains that bind you.
Let’s talk about just for a second why you care to do that. And I’m going to make another video that outlines this even more. How does pornography show up in your life?
OK, first of all, we know that we just said the reward center in your brain is not functioning properly, so you will need to watch more and more pornography, and it will need to get more graphic and you may even cross a moral boundary.
This is how you know you have a problem, and I know there’s always conversation around if pornography is an addiction or not. I can tell you it is. And I don’t even care about the verbiage. If you are—we already talked about it—if you are watching pornography at work, you have a problem, friend. You should be working. You should be engaged in your work. Get that hijacker out, and get back to the life you love and the work you love.
Thinking about what we’re talking about here in terms of watching more, and watching more graphic porn. If you are losing time, and you find that you have watched 10, 15, 20 hours of porn this work, that’s 10, 15, 20 hours you could be dedicating to fruitful experiences that are good for your brain, and not spending 20 hours hard-wiring that hijacker in, allowing that hijacker to take over your brain functioning. So, you need to realize that you need to grab control of it because if not, you will end up spending more time, and you will end up watching more graphic porn, because that’s what the reward center needs.
How does that roll over into your relationship? If you’re in a relationship, you know that it shows up. Pornography use shows up in your relationship. And what the science show is that men tend to watch pornography that have the same script because that is what does it for them. That script shows up in their own bedroom with their spouse who is likely not into it because it is not usually one of relational intimate sex, it’s one of control or desire on the part of the person who’s watching the objectified sex.
So if this is showing up in your life, and you find that you’re playing out this script, and especially if you’re partner is on to it and is not that into the script you’re trying to play out, it’s time to use the tips I just give you to break that cycle and boot the hijacker. I know you can do it. I know it’s hard, but I know you can do it. And if you think about it as a hijacker and not as something you want to do, I know you will be able to have control and be able to exercise the power and be able to do that.
How else does this show up in your life? If those two, weren’t enough for you, we know that there’s porn-induced erectile dysfunction. What that means is earlier and earlier and younger and younger, we see teenagers now with erectile dysfunction, and it’s because they are training their brain to need this massive amount of stimulation of what becomes borderline acceptable sexual behaviors, is what is stimulating their brain. More and more and more. So now just being with a beautiful 19-year old isn’t doing it for them anymore because they need this massive stimulation.
If you find that you have any issues with erectile dysfunction, especially if you’re middle-aged or younger, this is probably being brought on by porn, and not many people will tell you that, but look it up. It’s PIED—porn-induced erectile dysfunction. It’s real, and if you’re suffering from it, you need help.
OK, so, now use these tips, break that cycle, boot the hijacker by putting another habit in place and, if you find yourself watching porn, punish yourself for it, not in an excessive way, but deliver a consequence so that the reward center is not being rewarded. Donate that $50 that candidate that you despise, and now your brain will go “Hmm. If I do that behavior, then I have to pay $50 to this person I don’t like.” It will be enough of a stop-gap in that cycle to start unwiring that brain pattern that is plaguing you literally like chains on your brain.
I hope this information helps you, and I know you can do it, so get out there and break those chains, and if you have any questions, e-mail me at Trish@drrishleigh.com. I’m happy to answer them at anytime, and remember, control your brain or it will control you.