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Online Porn Fuels Sex Addiction

Online Porn Fuels Sex Addiction

University of Cambridge researchers have found that people who show compulsive sexual behavior — sex addiction — are driven to search more for new sexual images than their peers.

Although it is not clear what causes sex addiction, the seemingly endless supply of novel sexual images available online helps feed their addiction, making it more and more difficult to escape.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers also report that sex addicts are more susceptible to environmental cues linked to sexual images than to those linked to neutral images.

Sex addiction, or the general inability to control sexual thoughts, feelings or behavior, is relatively common, affecting as many as one in 25 young adults. It is heavily stigmatized and can lead to a sense of shame, affecting an individual’s family and social life as well as their work. There is no formal definition of the condition to help with diagnosis, say experts.

In previous work led by Dr. Valerie Voon from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, scientists found that three brain regions were more active in sex addicts compared with the healthy volunteers. Significantly, these regions — the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala — are also regions that are activated in drug addicts when shown drug stimuli.

In the new study, Voon and colleagues studied the behavior of 22 sex addicts and 40 healthy male volunteers undergoing tasks.

In the first task, individuals were shown a series of images in pairs, including naked women, clothed women and furniture. They were then shown further image pairs, including familiar and new images, and asked to choose an image to “win approximately $1.50” — although the participants were unaware of the odds. In fact, the probability of winning for either images was 50 percent.

The researchers found that sex addicts were more likely to choose the novel over the familiar choice for sexual images relative to neutral object images, whereas healthy volunteers were more likely to choose the novel choice for neutral human female images relative to neutral object images.

“We can all relate in some way to searching for novel stimuli online — it could be flitting from one news website to another, or jumping from Facebook to Amazon to YouTube and on,” Voon said.

“For people who show compulsive sexual behavior, though, this becomes a pattern of behavior beyond their control, focused on pornographic images.”

In a second task, volunteers were shown pairs of images — an undressed woman and a neutral grey box — both of which were overlaid on different abstract patterns. They learned to associate these abstract images with the images, similar to how the dogs in Pavlov’s famous experiment learnt to associate a ringing bell with food. They were then asked to select between these abstract images and a new abstract image.

This time, the researchers showed that sex addicts where more likely to choose cues (in this case the abstract patterns) associated with sexual and monetary rewards. This supports the notion that apparently innocuous cues in an addict’s environment can ‘trigger’ them to seek out sexual images.

“Cues can be as simple as just opening up their internet browser,” said Voon. “They can trigger a chain of actions and before they know it, the addict is browsing through pornographic images. Breaking the link between these cues and the behaviour can be extremely challenging.”

The researchers carried out a further test where 20 sex addicts and 20 matched healthy volunteers underwent brain scans while being shown a series of repeated images — an undressed woman, a £1 coin or a neutral grey box.

They found that when the sex addicts viewed the same sexual image repeatedly they experienced a greater decrease of activity in the region of the brain known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, known to be involved in anticipating rewards and responding to new events.

This is consistent with “habituation,” where the addict finds the same stimulus less and less rewarding. For example, a coffee drinker may get a caffeine “buzz” from their first cup, but over time the more they drink coffee, the smaller the buzz becomes.

This same habituation effect occurs in healthy males who are repeatedly shown the same porn video. But when they then view a new video, the level of interest and arousal goes back to the original level. This implies that, to prevent habituation, the sex addict would need to seek out a constant supply of new images. In other words, habituation could drive the search for novel images.

“Our findings are particularly relevant in the context of online pornography,” Voon said. “It’s not clear what triggers sex addiction in the first place and it is likely that some people are more pre-disposed to the addiction than others, but the seemingly endless supply of novel sexual images available online helps feed their addiction, making it more and more difficult to escape.”

Source: University of Cambridge

Online Porn Fuels Sex Addiction

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Online Porn Fuels Sex Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/11/25/online-porn-fuels-sex-addiction/95348.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Nov 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Nov 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.