Kevin B Skinner Ph.D.

Inside Porn Addiction

Is Pornography (Sexual) Addiction Real?

Maybe we should ask the experts--those seeking help.

Posted Nov 03, 2014

There is much debate about whether or not pornography is addictive.  Pornography addiction is controversial even among professional therapists. This debate heated up when the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-V) for therapists did not include sexual addiction as a clinical diagnosis. Many professionals wondered out loud what this means for professional therapists and their clients who are seeking help for sexual addiction, including pornography addiction (see Alexandra Katehakis article Sex Addiction Beyond DSM-V).

The two reasons that sexual compulsivity were not included in the DSM-V stem from the lack of research and lack of an agreed upon list of symptomatic behaviors. This should be expected since the study of sexual compulsivity is relatively new.  However, not being included in the DSM-V does not mean it doesn’t exist. For example, compare this situation our society’s gradual realization about the dangers of smoking. For years, smoking was accepted and society wasn’t aware of the health risks. In fact, from the 1920’s until the early 1970’s tobacco companies used medical doctors to promote smoking for throat irritation. (See Tobacco Led Throat Doctors to Blow Smoke)

We know now that millions have lost their lives to smoking cigarettes.  It’s easy to shake our heads and say, “What were they thinking?” Criticizing the decision makers won’t bring back the lost lives, but looking and observing our current blind spots as a society might help us prevent loss of individuals and families to sexual compulsivity. Perhaps one of our blind spots is minimizing the challenge that individuals and couples experience as a result of hypersexuality. 

Even though the DSM-V didn’t include a clinical diagnosis code for sexual compulsivity, professional therapists and in-patient centers are filled with men and women who have lost control over their sexual behaviors. In addition, parents are scrambling to find help for their teens who were exposed to pornography on average by age eleven. The lives of these individuals have been altered by excessive exposure to pornography and other sexual behaviors. Since we are being asked to treat the devastating affects of hypersexuality in our offices and treatment centers, what should we as therapists do or say? Have a smoke and your throat will feel better? We simply cannot ignore the plea for help. Struggling individuals and their families need support and validation for their out of control thoughts, emotions and behaviors that look and feel like the other addictions we professionals treat.

While the debate will continue regarding sexual compulsivity, the need to help those in need will not diminish. In fact, the number of clinicians seeking professional training from organizations like International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) which certifies therapists in treating sexual addiction continues to grow. Currently, therapists and others who want to help are scrambling to aid those who are suffering. The need for accurate and helpful information couldn’t be greater and those seeking help for hypersexual behaviors and their loved ones need clear guidance and effective treatment tools.

They don’t need to be told that there is no such thing as sexual compulsivity (addiction). That’s like telling someone with cancer that cancer doesn’t exist. What they do need is evidence that validates their experience. Fortunately, researchers are gaining momentum in this area and now have a better understanding of what pornography does to the brain. In a recent example, Dr. Valerie Voon from Cambridge University found, “Pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behavior – known commonly as sex addiction – similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts.” The authors did caution that this does not mean that pornography itself is addictive, but that it highlights regions of the brain similar to those with drug addictions. The authors suggest that 1 in 25 or 4% of the population may be dealing with sexual addiction. This study was published in the journal PLOS ONE. (See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/brain-activity-in-sex-addiction-mirrors-that-of-drug-addiction#sthash.2emonJlv.dpuf)

This is one of the first studies that explored the effects of pornography on the brains of individuals who are compulsive users of pornography.  Clearly, there are so many questions that need to be discussed and resolved. Here’s a short list of questions I have related to pornography consumption and hypersexuality:

  1. What causes a person to compulsively view pornography and take risks that could cause him/her to lose a job or family?
  2. Can someone be a casual user of pornography like a person can be a social drinker?
  3. Is there a tipping point where a person simply loses self-control with pornography? For example, researchers who study nicotine dependence believe that if a person smokes 100 or more cigarettes they are addicted to nicotine. Is there a number of times a person can view pornography and they become dependent on pornography?
  4.  What are the long-term consequences (mentally and emotionally) for someone who views pornography daily for months and years at a time?
  5. Does frequently viewing pornography alter how a person approaches relationships?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed.

In the meantime, we should be able educate individuals seeking help so that they and their loved ones can find healing. Dr. Patrick Carnes and other professionals have developed assessment tools designed to address sexual compulsivity. For more information on this you can visit recoveryzone.com

Another assessment that clinicians use to assess sexual compulsivity is the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory (HBI-19) written by Dr. Rory Reid and his colleagues. This is a valuable assessment that looks at hypersexuality. Finally, a few years ago, I created an assessment that focuses specifically on pornography use. If you would be interested in taking this assessment, click on this link (Assessing Pornography Addiction-V2).

Signs to Look for in Addiction

There are common signs of addiction. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Compulsive behavior that leads to loss of control
  • Attempts to stop are not successful despite potential negative consequences
  • Preoccupation with activity
  • Increased need for more
  • Tolerance—what was once enough no longer is
  • Withdrawal symptoms

If you would like to learn more about pornography and sexual addiction I would suggest the following resources:

National Organizations

  1. International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Therapists (www.iitap.com)
  2. Society for Advancement of Sexual Health (www.sash.net)

 12-Step Support Groups

  1. Sexaholics Anonymous (www.sa.org)
  2. Sex Addicts Anonymous (www.saa-recovery.org)
  3. Sex and Love Addiction (www.slaafws.org)
  4. Hope and help for family and friends of sexaholics (www.sanon.org)

Inpatient Treatment Centers that Specialize in Treating Sexual Addiction

  1. Life Healing Center (www.life-healing.com)
  2. Elements Behavioral Health (www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com)
  3. The Meadows (www.themeadows.com)

 

Educational Support

  1. Addo Recovery (www.addorecovery.com)
  2. Integrity Restored—Help for Catholic men and their families (www.integrityrestored.com)
  3. Sex Help (www.sexhelp.com)

If you or a loved one is struggling with compulsive use of pornography or other sexual behaviors, please reach out. There is help available and this is a real issue. Just ask the experts who have been fighting to reclaim their lives.

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