Author: Struthers, William
Other Information: Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: 2009. (189 pages.)
Reviewer: Mike Novotny
Review Date: August, 2013

Porn 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.

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.