‘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.