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.

Finding Ms. Right

Sam Fraser

If you read Bob Parkin’s article, Healthy Dating in Recovery, you will find that he gave some important insight for single guys and dating regarding accountability, boundaries, and intimacy. Continuing along those same lines, I’d like to give you a couple clues to finding Ms. Right.

There is a reason God says wait until marriage for sexual intercourse. Among the myriad of reasons, one sure-fire reason is that it is for our own protection. As men, we are often identified as having two brains, (I think most of you know, and the rest of you can guess, where the second brain is, right?). Not sexualizing a relationship is the absolute best remedy for keeping our judgment clear and our priorities straight. But if that bridge is crossed prematurely, our reasoning gets all discombobulated and our judgment becomes blinded. Guys, sex changes everything. Once sexual activity is introduced into the equation, we lose an important part of our sensibility. Our sexual desire, or lust, can become the primary motivation for pursuing Ms. Right Now instead of Ms. Right! How much you desire her body has nothing to do with her being right as a marital partner for life. Don’t be blinded by that second brain. Just because it feels good, doesn’t make it true.

Let’s face it guys, sex is overrated as the answer to all of our problems. God’s plan for finding Ms. Right is much broader than how she makes us feel sexually. If that becomes the main focus, disappointment will soon follow. Sex was never intended as the be all, cure all. Once sex falls short as the answer to all of a man’s problems, some men will turn to sexual addiction as a cheap alternative to the real deal.

So, then, what is the real deal? How do we find Ms. Right? What is she like and how will we recognize her?

A much better criterion for the long haul is to develop a deep friendship with someone that you find attractive–attractive being the operative word, which is something much better and more noble than mere lust. Over and over I have encountered this common factor in successful marriages. When the husband says that his wife has become his best friend, take it to the bank.

Being married to your best friend will provide the emotional spark that can be fostered and kept alive with time and effort. This will keep the connection strong. If you cannot be vulnerable and share your deepest needs, dreams and fears with your girlfriend now, then seriously ask yourself why not? If it isn’t happening now, marriage will not cure it.

One thing that is a common theme for Every Man’s Battle participants is they have a secret life. Having a secret life is the opposite of having marital intimacy. A man who gets married without having the skill or courage to disclose important feelings and thoughts is sure to feel very lonely and isolated. So it is crucial to develop an openness during dating. If you can’t open up now, openness just won’t magically occur once you are married. Therefore, don’t underestimate the importance of having a woman with whom you can develop an intimate friendship. With that said, here are a couple of key factors for evaluating potential Ms. Rights:

1) How well do you share your feelings with her now? Is she safe and trustworthy or does she bring out your dirty laundry and shame you with it already? It needs to be discussed and resolved. If she can’t be a person who is safe and trustworthy then it is better to find that out now rather than later. Most women desire that kind of connection, and nine times out of ten, she will be accepting of our fear and shame, and will reject or humiliate us when we disclose them to her.

2) Take some risks and share feelings that are painful. Women respect men who have feelings and share them, particularly feelings that are hard to share, or that have previously been kept secret. From a male’s perspective, we don’t place such a premium upon that need; so if you can develop that with her in intimate friendship, then you are well on the way.

The interesting thing is that developing that intimate emotional bond with your future wife now will naturally translate into greater romantic intimacy later. Then sexual fulfillment will take care of itself.

The greatest testimony to this is that older couples with secure relationships are far more likely to have highly gratifying sex lives. That is because those couples have special bonds of deep friendship and devoted love for one another, bonds that have been built and strengthened because they have become best friends to one another. Think about it…