Your Brain On Porn, Part 3


Porn Rewires Your Brain
Every thought, feeling, habit, skill, or behavior in your life has a corresponding neuropathway that fires in your brain. These pathways are designed to function optimally. However, as the brain’s reward circuitry gets entangled in a tug-of-war, the brain rewires itself for addiction and new neuropathways are created. Every time a man views porn, or eventually even thinks about porn, the burst of dopa- mine strengthens the connections between cells. The stronger the connection, the easier it becomes for cells to communicate on that path. This idea of the brain changing itself is called neuroplasticity. Whether learning to ski, learning to speak a foreign language, or looking at porn, the more we use its neuropathway, the more our brain changes, making the pathway stronger.

These neuropathways are like footpaths across a field of waist- high grass. Walking across the field when the grass is so high requires significant effort. But each time you walk along the path, it gets easier. The grass is trampled, worn down, and eventually becomes a dirt path.

As our brains are rewired, porn works like a Weed Eater cutting through the tall grass. Porn becomes the path of least resistance in the brain. And the easier the path, the more likely we are to take it, even when we don’t want to. The creation of this path of least resistance is called sensitization.

A Plea to Women for Forgiveness


Rows of burning candles inside a curch

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a wonderful idea, until they have something to forgive.”  The same might be said of the idea of asking forgiveness. It is a wonderful idea. Until we have something for which we need to ask forgiveness.

Today, I am asking women around the world for forgiveness.

I’m not doing so in order to clear my conscience. I’m not doing it as a Fifth Step in a Twelve Step Recovery Program. And I’m not asking forgiveness as some kind of a publicity stunt. So why am I asking forgiveness?

In 1994 I began a journey of recovery from sexual addiction. Prior to this time I lied, manipulated, and used women to selfishly feed my compulsion. I consumed women in an “industry” where women are both precious commodity and raw material. From porn to prostitution, and most everything in between, the common behavioral denominator was an utter disregard for the dignity and personhood of the women before me.

Twenty years after the fact, having experienced a miraculous recovery, I am heartbroken. My heart breaks for the women that I used to feed my selfish desire. My heart breaks for women, whatever the reason, who provide some kind sex for pay. My heart breaks that we live in a world where women are treated as if their only real value is to gratify men’s sexual desire.

Only now do I  realize that some of the women I exploited  were probably victims of sex trafficking. Forced to live as  human slaves. Consequently, when I read news articles, blogs, and social media advocating for the end of  human slavery, it get’s personal fast.

Granted, not every woman in the sex industry has been trafficked or enslaved. But every woman in the sex industry becomes a casualty in a system of sexual free enterprise where supply is driven by demand. Therefore, in the language of sexual economics, I was the demand fueling supply–a link in the massive chain holding women captive.

It’s been written that no individual raindrop ever considers itself responsible for the flood. In regard to the ever expanding sex industry, I’m convinced that if enough individual raindrops begin to take responsibility for the flood of sexual demand (and seek personal healing and recovery), God’s Kingdom would come and His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Just imagine what that would be like!

The things I’ve done and the ways in which I’ve related to women are absolutely unacceptable. And yet, increasingly, through the glorification of porn and the glamorization of the sex industry, what was once unacceptable is becoming a celebrated norm. So by asking forgiveness I don’t want to be let off the hook. And I’m certainly not asking any woman to “forgive and forget.” What I’m hoping is that by asking forgiveness, both women and men will begin to experience healing.

The words below are directed to women far beyond the sex industry. Every woman has experienced sexism and wounding at the hands of men.

If you are a man…

I encourage you to read the words below. Ask yourself how the words apply to you (even if you have never paid for sex or used porn). Do the words resonate? How have you wounded women knowingly or unknowingly? To whom might you need to ask forgiveness? 

If you are a woman…

I encourage you to read the words below.  Allow them to sink into your heart. Ask yourself how the words apply to you. What do the words stir inside of you? Who are the men in your story who have  wounded you? To whom might you need to offer forgiveness? 

Dear Woman,

I stand before you as an imperfect man to offer words of apology to you, my sister in humanity. I apologize for the harm inflicted upon you by men; by my brothers, by my forefathers, by me. In my own brokenness, shame, and selfish need, my words and actions have become links in a chain that bind you. In the same way, my lack of words and actions have fostered injustice against you.

For this I ask forgiveness.

I speak on behalf of all men who have wronged you and harmed you. I am your brother, your father, your uncle, your grandfather, your husband.  I am your neighbor, your friend, your boyfriend, your teacher. I am your coach, your counselor, your pastor. I apologize for the ways in which men have exploited you, disrespected you, diminished you,  abandoned you, and despised you because you are a woman. 

For this I ask forgiveness.

I apologize for how men have violated your rights, not respecting your inherent dignity and worth as a person to fulfill your God-given destiny. I apologize for how men have violated, abused, and used your body as well–not  honoring you or appropriately protecting you. I’m sorry that men have treated you as an object, especially as a sexual object. 

For this I ask forgiveness.

In my own brokenness and selfish need, I have treated you as a sexual object and used you sexually. I’m grieved for how seeing and treating you as an object caused you to doubt your own worth and beauty, and perhaps to despise your own body and soul.

For this I ask forgiveness. 

I am sorry for the ways in which sexual exploitation, control, disrespect, and devaluing, has contributed to many kinds of violence against women and caused you to feel unsafe in this world.

For this I ask forgiveness.

I apologize for how sacred religious texts have been used by men to control you, oppress you, and “put you in your place.”  I apologize for how men have relegated you from leadership, commerce, and positions of influence. I apologize for how men have been threatened by your strength, insight, intuition, and wisdom. I am sorry for how we have diminished your voice and have not listened to your wisdom.

For all of these sins I ask forgiveness.  

And now, Dear Woman, I bless you and honor you as a person. I bless you and honor you as my equal in humanity. I bless you and honor you as a woman–one inherently worthy of respect, opportunity, and equality of rights.

Finally, I will labor to make this blessing a reality. I will stand against misogyny in all its forms, and and at every opportunity use my voice for good on behalf of all women around the world. 

On behalf of all men everywhere, 

Michael John Cusick
Littleton, Colorado
United States of America 

What are your thoughts, feelings, and response to what I’ve written and asked of women? I would love to hear your thoughts.


What Exactly Is Life Changing?

This afternoon I dropped off my vacuum at the repair shop. Displayed rather prominently near the cashier was a vacuum that boasted to be “life changing.”

A vacuum that’s life changing. Really?

In the last few years I’ve heard people tell me their iPhone or iPad was life changing. I’ve heard others tell me that a vacation or a significant event was life changing. To be sure, we live in an age where hyperbole flows like milk at a dairy convention.

At Restoring the Soul we facilitate life changing moments. In fact, for almost ten years our mission statement has been to provide life changing soul care. But what exactly does it mean for something to be life changing?

Over the years as I’ve provided intensive soul care to thousands of individuals and couples, I’ve witnessed five ingredients that make for an authentically life changing experience.

  • Life Changing Moments Provide Clarity
  • Life Changing Moments Provide Reorientation
  • Life Changing Moments Provide Transformation
  • Life Changing Moments Provide Motivation
  • Life Changing Moments Provide  Direction

At Restoring the Soul we are thrilled to announce a brand new intensive workshop that we believe is life changing. Surfing For God Intensive Weekend is a three day intensive workshop for men struggling with lust, pornography, or other sexually compulsive behaviors.

Based upon the book Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, the workshop combines powerful teaching, small groups, experiential activities, and ample opportunity to interact with staff and other men in recovery.

So who do you know that needs a truly life changing experience related to sexual addiction and compulsion?




STOP THE TRAFFIC, A Poem by Gerard Kelly

Lately, I’ve been reading a fair amount of poetry. Seamus Heaney, D.A. Carson, Wendell Berry, and others.

I find myself returning again and again to poems for spiritual nourishment. I like Eugene Peterson’s idea that when we read a poem, we don’t receive more information, we receive more experience.

I benefit, and we all benefit from more experience.  It opens up the world, and allows us to experience what we’d otherwise miss.

One of my favorite poets is Gerard Kelly, whose book, Spoken Worship, is simply one of the best reads I’ve come across–poetry or prose. I first heard of Gerard through my friend Brian Newman, who pastored in Amsterdam for many years.

Kelly’s poem below is one of many that move me.  The poem I want to share is about Human Sex Trafficking.

(From Spoken Worship: Living Words for Personal and Public Prayer, Zondervan 2007 )

I am a person,
not a potato
to be picked and packaged
and sent to market
to be sliced and diced,
chopped up and ketchupped
on the other side of the world.

I am a human
and I am not for sale.

I am a living conscience,
not a cargo.
I travel passenger,
not freight.
I am not cattle,
not contraband,
not a catalogued commodity.
I’m not the bottom line
for those who trade in tragedy
and profit from perversity.
I am not a can
to be recycled.

I am a human
and I am not for sale.

I am a thinking individual
not a rare exotic bird.
I am your sister,
not an inmate for your zoo.
I am not merchandise,
not meat,
not a meal ticket.
I was mothered,
not manufactured,
not created.

I am human
and I am not for sale.

It’s time to end this trade
in human tragedy,
to terminate this travesty
of a global economy.
Let the red lights
of your cities
be put to better use
to stop the traffic.
Write it in your lights
across your seared conscience:

I am a human
and I am not for sale.

Question: How does Kelly’s poem impact you?  What phrase, word, or image stands out to you, and why?

How Old Were You the First Time You Saw Pornography?

According to a recent study, the average age of a child first viewing pornography is eleven years old.

It goes without saying this is typically an online encounter, where the child is pursuing another interest or activity like gaming or homework. Suddenly, whether through a pop-up, misspelled URL, or a stealth site, the child sees images that can be emotionally confusing.

All at once the child may feel sexual arousal, mixed with fear, shame, disgust, comfort, and pleasure. They may feel something life-giving right alongside feelings that something is being taken. This was certainly the case for me when I was exposed to porn at four years old.

Years later, as a counselor, speaker, and author, I regularly hear stories from men and women about their first encounter with porn.

For the who came of age before the internet and online porn, it may have involved finding a Playboy magazine in a field, or behind a dumpster at the corner store.  Some discovered a stash of “girly magazines” while babysitting or visiting a relative, while some grew up in homes where porn magazines and videos were in plain sight.

The internet has changed everything in terms of how porn is distributed and accessed. And though the stories vary concerning how a person first viewed porn, the idea of an unwanted, unsolicited encounter is more common than ever.

The difference, is that finding a Playboy in a field is a whole different experience than seeing three people having sex on your computer screen sitting in your living room. If magazines and videos of years past were like the Wright Brothers plane at Kitty Hawk, the online pornography of today is like a supersonic jet.

How old were you when you first viewed pornography?  Can you relate to any of the above scenarios? How did being exposed to the images  effect you?

The Tip of the Iceberg: Why Porn Is A Symptom of a Deeper Issue

For nearly fourteen years I followed Jesus–clueless that my struggles with lust, masturbation, and porn were symptoms of  much deeper issues which explained why I couldn’t “just say no.”

Jesus taught that adultery and sexual immorality come out of the heart (Matt. 15:19). But what does this mean?

In his classic book Inside Out, Larry Crabb compares our inner world to an iceberg. The visible tip of the iceberg represents our behaviors, conscious thoughts, and feelings—things people see and feel. The iceberg mass below the waterline represents those things that cannot be readily identified. These include motives, purposes, and attitudes of the heart, as well as painful memories and hidden emotions.

It doesn’t take much to realize that a person can appear morally obedient, spiritually mature, and emotionally whole, yet below the waterline remain self-centered and immature. It is below the waterline, however, in the place of our inmost being, where the gospel is meant to transform us.

In the waters of our soul, something more deeply rooted must be addressed. But what is it? When Jesus taught that adultery and sexual immorality came out of the heart, He was not giving an anatomy lesson.

In a heated conversation with the religious professionals of the day, Jesus had been discussing what makes a person clean or unclean. The popular teaching was that a person was unclean for not having followed certain ceremonial steps.

But Jesus turned this teaching upside down. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’” Jesus said, “but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’” (Matt. 15:11).

Jesus’ point was that no matter how many acts of obedience we perform, our problems are internal, not external. Our actions and behavior—what comes out of us—are just the tip of the iceberg.

As if Jesus’ impassioned discussion with the religious rule- keepers were not enough, He went on to utter His harshest words yet, to those who believed that God should be impressed with their moral performances.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. . . . First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matt. 23:25–26).

What this means for a man caught in the chains of porn and lust is crucial. If you could somehow magically stop looking at porn and exercise self-control in place of lust, you still wouldn’t be dealing with the problem below the waterline.

You’ve only cleaned the outside of the cup and dish.

“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” wrote Solomon (Proverbs 20:5).

Our hearts hold deep reasons for why we do what we do, which explains why our sinful actions and self-sufficient behaviors can make sense—at least internally.

We are thirsty, but we often move in the wrong directions to satisfy our thirst. “This only have I found,” wrote the author of Ecclesiastes. “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes” (7:29).

Beneath the waterline we are driven by hidden agendas, unconscious goals, and ungodly passions—schemes to slake the thirst that God alone can quench.

Connecting these deep passions and purposes below the water- line to the behaviors, struggles, and issues above the waterline helps us recognize the cause of our confusing behavior.

Understanding ourselves at this level is not about the “what” of our sin (I can’t stop looking), but the “why” of sin (porn promises to meet some legitimate need in me).

Question:  If a struggle with porn is the tip of the iceberg, then what might be lurking beneath the surface that contributes to a struggle with porn?

Excerpted from Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by Michael Cusick. Copyright ©2012. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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