“At that moment, I wanted more,” said 18-year-old Justin, recalling his first experience with pornography at age 11. “It was a constant need. I had no idea what it was. I was never happy with what I found. Even if it met my sexual preference, it didn’t make me happy. I (just started) clicking and clicking and clicking and never stopped.” This may appear an extreme example, but with the increasing prevalence of Internet porn, the story is becoming more and more common.
How Pornography Addiction Is Similar To Drug Addiction
Those who don’t accept the existence of pornography addiction are often unaware of its neurological similarities to drug addiction. It might seem that video content—no matter how explicit—can’t have as much of an effect as a drug like heroin, but to the brain, drugs and pornography are remarkably similar.
The reason for this is neurochemistry, and in particular the “reward” system in the brain and its core chemical, dopamine. This is the chemical responsible for making things like eating and having sex pleasurable, rewarding us for engaging in them and concurrently motivating us to do them again.
Drugs are addictive because they hijack this pathway and create floods of dopamine for the user, beginning the same process of reward followed by motivation to repeat that reward. Drugs create these large surges of dopamine, but the brain soon develops a “tolerance” to the effects, and more and more is needed to produce the “high” users are looking for.
At this point, it’s generally considered an addiction, and users will go to extraordinary lengths to obtain their substance of choice and will persist in the face of negative consequences.
Since it’s closely tied to sex, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that watching pornography also stimulates the release of dopamine. Bearing in mind that this is the same substance that makes drugs like cocaine addictive, pornography has the potential to be addictive in the same way. Users find that they need more and more extreme porn (or to watch more of it) to obtain satisfaction, effectively developing tolerance, and will continue to watch porn even after negative consequences, such as a destroyed relationship.
Teens And Pornography
The teen brain is a “work in progress,” and while the “reward” pathways are established fairly early, the higher reasoning centers (responsible for accurately weighing risks against rewards for different activities) haven’t fully developed. This creates a situation where teens are remarkably susceptible to addictions.
The prevalence of pornography online is exacerbating this issue, with clinical social workers who deal with young people reporting a growing problem with children and teens receiving early exposure to it. Research shows that about two in five children are exposed to pornography in a given year, and the majority of those didn’t seek it out (having clicked a link or come across a pop-up advertisement, for example). The average age of first exposure to porn is falling, and is currently at 11 to 12 years old.
Porn’s Effects On Young Minds
A content analysis of the most popular pornography videos in 2005 revealed that almost nine out of ten featured some form of physical aggression, overwhelmingly perpetrated by males toward females, and other research has shown the impact this can have. According to a California-based study, children who watch violent pornography were six times more likely than those who didn’t to engage in aggressive sexual behavior such as sexual assault or technology-based sexual harassment. Additionally, those who watched non-violent pornography at age 13 or 14 were several times more likely to have engaged in sexual intercourse and oral sex than their non-viewing peers two years later.
Pornography Addiction Treatment
There are many potential solutions for those struggling with pornography addiction, from inpatient treatment facilities to less-intensive support through counseling or educational interventions.
Preventing Teen Pornography Addiction
Experts advise parents to discuss the issues with their children; more of a continuing, regularly “updated” discussion than a one-off “birds and the bees” talk, as members of past generations may have received. Some experts suggest stating ground rules for technology—such as “no Internet-enabled devices in the bedroom”—and watching out for warning signs such as notable changes in attitude and excessive protectiveness over computers and cell phones from teens.
Groups such as Fight the New Drug also help teens at risk for developing pornography by giving educational talks in schools, explaining the similarities between compulsive pornography viewing and drug addiction. The response to Fight the New Drug has been positive, which is encouraging. The more children and teenagers understand the effects of pornography and the risks of addiction, the less likely they are to over-indulge and develop a problem, and the more likely they are to get help if they need it.
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