Addiction to Internet Pornography

Pornography addiction and the internet have always been natural partners in crime. The internet provides the privacy that makes such an addiction possible, as well as the widespread availability and volume of content that may help to fuel increasingly obsessive behavior. While pornographic imagery has been around since the beginnings of civilization, a recognition of pornography addiction is only recently beginning to make waves.

Reward Seeking Behavior

Addiction to internet pornography is part of a new area of addiction study known as behavioral addiction. For many years, researchers limited the definition of addiction to the physical and mental dependency characterized by substance use disorders. However, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine have acknowledged in recent years that substance use disorders and behavioral addiction both affect the brain in similar ways.

Scientists who study addiction now believe that behavioral addiction follows the same patterns of neurological motivation and reward-seeking in the brain. Simply put, our brains are wired to enjoy and seek out things that are important for our individual happiness and survival, and the survival of the species: things like food and sex. However, the ability of a healthy brain to recognize when a need or want has been satisfied is inhibited in an addicted individual. Rather than feeling satisfied, an addicted brain continues to receive messages to pursue a certain reward.

Development of Pornography Addiction

Genetic predisposition, upbringing, trauma or stress, or repeated exposure to a substance or behavior can all contribute to the rise of an addiction. For some people, internet pornography may immediately fill a void in the brain’s reward system; one that was genetically or developmentally lacking. In other words, the discovery of pornography may instantly fulfill an otherwise unmet need or a genetic inclination toward repetitive behaviors.

For others, repeat consumption may gradually cause the brain to rewire itself and demand continual pursuit of pornographic material. Even without a genetic bent toward addiction or mis-firing reward circuits, the brain can gradually supplant other rewards with pornography over time.

Negative Effects of Behavioral Addiction

Substance use disorders are often characterized by destructive physical effects on the body. These substances frequently cause significant damage to the body’s organ systems in addition to creating a physical dependency that promotes substance-seeking behavior. In contrast, the negative effects of a behavioral addiction are associated with mental and emotional decline that can itself lead to physical and social detriment. Occasionally, behavioral addictions can also involve activities that result in direct physical damage, although the physical dependency is not what you would see with a true substance use disorder.

The consumption of pornographic material has not been identified with any direct negative physical results. However, there are potentially grave underlying psychological conditions and results associated with pornography addiction that can make it into a serious problem.

Underlying Belief System

Pornography addiction falls under the broader category of sexual addiction. In the 3rd edition of his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Dr. Patrick Carnes relates that the majority of sexual addicts come from dysfunctional families, subjected to abandonment and/or abuse. This can lead to personal feelings of worthlessness and shame, and an inability to generate positive social and sexual connections. As a result, victims may seek personal comfort through pornography, promiscuity, visiting prostitutes, or other sexually dysfunctional behaviors.

Losing Perspective

Regardless of the underlying factors that lead people to seek out internet pornography, the repetitive pursuit of pornography as a reward can lead to the rise of the faulty reward-feedback system discussed above. It can also lead the brain to reprioritize the pursuit of pornography (or other behavioral addictions) above other rewards that are more critical to mental and physical health. Pornography addicts will abandon other hobbies and allow relationships to dissolve in order to free them to pursue their addiction. The addiction can also have a negative affect on an addict’s ability to complete work at home, at school, or on the job.

The antisocial nature of an internet pornography addiction may make the potential social/emotional ramifications more pronounced. Since people generally view pornography in isolation, the social interactions of someone with an internet pornography addiction can quickly evaporate altogether.

Pursuing Additional Sexual Addiction Behaviors

Finally, there is the danger that internet pornography addicts may begin to pursue other behaviors that fall under the banner of sexual addiction; behaviors that may be more directly damaging to their mental and physical health. A disputed model of pornography addiction suggests that the disorder proceeds in stages, advancing to more hardcore pornography, violent pornography, and even child pornography. Other sexual addiction behaviors such as encounters with prostitutes or promiscuity greatly increase a person’s risk for sexually transmitted disease.

So far, strong scientific data to support or refute the idea of stages in sexual addiction does not exist. Widespread research on most behavioral addictions is just beginning, and many of these disorders are still incompletely understood.

Pin It on Pinterest