Sexual Addiction: Pornography and the Brain – What Makes it so Enticing?

Woman With Handcuffs in PornographyFor decades, experts in the field of addiction believed that only drugs or alcohol could result in addictive behavior, however more recent findings have shown that there many other things that can lead to the development of an addiction. For example, activities such as gambling, shopping, sex, and pornography can easily become addictive.

The brain responds to all pleasurable activities – a good meal, psychoactive drugs, sexual encounters – in the same way. When the brain encounters something pleasurable, it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, which is a cluster of nerve cells that sit below the cerebral cortex. Not only does dopamine contribute to the development of pleasure, but it also plays a major role in learning and memory. These two executive functions are primarily responsible for changing what was once simply just an enjoyable activity into an addiction.

Process addictions, that used to be overlooked, are compulsive behaviors in which a person becomes dependent upon performing a certain activity in order to produce feelings of pleasure. These behaviors come at a tremendous cost to the addict and everyone involved in his or her life.

Sexual addiction, also referred to as a progressive intimacy disorder, is a condition that causes a person to become preoccupied with thoughts about and engagement in sexual behaviors. These thoughts and behaviors will continue regardless of the negative impact it is having on an individual’s life. Adverse consequences may include increased health risks, financial problems, shattered relationships or marriages, and legal ramifications. Like most other addictions, the problems increase and intensify as the disorder progresses [1].

People who are sex addicts may engage in behaviors such as having multiple affairs and frequent one-night stands, engaging excessive masturbation, or experience an uncontrollable urge to use porn. In addition to sex, they may frequent chat rooms, respond to personal ads, or make obscene phone calls for sexual gratification. It is also common for these individuals to become aroused by unconventional stimuli such as inanimate objects, specific body parts, or engagement in masochistic behaviors.

man on computer looking at PornographyOne of the most common ways in which sex addicts find arousal is through the use of pornography. It is widely agreed upon by experts that the porn is used to see their fantasies acted out, to avoid intimate relationships, or to aid in masturbation.

Pornography becomes particularly problematic for an addict because they will spend excessive amounts of time surfing the internet or looking through magazines which take away from the time they would normally spend fulfilling daily obligations. The longer an individual continues to engage in their pornography or sexual addiction the greater the consequences become [2].

Many people may end up being pushed away from loved ones or, in extreme cases, facing separation and divorce. These same individuals may be shocked to discover that they have accrued a rather large amount of debt due to the amount of porn being purchased. This difficult financial situation can be made worse if, due to the amount of time they spend looking at porn, they fall behind on work responsibilities and, as a result, lose their job.

While there is no doubt that pornography has an impact on an individual’s thoughts and behaviors, more research is needed to determine the precise impact that the use porn has on the brain. However, one thing remains clear, in order to help someone struggling with sex addiction take back control of his or her life, treatment needs to be obtained.

Bio: “Sexual Addiction: Pornography and the Brain” was written by The Refuge clinical team member Lauren Hardy, M.A. Lauren has several years of experience in the treatment field as a research analyst at Vanderbilt University and has her masters in counseling psychology.

References:

[1]: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-doc/200910/what-drives-sex-addict
[2]: http://yourbrainonporn.com/why-did-my-porn-use-escalate)