Blog Health Sexual Health  Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Is Porn Addictive?

Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Is Porn Addictive?

Right now, as you’re reading this, there are hundreds of thousands of people watching porn. Around one million years’ worth of porn was watched last year, and 20 porn videos were watched for every person on Earth. You know how it’s said that if everyone in America were to jump in the air and land at the same time it would knock the planet of its axis? Well I hope that’s not true of orgasms too, or we’re about to go spinning off into the sun at any moment.

So, is porn addictive? Or is there an underlying cause for habitual porn use that might explain why we all consume so much of it that it’s a wonder we’re not all permanently on rehydrating saline drips?

Blog Health Sexual Health  Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Is Porn Addictive?

It’s hard to find solid statistics, but a scientific estimate suggests that as many as one in 25 of us is affected by compulsive sexual; behaviour, loosely defined as a fixation with sexual behaviour, feelings and thoughts that we would describe as beyond our control. Which there’s no clinical diagnosis for compulsive sexual behaviour , and no consensus on whether or not it’s even a ‘condition,’ those who believe they are affected by it often characterise excessive porn use as a main feature of it. (There’s not even any agreement on what constitutes ‘excessive,’ so let’s just assume it means the use of porn to the extent that it impinges negatively on your daily life.)

A recent study out of Cambridge University’s Department of Psychiatry studied the brain activity of 19 young men who identified as sexually compulsive and compared it with the brain activity of 19 men of the same age who describe their sex drive as healthy. The first insight that came from their self-assessments, before the scientific studies, was that those with sexual compulsions all began watching porn at a younger age and at a higher volume than those who assessed themselves as healthy.

“The patients in our trial were all people who had substantial difficulties controlling their sexual behaviour and this was having significant consequences for them, affecting their lives and relationships,” said Dr. Valerie Voon , an Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge. “In many ways, they show similarities in their behaviour to patients with drug addictions. We wanted to see if these similarities were reflected in brain activity, too.”

To find out, the patients were rigged up to an fMRI machine to monitor their brain activity, and shown pornographic imagery, alongside sporting imagery, which served as a kind of control for the test.

The results showed that those with compulsive sexual behaviours had higher activity in three areas in their brain compared to the healthy participants when shown the same explicit material. Tellingly, the three areas were the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala. These are the same areas that are more active in drug addicts when they’re shown drug-related stimuli. These parts of the brain control and regulate reward and motivation, the anticipation of a reward, and the processing of events and emotions, and there is a correlation between these reward systems and addiction.

The participants were then asked to report their level of sexual desire when prompted by the pornographic images. As you can probably guess by now, those with compulsive sexual behaviour reported higher levels of desire than the control group.

“There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour and healthy volunteers. These differences mirror those of drug addicts,” concludes Dr. Voon. “Whilst these findings are interesting, it’s important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition. Nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individuals are addicted to porn, or that porn is inherently addictive. Much more research is required to understand this relationship between compulsive sexual behaviour and drug addiction.”

So Dr. Voon is hedging her bets on the conclusion of the test. ‘More research is needed’ is clinical speak for ‘I’m not willing to commit to an answer.’ It does seem, though, that based on this small sample, there is evidence to suggest there is a neurological inclination towards porn addiction. But, like alcoholism, there’s no true definition: it’s measured by how much damage it’s doing to a patient’s everyday life.

But assuming porn addiction is real, is porn to blame? Or is it simply a facilitator? After all, porn contains no inherently addictive chemicals, like drugs do. Instead, it’s the brain’s reward feedback system that seems to be addictive, not the porn itself. Porn has a singularly difficult place in society, inasmuch as most of us use it, but judge people who we consider use it too much and are often unwilling to admit how excessive our own use of it is. 

Porn addiction is likely not really an addiction, but part of an obsessive compulsive disorder, but because it involves porn and the stigma that comes with it, it’s the porn itself that becomes the focus. Let’s for a moment compare it to another obsessive compulsive disorder: hygiene. The systems at work are the same: a person affected by a hygiene compulsive disorder as much rewarded by something being clean as they are afraid of something being unclean.

But no reasonable person would ever accuse them of having an anti-bacterial wet wipe addiction.

The post Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Is Porn Addictive? appeared first on Volonté .

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