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.

Transparency in Recovery: A Vital Life Line

Ron Fevelo

“Transparency” If I may define the term for purposes of this article:

Transparency is the state of seeking to be open, candid and freely sharing about our inner world such that others will become more and more intimately acquainted with us.

Now, on the surface this may sound like a frightening concept and one that can only get in the way of being a “man in the world.” Well, in some ways that makes sense. It would be foolhardy to suggest that a man ought to be in the process of sharing of their inner self with all passersby. No, transparency must be tempered with common sense as well as with discretion. No man can be or ought to be always revealing his inner self.

Now, nearly everybody would agree that men ought to be honest, candid and frank with one another but this is not so easy to pull off in the daily grind of life. One of fundamental reason for this difficulty is that “real” men don’t, ‘show their cards’ so to speak. In a poker game you hide what’s going on on the other side of those playing cards hoping to project a false or deceptive sense of what’s really going on with your “hand.” Even more fundamental than any difficulties we may experience in revealing ourselves in a transparent way as ‘real men’ let us bear in mind that we have a far more daunting and pervasive challenge.

It happened quite a few years ago in a garden; one more beautiful than any before (because there weren’t any before) or since’.the garden of Eden! As the result of ‘the fall’ mankind broke intimacy and transparency with his Creator and had to wear a fig leaf to hide as it were, himself. This tragic occurrence has been the bane of man’s existence ever since. Not only did sin sever the perfection of that closeness with God but it seriously hampered the marital (as well as all other) relationships amongst human beings. (Fortunately, our Lord still knows us totally, intimately and perfectly.)

Many men who struggle with sexual purity will have a strong tendency to be anything but transparent. That is, they will probably increasingly feel the need to hide who they are as they become more and more given to the clandestine and become engulfed in the shame that attends to this situation. Further, this man may likely turn more and more to the object of his affection (porn, affairs, etc) which increases the shame, hiding (non-transparency) and may ultimately lead to (sexual) or other addictions.

So, what does the idea of transparency really have to do with the ‘battle?” Well, for those of you who are concerned that you may need the type of assistance given at the Every Man’s Battle Workshop let me note a few things’ When we seek to change the problems associated with sexual impurity and sexual acting out by entering the recovery process, we will find that those who have successfully established themselves in their recovery will be individuals who are, well, transparent. You will notice that they practice honesty and candor. That is, you will observe that they will talk about themselves; more specifically, they will regularly speak about their inner-world; their shortcomings, their joys and concerns, their fears and victories. They will demonstrate to their world that they know that they have nothing to hide. They are no longer living “the lie,” and don’t have a need to expend the energy to cloak themselves and hide from others.

The lifeline of transparency will connect a man to his inner world, which will allow and enable him to connect with his Lord and with other people more deeply and personally. The essence of this whole process finds its home in the well-known process of living a transformed life, which as Christians know, is an ongoing, life-long process. The process of living a transformed life involves a daily, life-long cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit as we become changed inwardly.

In summation, I believe that we ought to consider that in order to be a man who is going to be true, connected, healed and healthy, we do well to take seriously the idea of setting up a process that allows for others to “take a look” at our inner world. This process occurs naturally as an outgrowth of the process of recovery/transformation. The man who can strive for and begin to achieve the transparent lifestyle is the man who is on the way to being restored to what our Lord originally intended him to be.

Thoughts on Weariness in Recovery

G. Mike Clark

This last week my wife and I, along with our Bible Study class of forty-three, including children and adolescents, went to the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky on a mission trip to Solomon’s Porch. This little community of Lynch was once a thriving mining town. If you were to ask the people of Lynch about the recovery of this town they would say, ‘Recovery of what?’ If you are talking about the coalmines and the boom related to that growth, the answer would more than likely be, ‘No’there is no chance of recovery like it once was during the boom time.’

US Steel and International Harvester, as I understand, moved out of the area and closed the mines within the last ten to twelve years. On the other hand, maybe the recovery of this community could be done through drawing small businesses there to strengthen the economy. They have drawn some small businesses into the area, but this alone is not going to recover this small community of Kentucky economically.

Many of those living in the Appalachians are weary.

Webster, 2nd edition, defines weary as without further liking, patience, tolerance, and bored, becoming wearing. Interestingly it also includes in its definition the word drunk. If you were to ask most of those living in this part of the country if they were weary, any of those descriptions would be heard. Many of them have lost any sense of hope in the recovery of their community and have become weary.

In Proverbs 23:4-5, the writer tells us, ‘Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens‘, (NASV).

The kind of recovery needed in this community is spiritual renewal. We are in a spiritual battle. Without spiritual recovery, no amount of economic recovery will make a difference in this community; or any community, or person.

Up to this point, we have been speaking about a small community recovering economically and a sense of weariness that members of that community may have experienced in the past and still experience today. These same kind of issues are experienced in each of us who are in the recovery of sexual addiction, i.e. without further liking, patience, tolerance, and bored, becoming wearing. In addition, one can experience loneliness in the process of recovery whether in a small community or facing sexual addiction.

Loneliness can be crippling to anyone of us in our daily life even during the process of recovery.

As we face any addiction, each of us will experience weariness and loneliness. Isaiah, in chapter 40 verse 31, gives us hope during our pilgrimage. ‘Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.’ Here he gives us hope, strength and endurance to run this race. He goes to say, in chapter 50 verses 4-5, ‘The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples. That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.’ He goes on to say that, God wakes him in the morning; He awakens his ears ‘to listen as a disciple,’ and he was not disobedient, verses 4-5.

There are many references to the word all throughout the Scripture. In the Gospels, Jesus makes references about the word, Matthew 4:4; 7:24; Mark 4:14, 18; Luke 1:2. In John 8:32, Jesus says that truth will set you free.

Two important principles found in Isaiah: listening and obedience. First, are we listening to the truth found in God’s Word? As we listen, how is God’s Word changing our lives and transforming us from the inside out? Listening to God is not just sitting in our comfortable chair. It includes asking God, ‘What are You doing around me and how can I join you?’ Second, are we obedient as we listen to God’s Word? Do we have a teachable heart with listening ears? In the process of recovery, this requires us to look beyond ourselves. If we look only within ourselves, there is not much hope. Through God’s grace working in and through us touching and ministering to others gives us hope and purpose.

As we look to God, we need to reach out to others for help and to help. In recovery, this is where having an accountability partner gives us hope and strength during the good times and the tough times. As brothers in Christ, our mission is to give each other support and encouragement to the other person needing help when weary. We are not alone in this battle, and it takes time to recover. Lastly, Jesus gives us a promise in Matthew 11:28-30, to hang onto daily. It reads as follows…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light‘, ESV.

This is God’s promise to you and me in the process of recovery during our pilgrimage, and strength to the weary. He will not leave us alone to face life.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.
Also, please see Being Christian: Exploring Where You, God, and Life Connect.