Pornography Addiction Explained
Although pornography has been with us since the dawn of history, in recent decades there has been an astonishing boom in pornographic images – fuelled first by home video, and more recently by the internet – and porn usage has become, to a certain extent, normalised in many societies. However, in certain cases, the compulsive usage of pornography can cause great harm to an individual and their loved ones, and porn addiction is now becoming recognised as an increasingly significant problem across the Western world and beyond.
Pornography addiction is the compulsive manifestation of sexual behaviour and impulses in combination with, and partly as a result of, the consumption of pornographic material, despite the negative consequences of such consumption. The pornography in question may take any of a wide variety of forms (though since the advent of the internet and the growing ubiquity of connected devices, the great majority of cases now concern pornographic video content accessed online) with themes and content ranging from softcore to extremely hard-core (and potentially illegal).
As with any behavioural addiction, an addiction to pornography develops as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain’s reward centre, driving repeated consumption of pornography, often to the exclusion of previously enjoyed activities and at the expense of work or academic endeavours and hitherto cherished relationships. Although pornography can be enjoyed in company, typically those suffering from an addiction to pornography engage in its consumption alone – usually, though not invariably, in conjunction with repeated bouts of masturbation – and this can lead to a significant degree of isolation and resultant mental and emotional challenges.
Whilst physical impairment is much less common – certainly, in comparison with other addictions such as substance abuse disorders – physical consequences are not unknown, especially in very serious cases involving prolonged isolation and impaired dietary and sleeping habits, what damage may also result from excessive masturbation.
Meanwhile, despite the proliferation of free pornography sites on the internet, the quest for specific content types or niches, or an obsession with particular performers (especially “live” performers such as “camgirls”) can mean that the financial cost of maintaining a porn addiction can be very high, while the costs to an addict’s life prospects of consuming illegal pornography can be catastrophic.
Pornography Addiction: Real or Myth?
There is currently a very significant debate in the international medical community about whether or not pornography addiction constitutes a “real” addiction or mental disorder. The leading psychiatric and therapeutic organisations and publications in the United States, for example – including the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) have not yet taken the step of giving porn addiction its own classification, with some authorities saying that there is as yet insufficient evidence to justify doing so.
On the other hand, the number of individuals – including some very high-profile celebrities – seeking help for what they consider to be addictions to pornography is growing year on year, as are the amount of research into the condition and the number of organisations now treating pornography addiction as a distinct disorder.
Types of Pornography Addiction
The sheer variety of forms of pornography – in terms of the media in which it is presented and the content depicted – means that pornography addiction itself can also take many forms. As noted, the boom in internet pornography and the huge number of connected devices – including mobile phones, tablets and laptops, meaning that pornography can be accessed in all but the most inaccessible places – mean that by far the most common manifestation of pornography addiction involves the consumption of online video content; however, pornographic magazines and books, still images, audio content, live performances and other media can all feature in – and lead to the development of – addiction.
While in some parts of the world even softcore pornography in any medium is illegal, in much of the West in particular even comparatively hard-core imagery is not criminalised, and thus porn addicts are able to view footage and images involving sexual activity and behaviour which many may consider comparatively extreme, and perhaps violent. Some research shows that repeated exposure to increasingly extreme activity can drive changes in sexual preferences and the development of a vicious circle where ever more extreme imagery is sought out – potentially leading to the consumption of illegal pornography.
Even in the West, pornographic imagery featuring children, animals and nonconsensual activity is typically highly illegal, with serious criminal consequences for those found guilty of viewing and – especially – producing it. However, such pornography can also feature in individual cases of addiction – though the treatment for someone displaying an addiction to child pornography, in particular, would differ significantly from more mainstream cases (as paedophilia would be considered a distinct disorder, with its own pathology and very different ramifications).
Stages of a Pornography Addiction
A pornography addict’s first exposure to pornography may occur at any age, and addiction may not develop until many years after that first exposure – and/or, indeed, after many years of unproblematic pornography consumption. In many cases, however, the process takes place relatively quickly.
Regardless of when first exposure took place, a key step in the development of addiction is the normalisation of the consumption of pornography, and it’s becoming established as a regular aspect of an individual’s life, perhaps through the development of a daily routine, in which that individual uses pornography – normally while masturbating – as a means of relaxation and/or self-enjoyment. It is important to recognise that pornography addiction is by no means a condition which only affects single people – indeed, it has been a factor in a large number of divorces – and many couples watch pornography together. The development of addiction, however, tends to take place on an individual basis (though cases of codependency are far from unknown) and it may be that the burgeoning addict begins to desire to consume more pornography, more frequently, than their partner.
Whether single or part of a couple, once an individual has established the consumption of pornography as part of their daily routine, addiction may begin to take hold at any time: they may start to feel cravings for pornography at all times of the day, and to consume it increasingly frequently outside any established routine (including at work or in other inappropriate settings).
As noted above, they may also seek out increasingly extreme pornography in order to achieve the same “thrill” as they initially felt; this is a result of the brain’s reward centres becoming increasingly destabilised (a similar effect as the development of tolerance to a specific substance in the case of drug addiction). This can also lead to a desensitisation to the content being viewed, and the development of potentially very troubling thoughts and emotions regarding “real world” sexual encounters, and the humanity of the actors portraying the activity being viewed.
In many cases, this desensitisation and the desire for increasing extreme content can spill over into an individual’s sex life – whether with a spouse/life-partner or with occasional partners – and they may find that they are unable to enjoy or be satisfied with the kind of sex which previously used to fulfil them. This is especially a problem in the case of addicts consuming extreme or violent pornography, who may now feel the urge to engage in similar activity; while such people may be able to find partners willing to engage in this activity consensually, there have been many cases in which extreme pornography has been cited as a factor in acts of extreme violence, rape and other sexual assault, and even murder, while less dramatically it can also create deep divisions between previously contented partners who now find themselves sexually incompatible and to the establishment of problematic expectations on the part of affected individuals regarding human sexual nature and norms.
Causes of Pornography Addiction
As with any type of addiction, there is no absolute consensus on what causes pornography addiction, with both genetic and environmental factors playing a part. By no means, everybody who views pornography – even very frequently – will develop an addiction, and even people with very similar genetic and environmental backgrounds are not guaranteed to develop the same way.
While the neurochemical basis for addiction is increasingly well understood there is as yet no way of recognising who will, and who will not develop an addiction to pornography. However, it is – understandably – relatively universally accepted that the more pornography someone consumes, and the more regularly they consume it, the more likely they are that it will begin to have detrimental effects upon their life and life circumstances. Moreover, some research suggests that more extreme the pornography being viewed, the more likely it is to lead to both ever greater rates of consumption and to the challenges associated with desensitisation and dehumanisation mentioned above.
Factors Influencing Porn Addiction
Again, each case of porn addiction is unique, and there is no unanimity regarding its precise causes. As noted above, a broad range of factors can contribute to its development.
It is a simple truth that some people have higher libidos than others, and the more highly sexualised someone is biologically, the more frequently they will think about sexual matters and become aroused; this can manifest itself in many different behaviours, but one is certainly an increased predilection for masturbation (which can drive the consumption of pornography). In some instances this can become pathological – a condition recognised long before the modern pornography boom, with its own therapeutic history – but even in less extreme cases, it can certainly drive an increase consumption of pornography.
Some people may find themselves unable to achieve climax without the consumption of pornography, or specific types thereof, and thus become psychologically dependent upon pornography to achieve that kind of relief. Others may find themselves unable to orgasm through normal sexual encounters and/or with spouses/life-partners, and, similarly, turn to pornography in order to achieve release from a heightened state of arousal.
Human sexuality is an incredibly complex field, and there are effectively countless ways in which a person’s psychology might drive a pornography addiction. They may have specific fetishes to which pornography can cater much more easily than “real life”; they may prefer the comparative simplicity of solitary pleasure as opposed to bilateral (or multilateral) sexual encounters. Many people who are or feel unable to reveal their true sexual preferences might seek out gay, transsexual or other forms of pornography to achieve a release they are unable to actualise in everyday life.
Other people may use pornography as a way of dealing with trauma – for instance, accessing pornography containing scenes resembling real-life incidents which have affected them. As noted above, still others might seek out extreme or illegal pornography as a way of dealing with impulses incompatible with the law and/or social norms. While many cases may share commonalities, the fact is that every person is unique, and that includes their psychosexual composition.
Some people, for any of the huge range of reasons, feel unable to participate in normal sexual encounters or to find partners; pornography can provide a route to regular sexual relief without requiring the involvement of another party. Many people abusing pornography to their detriment also suffer from co-occurring mental or emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression or agoraphobia. For others – especially in certain non-Western societies, and women in particular – social norms and mores mean that sexualisation is profoundly frowned upon and there may be simply no other outlet insight for their normal, healthy sexual desires. For any of these people, initially unproblematic pornography consumption can become compulsive and lead to addiction.
How Porn Addiction Affects Your Brain
As with any behavioural addiction, the foundation of a pornography addiction is found in the brain’s reward centre where – alongside certain other biomolecular mechanisms – the production of dopamine stimulates brain receptors (in particular, in the areas of the brain known as the amygdala and the ventral tegmental area) to create the impulse to repeat a specific behaviour (in this case, pornography consumption). The more the behaviour is repeated, the more easily dopamine production is stimulated, creating pleasurable sensations when the behaviour is engaged in and, on the other hand, unpleasant ones if the affected individual goes too long without repeating the behaviour in question (as a result of a dopamine deficiency).
element to pornography addiction when it is accompanied by masturbation, as the chemicals associated with sexual arousal and release also affect the brain’s reward centre – indeed, both sex and masturbation are also considered potentially addictive behaviours. However, it is entirely possible that a person may become addicted to pornography without engaging in either sex or masturbation.
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Pornography Addiction in Children and Teenagers
Although the very prospect may be an extremely uncomfortable one for many adults, children and teenagers are by no means immune to the challenge of pornography addiction. The relative ubiquity of pornography and mobile devices, in particular, mean that the opportunities for children to experience pornography – and therefore to develop addiction – have never been greater, and although governments the world over have attempted to counter this threat with legislation, at present, it appears to be a losing battle.
While the mechanisms behind the development of addiction in children and young people are the same as those in adults, its effects can be significantly more complicated as pornography can have a profound effect upon a young person’s sexual development and expectations of what sex “should” be like.
Extreme pornography, the entrance into mainstream awareness of hitherto taboo or niche sexual practices, the proliferation of images of highly stylised appearances and personal grooming styles, and the emphasis placed on certain physiques and, especially, genital dimensions and appearances, have all contributed to the emergence of sexual behaviour among children and young people which are causing a great deal of concern in education and social welfare – especially regarding the treatment of girls in particular, who are now often expected by partners to play an extremely submissive and pliant role and engage in quite extreme sexual practices from an early age, and who are pressured into striving for specific “looks” (often contributing to the emergence of anorexia, body dysmorphia and many other disorders).
Signs & Symptoms of Pornography Addiction
Some of the most frequently observed signs of pornography addiction greatly resemble those of other forms of addiction, including substance abuse disorders; others are specific to pornography abuse. It is important to recognise that, again, every case of addiction is unique, and by no means all symptoms of the condition will manifest in any given individual; moreover, it is equally important to remember that displaying any of these symptoms is not necessarily conclusive proof of addiction, nor of pornography addiction specifically: some of the following signs may have various different causes which may or may not imply that the individual in question is suffering from a disorder.
One of the most obvious signs of addiction of any form is increased seclusion and isolation on the part of the affected individual, including a withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities and from social circles. This can be especially pronounced and problematic in the case of pornography addiction since it is typically a solitary activity; even those suffering from severe substance abuse disorders often develop new peer groups – albeit potentially destructive ones – but pornography addiction can lead to extreme isolation, and consequently to the emergence of related disorders.
Many pornography addicts suffer from a lack of sleep and consequently from lethargy and exhaustion, which may manifest in decreased cognitive abilities and motor control and invisible signs of tiredness. Others suffering from a high degree of compulsion may frequently absent themselves for short periods from social gatherings or work, sneaking off to a secluded place to satisfy the compulsion. Work and academic performance may also be impacted by impaired concentration, while disciplinary and even legal problems may result from accessing pornography at work and/or on work-supplied computing equipment.
As well as any financial consequences of such developments, someone addicted to a form or forms of pornography requiring payment may begin to display deteriorated financial circumstances, potentially being late with payments, needing to borrow money regularly etc.
Regular exposure to, and a preference for, the more extreme end of the pornographic spectrum can lead to changes in sexual preferences and desires which may lead to relationship troubles, problems engaging with potential romantic partners and, if the addiction begins to spill over into sex addiction, a range of compulsions which may be obvious to external observers.
Short- and Long-Term Impacts of Pornography Addiction
As discussed above, pornography addiction can lead to changes in sexual tastes, desires and practices – which in the case of a single person may not be evident to anyone else, but which can cause huge problems for addicts in relationships. The addict may begin to engage in different forms of sexual experience and expression, which may include risky sexual behaviour and could potentially lead on to full-blown sex addiction.
(though related disorders can lead to physical damage,including self-harm), excessive masturbation may lead to damage to the genital region, muscle cramping and/or repetitive strain injury, while the use of sex toys and other objects may pose other risks.
As mentioned above, the proliferation of free porn sites means that pornography addiction may not result in any direct financial cost. However, many forms of pornography still require payment and this can have destructive financial consequences in some cases, leading to potentially severe long-term consequences for the addict’s life prospects.
Anyone engaging in the consumption of illegal pornography, in particular that involving children, risks both serious criminal penalties and a catastrophic impact upon their reputation and life prospects.
The impact of a pornography addiction upon a person’s self-esteem may be profound. Many people experience feelings of great shame and guilt after consuming pornography – especially if the content is particularly niche and/or taboo – and in particular immediately after achieving orgasm if masturbation is an aspect of the addiction. This can lead to the evolution of depression and other disorders, and a generally decreased sense of self-worth (which can contribute to engagement in risky and/or extreme sexual practices, which may further fuel negative emotions).
Porn Addiction and Co-occurring Disorders
As noted above, pornography addiction has been linked with many other disorders, both contributing to and resulting from it. There is no hard and fast rule that says that someone with a given disorder will develop porn addiction, nor that someone addicted to pornography will develop a co-occurring disorder; however, in such cases treatment necessarily becomes more complex.
The compulsive use of pornography can be driven by pre-existing sexual disorders, including hypersexuality and excessive masturbation, or an inability to achieve climax through “normal” sexual encounters with others. It can also be driven by low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety disorders, agoraphobia, body dysmorphia, confusion over one’s sexual identity, traumatic sexual experiences and abuse, and could theoretically be an aspect of a huge number of other disorders.
Many drug users – in particular, those abusing stimulants such as cocaine and crystal meth – experience hugely increased libidos which can in turn result in the significantly increased frequency of masturbation, potentially in conjunction with the consumption of pornography. A growing number of drug addicts are also presenting symptoms of both sex addiction and pornography addiction, and drug use and pornography-driven masturbation often go hand-in-hand.
Porn addiction can result in the development of depressive disorders, anxiety, insomnia, sex addiction and a range of other conditions either resulting directly from the compulsive consumption of pornography, or from secondary conditions.
Treatment for Pornography Addiction
Although the ongoing debate about the diagnostic status of pornography addiction means that the medical community is divided to a degree about the most effective way to treat those suffering from it, generally speaking – as with other forms of addiction – psychotherapy (in particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) though many other therapy models are also deployed) is almost universally seen as the foundation for any treatment programme. A number of dedicated organisations are now active in this field, while certain rehab facilities across the UK also provide intensive residential or outpatient treatment for pornography addicts.
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Prevention for Pornography Addiction
As with any form of addiction, the only way to guarantee not developing a pornography addiction is never to engage in the consumption of pornography in the first place. However, pornography usage is not necessarily by itself harmful, and indeed can form part of healthy sex life. If you wish to retain that usage is an aspect of your life without it developing into a problem, there are various preventative steps you may take.
Limit your use of pornography as much as is practical and avoid its becoming in any way routine – so very the times at which you access it and if possible the settings in which you do so. If masturbating, ensure that at least some of the time you are not consuming pornography; similarly, if using porn as part of sex with a partner or partners, ensure that this is not always the case. If you find yourself becoming more and more reliant upon porn to orgasm, attempt to cut back immediately and if the problem persists, discuss it with your GP and/or therapist rather than simply resorting constantly to the use of pornography.
If you find yourself craving harder and harder pornography, stop using it altogether at least for a while; similarly if you are consumed with guilt or shame after consuming pornography, cease using it until you feel it can play a healthier role in your life. Never give in to any temptation to access illegal pornography, and if this compulsion becomes overwhelming discuss it immediately with your GP and/or therapist, as you will probably require help to overcome such urges.
Pornography Addiction Facts/Statistics
- Well over 10% of all websites on the internet contain pornography.
- A new porn video is produced every 39 seconds worldwide.
- The net worth of the global porn industry is in excess of £60 billion.
- Mind Geek – the company which owns some of the most valuable porn sites in the world, including PornHub and YouPorn – is the third biggest bandwidth-consuming company on Earth after Google and Netflix.
- Around 1% of women and 4% of men state that their pornography consumption is having a detrimental impact on their lives.
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It is a truism that an addict will not benefit from help or treatment until and unless they are able to recognise their condition. If you believe that your consumption of pornography has become problematic, and you are unable to stop, seek help immediately from your GP, an addiction specialist, or a rehab facility.
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When it comes to addiction time is truly of the essence: every day that goes by while you labour under the burden of addiction is another day in which you have moved further and further away from your desired life. True happiness and satisfaction are not compatible with addiction; if you’re ready to seek help, pick up the phone today to make an appointment with your GP or to discuss your situation with an addiction specialist who can tell you about treatment options which may be appropriate for you.
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Since the beginning of a pornography boom, many thousands of people have had their lives damaged or even ruined by an addiction to porn. Only you can ensure that you will not become one of them. Many high-quality treatment facilities and organisations are now active in this area helping countless people to recover from addiction and to resume a normal life with a healthy outlook upon sex and sexuality. If you’re struggling with porn addiction, don’t let it do any more damage: get in touch with a relevant organisation today and begin your journey back to happiness and freedom.
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