Too Much Porn?! Problematic Pornography Use as a Form of Addiction

Jade Ransohoff

Randy is just like any other guy. He hangs out with his friends, gets into a little mischief every once in a while, and sometimes when he’s bored, he watches porn. That’s how it started. Now he watches porn multiple times per day… and it’s getting in the way of the things he used to enjoy.

Approximately 70% of 18-30 year old men use pornography weekly. For most people, pornography viewing is a form of entertainment (Gola et al., 2016), but for others, Problematic Pornography Use (PPU) prevents them from enjoying many social activities that we take for granted. When asked about his PPU, aresearch participant, Randy, said, “I could no longer maintain close friendships, and broke up with my girlfriend of 4 years because I watched porn so much. It took over my whole life and I became so depressed, but I had no one to turn to.”* Unfortunately, the taboo nature of watching porn makes it harder for men with PPU, like Randy, to access treatment.

You may assume that PPU stems from certain individuals being addicted to sex or getting excessive pleasure from watching porn, but researchers found that this wasn’t the case. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers compared the brain activity of men seeking treatment for PPU to brains of control subjects. Surprisingly, brain imaging showed that there was no difference in the brain’s response to erotic pictures between the two groups (Gola et al., 2016).

However, the real difference between men with PPU and men without PPU was with “cues” associated with porn. For men with PPU, cues for porn are everywhere – even underwear ads online or women wearing bikinis on billboards. These cues elicit an incredibly strong motivation, or craving, to porn in men with PPU, but not in other men. Through brain imaging, researchers saw that men with PPU showed increased activity in the ventral striatum, a region of the brain associated with reward, whenthey saw a cue they associated with porn (Gola et al., 2016). The ventral striatum is the same region that lights up when addicts take drugs, such as cocaine or nicotine, suggesting that the craving for porn experienced by men with PPU is more than a problematic behavior – it’s like an addiction.

On average, men think about sex 34 times per day (Mustanski). Now imagine that each one of these thoughts created a craving to sit in your room and watch porn. How often would you be able to leave the house? Probably not very much, and unfortunately, that is the reality for many men living with PPU. Dr. Gola’s research suggests that Problematic Pornography Use resembles an addiction, so now he asks: “How long will we stigmatize and ignore individuals who need treatment, just because we are too embarrassed to talk about pornography?”*

We’ve waited long enough. Remember Randy? It’s time we start talking about these findings to ensure that individuals with PPU are aware of treatments and medications available to them, so that people like Randy can go back to doing the things they enjoy.

References/Bibliography: 

Gola, Mateusz, et al. “Can Pornography Be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking

Treatment for Problematic Pornography Use.” Aug. 2016, doi:10.1101/057083

Mustanski, Brian. “How Often Do Men and Women Think about Sex?” Psychology Today,

Sussex Publishers, 6 Dec. 2011, psychologytoday.com/blog/the-sexual-continuum/201112/how-often-do-men-and-women-think-about-sex.

Pictures:

http://www.sbs.com.au/topics/sexuality/agenda/article/2017/02/03/pornhub-trying-different-approach-teaching-you-about-sex (still frame from the movie Don Jon)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2297347/Hello-boys-Smouldering-Sophie-Monk-steamy-stop-traffic-new-billboard-campaign.html (picture of a billboard promoting Angel Champagne)

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