Rewiring your Brain

I am often asked about the brain chemistry behind sexual addiction. While it would take a book to cover the topic adequately (and there is a great one I’ll mention at the end of the post), we can bring it down to lay terms. Simply said, when we engage sexually we activate the areas of the brain that chemically make us feel love, warmth, acceptance, euphoria and peace. Adrenaline, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, etc for all you detail oriented folks. Most men who struggle with sexual integrity issues have connected the guilt and shame of life with the “love and euphoria” chemicals of sexual engagement. Neuropathways in the brain have formed which, when activated, follow this course:

negative emotions——–> sexual engagement (fantasy, masturbation, porn, emotional/physical affairs, sex with spouse)———->chemicals of love and euphoria released

In other words, we’ve learned how to use sex as the needle to deliver a chemical cocktail anesthetic that medicates negative emotions and shameful self concepts.

What begins as a narrow, shallow walking path eventually becomes so engrained and solidified that it is becomes a deep and wide trench. Those neuropathways, or trenches, are easy to access and fall into. Likewise, they are incredibly difficult to get out of.

Thankfully God created our brains with the ability to rewire. This is known as neuroplasticity. One of the simplest ways to begin rewiring the brain is to follow biblical guidance in two ways. First, when sexual temptation hits, we must take each thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Then we must replace those thoughts with what the bible says is pure, lovely, excellent, praiseworthy, right, admirable and noble (Phil 4:8). Those thoughts would ideally be vivid memories of times and situations where you felt love and peace. It could be a family vacation photo, an anniversary, grandkids, Jesus, particular verses, etc.

In terms of brain chemistry, what we are doing is interrupting the old neuropathway and replacing the sexual thoughts with memories that tap into the nerve centers of love and euphoria. We’re accomplishing the same goal [releasing the chemical cocktail] only now we are doing so in a way that honors God. We stop using our sexuality as the needle to administer the anesthetic.

I hope you’ll begin practicing this technique. If you’re like I was in the beginning of my recovery journey, you probably have multiple opportunities each day to practice this! If you do, you are faithfully practicing what Paul exhorts us to do; be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2).

A helpful read regarding pornography and the brain is Wired for Intimacy: Dr. William Struthers.

15 thoughts on “Rewiring your Brain

  1. Jason,

    I agree that a re-wiring of our mind is needed in order to experience true freedom from sexual sin and temptation. I get a little bogged down I guess in discussions like this because it always sounds like it is simply a chemical problem or a type of drug that we simply need to get off of. It’s been 7 months for me since the beginning of my restoration and I can say that the transformation and renewing of my mind and heart has not come from a simple re-wiring of my brain but by a restoration of my heart. I understand what you are getting at ultimately when talking with the renewing of our minds. Paul says it in Romans 12 as you mentioned in the context of not conforming to the patterns of the world any longer. The temptation however I think that this type of thinking creates is to put sexual addiction in the same category as drug addiction or even alchololism. A person can completely abstain from drugs and alcohol and technically be considered sober but obstaining from sexual “acting out” if you will isn’t the mark that is set for us by God. We are to have not a hint of sexual immorality and that ultimately rests in our hearts and minds and not solely in our actions. An EMB brother and I started a sexual freedom group a few months back and have had a few men coming that are also regular attendees of SA groups and Celebrate Recovery groups in the area. They came to our group saying that what they hear from us and see in us is totally different than what is seen in the other groups. The difference is that SA and CR seem to be focused on correcting behavior, creating boundaries, and trying to re-calibrate our minds away from the sexual thoughts that hold us captive. This approach however isn’t actually changing them at the core of who they are and as a result isn’t changing their behavior. I certainly believe that a transforming of our mind is a necessary part of the process of God transforming us into new creations but I think it has to be a result of a ceaseless attempt to seek Christ and to have our hearts transformed. I believe it’s less about re-wiring our brains and more about transforming our hearts. I heard a quote from a book recently that said Christianity is not about behavior modication but heart transformation. I know you aren’t saying that “recovery” solely lies in the idea of re-wiring our brains. I just think that some guys buy too much into this idea that it is simply chemical or a result of our bodies when that’s just not true. There certainly is a chemistry involved but at the core of sexual sin is a broken heart in need of healing and restoration. That’s just my opinion any way.

    • As offensive as this maybe to many christians to hear the “heart” that is spoken of in the bible is actually the sub conscious. The use of the term “heart” was symbolic of ones nature (the “heart” of a person) By transforming our minds we transform the “heart”. The actual heart pumps blood. That’s it. People of Jesus’s time and location didn’t have an understanding of the brain in this way. They didn’t speak of the conscious/subconscious. They may have had a crude understanding and there by be referring to it when they spoke of the “heart”. Jesus related to people where they were at individually and culturally. So he used their language according to their culture and understanding. So in truth you are both talking about the same thing but your understanding is based on taking the bible literally in this manor of speaking. The important point is do we understand the meaning of what Jesus is saying

    • That is so true!…. It is a matter if the heart!….. In all my years of addiction I have always wanted to change but my problem was I was trying to change from the outside in…. It wasn’t until February of this year when I came to God in full surrender and have my life to him and got real biblical salvation that I truly begin down a path of hope!…. When Christ moves on the inside he begins to change you from the inside out…” As a man thinketh in his heart so is he”

  2. Thank you Jon for sharing your insights as well. I’m trying very hard to understand my husband’s “addiction” and hearing another view has been an eye opener. I realize now that it is not just one “broken” puzzle piece but many. Thank you again.

    • Nicole,
      Thanks for your reply. My wife could have said the same thing about me just one year ago. I go back and forth regarding the idea of sexual addiction. I’m sure Jason can make an extremely compelling argument but for me, I don’t consider myself an addict. There are certainly addictive behaviors and qualities to sexual sin that if not checked can become a consuming fire in a man’s life. Just the fact that EMB exists is a testiment to a need to combat that fire. For me, the road to restoration began at EMB when I realized how deep my sin had become and how pervasive it was across the entire landscape of my life. It wasn’t just my sexual sin that was a problem but my anger, my rage, greed, self-centeredness, envy, gossip, etc. I used to think that if I just could stop looking at pornography, I would get right with God and be “happy”. The reality however is that sexual sin was just the tip of my iceberg and it took a real view of Jesus to understand how much I needed him. Most men I think fall under the same trap that I fell under, thinking that sexual sin is the only problem. It’s not and for your husband it’s not. It’s a matter of a broken heart and need for restoration and recreation. I for one don’t like the word recovery because it doesn’t go far enough in regards to God’s desire for each of us. Jesus says in Luke 4 that he came to set the captives free and to release prisoners from bondage. In Ezekiel, God says that he will replace our hearts of stone and give us a new heart of flesh. Paul says that we are new creations. The question I would ask your husband and would ask any man is are you a new creation in Christ? I wasn’t despite being baptized and growing up in a church and Christian family. The key to change is Christ and a radical pursuit of holiness found through him and him alone. As Paul says, Christ loves should compel us. I didn’t change for 18 years because his love wasn’t compelling to me, following Jesus wasn’t ultimately a high priority. It’s all about our hearts and need for restoration. Stay strong and keep praying. God changed me and can change your husband as well. That’s the reason Jesus came and the ultimate truth of God.

  3. I think this is some very helpful insight,because Im a recovering drug addict, who has relaspe many time. I alway started with sex to drug addiction and in that order. Sex alway been an emotion fit, that would relax me when I was bad or something. I know that sex addiction is danagerance for me because will lead me back to active drug use. My the Grace of God,I have not used drugs in almost 1 year,but I have been slipping into sex addiction. I hope I can fine a EMB close to Gardena,California.

    • Bill, thanks for your reply and for your honest. I celebrate with you regarding your 1 year free of drug addiction and hope that you can find hope and strength in that. In regards to your honesty about slipping back into sexual addiction, I wanted to lead you to a story that Jesus told. It’s in Mathew 12 if you want to look it up. He says, “when an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” I’ve thought alot about this particular story told by Jesus and have seen it first hand in my life. I struggled and lost a war to sin and masturbation from the age of 12 to 17. I went to college and committed to being different and for the most part, I was for a few years. I didn’t look at porn, didn’t masturbate, and was getting “healthier”. I didn’t however confess the multitude of my sin, seek accountability, or seek to be a follower of Christ. My sin ended up returning through a sexual relationship with my then girlfriend and now wife and continued to progress after marriage into a full blown problem with pornography, emotional affairs, and masturbation. The reality is that it’s not enough to simply rid ourselves of our addiction, temptations, or struggles. It will look clean for a while but the truth is that we are empty. Something that is empty needs to be filled and if it’s not filled with the truth and love of God, Satan will find a way to exploit that emptiness and make us twice a son of hell as we ever were to begin with. I’ve heard a few guys talk about this in the same way that you did. They had a problem with drugs or alcohol and were able to overcome that but sexual sin or something else popped up in it’s place. The simplest way to put it is that we can play the best defense only for a while. Eventually, something will breakdown and the enemy will find a way through our defenses and will score. The best defense is a good offense. In the case for our hearts and souls, a good offense is a radical pursuit of living the life that Jesus calls us to live. I know it’s seems impossible and that’s what Satan wants you think. God can change you from where you are right now reading this but it is going to take a decision on your part to follow him and pursue him. We can pray for God to change us but it won’t happen until we begin to pursue him. He doesn’t simply want to take away your drug habits or change your sexual habits but He wants to change your heart and transform your life. I do hope that you can find a group of men that can call you to a higher calling. If not, find a way to move to Texas and I’ll be happy to join in the fight with you!

    • Bill, one more thing. I would encourage you to stop referring to yourself as a recovering drug addict or recovering sex addict and rather identify yourself as who God sees you to be. If you are in Christ, you are a redeemed man of God. You are a new creation, a member of the royal priesthood, salt and light in our fallen world. You are a son of God, co-heir with Christ, and a friend of God. Who you were is not who you are if you are following Jesus. The old has gone and the new has come!

      • Hi All,
        Great discussion here! A couple quick thoughts. First, I think of this journey of recovery as the process of sanctification. In other words, becoming more like Christ. As humans, that requires a change to our mind, body and soul. This includes our brain chemistry, our heart/emotions and the seat of our desires, as well as our soul-care. Its a holistic view. These changes occur as a result of our efforts, paired with the Holy Spirit’s transformative work in us. I am always skeptical of “healing & deliverance” language. I think of Paul on the road to Damascus. God shows up, Paul’s convicted, he goes blind and is instructed to head into the city. Paul could’ve chosen to turn back. He could have opted out of the work God was doing in him. I think the case is similar for us.
        Also, on the label “addict”, I refer to myself as a former sexual addict. I used to be sexually addicted. I am now free, by the grace of God. And I am also 1 bad decision away from being addicted again. I don’t believe the mantra “once an addict, always an addict”. I believe something more along the lines of “once an addict, set free by Jesus, with the potential to cash-it-in and be an addict again”.
        Thanks for all the feedback!

        • Jason, as usual, your wisdom and experience is appreciated. It’s been a great discussion and be great hearing everyone’s opinions and views. I too don’t believe in the idea of deliverance. I know of a few guys who have prayed a prayer that God would deliver them from their sin and from their temptation but are missing the point in actually doing something about it. They aren’t setting boundaries, removing temptations, and seeking holiness. They live the exact same way and just exact miraculous deliverance in the moment of temptation. I don’t believe in that and fell victim to that for most of my life. It’s a life from Satan and unfortunately one I think many men fall prey to. It’s the great mystery of the gospel that we are healed and delivered as we seek to live our lives as worthy of Christ. That’s everything. I’ve been trying to help men understand this because it’s the fuel and power behind any change that has happened in my life. I finally understood and welcomed the redeeming love of Jesus that meets me in the worst moments of my life. He doesn’t ask me to change in order to love me. I don’t have to clean myself up, change my behavior, or justify my sin in order to be accepted. It’s a losing battle. However, I seek to change my life, seek his holiness, and seek his righteousness because of his love for me. It’s a subtle difference but all the difference in the world.

          In regards to the word addict, I understand introducing yourself as a former sexual addict. I guess I don’t like how I have to groups, even Christian groups, where the introduction is made, “Hi, I’m Jon, I’m a sex addict.” I don’t think of myself that way. I’m a redeemed man of God and that’s my identity now, not who I was. I just find the term addict, even former addict, to be defensive for some men. Again, it’s a shift in identity. Paul says the old has gone and the new has come. Anyways, just a difference in opinion. Thanks again for the blog!

        • Jason
          Since we are discussing changing our mind in this blog; I want to share a experience I’ve had. While attending a EMB conference you revealed that you have or had attention deficit disorder. After the EMB conference I participated in testing administered by a psychologist; to see if I have attention deficit disorder. Based on the test and the surveys my wife and father completed we are pretty sure I have ADD. I know now I’ve had this condition since my childhood and it is the catalyst that started my sexual addiction in my teens. You reported to me at the conference that ADD can be treated with vitamins and exercise. Would you mind sharing with me the vitamins that you’ve seen treat the symptoms of ADD?

          Thanks

          • Hi Jeff! I certainly remember our conversation about ADD and I’m proud of you for stepping out to do the testing on it. Way to go!
            I did mention there are some alternative treatments out there. I honestly don’t remember which ones I took; it was years ago. I know they were vitamin supplements. Truth be told, I struggled to remember to take them regularly (a real shock, with ADD), so I wasn’t able to pin down how effective it was. I know sleep, stress, allergies and diet all have been factored into it too. While I don’t have a specific place to point you, I’d suggest starting with Dr. Daniel Amen – http://www.amenclinics.com. Also, you can find a substantial amount of information online about holistic and homeopathic remedies. You’ll probably have to do some trial & error to see what has a positive effect for you. It’s worth a try!
            Hope that helps Jeff!

            Jason

  4. Hi

    I’m agree with the article. I’m struggling with sex too. I just want to add something. Sometimes sex is sin that is so obvious that its easy to see. It help us to see it as sin without much effort. Unfortunately, sometimes it make us, focus on sex and fail to see other sins within us.

    I agree that we need rewiring, not just about sex addiction but in all aspect of our life.

    Being honest, care about other, filled with compassion, easy to forgive, etc. Its all part of the rewiring.

    I say this, because I stumble upon this article through googling this : “how to rewire your brain in christian way”

    Because aside from my sex problem, I realize I’m far from perfect, sometimes I become self centered man, a narcist, I say things to get praise from other people, instead looking for God, etc. I need to change all these flaws.

    So I got no problem with the article, I just wish you could bring it to a more bigger picture, instead focusing on sex. Although your article could be applied in other aspect of our life as well. So no complain, just some suggestion.

    And nice article. God bless you, God free us all. Lets meet with each other in His kingdom to come.

  5. Hello, after years of masturbation I decided enough is enough, but my natural sexual urge is gone, I seem not to have an election without stimulating myself, I hope to get married soon, am now dealing with fearful thoughts of not being able to make love with my wife to be, please I need advise from this forum, will I ever be normal and get elections again, or is my brain rewired, and is it possible to be aroused naturally again without porn

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