When I was researching our book, Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids, I found a good explanation for this phenomenon in Dr. Norman Dodge’s best-selling book The Brain that Changes Itself. He explains the faulty, though typical view that an addict goes back for more of his “fix” because he likes the pleasure and wants to avoid the pain of withdrawal.
“But addicts take drugs when there is no prospect of pleasure, when they know they have an insufficient dose to make them high, and will crave more even before they begin to withdraw. Wanting and liking are two different things.”
Sensitization is the process that makes the brain acutely sensitive to triggers in the addict’s environment–cues that trigger a craving for the drug of choice, whether it’s alcohol or pornography. In fact, researchers have found a biochemical basis for sensitization—it’s when a certain protein called “delta Fos B” accumulates in the neurons. Sadly, each time the drug or addictive experience is used, more of this protein builds up until it flips a switch in the brain and leads to permanent changes in the dopamine system. As sensitization increases, it takes less and less of the substance for the addict to crave it intensely.
On the other hand, tolerance is the process that causes the brain to need more and more of a substance or experience like porn to get a pleasurable effect.
“So sensitization leads to increased wanting, though not necessarily liking.”
It’s hard to imagine a worse predicament—craving something intensely that you don’t even like anymore. That’s the trap of porn. A trap we must warn our children about so they have a good chance of avoiding it.