Sex and the Brain

Jayson Graves

‘WOW that felt good!’ This is a common cognition when a man has an orgasm, otherwise known as an ejaculation. What most people don’t know is why an orgasm feels so good. In fact, the reason it feels so incredible is the same reason why some men form addictive patterns at the neurological level in their brains through a process known as ‘conditioning.’

Remember back to your senior year of high school when you took basic Psychology 101 and your ‘cool-guy, disco-party man’ psych teacher told you about Pavlov and his dogs? Let me refresh you: Pavlov was a Russian scientist interested in the process of conditioning. He used his dogs and a bell. Pavlov would ring the bell and then feed his dogs, repeating this over and over again. After some time of this he discovered that when he rang his bell, the dogs would begin to salivate in anticipation of these tasty morsels. Herein lies the discovery of ‘Classical Conditioning.’

What happens at the neurological level in your brain when you become aroused also involves classical conditioning in that we have allowed our own ‘bells to be rung’ and as in the case of 98-99% of all men, have ‘fed the dog’ through masturbation, pornography or both. Here’s how.

A man typically becomes aroused in several ways and has the urge to be sexually gratified for various reasons, some legitimate according to the intention with which we are designed, some not. Whatever the case, when a man ejaculates he receives the most potent chemical reward the brain can achieve’the brain releases into his system the highest level of endorphins and enkephalins, naturally occurring ‘pleasure chemicals’ which are about 4 times stronger than morphine!

The average male begins masturbating around the ages of 10-14 at a rate of 2-7 times per week or more. In the first 20 years of his ‘career’ he will have had from 2,000 to 7,000 of these reinforcing experiences. What happens over this time on a neurological level in the brain is akin to an entrenchment process. Imagine if you were to dig a ditch between the street and sidewalk from your driveway down to the store on the corner. Everyday you walk in that ditch to buy the morning paper and over time that ditch gets deeper and wider to the point where even if you wanted to walk on the street or sidewalk, because of the erosion, there would be a tendency to fall back into the ditch. THIS IS THE ADDICTION in the hard-wiring of your brain.

What I try to do in my therapy with men recovering from sexually addictive patterns such as masturbation, pornography, adultery, etc is help them cut-off that old addictive route completely and to create a wholly new route of healthy sexuality and healing. We accomplish this by setting good boundaries. Boundaries are set around behaviors that absolutely cannot happen if sexual sobriety is to be maintained. Also, we set standards around what must absolutely happen behaviorally, emotionally and spiritually in order to maintain the full, healthy lifestyle God intended.

In terms of undoing unhealthy patterns there is a technique that can help decrease unwanted urges and impulses up to 80% in one month: it’s called the Rubber band technique. Simply take a rubber band that is thick enough so it won’t break easily (are you getting scared?) and keep it on your wrist. Don’t even take it off for bedtime, showers, or times when ‘you think you won’t need it.’ Whenever you catch yourself staring at someone lustfully or for more than 3 seconds, have the urge to masturbate, look at pornography, or act inappropriately, sinfully or otherwise act-out sexually, simply snap the band on the inside of your wrist. This will send a pain message to your brain (don’t worry, you don’t have to snap it so hard that you injure yourself) in a way that, where you used to ring the bell and feed the dog, it will now be a pattern more like ‘ring the bell, kick the dog!’

This is a helpful tool in the process of retraining your brain, helping you engage the fruit of the spirit, self-control and freeing yourself of a pattern you have created over the course of many years. Of course, it is important to consider therapy with a sexual addiction specialist and place yourself under the authority of a men’s recovery group that is healthy, willing to hold you accountable on a weekly basis, and allow you a place to connect with and serve others in a relationally healing way.

For help in the battle for sexual integrity, see Every Man’s Battle.

What are the 4 Pillars of Purity?

Jonathan Daugherty

Most of us desire purity. We really do. Our heart longs for it, the Spirit of God within us points us to it, and the dissatisfaction of impurity confirms our longing. But how many of us, if we were honest, would have to admit that our desire for purity alone has not produced long-term results? To want purity is one thing, to walk in purity is quite another.

So, what does it actually take to live every day in sexual purity? And how can we implement these principles into our daily lives?

There are 4 Pillars of Purity that are necessary for anyone who desires to live each day in sexual purity. Let’s go over each Pillar and then I will offer practical ways to implement them into your daily life.

Pillar #1 Profess the Struggle

Humility is the doorway to freedom and purity. Once you recognize your struggle with impurity and confess that you are incapable of conquering it on your own, you are on your way to the exciting adventure of purity. This Pillar is critical, however, because without admitting your need there is no hope of long-term change. And remember, God opposes the proud, but gives GRACE to the humble. (James 4:6)

Practical application:

– Write in a journal your primary struggles and confess your powerlessness over them.

– Share with a pastor or friend your struggle with sexual temptation and your inability to manage it.

– Pray to God, sharing with Him your weaknesses and desire to walk in purity.

Pillar #2 – Understand Triggers

For a solution to really work you must address the problem, not the symptoms. The ways you act out (i.e. viewing pornography, masturbating, affairs, etc.) are much less important factors to address than the attitudes, environment, and temptations preceding. To understand your triggers is to study and evaluate your typical patterns that lead to acting out. This requires brutal honesty and a willingness to deal ferociously with these triggers in order to create effective strategies of escape when faced with sexual temptation.

Practical application:

– Use Be Broken’s “Online Personal Inventory & Evaluation Form” to assess you triggers and build a strategy for purity.

– Write out all the things you can remember that typically precede your acting out.

– Share your triggers with a pastor, friend, or trusted band of brothers and develop concrete strategies for responding to each trigger.

Pillar #3 – Relate with God

Apart from the healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ there is no hope for long-term freedom from sexual sin. Relating with God is essential to experiencing growing freedom from sexual acting out. The idea of relating with God can seem foreign, even intimidating, but by growing in intimacy with your Creator you build strength of character and gain wisdom in battling sexual temptation.

Practical application:

– Read and study God’s Word every day – even when you don’t feel like it.

– Pray every day. This is simply talking with God. A good “tool” to use to help you get started is the A.C.T.S. method: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Praying the Psalms is another good exercise in learning to pray.
– Begin talking to God throughout the day in any and all circumstances.

Pillar #4 – Engage Others

As powerful and important as the three previous Pillars of Purity are they come up short of providing long-term freedom apart from the Pillar of engaging others. This may sound heretical considering Pillar #3 is Relating with God, but without fellowship and accountability it is virtually impossible to maintain sexual purity. You were designed for relationship – with God and others. Developing deep, lasting relationships with others will provide the support, encouragement, and accountability you need to consistently walk in purity. You simply cannot maintain freedom on your own.

Practical application:

– Attend a support group regularly.

– Be willing to deepen your friendships by sharing your struggle and seeking their support.

– Help get a purity group started in your church or community.

You will notice that the 4 Pillars of Purity form an acronym, P.U.R.E. We hope this will make it easier for you to remember as you pursue being a man of purity. And as you resolve to offer each day to God as a day of sexual thought purity, we invite you to share your story with others so they might benefit from it. Just log into the Message Boards or Chat room and connect with other like-minded brothers. You have nothing to lose ‘ but your sexually destructive habits.

See Every Man’s Battle.

Facing the Scary ‘C’ Word: ‘Confrontation’

Dan Jenkins

– The Balance of Love and Law –

One of the most difficult things about interpersonal relationships is the occasional need to confront another person about their behavior. If you are like me, you do your best to avoid confrontation, usually with a justification like, ‘Well, the Bible calls us to be long-suffering.’ However, when I look at my true motives, I often find that they are not so righteous. Instead, my motives are self-centered and based upon faulty beliefs that have their roots in my childhood. Let me explain.

Very early in life you learned a very important lesson about obedience. If you obeyed your parents, then nothing bad would happen. If you didn’t obey, you would get punished, restricted, or experience some kind of pain. Sometimes you’d get into trouble and you had no clue what you did wrong. In either case, you had to learn to conform to some standard, some rule, that was placed upon you. If you didn’t conform to the rules, you would quickly run into bigger trouble with the powers that be.

Of course, learning to follow the rules of the family, classroom, society, etc., is not a bad thing in the least. Failure to obey all these rules would be disastrous to any individual.

But what if you were raised in a family that had lots of rules but very little love? What if the rules seemed more important than the people they were designed to protect? Personalities are shaped during the early years of our lives, and if your family environment was filled with lots of ‘law’ but very little ‘love’ we would expect several significant impacts upon your development.

In a family heavy in law but light on love, it may become very important to you to never be wrong . . . about anything. Without a foundation of attachment and love, the value of a person would come from following the rules and never doing anything wrong. Yet, this fragile sense of self-worth would be constantly challenged because no one can do everything right all the time. Over and over again, you would be found to be at fault for not being perfect. If a mistake is made, it would have to be denied and covered up, or the result would be a deep sense of self-doubt and personal shame. Like men with sexual addiction, the sin must be hidden, kept in darkness, or the shame would be overwhelming.

Additionally, it is difficult to confront someone about a behavior when you have far worse offenses hidden below the surface. Your wife may feel the same way when she knows about the sexual acting out behavior, and in her mind you have no right to confront her about anything until the Lord returns. ‘You broke the rules of our marriage and now you owe me big.’ If this debt can never be repaid and you cannot confront her again, then you will grow more and more resentful about the imbalance of power in the relationship. You must be able to share with your spouse both the good and the bad ways you are affected by her. Such is the basis of emotional intimacy, and without it, your relationship cannot stay healthy.

– To Slam or Clam, Either is a Sham –

Many of the men I work with in my private practice have tremendous difficulty confronting their wives about anything. They may be hurt by something she said or did, but instead of saying anything to her, the typical response is to clam up. Unfortunately, this technique only serves to confirm a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Sometimes wives will actually try to get a response to see if their husband is emotionally alive. It’s as if he has turned off his emotions and she is left with the dubious task of trying to read his mind by any little thing he says or does.

Passive withdrawal can kill two birds with one stone. It is a response to our own fear and insecurity. Like a child in school who is afraid to raise his hand to answer the question, we hold fast to the rule, ‘when in doubt do nothing.’ But simultaneously, it can be a passive expression of hostility because the emotional shutdown usually drives the wife up a wall. If we have been hurt by her, the clamming up response can bring some satisfaction when we see the resultant frustration developing in her.

The other option is to let the fury fly and slam the person who needs confrontation. If their behavior has been eating away at us for any length of time, the confrontation could easily become an explosion. Like the proverbial pressure-cooker analogy, the steam release valve isn’t working properly, so an explosion is eminent. The emotions come out in a cathartic outpouring and the recipient of the anger doesn’t understand why it is so intense.

Both ‘Clamming’ and ‘Slamming’ are different sides of the same dysfunctional coin. The answer is to be assertive in expressing what we need. What does that mean exactly? It means letting her in on our feelings such that it doesn’t threaten or degrade her in any way. Confrontation requires action, not passivity. It requires tact and wisdom to share our emotions without harm to our spouse. Most of all, it requires courage to confront those we love.

For men struggling with sexual integrity, see Every Man’s Battle.
If you are a married man who has already attended Every Man’s Battle, we highly recommend Every Marriage Restored or Restoring a Wife’s Heart–programs at our New Life Weekend.