One of the best things about modern technology is the customization it allows us. Think about it— you decide which apps are on your home screen, what music you download, your wallpaper background, text size, keyboards, languages, etc. Many software programs can do the same thing, changing and evolving based on your tastes. Many of the most innovative advances in tech are based on what you do and what you like.

There’s another supercomputer out there in the world that does the exact same thing: your brain.

You see, our brains are full of neuroconnectors, which basically link different parts of our brain together. When neurons are activated, they release chemicals that strengthen the connection between different parts of your brain. [1] For example, when you eat something delicious, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. [2] Or if you hold hands with someone you care about, your brain releases a chemical called oxytocin, which helps you bond with people. [3]

Over time, the connections between certain things get stronger, while other connections can get weaker if they aren’t used for awhile.

In a recent article on Fast Company, authors Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane wrote a fascinating piece about how our brains not only build neural connections constantly, but erase them as well. There’s an old saying in neuroscience: neurons that fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. This is why, to quote another old saw, practice makes perfect. The more you practice piano, or speaking a language, or juggling, the stronger those circuits get. For years this has been the focus for learning new things.

Synaptic Pruning

As it turns out, the ability to learn is about more than building and strengthening neural connections. Even more important is our ability to break down the old ones. It’s called “synaptic pruning.” As explained by Pollack and Cabane, here’s how it works:

Your brain is like a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain—they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.

Fascinating right? The article goes on how to talk about how important sleep is because that’s when the most “synaptic pruning” takes place, solidifying new connections and erasing old ones. It also talks about what you dwell on the most is going to become where your brain’s energy is spent making new connections.

Porn And Pruning

Now let’s talk about how all this relates to porn. When we look at porn, connections are formed that connect viewing these sexual explicit images with pleasure. As we look at porn more frequently, those connections get stronger and stronger, while our old connections are slowly erased to make room. Over time, the brain gets used to those connections being there, and it takes more and more porn to keep them strong. Soon, it seems porn is dominating our thoughts for most the day: When can I watch it again? What am I going to watch next? This makes it so when we try to stop watching porn, we can start to feel empty, anxious, and stressed. [4] Our brain has been customized to like–and even need–porn.

Related: How Watching Porn Changes Your Brain

But luckily for us, this process works both ways.

Just like viewing pornography creates these connections in our brain, staying away from it will weaken them until they fade away. A porn habit can be tough to break since years of watching highly arousing images can leave quite the mark on our brains, but we can take back control over time. Remember, your brain is customizable: you decide how it changes by focusing on what you put in it.

Related: 4 Studies That Prove Porn-Addicted Brains Can Return To Normal

Quitting porn is easier said than done, but if you do it, the urge for porn will surely begin to fade away. It’s just brain science. As we build positive focuses in our lives and gain more and more distance from porn, the pathways in our brain that tell us we need to power up that laptop will start to shrink. It will be slow, but it will happen. With time, the brain will eliminate the old connections associated with porn to make room for new connections. The damage that porn did will dissolve over time.

There Is Hope

Long story short, it is possible to delete porn’s harmful effects on your brain. Whatever connections you’ve built with your favorite porn site, it can be reversed over time. You can form new connections, make new habits, and work toward a healthier brain.

Rest assured, our brains are fully customizable, and we decide how they change.

Need Help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with an obsession or addiction to pornography, you are not alone. Check out our friends at Fortify, a recovery program that will allow you take a step toward freedom. Anyone 20 years and younger can apply for a free scholarship to the program, and it is an inexpensive fee for anyone 21 and older. There is hope—sign up today and start getting the help you need at your own pace.

What YOU Can Do

If you found this info on the brain interesting, or want to help those who might be struggling with pornography, SHARE this article. Spread the word on the harms of porn and encourage others to live a porn-free life.

Citations

[1] Bostwick, J. M. and Bucci, J. E. (2008). Internet Sex Addiction Treated with Naltrexone. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 83, 2: 226–230; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 63.
[2] Hilton, D. L., and Watts, C. (2011). Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2: 19; (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/) Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 107; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 75; Nestler, E. J. (2005). Is There a Common Molecular Pathway for Addiction? Nature Neuroscience 9, 11: 1445–1449.
[3] Schneiderman, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J., and Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin During the Initial Stages of Romantic Attachment: Relations to Couples’ Interactive Reciprocity. Psychoneuroendocrinology 37:1277-1285.
[4] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 90.; Berridge, K. C. and Robinson, T. E. (2002). The Mind of an Addicted Brain: Neural Sensitization of Wanting Versus Liking. In J. T. Cacioppo, G. G. Bernston, R. Adolphs, et al. (Eds.) Foundations in Social Neuroscience (pp. 565–72). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.  

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