Heavy Porn Use Not Always Trigger for Sex Addiction

Porn and Sex Addiction

Recent findings from a team of Polish researchers indicate that frequent viewing of pornography does not necessarily lead to an inability to control sexual behavior, although some heavy porn users do lose sexual control.

Researchers have long debated whether frequent consumption of pornographic material contributes to the loss of control over sexual behavior that partially characterizes the condition commonly known as sex addiction. In a study presented in March 2015 to the 2nd International Conference on Behavioral Addictions, researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences sought to uncover any potential link between heavy consumption of pornography and an increased likelihood of failing to restrain sexual behavior.

Sex Addiction and Sexual Behavior

Dysfunctional involvement in sexual behavior is one of the primary manifestations of sex addiction, an unofficial condition that nevertheless likely affects significant numbers of people throughout the U.S. A sex-addicted person may also have problems with sexual thought and/or sexual fantasy that may or may not overlap with problematic real-world sexual behavior. Specific types of sexual behavior that may causes issues in a person affected by sex addiction include sexual activity with others, masturbation, phone sex, use of the Internet for sexual purposes (i.e., cybersex), visits to strip clubs or other sex-oriented commercial establishments and pornography consumption (over the Internet or through media such as DVDs or magazines). Some people have problems associated with multiple sexual behaviors, while others only have problems associated with a single behavior.

While sex addiction has no official definition in the U.S., there is considerable consensus on the core symptoms that likely indicate the presence of dysfunctional sexual behavior, thought or fantasy. Specific symptoms tentatively proposed in the past by the American Psychiatric Association include an inability to control the amount of time spent on sex-related undertakings, repeated engagement in sexual behavior or sexual thought/fantasy in inappropriate circumstances or physically dangerous situations, recurring use of sexual behavior or sexual thought/fantasy as a mechanism for coping with stress, and recurring use of sexual behavior or sexual thought/fantasy to avoid facing unpleasant moods or emotions.

Sex Addiction and Pornography

Pornography is famously a “slippery slope” concept. Material considered pornographic by large segments of society may not meet the pornography standards of other segments of society. Even when definitions of pornography are shared, reasonable people may hold very different opinions on the positive and negative consequences of porn consumption. Current evidence strongly indicates that, at least for certain individuals in certain circumstances, excessive pornography use acts as an indicator of sex addiction or porn addiction. Screening tools designed to detect dysfunctional pornography consumption include the Pornography Craving Questionnaire, which uses 12 specific indicators to identify potentially addictive urges to view pornographic material.

Relevance of Frequent Porn Use

In the study presented to the 2nd International Conference on Behavioral Addictions,researchers used a project involving 1,025 adults to help determine the role that frequent consumption of pornography plays in the loss of control over sexual behavior often found in people affected by sex addiction. Sixty-one of the study participants were actively receiving treatment for sex addiction (identified as compulsive sexual behavior by the researchers). The remaining 964 participants were pornography consumers not receiving treatment for sex addiction. Twenty-one of the individuals receiving sex addiction treatment viewed pornographic material for more than seven hours in the typical week; 36 of the individuals not receiving sex addiction treatment also viewed pornography at the same high rate of frequency.

The researchers concluded that the sheer amount of time spent viewing pornographic materials does not significantly increase the likelihood that any given individual will lose control over his or her sexual behavior and potentially qualify for a diagnosis of sex addiction. However, they also concluded that some high-frequency consumers of pornography have a clear tendency to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviors, such as regularly viewing pornography in the workplace and engaging in masturbation or other sexual acts in bathrooms, parks or other public places.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that loss of control over sexual behavior as manifested through clearly inappropriate sexual acts is the distinguishing factor that makes a person likely to enter treatment for sex addiction, not the frequent consumption of pornographic material. This conclusion holds true even though substantial numbers of frequent pornography users have behaviors that may qualify them for a sex addiction diagnosis.

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