WiredPorn changes your brain.  The vast advances in neuroscience in recent years have uncovered the tragic results of pornography usage on the brain and body itself.  Neuroscientist William Struthers explains just a few of the effects in this worthy read.

Pornography teaches its students to focus on the physiology of sexual sensations and not on the relationships for which those sensations are intended.

Let me begin this review with what the two things I found lacking in Struthers’s work.  First, I longed for him to make more pointed applications of his in-depth research and understanding of the wiring of the human brain.  Often, he would spend pages describing the intricacies of the brain…but then left me with only generic applications of what that meant for me when it came to the temptation of pornography.  Pointedly applying his expertise would have been greatly appreciated.

My second critique is perhaps unfair—I would have loved to have seen more hope offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Since so many sexual strugglers carry shame and guilt, the very topic nearly requires lots of reminders of God’s love, Jesus’ forgiveness, and the power of the Holy Spirit to cleanse us of past sins.  I don’t sense that this was the point of his book, but I appreciate that reminder nonetheless.

Overall, however, I put my highlighter to good use in this book.  The author begins with an eye-opening overview of what porn has done to our culture, noting the detachment of intimacy from the sexual act.  “Pornography teaches its students to focus on the physiology of sexual sensations and not on the relationships for which those sensations are intended.”  Later in the same chapter, he remarks, “Men believe they should make love like a porn star to a woman who should look like a porn star.  Rather than being who he is with the woman he is with.”

In the chapter “Your Brain on Porn”, Struthers unpacks the circuitry of the brain and how porn rewires it.  “With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow…All women become potential porn stars.”  The most stunning point to me personally was his understanding and explanation of the chemicals released in the brain during porn use (like dopamine and norepinehprine), which physically teach our bodies where to direct their energy and focus.  That means that our bodies, after frequent porn use, develop a craving like a drug addict would have!  With every peek and click, the brain finds it harder and harder to say, “No.”

Finally, I have to share my favorite section of the book, which dealt with masturbation.  There is much debate whether masturbation is sinful in and of itself or just sinful in the majority of cases where lust for a non-spouse is involved.  Evaluating various views held among Christians, Struthers concludes, “Masturbation is playing with neurochemical fire.”  Meaning?  He explains how the chemicals released during masturbation, even if our personal thoughts aren’t sinful in themselves, will nevertheless bond us to something.

His conclusion?  “You will be bound to something, because that is what it does neurologically—it associates the orgasm with something.  The question to be asked is, ‘What is it binding you to?’”  Even a husband masturbating to a fantasy about his wife is binding himself to the fantasy and not the real woman God has given him.  While this may not end the debate among Christians, it’s a strong warning about playing with this “fire”.  You might just get burned.

Overall, I wouldn’t put Struthers’s book on the top of my list for helping those struggling with pornography.  However, it is a great read to understand the physical dangers that pornography presents with every click.

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks The Male Brain by William Struthers

Other Information: Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: 2009. (189 pages.)

Reviewer: Mike Novotny
Review Date: August, 2013

Porn Free

Porn FreeWhile always good intentioned, many ministries, books, and articles designed to help Christians escape the trap of pornography are simply spiritually-packaged self-help sermons.  “Porn is bad,” they say, “so stop looking at it!”

Personally, I have never seen anyone recover from sexual addiction that remained in silence.

This is not one of those books.

Like a breath of fresh gospel air, Brian Gardner has written a book about porn that is primarily not about your obedience, but about the unconditional love of God.  Gardner, a teacher and pastoral counselor from Columbus, certainly does offer helpful advice about battling pornography in Porn Free, but his most helpful thoughts are not his good advice, but God’s good news.

Thankfully, his book is filled with it.

Both personally and as a member of Conquerors through Christ, I thanked God for a Christian voice like Gardner’s that sees the need to make the gospel primary and to stress the necessity of public confession of porn use.  What we continue to preach at CtC (“Jesus forgives impurity!  Now, go tell someone you need help!”) was reflected and applauded by Gardner on page after page.

Gardner’s work begins with a vulnerable confession:  “I tried to stop, but the power to do so seemed out of my reach.  When I tried to approach God about my problem, I felt guilt and shame.  I would promise to do better and fail within days, or hours, or even minutes…I decided I could stop on my own, without telling anyone.  I would stop—tomorrow,” (p.ix).

By God’s mercy, Gardner came to see his need for help, God’s ridiculously relentless grace, and the power of bringing the darkest part of his life into the light.

Yet, far from being a personal memoir, Gardner writes helpfully, engagingly, quotes experts widely and always comes back to the gospel.  My highlighter ended up a few shades duller by the end of the book.  Some of my favorite quotes included:

  • “One thing that everyone agrees on in dealing with sexual sin is the importance of confession.” P.xiii
  • “Porn turns women into objects to be consumed.  Like a bucket of fried chicken, a woman is nothing more than breasts, legs, and thighs.” P.22
  • “With around a half billion pages, it’s easier to find porn on the Web than a good deal on a set of tires.” P.42
  • “Idols always deliver something…The problem is that it’s never enough.” P.51
  • Beware of inherent legalism:  “If I stay away from porn, God will be happy with me.” P.60
  • “Personally, I have never seen anyone recover from sexual addiction that remained in silence.” P.132
  • “Whenever we find a call from the New Testament to obey God and his law of love, it is based on the finish work of Christ on our behalf, motivated by the love of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit.” P.106

These and many more powerful thoughts make Brian Gardner’s Porn Free the best book I have yet to read on the subject.  Besides a few comments about the potential of forgiveness (instead of the accomplished work of Christ) and the necessity of inviting Jesus into one’s heart (instead of faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit), I would recommend that anyone struggling with porn or desiring to help those with porn read this book.

Porn Free by Gardner, Brian

Reviewer: Mike Novotny
Review Date: January, 2014