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Porn 'Addiction' May Not Be an Addiction After All

 

Don Draper, Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner—the idea of being a sex addict has become more widely accepted as more real and fictional people identify with the vice. And sex addiction’s debaucherous cousin, porn addiction, is actually thought to be even more common. In fact, a landmark study found that 56 percent of divorce cases can be attributed in part to one partner having an obsession with porn. (Is Your Guy Normal When It Comes to Sex?)

When these problems are framed as addictions, we are inclined to sympathize, viewing the indulgences as out of the addicts’ control.

The only problem? The activity in the brain when someone watches porn is actually the opposite of how it reacts when addicts see cocaine, cigarettes, or gambling, according to new research published in Biological Psychology.

It’s true certain people identify as “hypersexual,” reporting an uncontrollable urge for sexual activity or stimulation that has negatively impacted their life, like causing them to lose their job or relationship. (Although watching smut with your sweetie can be part of a healthy sex life. Find out How to Watch Porn Together.) Because this fits with the psychological parameters of addiction, many therapists have suggested that treatment for sex and porn addiction follow the protocol for that of a drug addiction, such as rehab.

But there’s actually a neurological definition of addiction as well: Addicts' brains show a consistent pattern of activity that causes them to compulsively find reward in their vice despite the unfavorable consequences. (Find out the full neurological story in The Male Brain On: Porn.)

In the study—which was the largest neuroscience study of porn addiction to date—researchers showed erotic and non-erotic clips to men and women, some of who didn’t find their X-rated habits problematic and others who identified as hypersexual. The researchers then measured the participants’ late positive potential (LPP), electrical activity of the brain that has been shown to increase when cocaine addicts view images of the drug. And they actually found that participant’s LPP was lower when they were shown sexual images—the opposite of what would happen if they were clinically addicted.

That’s not to say that hypersexual people or porn “addicts” don’t have an uncontrollable and destructive problem—it just means that they need a treatment plan that is different than that of a drug or gambling addict, because the neurological activity isn’t the same. Rehab or medications for addicts, for example, may not work since the neural path from stimuli to reward is different in hypersexuals. So while you can definitely have a porn problem, you just aren't technically an addict.

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