The Trouble with Lust & Your Brain

MMM-2014The Hook

The first time I looked at porn, I was about 10. I didn’t realize how “hooked” I was until I tried to “quit” 20 years later. Lust’s deep claws don’t let go of you, me, any of us, without a fight. Winning a personal war against porn & lust is made up of daily battles against a ubiquitous foe. You don’t have to look for lust – you have to “watch out” for it. Worse, your eyes aren’t always an asset.

How Does Your Brain Work?

Here’s how your brain processes images: “see, desire, move”. That simple. You see the lady walk by with too little shirt and too much skin. It’s .3 seconds from the time you see until you sense a desire to “go, get it/look at it/devour it!” and only .5 seconds from “see” to voluntary movement. That leaves only .2 seconds for what scientists call “veto power”. Scripture commands we veto, or “take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

What goes on in your head during that .2 seconds?


In mine, there’s a quick, very heated exchange between Spirit, soul, and flesh. The Spirit loudly barks “danger”. The surrendered soul replies, “taking evasive action”. While the flesh calmly nudges: “Relax. Besides, didn’t she look like Diane Lane? What if you could get her autograph for your wife? Dude, look again!

Scripture tells us to “flee” sexual immorality. So, flee, right? Just “bounce your eyes” away from temptation: a good technique that helped me get free early in my sobriety. But, technique without transformation leads to “trip ups”. Why: God wired our brains with a response – dopamine – an internal reward system. When you dwell on something “lustworthy”, your brain enjoys a shot of dope. It chemically “thanks” you. It doesn’t discriminate on moral grounds, rather it says – “That was good. Get… me… more.

Two Track Mind?

The brain’s also designed to do two things really well – maximize reward, minimize danger. It’s adept at making a crucial “snap judgment” (often called “approach – avoid” or “friend or foe”) immediately classifying incoming information as welcome or threatening. In an “approach” or “toward” state, you “let your guard down”. In an “avoid” or “away” state, guard goes up. Tell them that the next time they accuse you of having a one track mind!

The Lie:

A few weeks ago at a public pool, I turned to face one of my toddlers. Behind her stood very busty woman wearing not quite enough bathing suit. When I say “not quite enough suit”, I mean more of her was visible than she intended and than is permitted at a public pool. Out of ruthless desire to guard my own purity, I spun my head in the other direction. Bounce your eyes, right? Not so fast… Immediately, the flesh came up with a lame line… lie: “Can you believe what she’s not wearing? You should tell her what’s publicly visible. Look again!” Temptation wants to convince you that “flee” is not necessary, that what you see is not your foe and it’s okay to let your guard down.

Thanks be to God, I pressed the “veto” button. But, you know what I noticed? Somewhere over the past decade plus, God had made one thing clear in my mind: temptation is not your friend. Can I tell you how I know? Because for the next half hour of pool time, I could sense my brain was in a state of heightened alert, as if I knew temptation was just using this probably perfectly nice and decent woman to snag my eye and mind. No, it wasn’t her intent – she just needed to get her kid in and out of the pool and talk to her husband a few times. But, it was clear I was not to trust my inner dopamine-seeking-desire to have another look. Follow? Have the lifeguard relay the embarrassing truth to her, fine – but a married man guarding his purity and sobriety is not the guy to directly address her unless he’s going to do it with one hand over his eyes. #awkward…

Why Me?

I’m not telling you this to impress you with how spiritual I am. I am telling you this because I’m only 12 years sober and, maybe out of pride, I don’t ever want to have to say “I’m 1 year sober… again.” You follow? Porn addiction burned me pretty bad. Thirteen years ago, I came to Christ and He gave me a new heart with new desires, but there are still images & memories stuck in the cracks of my mind that I can’t “unthink”. I don’t want you to go through a long, arduous recovery process or miss out on the best He has for you. So, please – listen to medon’t let your guard down. Instead of giving in to that convincing voice, ask this question: what is it about that second look that’s going to enhance my purity?

A Prayer for Us:

Lord, keep us clean in our hearts, minds, and especially eyes. We know lust is aggressive and the world we live in is a “target rich environment”. Left to ourselves, we can talk ourselves into anything. Please, help us gird up the loins of our minds and keep our hearts set on things above. Help us spot our enemy, call it like it is, and walk the clean walk.
in it with you,