Internet Porn Addiction – Why is free porn so irresistible and what can love addicts do?

online-porn101In a recent post on Internet addiction, we briefly mentioned addictions to internet pornography. There’s no doubt that the easy access, and anonymity, of online access to any and every sexual whim conceivable is at the heart of online porn’s draw. Here we will take a more in-depth look at how Internet porn addiction develops.

The internet porn addiction connection

Excessive use of online porn can be thought of as a manifestation of both Internet addiction and sex addiction. In fact, porn addiction is one of the most commonly reported sex addiction problems, especially among younger individuals and among what Dr. Carnes calls “Phase 1” sex addicts, or the lighter version of sex addiction that doesn’t involve others.

Porn addiction develops much like a drug addiction. After an initially rewarding experience with pornography (a common experience given the cycles of sex we’d mentioned in an earlier post), individuals may experience uncontrollable urges to obtain sexual satisfaction through that form of entertainment (1). The connection between internet porn and sexual gratification is positively reinforced, and the urges become more frequent and more powerful. These connections can become so strong that simply sitting down at a computer elicits a sexual response.

Like in drug addiction the problems arise when urges to view porn conflict with an individual’s daily responsibilities. Instead of leaving for work on time, the addict may decide to stay at home and watch porn – Some porn addicts report staying at home for porn sessions that can last as long as 8-10 hours. The shame and guilt that often accompany these compulsive sexual experiences are also thought to greatly affect the experience of sex addicts and to reinforce the positive experience they receive from their shameful act. Many porn addicts report that they end up in a distressing situation where their shameful sexual release is the only positive experience they get to have.

It should be noted that the majority of people who use online pornography do so recreationally, with little ill effect (2). As is the case with drug addiction, it is only a sub-group of people that become “addicted” and suffer serious consequences from their porn addiction (e.g. lost jobs, disturbed marriages).

Whether we are talking about pornography, gambling or shopping, our golden rule for diagnosing behavioral addictions has been: no impairment, no addiction.

The toll of porn addiction and the refuge of he internet

Internet Porn Addiction can also bring about a different psychological toll than the shame we discussed earlier. As tolerance develops, individuals with porn addiction may also begin to need more deviant material to achieve the same high. This is again similar to the increased quantity and variety need experienced by many drug users and it’s where rape fantasies, fetishes, and child pornography often come into play. Exposure to such material can grossly distort beliefs about human sexuality and ruin interpersonal relationships. Patients that progress in this fashion often report feeling unsatisfied with their sexual experiences and unsatisfied with their partners (2).

We noted that in addiction, shame is a major component of the addiction cycle. This is especially true for sexual addiction. Social norms tell the sex-addict that there is shame in buying an adult magazine (like playboy or hustler) and that there is shame in soliciting a prostitute. Internet porn substantially reduces the risk of getting caught, and therefore of being shamed. Many individuals who experience porn addiction are able to hide their activity from their partners and remain completely anonymous on the web. Online porn is easily accessible, it’s available all the time, and getting free porn is easy. When you add complete anonymity into the mix, you get a recipe for a potentially serious addiction (2).

Porn addiction help – Some Advice

Relapse is common during recovery as patients often experience withdrawal symptoms when their normal consumption of pornography is reduced. In this case, like in many others, relapse is to be thought of as a misstep, and not a failure. See our post on treatments for sexual addiction to see how porn addiction is usually dealt with. In addition to these standard methods, patients can often benefit from the use of Internet filters and “accountability” software that sends a report of their online activity to a partner or therapist. Again, it’s important to recognize that although porn addiction is serious, there are solutions out there and sex addiction help resources in general are growing with the recent jump in awareness brought about by high profile cases like that of Tiger Woods.

Citations:

1. Griffiths, M. (2001) Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction, The Journal of Sex Research, 38(4)

2. Cline, V.B. (2002) Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children

What does it mean to be love addicted? Sex addiction explained.

What do you think of when you hear the words “sex addict“? Do you imagine someone who has sex dozens of times a day? Someone who owns a lot of sex toys? Someone who spends all their time immersed in pornography?

While all of these scenarios, and others, can identify someone with a sexual addiction, the crucial part of identifying an addict has to do with the consequences of the behavior and the person’s inability to control them. That being said, sex addiction is a relatively recent idea. In fact, it’s sometimes called love addiction instead.

So what is sex addiction?

A sexual addict experiences the same type of uncontrollable compulsions that others feel in different forms of addiction (like substance, alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc). In his book (Out of the Shadow: Understanding Sexual Addiction) Carnes talks about the compulsive sexual behavior as guiding a misperception of the self.

In simple words: Sex addicts’ view of themselves depends on their relationship with sexual behavior. Since they often find themselves unable to control the behavior, they often have trouble with their self-image.

What is sex addiction NOT?

Let us look at some of the NOTS of sexual addiction. Sex addicts are not people who are just hypersexual and get satisfied with their sexual behaviors; rather, they are often not satisfied with the sexual activities that they engage in. Sex addicts are not necessarily Casanovas, but are often normal functioning people who find themselves having to hide their compulsive sexual urges.

While some sex addicts do pay for sex, others are compulsive about watching porn and others simply struggle with monogamy. The point is, the stigma of sex addicts as predatory child molesters needs to be put to rest.

How common is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a major problem in our society. Some estimate that as many as 15 million people in the U.S. are sexual addicts (roughly 8% of all men and 3% of women). Easy access to porn offered by the internet has most likely increased the prevalence of sexual addiction in the past decade. In fact, for most people getting porn addiction help specifically is the problem.

The costs for those suffering from sex addiction are also numerous: Relationships and families are disrupted and destroyed, the addict’s self-esteem diminishes as they are unable to be productive in other areas of their life; illegal activity (like prostitution) ends up causing arrests, and health is often affected through the contraction of diseases.

Am I a sex addict?

Now, don’t immediately assume that you are a sex addict because you fantasize about sex a lot. But how does one know if they are addicted to sex?

The simple rule is: no impairment, no addiction.Sex addiction

On the other hand, if day to day functioning is affected by the behavior (in this case, something sexual), this may be an indication of a problem. So, whether it be having sex often, thinking of sex, or even just being extremely horny, if it’s making a person’s daily activities or relationships dysfunctional and if they are unable to control their behavior they may be defined as a sex addict.

In future posts we will look more into the symptoms, forms, theories, and treatments related to sex addiction. In the mean-time, keep reading, and if you feel brave enough, share your story; who knows, you may be able to help someone else who is love addicted!!!

Sex addiction help from All About Addiction

If you need help finding treatment for your own, or a loved one’s sex addiction, make sure to give our Rehab-Finder a try: It’s the only evidence-based, scientifically created, tool for finding rehab anywhere in the United States!

Addiction-brain effects: Sex addiction, neurotransmitters, and being love addicted

***A disclaimer: Sex addiction is a relatively new concept in science. I haven’t been able to find much research on the subject, so much of what is being said here is my interpretation of the current literature on sexual responsivity in humans.***

sexI’ve already mentioned that scientists are beginning to consider behavioral addictions (like gambling and sex) as being similar to drug addiction. We’ve also covered sex addiction on the site quite a few times.

Since we’d covered the addiction-brain effects of some of the major drugs’ (see here for opiates, crystal meth, and cocaine), I thought it’s time to write about the possible science behind sex addiction.

The sexual activity cycle

Scientists have divided human sexual interaction into 4 stages:

  1. Desire – Represents a person’s current level of interest in sex. It is characterized by sexual fantasies and a desire to have sex.
  2. Arousal – Includes a subjective sense of sexual pleasure accompanied by a physiological response in the form of genital vasocongestion, leading to penile erection in men and vulva/clitoral engorgement and vaginal lubrication in women.
  3. Orgasm – Involves both central processes in the brain and extensive peripheral effects. Orgasm is experienced by the peaking of sexual pleasure, release of sexual tension, rhythmic contraction of the perineal muscles and pelvic reproductive organs, and cardiovascular and respiratory changes.
  4. Resolution – The final stage of the normal sexual response cycle. There is a sense of release of tension, well being, and return of the body to its resting state.

After sexSex addicts don’t seem to have a problem with stage 3, and resolution is more like the end of sexual behavior. So we will focus the rest of our attention on the other stages 1 and 2.

Sex and neurotransmitters

While sex doesn’t involve the ingestion of substances, each of the above cycles does involve the release of many of the neurotransmitters we’ve already discussed (dopamine, serotonin, etc.).

In fact, there seem to be three major area in the brain that are activated during sex:

  1. The Medial Preoptic Area (MPOA) – This is one of the areas where all the sensory inputs to the brain converge. This. This area is crucial for the initiation of sexual response – the move from desire to arousal. It is mostly the release of dopamine within this area that supports sexual responding. Animals with lesions here can’t  mount or thrust.
  2. Paravantricular  (male) or ventromedial hypothalamus – These area are responsible for non-contact sexual responses. Dopamine is once again the main activating agent here.
  3. The mesolimbic system – Important for the motivation towards anything “good” this system is also very involved in motivation for sex, a big part of the desire and arousal stages. As with drugs, it is the release of dopamine with this system that increases the motivation for sex.

We haven’t discussed the first two area much, and from my understanding, their functioning is relatively specific to sexual response. However, we’ve certainly mentioned the mesolimbic system. This is the same system involved in the brain’s processing of opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, and essentially all other drugs. It is also the system in charge of food motivation.

As you can see, dopamine is an activating neurotransmitter for sexual response. Serotonin on the other hand, plays an inhibitory role in sex. Through its activity on a number of brain area, serotonin reduces desire, arousal, as well as the ability to orgasm. The increase of overall brain-serotonin levels is one of the main reasons for reduced sexual responsivity in individuals who are taking SSRI antidepressants.

What about sex addiction?!

Aside from a few specific authors (like P. Carnes), scientists still find themselves struggling with whether or not behavioral addictions should be considered similar to drug and alcohol addiction or whether they are examples of compulsive, or impulsive, behaviors. I personally believe that these all share more common features than we may yet realize.

Nevertheless, for addicts, the subjective experience of a substance, or behavioral, addiction is similar. It is an inability  to control a behavior in the face of repeated negative consequences that is often accompanied by a need for more and a reduced sensitivity to the act.

Given my recent reading on the brain processes involved in normal human sexual response, I’ve developed my own early theory about sex addiction:

Given that many of the same neurotransmitters are involved in the regulation of sex, it is my belief that sexual addicts or those experiencing sexual compulsions, fall into one of two categories that probably overlap to some extent:

  1. Individuals who have reduced inhibitory capacity (like those with impulse control disorder, ADD, or ADHD for example). These individuals find themselves acting out relatively impulsive behaviors that others without such dysfunction seem to effortlessly control. Given what we know about impulse control disorders, it is no wonder that these individuals often find themselves engaging in more than one such behavior, including drug, sex, and other poossibly addictive activities.
  2. Those who’ve had sex paired with a strong neurological response – Given the important role of dopamine in all rewarding activities (what scientists call appetitive response), it is very possible that two or more rewarding experiences that are linked may increase the brain’s response to any of the individual rewards.

neurons that fire togetherLet me explain the last point: In neuroscience, there’s the concept that Neurons that fire together wire together,” which is to say that events that happen at the same time, if they are strong enough, may form their own neural networks. If something strongly negative (like violence) happens in conjunction with sex, the experience might lower sex responsivity. However, if a strongly rewarding event happens at the same time, the link might serve to enhance response for both future sexual experiences and the linked event.  The people in the first group are likely to often fall into this category due to their use of psychoactive substances. Drugs release huge amounts of dopamine, which may then become linked with sexual response, making sex seeking as strong as drug seeking.

So that’s my take, for now, on sex addiction. Like other addictions, it has to do with the exposure to a very rewarding event that in a subset of individuals ends up developing an exaggerated response or an inability to control it. Since feeling of love and intimacy can often be just as rewarding, people often refer to themselves as love addicted, and not sex addicted.

Sources:

1) A. G., Resnick, & M. H. Ithman (2008). The Human Sexual Response Cycle: Psychotropic Side Effects and Treatment Strategies. Psychiatric Annals, 38, pp. 267-280.

2) E. M. Hull, D. S. Lorrain, J. Du, L. Matuszewich, L. A. Lumley, S. K. Putnam, J. Moses (1999) Hormone-neurotransmitter interactions in the control of sexual behavior. Behavioral Brain Research, 105, 105-116.