There are no scientific studies that say porn is addictive, right?

Printer-friendly version

Research is beginning to confirm that pornography addiction is a true addiction, like gamblingAt this time, only one study has examined the brains of compulsive porn users: Cambridge University: Brain scans find porn addiction. As we expected, it found the same brain response as seen in drug addicts and alcoholics.

Many recent studies on Internet addiction disorder, including dozens involving brain scans, confirm that "Internet addicts" develop the same major brain changes that occur in all addictions  However, these studies did not separate out porn addiction from other types of Internet addictions. Who uses the Internet for only porn? (See: Internet Addiction Summaries, Recent Internet Addiction Brain Studies Include Porn, and Internet Addiction Studies Containing Excerpts About Porn).

Why so few studies? Sexual politics discourage isolating porn use from other forms of Internet activities. Unfortunately, this could be obscuring the increased vulnerability of those pursuing cybersex/porn. A 2006 Dutch study found that erotica had the highest addictive potential of all Internet applications. No wonder. Internet erotica is an extreme version of a natural reward that we're all wired to pursue: apparent mating opportunities.

So yes, there is evidence of Internet addiction, which includes some porn use, and one strong study isolating self-identified porn addicts. Meanwhile, the “little scientific evidence” argument is not a sound argument where there has not been much in-depth study. Keep in mind that the tobacco companies long used the "little scientific evidence" argument to defend against the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that cigarettes were lethal. In fact, they hired doctors to do commercials assuring smokers that "Smoking is good for your lungs."

Science marches faster with less controversial behavioral addictions. Every month, new studies appear showing addictive processes in the brains of others who have used super normal versions of natural rewards to excess (gamblers, over-eaters, video gamers etc.). This is why, in 2011, the 3000 doctors of the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) came out with a public statement clarifying that behavioral addictions (sex, food, gambling) are fundamentally like substance addictions in terms of brain changes.

We all have the brain reward circuitry that makes food and sex rewarding. In fact, this is a survival mechanism. In a healthy brain, these rewards have feedback mechanisms for satiety or ‘enough.’ In someone with addiction, the circuitry becomes dysfunctional such that the message to the individual becomes ‘more’, which leads to the pathological pursuit of rewards and/or relief through the use of substances and behaviors.— The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

Here's a excellent peer-reviewed journal article of where addiction neuroscience is with respect to porn addiction: Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity (2013).

As stated, researchers have already looked into the brains of over-eaters, Internet users and video gamers (and drug addicts). In each case, researchers have discovered that non-drug stimuli at sufficient intensity cause three major brain changes caused by addiction - desensitization, sensitization, and hypofrontality.

Two recent studies (study 1, study 2) found sensitization in the brains of heavy porn users, while another study found evidence of desensitization. Finally, one group of urologists started to ask the right questions Scientists: Too Much Internet Porn May Cause Impotence (2011). This scientific survey was commissioned by the Italian Andrology Society because doctors took note of young men with unexplained ED. If you have porn-induced ED, your brain has undergone biochemical and structural changes.

Moreover, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of Internet porn addiction. Self-reports of distressed users—more and more of them in their twenties or even younger—recount:

The assumption among non-addiction experts is that these users are a tiny minority with preexisting conditions that make them uniquely vulnerable to addiction ('impulsives' or 'novelty-seekers,' perhaps). Yet when they stop overstimulating their brains, many bounce back to excellent emotional health. This suggests that "normal" brains are vulnerable to today's hypersexual stimulation.

The fact that not everyone who uses porn uses it to a point where it interferes with his life doesn’t prove it cannot cause addiction. Not everyone who uses alcohol becomes an alcoholic, yet alcohol is unquestionably potentially addictive. Some experts meanwhile hesitate to label compulsive Internet porn use as an addiction because past research hasn't sufficiently revealed the withdrawal and tolerance phenomena. However, it’s considered likely that the “missing” research is due to methodological challenges rather than the absence of the phenomena themselves. In the absence of formal research, here are numerous self-reports of withdrawal symptoms and evidence of tolerance culled from anonymous online posts of recovering users:

The upper limit of natural dopamine release is sex. In theory, porn cannot be higher than sex. Obviously, most people have sex without becoming addicted to it. This is very confusing, and one reason why most psychologists don't believe porn addiction exists. However, it's likely that

  1. chronic use (many hits on demand, like smoking packs of cigarettes, which is very addictive—more so than heroin use, in fact, because the latter happens with less frequency even though the buzz is bigger), and
  2. overriding natural satiation mechanisms

both contribute to dopamine dysregulation and addiction.

With respect to the first point, there are likely to be more Internet porn addicts in the making than sex addicts, because a porn user can obtain constant hits of dopamine merely by clicking, whereas a sex addict must go through an entire seduction or other ritual. With respect to the second point about overriding normal satiety, consider obese people for a moment. Brain research shows that most are addicted to food, i.e., that their dopamine receptors have declined. Yet eating fattening or sweet food releases only half as much dopamine as sex/masturbation. Overriding feelings of fullness/satiety (eating when you're not really hungry, masturbating when you're not really horny) causes dopamine dysregulation.

Dopamine levels in response to food and sex

There's also something called 'sensitization' at work in addicts' brains. For example, the reward circuitry immediately releases a special protein (DeltaFosB) when rats are given addictive drugs or access to high fat, high sugar foods, This causes the animal to crave more of the drug or the food. The craving leads to more use, and a buildup of DeltaFosB, which intensifies the cravings for more, and so on. This is behind cue sensitivty, which the Cambridge study has confirmed in porn addicts.

Time for informed choices

Now that so many Internet users have unrestricted access to today’s porn they need to be able to make informed choices about its effects. Informed choice calls for in-depth research about the longer-term effects of the frequent use of hypersexual materials. (Yet, even in the absence of the ideal research, which may never make it through ethics committees, it is wise to make personal experiments and draw your own conclusions.)

It would be good to know:

  • How many users are showing symptoms?
  • Are “impulsives” and “novelty-seekers” the only ones at risk, or can average brains become dysregulated over time?
  • How many compulsive Internet porn users had no other addiction prior to use?
  • How long does it typically take heavy users to progress from asymptomatic to symptomatic? (In this regard, most of the users who have offered their self-reports firmly believed Internet porn was harmless for years before their symptoms gradually became too severe to ignore.)
  • Are porn users inadvertently rewiring their sexual tastes as they seek escalating stimulation to “self-medicate” the discomfort of dopamine dysregulation?
  • Are youthful erectile dysfunction and numbed clitorises from vibrator use (which women report) related to dopamine dysregulation?
  • Is there a trend toward compulsive use, such that the percentage of porn addicts rises as stimuli grow more extreme?
  • Are pubescent/adolescent brains more vulnerable to porn addiction than adult brains?
  • How long does it take the brains of those adversely affected to bounce back to normal sensitivity when they quit, and what turning points reflect which neurochemical events?

Fifty years ago, as our diet was flooded with junk-food, our culture assumed that self-control would protect people against obesity—except for an unlucky few who were predisposed to become fat due to genetic vulnerability. Today, 79% of Americans have a BMI of 25+ (18.5-24.9 is normal, 30 obese), and about half of those are already at 30+. And the USA is only the eighth fattest country. As our diets have changed, so have our appetites. Our ability to register satiety has declined. Can we assume self-control is adequate protection against this phenomenon in the case of porn consumption?

Just as our ancestors didn’t have access to plentiful, cheap food calculated to titillate human taste buds, they also didn’t have access to novel sexual titillation at a mouse click. Numbed brains seek more stimulation, so the ubiquitous options to goose the brain by clicking to porn or gulping a soda constitute a risk (of further brain desensitization/appetite dysregulation) that past generations didn’t face. It’s possible that “unnatural” versions of natural reinforcers may put at risk more of the user population than do other addictive substances/behaviors.

A rapidly changing reality, such as the recent lightening-like transition from porn magazines to Internet pornography, can leave research behind the curve. Perhaps the necessary brain research on porn users and recovered porn users could help both sides of the noisy porn debate to see which fears are well grounded and which make the effects of porn more dangerous by making its use risky or forbidden.

Comments

Addiction is the use of something where you can no longer manage the use and the resulting behavior.

Unmanageability:

--Do you use it to escape life or cope with life?
--Has your social life suffered ? Have you deliberately made excuses not to do something with friends or gf in order to stay home and PMO ?
--Does it interfere with normal day-to-day activities, getting to bed at a decent hour, getting to work on time (because you PMO before work, school or social events and end up being late)
--Can you avoid doing it when you are alone, or not? Do you deliberately schedule a time to do so  ? Do you feel guilt and shame after but can't keep from repeating ?
--Has it become a "ritual"on the computer (after completing all of the work, checking email, checking the news, then you fap) or are you able to stop and leave.
--Have you spent an entire day(s) looking , stopping only to use the bathroom or eat ?
--Do you feel you "deserve" to do be able to do so ? 
--Have the scenes you remember become a regular part of your masturbation , without the computer?
--Do you use what you have viewed as part of your fantasy in sex with your woman or are you in the moment, can you block out the memory, are you serving the needs of the partner  ?

Those are some questions I can come up with as to it not being manageable--

Think back honestly and what "got you off" before and what it takes now. If it is always something a little bit more "interesting" than before (the old scenes don't do anything), you are developing tolerance . That is the pornography "hook"