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Pornography Addiction: An Insidious Affliction Part 1 - What is Porn Addiction? - The Center for Family Transformation

Pornography Addiction: An Insidious Affliction Part 1 – What is Porn Addiction?

Warning: this blog series discusses material that may not be suitable for youth or adolescents without parental supervision.

Insidious: adjective; proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.

Affliction: noun; something that causes pain or suffering.

With that, I welcome you to the Insidious Affliction blog series. This blog post is going to be part one of a three-part series outlining the toxicity of compulsive pornography consumption. It is an illness that often wreaks havoc in multiple areas of a person’s life (i.e., in his or her body, job, relationships, etc.). For this blog series, I’ll refer to compulsive pornography use as pornography addiction (PA). PA has many names because clinical experts are undetermined as to whether it falls within the scope of addiction or impulsive behavior. PA is a part of a larger body of behavioral addictions, including sex, gambling and gaming addictions, that encompass symptoms very similar to substance-use disorders (1). One of my favorite definitions of behavioral addiction comes from sexual addiction expert Patrick Carnes (2); he notes behavioral addiction is when “a person has a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience”.

Some stats and an opinion

Before going any further, I recognize pornography is a sensitive subject for many of us, one that can easily spark moral and political debate. According to a 2018 Gallup (3) poll, more Americans than ever (at 43% of those surveyed) said that pornography was morally acceptable to them. As stated by PornHub (4), a global pornographic streaming company, in their 2018 Year in Review report, there are approximately 64,000 people worldwide logging on to view pornography every minute. Although it can be difficult to understand how many users might be addicted, one Australian study (5) showed that of 20,000 people, 1.2 percent of women and 4.4 percent of men rated themselves as pornography addicts. With the pornography industry’s direct ties to objectifying humans, abusing women and trafficking sex (6, 7), there are certainly those of us arguing against pornography’s use in our world. In my professional opinion, pornography use of any kind has significantly more downfalls than benefits. My training as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) candidate gives me the understanding that pornography and sex can be highly addictive like any behavior or substance (8), especially for the lonely or traumatized individual. 

Porn addiction defined

From a high level, the goal of this blog series is to keep a clinical stance and give scientific information on what pornography addiction (PA) is, how it is impacting society, how it develops, how it impairs individuals, and what someone can do if pornography has become addictive. Let us start with the definition of PA as outlined by the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). IITAP (9) notes that pornography addictions occur when at least three of the following 10 criteria are met for any one person:

  • Recurrent failure to resist impulses to engage in using pornography;
  • Frequent engaging in the use of pornography to a greater extent;
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop, reduce, or control pornography use;
  • Inordinate amount of time spent in obtaining pornography, being sexual with pornography, or recovering from pornography experiences;
  • Preoccupation with pornography or preparatory activities leading to pornography use;
  • Frequent engaging in pornography when someone is expected to fulfill other obligations (such as occupational, domestic, or social);
  • Continuation of pornography use despite knowledge of having persistent and recurring social, financial, psychological, or physical problems caused or amplified by pornography;
  • A need to increase the frequency or risk-level of pornography watched to achieve the desired effect, or experiencing a diminishing effect with same level of intensity of pornography use;
  • Giving up or limiting social, occupational, or recreational activities because of pornography use;
  • And distress, anxiety, restlessness, or irritability if one is unable to engage in using pornography.

The insidious affliction

I referenced that this illness can be insidious. Given the criteria above, a person is generally struggling with pornography addiction (PA) if he or she experiences a loss of control over his or her behavior, impairment in multiple areas of his or her life, and an increased amount or risk in the type of porn he or she watches over time (1). Just like with other addictions, an individual with PA probably does not realize the pornography usage is problematic until it has already become his or her brain’s new neurochemical normal. In other words, the “high” received from pornography due to its nature as a super-stimulus (5) shifts the brain to crave it above all else. Today’s pornography in its high-definition state, paired with its anonymity, accessibility, and affordability through online viewing, releases the same neurochemicals in similar amounts (or more) as drugs like amphetamine or heroin (9, 10). An individual struggling with PA eventually becomes tolerant to dopamine levels, requiring him to seek more pornography or riskier types of pornography to be appeased. He may not realize it yet, but when PA exists, the addicted individual is likely in tremendous denial and lying to himself (and others) regularly with self-talk like: “I can stop anytime I want,” and “I am not hurting anyone.” This always ends up being an untruth.

General impacts of (pornography) addiction

The insidiousness of addiction, whether it be with pornography or any other behavior or substance, is that it never impacts an addicted individual alone (11). When I was in graduate school, I remember hearing that, on average, every addicted person causes increased negative stress on four to five other loved ones. According to a journal on clinical medicine (1), negative associations exist between pornography addiction (PA) and erectile dysfunction, sexual dissatisfaction, body-image dissatisfaction, increased sexual performance pressure, less actual sex, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance abuse, and even problematic video game use. IITAP (9) reiterates this in their CSAT training, citing a host of professional journal articles outlining that pornography addiction hurts the addicted individual, his or her significant other, any children involved, and it often extends to friends and family within the person’s social system due to deception and relational trauma. In my next two blogs, I will outline some of these impacts in further detail.

Conclusion

In this first part of the Insidious Affliction blog series, I introduced the clinical diagnostic criteria and the general impacts of pornography addiction (PA), a type of behavioral illness that is still being researched. Even though our understanding of PA is in its infancy, and there is a healthy amount of debate on its definition and influence…PA is regularly bringing clients into the offices of counselors like myself. In the next blog post, I will review how PA happens, with more detail on how the afflicted individual gets him or herself into the predicament. Finally, in the third installment, I will review what can be done if you or a loved one are struggling with PA so that you might eventually discover your recovery and freedom.

References

  1. de Alarcón, R., de la Iglesia, J. I., Casado, N. M., & Montejo, A. L. (2019). Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don’t – A Systematic Review. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(1), 91. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8010091
  2. Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (3rd ed.). Center City, MN: Hazelden.
  3. Dugan, A. (2018, June 5). More Americans say pornography Is morally acceptable. News.gallup.com. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/235280/americans-say-pornography-morally-acceptable.aspx
  4. Silver, C. (2018, December 11). PornHub 2018 year in review insights report will satisfy your data fetish. Forbes.com. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/curtissilver/2018/12/11/pornhub-2018-year-in-review-insights-report/#6dfc17107369
  5. Rissel C., Richters J., de Visser R.O., McKee A., Yeung A., Caruana T. (2017). A profile of pornography users in Australia: Findings from the second Australian study of health and relationships. J. Sex. Res, 54, 227–240. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1191597
  6. Fight the New Drug. (2017, August 23). The porn industry’s dark secrets. Fightthenewdrug.org. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/the-porn-industrys-dark-secrets/
  7. Fight the New Drug. (2017, August 23). How porn fuels sex trafficking. Fightthenewdrug.org. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/how-porn-fuels-sex-trafficking/
  8. American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). (2019, September 9). Definition of addiction. ASAM.org. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/definition-of-addiction
  9. International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. (2020, March 25). Certified Sex Addition Therapist (CSAT) – Module 1 training manual [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from digify.com.
  10. Blum, K., Chen, A., Giordano, J., Borsten, J., Chen, T., Hauser, M., Simpatico, T., Femino, J., Braverman, E. R., & Barh, D. (2012). The addictive brain: All roads lead to dopamine. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(2), 134–143. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2012.685407
  11. Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Social work in public health, 28(3-4), 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1080/19371918.2013.759005

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