Understanding Porn Addiction (and the Role of Technology)

June 6th, 2014 | Posted by Rob Weiss in Addiction

Understanding Porn Addiction (and the Role of Technology)Pornography addiction is one of the most common forms of sexual addiction. It is not unusual for porn abuse to be coupled with compulsive masturbation and/or various forms of non-intimate partner sex such as webcam sex, sexting, anonymous sex, casual sex, affairs, use of prostitutes, exhibitionism, voyeurism, etc. That said, porn addiction is often a standalone form of compulsive sexuality. Essentially, porn addiction occurs when a person viewing pornography, with or without masturbation, loses the ability to choose whether he or she will continue to engage in that behavior. All types of addiction, substance and behavioral alike, involve a similar loss of control. For instance, the most obvious indicator of alcoholism is an inability to stop drinking after the first sip is taken. So when an individual says, “I don’t want to look at porn anymore,” and returns to it anyway, time and time again, porn addiction may be in play.

Like other addicts, porn addicts engage in their addictive behavior not to enjoy themselves and feel better, but to escape from life and feel less (i.e., to gain a sense of control over their emotions). In other words, porn addicts use the intense neurochemical arousal that porn induces as a way to mask the unpleasant experience of stress and various forms of emotional discomfort, including the pain of underlying psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, attachment deficits, shame, low self-esteem, and unresolved early-life trauma. These are the exact same reasons that alcoholics get drunk, drug addicts get high, gambling addicts bet the farm, etc.

Research suggests that in today’s world most porn addicts choose to get their “fix” online, and that they spend at least 11 or 12 hours per week searching for the perfect image or video on desktop computers, laptops, pads, tablets, smartphones, and other digital devices. (Magazines, VHS tapes, DVDs, and other “traditional” forms of pornography are still in use, but the vast majority of porn addicts prefer the anonymity, affordability, and 24/7/365 accessibility provided by the Internet.) And this 11 or 12 hours per week number is the low end of the spectrum. Many porn addicts spend double or even triple that amount. Addictive porn use typically becomes so ubiquitous that it interferes with and/or overtakes healthy activities, resulting in ruined relationships, trouble at work or in school, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, isolation, financial woes, declining physical and/or emotional health, legal issues, and more.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, I’ll tell you here that the amount and variety of pornography that is now available through digital devices is almost unmeasurable, primarily because new forms of technology are being developed (and then adapted for erotic purposes) almost daily. For instance, when texting first became available, not many of us suspected it would become a primary venue for the exchange of self-made pornography (the “sexting” of “selfies”). And social media sites like Facebook and Twitter certainly didn’t seem like a place where grandparents might decide to post photos of their exposed breasts and testicles. But that’s what’s happening. So yeah, keeping track of the amount of pornography that’s actually out there and available to pretty much anyone, anytime, anywhere, is relatively impossible, which hasn’t stopped people from trying to quantify porn use. Nor will it stop me from repeating a few of the more reliably calculated statistics.

  • 12 percent of all Internet websites are pornographic.
  • 25 percent of all online search engine requests are related to sex. (That’s about 68 million requests per day.)
  • 35 percent of all Internet downloads are pornographic.

Even with a relative dearth of reliable statistics, it’s pretty clear that there is a lot of porn to look at, and that a lot of people are taking advantage. It’s not all men, either. In fact, studies show that about a third of all Internet porn users are female – though men and women tend to enjoy different formats (men being more purely sexual, women being more relationship oriented).

The question you may be asking right about now is this: How can I distinguish between the casual porn user and the addicted porn user? The main things to look for are:

  1. Preoccupation with porn to the point of obsession
  2. Loss of control over porn use
  3. Ongoing negative life consequences related to compulsive porn use.

Other common signs that casual porn use has escalated to the level of addiction include:

  • Continued porn use despite consequences and/or promises made to self or others to stop
  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use
  • Hours, sometimes even days, lost to searching for, viewing, and organizing pornography
  • Viewing progressively more arousing, intense, or bizarre sexual content
  • Lying about, keeping secrets about, and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if asked to stop
  • Reduced or even nonexistent interest in real-world sex with spouses or partners
  • Deeply rooted feelings of loneliness and/or detachment from other people
  • Drug/alcohol use or drug/alcohol addiction relapse in conjunction with porn use
  • Increased objectification of strangers, viewing them as body parts rather than people
  • Escalation from viewing two-dimensional images to using the Internet for anonymous sexual hookups and to find prostitutes

Sadly, porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t view their solo sexual behaviors as an underlying source of their unhappiness. And when they do seek assistance, they often seek help with their addiction’s related symptoms – depression, loneliness, and relationship troubles – rather than the porn problem itself. Many attend psychotherapy for extended periods without ever discussing (or even being asked about) pornography or masturbation. Thus, their core problem remains underground and untreated.

If you believe that one of your clients may be addicted to porn, it is imperative that you ask the sometimes difficult and uncomfortable questions that can uncover it. Sexual addiction self-tests are available on the Sexual Recovery Institute website. Looking through these quizzes may help you to formulate queries that will be useful in a therapeutic setting. If you find that you are not comfortable pursuing this line of questioning, you may want to refer your client to someone who is. The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health and the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals are both excellent referral resources.

If porn addiction (or any other form of sexual addiction) is uncovered in your assessment, effective treatment typically parallels that of addiction treatment in general, meaning a steady dose of cognitive behavioral therapy coupled with group therapy, social learning, and 12-step recovery. Once the porn addict’s behavior is under control, deeper underlying issues (such as early-life trauma and attachment deficit disorders) can be addressed using more traditional forms of psychotherapy. If your client is resistant to changing his or her problematic sexual behavior patterns, a stint of intensive outpatient or inpatient sex addiction treatment may be useful.

 

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch in Nunnelly, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles.He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous other treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. For more information you can visit his website, www.robertweissmsw.com.

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