Every time you have a sexual climax, whether real or through fantasy, your body releases a flood of neurotransmitters and hormones meant to reinforce the pleasurable behavior so you will repeat it in the future. Though these are naturally produced, they are highly addictive. Some of these are:
Dopamine — often referred to as “the pleasure” hormone. Dopamine is highly addictive, as your body creates a strong association with whatever you were doing when it was released, creating a neural pathway that increases your propensity to repeat that behavior.
Oxytocin — this hormone is associated with a feeling of closeness, and while meant to form a strong bond between husband and wife, can just as easily bond you to an image on a screen. Oxytocin also counteracts cortisol, one of the main stress hormones—which is a reason people are more susceptible to temptation when under stress.
Serotonin — helps regulate mood, strongly associated with feelings of peace, hopefulness, and happiness. It also helps counteract feelings of depression and hopelessness, common among those using porn.
Endorphins — help to reduce feelings of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure within the body, also have an effect on anxiety levels, body composition, alleviating stress, and regulating appetite
This quartet of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are what are commonly referred to as the “happiness hormones” as they are strongly correlated with one’s overall sense of satisfaction and well-being. There is a great deal of research that shows that as these hormone levels go down, depression becomes more and more common, and that as these hormone levels increase, depression tends to be alleviated.
Is it any wonder we turn to our addictive tendencies when we are feeling low? Our addictions are essentially the shortcuts we have learned to getting our needs for these “happiness hormones” met. But there is a catch, and you already know what it is. The relief our addictions provide is only temporary. Eventually, even after experiencing the temporary high that comes with giving into temptation, we are left wallowing in shame and are worse off than we were before.
To become a person who is healthy and no longer needs to look at porn, we must find other, healthy ways to get our needs met. Thankfully, we are not left without options. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a start in the right direction:
- Make exercise a priority. Consistent exercise is shown to increase all of these hormones in your body over time. Even a quick set of squats or pushups can give you a little high that helps you in a moment of temptation.
- Make adjustments to your diet. Certain foods have been shown to have a positive effect on dopamine levels, notably, healthy fats, lean proteins, and many fruits.
- Pursue real friendship with others. Addiction (and depression) thrive in isolation. Research shows that genuine connection with others, even in a non-romantic nature, increases serotonin and oxytocin levels. Research also shows that as social interaction goes up, porn use goes down.
- Find some exciting activities. Whether it is mountain biking, playing a sport or games, hiking, or any other activity, having some level of adventure in your life will help your body release dopamine, plus it cuts down on boredom, which is a trigger for many people.
- Spend a minimum of 15-20 mins outdoors each day. This helps your serotonin levels, which boosts your overall mood (and your ability to sleep), and reduces the pull to look at porn or give into an addiction.
If you want more information on practical and healthy ways to increase these hormones, please reference the following links:
A fair warning—these articles are not written from a Christian worldview and therefore take a secular view of sexuality. Please note that we believe God’s heart and intent is that sex should only be engaged in between a husband and wife within the covenant of marriage. Even with that in mind, even if you are single or don’t have a spouse, we believe you will find the rest of the information in these articles helpful, which is why we are providing them to you. Reading through them will give you many more ideas of healthy habits you can add to your life which will increase your levels of “happiness hormones” in healthy, God-honoring ways rather than doing do through continued use of pornography, which is unhealthy and destructive.
Each time you refrain from unhealthy ways of getting your needs met and opt for healthy ways instead, you take one step closer to becoming a person who doesn’t need porn—or whatever other unhealthy habit you have come to rely on.
Day 9 Freedom Work
Scripture Reading — Read 1 Corinthians 6 several times slowly, taking notes of what Paul instructs about your body and your sexuality
Journaling Exercises — Answer the following questions at length in your journal. Aim to write for about 5-7 minutes per question:
- What are some very practical ways you can respond to what your body needs in a given moment, rather than resorting to your addiction? How would having an awareness of what is driving your addiction—which is not actually sex—cause you to think about it differently?
- In addition to prayer, leaning into God’s Spirit, and His Word, what healthy habits could you effectively “put on speed dial” that you could resort to during a moment of temptation? How might this help you to not only flee sexual immorality, but also to flee toward something God has provided as a healthy alternative?
Prayer Holy Spirit, I recognize that you have made me with a spirit, soul, and body—and that I have needs on all of these levels that are not wrong. Help me, in moments of temptation, to understand what is really going on—and to find healthy ways to get my needs met. May I learn to rest in your love rather than pursuing the false love that porn offers. May my mind be renewed to see everyone as a whole person—spirit, soul, and body—so that I will not lust after them but honor them as one made in your image. And may you also help me to be more in touch with the physical needs of my body—a body you say is fearfully and wonderfully made—and to find healthy ways of getting my physical needs met that honor you and others. Amen.