Pornography Addiction: An Insidious Affliction Part 2 – The Cause and Effect of Porn Addiction

Warning: this blog series is going to talk about sensitive 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.

Welcome back to the Insidious Affliction blog series for part two of a three-part series outlining the slow, damaging toxicity of pornography to a person and his or her community. For this series, I will define compulsive pornography use as pornography addiction (PA). In part one of the series, I outlined that not everyone considers pornography addictive as I do. In fact, populations across the board (inside and outside the psychology field) are split in their opinions regarding whether or not compulsive pornography use is dysfunctional. Some see it as a behavioral disorder, while others see it as an expression of sexual freedom. Also in part one, I reflected on what the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) considers the defining criteria for PA. I referenced how pornography changes one’s brain chemistry, as well as how it causes trauma to those around the addicted individual through his or her deception. In this second installment of the Insidious Affliction series, we will dive further into the causes, correlations, and impacts of the mental disease called pornography addiction.

Causes of PA

The causes of pornography addiction (PA) can be widespread. During my training as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) candidate, IITAP (1) outlined that PA is a subset of sex addiction, although it might be more aligned with technology addiction. Classical sex addiction is often driven by trauma and attachment disorders, and it can manifest itself in a number of behaviors (e.g., pornography) as a way to cope with parental neglect, childhood abuse, difficult emotions, and internal pain. Contemporary sex addiction does not require these prompting trauma or attachment factors, but instead, it is mostly driven by technology through excessive pornography use. Pornography has a super-stimulus nature and AAA characteristic (i.e., affordability, anonymity, and accessibility) that cause it to incite a tremendous amount of neurochemicals in the brain simultaneously. As with any stimulus, the brain craves more. Neurochemicals like dopamine and glutamate work together to make the individual subconsciously think “this feels great!” as well as “remember what this feels like to get more later!” When we regularly feed our brain in such a way, it creates a new standard in our brain for what “normal” feels like. For PA, that new normal requires porn. This causes what popular porn addiction prevention website NoFap (2) calls a “[behaviorally] conditioned addiction”. 

Let us look deeper into this neurobiology for a minute. Given evidence that pornography is addictive (3), it means compulsive use over time turns behavior into a brain disease for the consumer. One study by Voon and associates (4) found that heavy pornography consumers craved pornography more than non-consumers, although the amount of sexual desire consumers derived from images or videos was no greater. This is the same as how substances like alcohol and drugs affect human brains. For instance, those with alcohol addiction do not enjoy alcohol any more than an average alcohol consumer. In fact, the amount of pleasure felt by drinking alcohol actually diminishes for the addicted person over time. This exact finding was measured in PA in a study by Kuhn and Gallinat (5) in 2014. They noticed that individuals who used more pornography had slower connections (i.e., less grey matter) between their emotion-centered brain organs (i.e., the caudate) and their logical brain organs (i.e., the prefrontal cortex). In other words, the more pornography a participant used, the more “numb” he or she became to its effects. The consumer becomes more tolerant or desensitized with increased use just like with substance addictions.

Correlations with PA

But why do people begin using pornography in the first place? What is it that draws people to stimulating but unrealistic visuals instead of actual sex with partners/spouses? This is where we begin to get into correlations (or associations) between pornography use and other variables. Said otherwise, it can be very difficult to determine exactly why people begin using pornography. However, one meta-study (3) (or an overview of lots of studies) on problematic pornography use outlined reasons that predict potential pornography addiction (PA): being a man, young age, religiousness, frequent Internet use, negative mood states, and being prone to sexual boredom/novelty seeking. Even so, PA does not develop in the same way for everyone, nor do these factors tell the whole story. For instance, women can become addicted to pornography, and data shows this is becoming more prevalent (3). There is no one-size-fits-all model. According to NoFap (2), multiple things must be considered in the severity of an individual’s addiction. The following factors increase the likelihood that a pornography consumer will develop a more severe addiction: early exposure to online pornography, years of compulsive pornography use, longer length of pornography-watching sessions, simultaneous addictions in other areas, having porn-associated sexual dysfunctions, having a lack of interest in real sex, and difficulty managing emotional states throughout the day. 

As a CSAT candidate, I believe that there is one thing that trumps all the aforementioned severity indicators when discussing PA. Pornography, like anything else that becomes an addiction, often starts because the consumer desires realistic, deep, fulfilling relationships, but he or she does not know how to get or maintain them. According to IITAP (1), intimacy disorders are a foundational cause of most substance or behavioral addiction. When individuals feel lonely and stuck in their aloneness, pornography tends to be an easy solution to  feel good right away. But as a pseudo-relationship, pornography sets these individuals up for failure. Not only do they not connect with an actual human, leaving consumers still desiring the true joy of healthy intimacy, but they also begin craving more of the virtual, non-human images and videos. Consumers even learn unhealthy tactics about how to engage in real relationships through pornography.

Individual and societal impact

Long ago, when pornography was still primarily found in centerfolds in magazines, we had little research to showcase its internal and relational impact on humans. Today, one of my favorite websites that outlines the influences of pornography on persistent consumers, especially those steeped in addiction, is FightTheNewDrug.org (6). It is a “non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals with the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.” Several articles are listed on FightTheNewDrug.org delineating how pornography leaves consumers lonely, hurts the consumer’s partner, damages consumer’s sex lives, lies to consumers about sexual education, and promotes fantasy that eventually “kills love.” These are extravagant claims, but they are based on empirical studies or surveys with participants who tried to swap relationships for pseudo-relationships as I mentioned above. It left them broken.

On top of the individual and relational impacts, PA is negatively impacting society at large because addicted consumers are creating demand for products that directly harm future generations. One of the biggest transitions from magazine-based pornography to online-based pornography over the last several decades has been increasing violence on screen (8). By violence, I am referencing pornographic actions like rape, incest, and physical assaults during sexual encounters, most of which are forced on women and children. When such violence is not only condoned, but economically demanded by those viewing the pornography, a series of societally destructive events occurs: it desensitizes consumers to violence, educates consumers (especially youth) that sex includes violence, fuels the industry to produce more films with violence, and promotes sex trafficking and modern-day slavery (9). For someone addicted to pornography, these can be really difficult things to hear, and it may induce tremendous shame. As a counselor, it is my job to help clients work through that shame in a therapeutic manner to eventually replace pornography with true, realistic, healthy relationships. More to come on this in part three of the Insidious Affliction blog series.

Conclusion

In this second installment of An Insidious Affliction, I walked you through some causal factors of pornography addiction (PA) from a neurological perspective. I also wrote about some correlations between things like demographics, behaviors, moods, and more that lead to the development and severity of PA that an individual experiences. Finally, I referenced the individual and societal impacts seen by pornography use and addiction. In the next and final blog post of this series, I will work through how a person might find recovery from PA. So, if you or anyone you know is suffering from this addiction, be encouraged. There is hope for freedom from the bondage of pornography and expectation for truly meaningful and fulfilling real-life relationships!

References

  1. International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). (2020, March 25). Certified Sex Addition Therapist (CSAT) – Module 1 training manual [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from digify.com.
  2. The NoFap Team. (2020, May). How long does it take to recover from porn addiction? NoFap.com. Retrieved from https://nofap.com/faq/how-long-does-it-take-to-recover-from-porn-addiction/
  3. 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
  4. Voon V., Mole T. B., Banca P., Porter L., Morris L., Mitchell S., Lapa T. R., Karr J., Harrison N. A., Potenza M. N., & Irvine M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PLoS One, 9(7). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102419
  5. Kuhn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption: The brain on porn. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827-834. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93
  6. Fight the New Drug. (N.A.). About. Fightthenewdrug.org. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/about/
  7. Fight the New Drug. (N.A.). Get the facts. Fightthenewdrug.org. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/#gtf-heart
  8. Fight the New Drug. (2017, August 23). How consuming porn can lead to violence. Fightthenewdrug.org. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/how-consuming-porn-can-lead-to-violence/
  9. Fight the New Drug. (2017, August 23). How porn fuels sex trafficking. Fightthenewdrug.org. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/how-porn-fuels-sex-trafficking/

Previous

Next

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!