The Brain Science of Pornography Addiction

Regardless of one's moral or religious beliefs, the prolific saturation of pornography on the Internet and in the media cannot go unnoticed. It's no surprise that the availability of pornography is increasing, especially with an explosion of Internet-connected mobile devices and portable media players. Despite the economic hardships that many industries have suffered in recent years, the revenues of the pornography industry continue to grow. It is estimated that by 2013, the revenue from pornography on mobile devices alone will reach $4.9 billion. In the United States, the pornography industry annual revenues are estimated at approximately $13 billion, and over $97 billion worldwide, according to a 2006 statistic (obviously outdated), with the U.S. being one of the top producing countries.

What is it that makes consumers of pornography so addicted, and why does the porn industry continue to profit? Mark B. Kastleman, author of "The Drug of the New Millennium," says, "We need pleasure. We are pleasure-oriented beings." Exercise, music, certain foods, and other healthy activities can cause the release of neurotransmitters in the brain and give us pleasure. Just as a drug addict gets a surge of pleasure from taking illegal drugs, exposure to pornography produces an extreme chemical release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Some of these neurochemicals include dopamine (released with the same intensity as with cocaine use), norepinephrine (which causes the brain to remember the details of the exposure), oxytocin (which creates a powerful bonding with the viewer to the images), and seratonin (which creates a calming, peaceful feeling). In the same way that illegal drugs trick the brain into releasing its own endogenous chemicals, pornography fakes the brain into releasing a powerful cocktail of addicting, pleasurable neurotransmitters. Essentially, the addiction to pornography is not that different from actual chemical addiction. There is no ingesting or injecting of an actual substance, but viewing pornography can produce the same chemical release of neurotransmitters in the brain just as pharmaceutical or illegal drugs do. Jeffrey Satinover, M.S., M.D., Psychiatrist and Professor at Princeton University says, "modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction: Only the delivery system is different, and the sequence of steps." Specialists who treat people with pornography addiction often say that it is harder to overcome a pornography addiction than a drug addiction because it involves many other complex emotions and situations, and because sexual attraction is built into our DNA.

What's more alarming are the psychological and behavioral impacts of pornography. Research indicates that consumption of pornography leads to adverse affects including increased marital distress, decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction, infidelity, increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices. Children who are exposed to pornography are at risk for developing sexual compulsions and addictive behavior, and face an increased risk of exposure to incorrect information about human sexuality long before a minor is able to contextualize this information in ways an adult brain could.

After repeated exposure to sexually explicit images, the brain habituates, or "gets bored," and the same images no longer cause the neurochemical release, according to Kastleman. Consequently, an individual will typically go to a more novel or disturbed level in order to get the same neurochemical release again. Kastleman mentions an interview with an FBI agent who handles child porn cases. The agent confirmed that in almost all of the cases that he sees, men usually start out by viewing "harmless" pornography, and after repeated use, the only thing that will give them the same level of pleasure is acting out against real people, or to view content that is more extreme, forbidden, or illegal. Kastleman cites research that links pornography use to child abuse, rape, incest, and sexual abuse.

Regardless of whether or not you think pornography is acceptable, today's technology allows us to see what happens chemically inside the brain during exposure, and to understand the reason behind the addictive nature of pornography. Anything that is as addictive has the potential to enslave individuals, affect their most critical relationships, and lead them to commit dangerous or illegal acts.


FeedTheRightWolf said...

Great post and great blog. Keep up the good work. We are fighting an uphill battle but thankfully more and more people begin to realize the dangers of pornography. I will be providing a link to this post from my blog


Luke said...

Thanks for your mention of Kastleman's research. He did an interview with us a while back. Very interesting information:

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