Sexual sin hurts. It mangles and poisons. It attacks the potential beauty and closeness of one of God’s most mysterious gifts: The one flesh relationship of sexual intimacy. In addition to defrauding our neighbor, when we engage in fornication or adultery we are in a real way self-destructing (Rom. 1:24-27).
While most Christians understand the health risks of extra-marital sex, and many will even acknowledge the emotional and spiritual damage such relationships have on people, it is likely that few understand how much deeper the damage goes. Studies now show that physical damage to the brain may be an additional consequence of sexual sin.
(Not for young readers.)
The Gift of Bonding
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” (1 Corinthians 6:16)
God has given us a fascinating neuro-peptide hormone called oxytocin that is released into our system during physical intimacy—a hormone that causes us to bond either to our spouse or to that “friend with (deadly) benefits.”
Interestingly, oxytocin is the same chemical that is released into our system during breast feeding—an important hormone that God designed to help us mothers form a strong bond/attachment to our babies.
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
This warning may include venereal disease and other negative consequences of promiscuity; but, it may also refer to the physiological damage sexual sin does to our brains.
Within the realm of marriage, the power of oxytocin is an awesome gift that promotes affection, excitement, and trust; it’s one aspect of the “glue” that God uses to bring two people together as “one flesh.” And within the mother-child relationship it creates a strong, foundational bond that is very difficult to recover if lost.
Pastor Mark Gungor in his article, The Danger of Sexual Promiscuity, points out:
As for the physiological damage, science shows us that when a woman has sex with a man, a chemical called oxytocin is released into her system… It seems to act as a human superglue and helps a woman bond with her infant. This chemical also helps a woman bond with her lover during sex.
This neuro-physiological bonding is a wonderful example of a good and holy gift from God that, when used sinfully, has negative consequences. Our bodies, including our brains, are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who loves us and created our relationships for His glory. He designed us to enjoy one another His way.
The Mind-Altering Nature of Sexual Sin
But, it’s not just sexual sin in the physical realm that affects our brains. Scientists are just beginning to discover how pornography, and even video games, physically alters the brain. William M. Struthers of Wheaton College describes how pornography affects the minds of men in a way that is similar to a drug.
Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.
Pornography “acts as a polydrug,” Struthers explains. As Dr. Patrick Carnes asserts, pornography is “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience.” Boredom and curiosity lead many boys and men into experiences that become more like drug addiction than is often admitted.
Salvo magazine has a fascinating article that discusses the way pornography causes the brain to release chemicals into our system that cause a very real addictive result similar to drug addiction: Pornography Drugs and Change Your Brain (this is a must-read). The article again confirms the important role oxytocin plays in bonding, and why it’s so dangerous outside of its God-given purpose:
Studies show that oxytocin is also important in increasing trust in humans, in emotional bonding between sexual mates, and in parental bonding. We are wired to bond to the object of our sexuality.
It is a good thing when this bonding occurs in a committed marriage relationship, but there is a dark side. When sexual gratification occurs in the context of pornography use, it can result in the formation of a virtual mistress of sorts. (emphasis mine)
In other words, the pornography user “bonds” in a sense with his use of pornography—rather than a real life person. There is a perverse attachment/bond to something that doesn’t exist—pornography becomes a cruel and unattainable false god. That’s why porn addicts will often lose interest in real-life sexual relations, or they will suffer impotence, the inability to physically perform at all. In the Salvo article above, sex therapist, Dr. Victor Cline affirms this point:
“Porn impotence,” where the man experiences sexuality preferentially with porn instead of a woman, is a real and growing phenomenon.
Dr. Cline, in his essay, “Pornography’s Effects on Adult and Child,” describes the degenerative nature of pornography:
A frequent side effect is that it [pornography] also dramatically reduces their capacity to love (e.g., it results in a marked dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships). Their sexual side becomes in a sense dehumanized.
Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and a release from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is addiction, and an eventual decrease in pleasure.
Erotic Fiction: Mind Porn for Women
Statistics show that while only 17% of porn users are women, women are twice as likely to visit porn chat rooms as are men. This makes perfect sense when we consider that women tend to be more responsive to verbal and relational stimulation than men. And, consistent with a woman’s tendency to want real-life relationships and intimacy, according to Top Ten Reviews, “women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.”
This is particularly disturbing in light of all the hype over 50 Shades of Grey, a wildly popular piece of erotic fiction by British author E.L. James that has rightly been labeled by the media “Mommy Porn.” But, amazingly, even some Christian women are devouring this book and raving about it on Facebook and on their blogs!
Jesus points out in Matthew 5:28 that sin begins in the heart; and the battle against sin is first waged in the mind. That’s why pornography is sinful, even without any physical, sexual contact. But, I have news for you, ladies; literary erotica is the same thing. And it likely affects the mind and emotions in the same way pornography does.
On her blog, Dannah Gresh warns women about the lasting effects of reading erotica:
Biopsychologists and others are studying the effects of lust, pornography, and erotica on the brain and the body. They are finding that the Bible was, in fact, right. Over time, your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. It’s not just a preference. It’s physiological. The lust cuts a literal pathway in your brain tissue that’s kinda like a rut. A rut you better be prepared to get stuck in.
While at first a little bit of erotica might give you a taste for your spouse, over time that rut reminds you how great you are at self-stimulation and how powerful your imagination can be. You’ll become less interested in real sex with your husband. (Both SELF magazine and The New Yorker ran articles on this phenomenon in recent years. They both suggested that if you want to have a great sex life, you better push pause on porn!)
According to Jesus, fantasizing in your mind about someone other than your spouse or indulging in even literary sexual voyeurism is sin. Because sin is ultimately a heart issue, we can’t ingest titillating images or stories about the sex lives of other people without participating (at least in our minds) in their sin.
This includes magazines, books, websites, movies, television, or whatever “provision for the flesh” we dream up (Romans 13:4). A woman reading erotic fiction is sinning in the same way a man is when he views pornography.
If we read a frightening book, we get scared. Our blood pressure may change, our breathing quickens, and we may experience many of the same feelings of fear that our main character feels. If we read a sad story, our stress level increases, we feel emotional pain or empathy, and we may even cry. If you’re like my daughter, you’ll sob uncontrollably! So, what do you think happens when we read erotica – a book that describes for us in steamy detail the sexual exploits of fornicators (Eph. 5:12)?
You may convince yourself that it doesn’t affect you. You may laugh and believe the lie of the world that says books like this spice up your marriage and cause you to appreciate how other people live. But do you trust your own heart?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind… (Jeremiah 17:9–10)
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:3–7)
Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:11–13)
If you’ve been filling your heart and mind with porneia, do the verses above make you a little nervous? If so, I encourage you to repent! Ask the Lord to forgive you and cleanse you of your sin! Ask Him to renew your mind!
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Start now to focus on and fill your mind with whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, anything excellence, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).
The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12–14)
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