America’s Covert Porn Problem: Why Some Can’t Stop Watching Porn

Alexandra Riedel

RedTube. YouPorn. Do these names ring a bell? For millions of Americans they certainly do, because they contain porn. TheChive reported that one porn website hosts 8,732,953 users everyday [8]. Importantly, porn isn’t limited to men; a survey found that one in three women watch porn at least once a week [7].

You might be thinking: “Who cares? Porn isn’t so bad.” Well, with so many accessible porn websites, many are engaging in CompulsiveSexual Behavior, which involves excessive thoughts about and engagement in sexual behavior (like watching porn), despite harm to yourself or others [3]. Some become so “numb” from porn use that they have relationship problems and are prone to depression [9]. In a new study, neuroscientists aimed to find the cause of compulsive porn use. Dr. Klucken, an author of the study, emphasizes: “It seems a lot like drug addiction, but we don’t know what causes it”*.

Klucken et al. assumed that appetitive conditioning, a process involved in drug addiction, also contributes to compulsive porn use [3]. This involves learning that neutral objects, like a computer screen, are associated with something you desire, like porn. People then think of the reward when they see the cue. So, compulsive porn users may feel driven to watch porn after simply seeing their computer. In the study, one group of compulsive users and one of “normal” users were shown porn after seeing a symbol [3]. Both groups rated the symbol as desirable, and thus were conditioned [3]. This means that practically anyone can feel aroused after seeing a porn cue! In America’s highly sexualized culture, there are cues everywhere, which may further facilitate porn usage.

Researchers did find important brain differences in compulsive users though, which may exhibit the contrast between casual and compulsive use: brain imaging showed increased amygdala activity [3].The amygdala helps people learn that cues are associated with a reward [3]. It also monitors emotions, which compulsive porn users may have trouble controlling [3]. Researchers also found that the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which together control impulses, inhibition, and movement, aren’t communicating as well in compulsive porn watchers [3]. This shows that they may want to abstain from porn but, because of decreased inhibition, may watch it anyway. Not surprisingly, dysfunction in these three areas also occurs in drug and gambling addicts [3].

Given these findings, what can help compulsive porn users? Researchers need to determine whether these brain differences cause compulsive behavior or are effects of it [3], as certain users may be predisposed to compulsive use. If you’re currently having trouble controlling porn use, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may help [3]. CBT is used for many disorders, and may be the key to replacing porn use with alternate enjoyable activities and improving control of porn-related impulses [3]. If you don’t feel addicted, monitor how much you watch, and remember: you may be able to delete your history, but you may not be able to dispose of your “habit” as easily.

References

[1] Addiction Cycle. [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://porn-no-more.com/2012/06/02/the-vicious-cycle-of-porn-addiction/

[2] Getty Images. (n.d.). Moment. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/22/happy-marriage-study_n_4319943.html

[3] Klucken, T., Wehrum-Osinsky, S., Schweckendiek, J., Kruse, O., & Stark, R. (2016). Altered Appetitive Conditioning and Neural Connectivity in Subjects With Compulsive Sexual Behavior. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13, 627-636. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.01.013

[4] Neill, Gary. (2 Oct., 2015). Hands Tied. [Graphic Design Image]. Retrieved from http://garyneill.com/blog/

[5] Neill, Gary. (2 Oct., 2015). Porn Addiction. [Graphic Design Image]. Retrieved from http://garyneill.com/blog/

[6] Porn Addiction. (n.d.). [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/addiction/sex-addiction/porn-addiction.html

[7] Sandhu, S. (2015, Oct. 21). The majority of women watch pornography online and on their smartphones. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/one-in-three-women-watch-porn-at-least-once-a-week-survey-finds-a6702476.html

[8] “The top 10 visited Porn sites & how much money they make (10 Photos)”. (2017, July 22). Retrieved from http://thechive.com/2017/07/22/the-top-10-visited-porn-sites-how-much-money-they-make-10-photos/

[9] Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? Retrieved from  http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography.aspx

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