In recent years it seems that the news media has all but succeeded in making pornography appear harmless. An article published early in 2014 claimed that there is “no such thing as porn addiction” and that there were positive benefits to children and adults viewing pornography. However, the conclusive results of a long-awaited study just published by Cambridge University strongly dispute these findings. The study, which entitled, “Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours” (2014) found that compulsive users of sexual material have the same reactions to these materials as drug addicts do to drugs.
Pornography users displayed “incentive motivation” which is a hallmark of drug abuse. This means that they craved the pornography in the same way that a drug abuser craves drugs – they want it but when they get it they do not actually enjoy it. Brain scanning technology also showed that the use of sexually explicit material activated the same circuits in the brain activated by users of nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. Furthermore, the study found that pornography abusers have no higher incidences of sexual desire than the normal population – disputing the idea that pornography addicts just have heightened sexual desire and need more material to fulfill those desires.
Another alarming finding of the study was that younger users were more sensitive to addiction to pornographic material, having higher dopamine spikes than the average population. This followed the trend of adolescents being more vulnerable to addiction than adults and makes clear the fallacy of far-fetched theories claiming that children should be exposed to pornography at a young age to prepare for healthy sexuality. Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, the study found that frequent pornography users had 50% higher erectile dysfunction when engaging in sexual relations with real partners than those who did not view pornography.
The Cambridge study builds upon findings of a German study released earlier in 2014 – the first brain-scan study on porn users which found that – similar to drug addiction – the reward system of the brain became “worn out” on porn – needing more stimulation to achieve the same reward.
There is still much ground to be traveled in the area of brain research and pornography but these latest findings support what most had already suspected – that pornography addiction is similar to other addiction behaviors and should be treated accordingly.