Media culture influences everyone. It informs who we are and who we become. Many are trapped by our hypersexualized culture. It begins when we are young, long before we have the knowledge to make careful choices in our lives.
Media culture is a major influence. But it is not the only influence.
Each of us become who we are by way of the interaction of three influences that are constantly in play. Think of them as three concentric circles of influence.
The center circle consists of the choices we make. The choices we make have the most direct influence on who we become.
Researchers who study the brain talk about “neuroplasticity” to refer to the way our brains are always changing. It is constantly in a state of development.
But the brain does not change randomly. It is not a chaotic mass of tangled nerve cells and neurons. The brain changes in a very deliberate way in response to the choices we make. The brain changes in response to our behavior.
When I think a certain thought (thinking is a behavior), or feel a certain way (feeling is a behavior), or do a certain thing, the neurons in my brain organize around my thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
The more I repeat a behavior – thought, feeling, or action — the more my brain conforms to the experience I provide it.
Neuroplasticity is what givessexual addiction its opportunity. The pleasurable pull of sex is a call for repetition. Pleasure is how our brains signal value. The value of sexual pleasure assured the perpetuation of the species.
As late as only 30 years ago, sexual behavior required a certain about of work and skill. In the old days, to be sexual required a long journey from childhood to late adolescence. In that time a person learned how to engage, converse, support, encourage, and otherwise woo the person of one’s desire.
The work was so difficult, that once an intimacy partner was secured, one stuck with it.
With easy access to pornography, the link between courtship and sexuality is broken. The internet has made access to sexual release so easy that one need not make the arduous journey of engagement, conversation, and support to experience the pleasure of sexual experience.
Instead of doing the hard work of conversation, all a boy need do today is turn to his smart phone and surf to a porn site. The pleasure is immediate and easy and – here is where sexual addiction comes in – repeatable.
It is in the return and the repetition that sexual addiction takes hold. The brain changes in response to the behavior we give it.
The center circle of the three circles that influence who I become is the choices I make. If I choose pornography, that is the behavior around which my brain will organize.
The next circle of influence consists of the people we know. The second circle is clearly linked to the center circle, and for a very obvious reason. People influence the way I think, feel, and act.
If I surround myself with people who shame me, belittle me, or neglect me, I will begin to think, feel, and behave like an unworthy person who does not deserve respect, affirmation, or appreciation.
This is why many people who struggle with sexual addiction come from families or social settings that include neglect or abuse. If what I experience from others is painful, it is easy to turn to sexual pleasure as an escape.
This is also why group therapy, and participation in something like a 12 Step group is so important in the process of recovery. If I surround myself with people who lift me up, who affirm me, and help me to grow, I can begin learn new skills. I begin to think, feel, and behave like a person who can overcome any obstacle and address any challenge.
In recovery, the second circle of influence informs the center circle of influence. My choices begin to change. As my choices change – how I think, how I feel, and what I do –- my brain begins to respond and change with my choices.
The final circle of influence is the circle of culture. This is the information – the images and ideas – we take into our minds from the world around us.
In an earlier post we explored how media culture is often exploitive. When one is involved in the culture of exploitation as a consumer, it can seem that that is all that exists in the world.
But the truth is that there is a big, beautiful world out there full of artistic expression that is not exploitive, that does not tear down and destroy, but rather ennobles and enriches. Great books, great film, great music and art is available everywhere that has the power to advance one’s journey of recovery every day.
This is the first line of defense for the person in recovery. One simply has to choose.