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The psychology of Porn addiction

 

While the arguments for and against pornography continue to rage on, it is important to reflect on how pornography addiction begins. Pornography is any video, audio, written material, or pictures created for the purpose of causing sexual arousal and used as a form of sexual gratification. A person is said to have an addiction when they cannot help doing or using a thing or activity and withdrawal becomes very difficult.

Simply put, Pornography addiction is when a person can’t stop looking at porn, even when it is not appropriate. The addiction gets to the point when it interferes with work, relationships, including other aspects of life. Pornography addiction is rampant today because of greater accessibility and availability of the internet and the anonymity granted by many pornography sites to its users.

Why is Pornography addictive?

Addiction has two basic qualities:

  • A compulsion to keep doing or using the object of the addiction more than you would like to.
  • A compulsion to continue doing or using the object of the addiction even when it has adverse effects.

 

Despite many debates by scientists on whether pornography is an addiction in the medical sense of the word, studies have shown brain activity observed in drug or alcohol addiction is the same for those who use pornography a lot. People who are addicted to pornography feel a compulsion even when it is affecting their daily schedule of activities.

Psychological effects of porn use

Whereas porn can be used in ways that are beneficial to sexual health, approximately 9% of viewers indicate that they are unable to refrain from viewing pornography. Problematic internet pornography use can lead to and exacerbate existing psychological issues with which the user may be struggling. There is a fair amount of research that substantiates the idea that problematic pornography use correlates with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety:

  • Reduced cognitive function: More than half of men who use porn have acknowledged that their porn use has caused them problems in life, with the majority experiencing psychological and behavioral repercussions.
  • Depression: Compulsive and at-risk cybersex users experience guilt, depression, and anxiety. This may both result from pornography usage and perpetuate further behavior.
  • Anxiety: Personal factors such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, or interpersonal stress may contribute to the ease of conditioning to a pleasurable experience like porn as the behavior alters a negative mood.

 

Additionally, a growing body of research exists that supports the argument for a correlation between internet pornography use and impulsive behaviors. Initial findings suggest that impulsiveness extends to all internet pornography users and not only to problematic use.

The effect of pornography on the brain

Recent research has shown that non-drug addictions such as gambling, binge-eating, and sexual activities affect brain function in ways similar to alcohol and drug addiction. Many addiction studies focus on what is referred to as the pleasure/reward circuitry and their corresponding neurotransmitters – chemicals that are responsible for the communication between neurons. One of the neurotransmitters frequently identified as central to addiction is dopamine.

A behavior or drug that produces pleasure induces a rush of dopamine that ultimately “reinforces” that behavior, making it more likely to occur. The amygdala, basal ganglia, and other reward centers play a role in the reinforcement of the activity that produces pleasure.

Changes in the brain’s neural pathways are referred to as “plasticity”; and “synaptic plasticity” refers to changes among neuronal connections. Research substantiates the idea that porn addiction can alter brain plasticity. Non-drug addictions, like the internet and pornography use, may lead to changes similar to those reported with long-term drug use.

Additionally, increased pornography use is associated with:

  • Smaller volume and less activity in the striatum- a region involved in processing rewards- although it is not yet clear if this is due to greater time spent viewing porn, or if people with reduced striatum volume will tend to watch more porn.
  • These individuals also tend to have less connectivity between the striatum and areas of the prefrontal cortex, indicating reduced judgment, decision making, or control over impulsive behaviors.

 

In conclusion

As researchers strive to clarify the possible similarities and differences between substance abuse disorders and problematic behavior, such as excessive porn use, clinical evidence increasingly suggests an overlap in both predispositions and their impact on psychological issues and brain structure. Whereas most people who view porn do so in a controlled manner that may contribute to greater sexual health, persistent, impulsive, and excessive porn use can begin to look like other addictions.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.mentalhelp.net/porn/

https://www.addictioncenter.com/community/signs-of-porn-addiction/

https://www.healthline.com/health/pornography-addiction#how-to-kick-the-habit

https://www.webmd.com/sex/porn-addiction-possible#2

https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/what-is-addiction.htm

 

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