The PornTrigger Effect

By | September 10, 2015

Addiction. It’s everywhere. It often goes unacknowledged, but it’s never benign. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the case of the world’s pandemic pornography addiction.

Some wonder why pornography addiction is so pervasive and so hard to quit. There are various answers to that question, but one important answer is very simple (almost too simple). But, it is not politically correct, nor is it generally acceptable in contemporary western culture.

Talking about it openly may invite incessant mocking or even surprising vitriol, and addressing it effectively would interfere with the careers and social life of a lot of people. So, many people who might care seem to just do their best to forget about it altogether.

It becomes plain to see why we’re still battling this issue instead of celebrating the victory.

One big secret to the success of porn is that its triggers are nearly everywhere.

What’s a porn trigger?


A porn trigger is a visual stimulus that causes a reaction in the brain that arouses and begins (whether subtly or more powerfully) to prepare a person for a sexual encounter. It’s like pulling a grenade pin.

This reaction can occur in both males and females, though males may have a higher rate of porn addiction.

You’re familiar with different kinds of addiction: alcoholism, nicotine, and heroine are three examples. An obvious difference between something like alcohol and porn is that with porn you don’t have to take an external physical substance into your system to get the high. The visual stimulus (porn or porn trigger) takes advantage of a natural sexual process in an unnatural way and “tells” the brain to go ahead with the adrenaline, endorphin, and dopamine releases that, when abused, lead to dependency and eventual addiction.

These addictive substances are manufactured inside your own body, and they are extremely potent. They’re positive substances in normal day-to-day living in a chaste society, but porn makes them pernicious.

Porn is easy to access, and the world-wide porn hazard brings with it its own kinds of triggers. They include various degrees of nudity, which includes tight, sheer, or otherwise revealing clothing, which is worn by nearly everyone of both sexes nearly everywhere. (It’s important to note that this type of immodesty isn’t the only porn trigger around. It is just one of the most ubiquitous.)

The triggers also show up in internet ads, billboards, bus ads, business signs, mud flaps, magazines, text books, social media, internet shops, “family-friendly” television shows and “family-appropriate” movie trailers, movies, commercials, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, media produced by religious organizations, public swimming pools, beaches, sport events, and just about anywhere else you can think of.

The ubiquitous porn triggers in our society are generally tolerated and sometimes celebrated. I hear people say, “If you don’t like these things, just don’t look at them,” much like other people will tell an alcoholic, “If you want to stop your dependence on alcohol, get some help and stop drinking.”

Alcoholics aren’t force-fed doses of alcohol everywhere they go like porn addicts are force-fed porn triggers. And if they were, the person forcing the alcohol would probably get arrested and go to jail.

When an alcoholic goes to church or work, fellow worshipers or coworkers don’t force open the alcoholic’s mouth and pour vodka down their throat.

When an alcoholic visits a news site on the internet or shops at a mall, the ads don’t pin the person on the ground, force open their mouth, and pour whisky down their throat.

The same can’t be said of porn triggers.

When a porn addict goes to church or work, fellow attendees or coworkers do force porn triggers into the addict’s brain by wearing tight, sheer, or otherwise revealing clothing.

When a porn addict visits a news site on the internet or shops at the mall, the ads do force porn triggers into the addict’s brain with nudity, lingerie, and other stimulating images.

It happens without consent.

In the normal travels of everyday life, choice usually isn’t involved with porn triggers — at least not the choice of the addict who is striving to recover. It happens without the addict’s consent. It happens whether the addict wants it or not.

I’ll dress how I want. I’m not responsible for what other people think about.”

I’ve heard that general idea expressed so many times, occasionally in the least likely of places. This response may demonstrate some degree of ignorance of porn addiction and its triggers. It isn’t always about what the addict chooses to think about. When it comes to the unwilling, recovering porn addict being force-fed porn triggers, it’s about the biological and chemical process the revealing and sexualized images push into the addicts brain without the addict’s consent.

We’ve got to understand that normal brains interpret nudity and revealing attire as sexual imagery if we’re ever going to start to help porn addicts. It is healthy to be aroused by nudity and revealing attire when such experiences happen between a man and a woman who are married. But in contemporary society, dressing in revealing attire is commonplace, which means that one of the preliminary stages of sexual relations are constantly being engaged (anywhere from subtly to powerfully). It messes with natural processes that are designed for a specific relationship.

Porn triggers cause a natural and automatic reaction in the brain that is beyond human ability to fully control. Can any of us stop our brains from flooding adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine just by wishing it so? Of course not! Some have learned to avoid dangerous situations while others have learned to corral the sexual energy into activities less harmful than porn use, but it becomes obvious just how enormous the task is when you understand how ubiquitous porn triggers are.

Triggers are EVERYWHERE.

It’s not just a once-in-a-blue-moon encounter. Encounters happen dozens and dozens of times every single day. In trying to tally up the number of triggers encountered in a normal day, a man’s math may easily surpass 100 if not 1000. Imagine if an alcoholic trying to recover was force-fed one ounce of vodka even 1 time, let alone 100. They’d likely fall off the wagon.

In many cases, a pornography addict’s only mistake is to look in the direction of the porn trigger. In other words, the addict has eyes and uses them.

I guess addicts could leave visual porn triggers behind for good if they’d just pluck out their eyeballs, but should we expect porn addicts to either accept and embrace their affliction or rip out their eyes? No, we shouldn’t. Instead, maybe we could do a better job of keeping sexuality in the privacy of marriage where it belongs.

While porn addiction can be overcome, it is ferociously difficult. We can each do more to help. To that end, I pray that our society has not entirely abandoned chastity and that individuals don’t only feel self worth when they flaunt their sexuality on every man, woman, and child alive who shares the space.

Nearly every person I know has either battled a porn habit or porn addiction in the past and is currently in recovery, currently feels hopelessly addicted and is struggling to come up for air, or has (or had) a close relationship with a porn addict.

These porn issues often contribute to many social cancers, including addiction, rape, infidelity, divorce, abortion, prostitution, and sex slavery. Yet people still defend porn triggers like a momma bear defends her cubs.

The might say, “In our free society, porn and its triggers (including sex-charged advertising that is piped into people’s homes or put on display for all to see) are protected by free speech,” which would be false.

Porn and its triggers are not victimless. They are not harmless. They don’t affect exclusively the lives of those who desire and seek to view them. In fact, the reason advertisers use porn triggers in advertising is because they know how the triggers affect the brain. In other words, the Porn Trigger Effect is a desired outcome. I wonder if these same advertisers know that what they do is a significant factor in the destruction of thousands and thousands of meaningful relationships.

Triggers are manipulative.

I wonder if the same people who say that porn and porn triggers are protected by free speech would also say that a drug dealer would be within their constitutional rights to walk around injecting heroine into the veins of innocent passersby in order to get them to take a course of action that favors the dealer. If porn, then why not this?

Porn is as addictive as any street drug and can be as destructive, but thanks to porn triggers porn addicts can get a little high and stay high without even choosing to use the drug. All they have to do is encounter sexually charged advertising or others wearing revealing clothing.

It’s sad that porn isn’t all that condemned by our society, and our churches generally condemn porn but seem to embrace its triggers. I don’t know if I’ll live to see the day when sexuality in our culture will again be respected and reserved for husband and wife in the privacy and sanctity of marriage, but I feel impelled to speak out anyway.

And you can help me fight back. Please.

We’ve all been there. We either are the addict or we personally know the addict. Let’s show solidarity with them and those their addictions have hurt. Top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out, let’s eradicate this plague.

Steps to take:


The principle of modesty—the commandment that you should avoid a tempting manner or appearance—is fixed and eternal and will not deviate. – Dallin H. Oaks

Perhaps as pandemic as porn addiction is the great tragedy of causing the porn trigger, whether through naivety, through weakness, or intentionally. And this isn’t something that only women do. Men are just as responsible. Why do we dress in public in a way that will likely awaken the sexual response in friends and strangers alike? Why will we not keep all of our sexuality within its intended scope?

Consider this counsel from God’s prophets:

Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are . . . modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress . . . influence[s] the way you and others act.

Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval.

Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. – For the Strength of Youth

I witness that this counsel applies to adults as well and that it applies in all situations when how we dress may affect others. And when we compromise and rationalize, no matter how popular or innocent an activity may seem, we could easily become porn triggers.

But there is hope. There is a way back to the right. It is through Jesus Christ’s atonement. Jesus Christ can help a person’s very motives to change. He can access and cleanse the heart.

Our Savior has the power to cleanse and heal you.

Sincere prayer that our Father in Heaven will fill you with His enabling power of grace can make all the difference.

Remember that there is healthy and righteous expression of sexual intimacy. It doesn’t involve pornography or public displays of immodesty. It happens naturally between husband and wife. Porn complicates and corrupts that natural expression.

If you have found that your marital intimacy has been damaged by porn, there is healing to be found in repentance and in beginning to practice healthy habits.

Addictions can be overcome

Want to feel uplifted? Watch “Come Unto Jesus.”

Also, read Recovering from the Trap of Pornography by Dallin H. Oaks. 


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