This is a brief article posted by Robert Weiss, LCSW, on November 9, 2014.
Many people want to understand pornography addiction, perhaps when trying to evaluate a loved one, or when trying to understand their own behavior. But “how much porn before you’re a sex addict?” may be the wrong question. Perhaps in our search to understand pornography addiction, we should be asking not about quantity, but about the relationship between the viewer and pornography use.
While there is no single, clinical definition of addiction, it has been widely described as a “pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience.” Sexual experiences such as porn use can alter mood because they release dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward center. It is the same neurotransmitter experienced in excess by people seeking drug highs, overeating, gambling and taking part in other addictive experiences.
Many pornography addicts exhibit other addictive behaviors in combination with porn use, such as seductiveness, having affairs and engaging in prostitution and exhibitionism. And other kinds of addiction beyond sex addiction are also likely to co-occur, or to have occurred in the past, particularly drug or alcohol addiction.
Men and women addicted to pornography cannot be spotted simply because of the type of porn they choose. Fetish, violent and other disturbing pornography is not an automatic indication of addiction, though escalation in extremes of porn content is common to porn addicts. Instead, other characteristics of addiction are more important to look for.
Signs of Pornography Addiction
When Internet pornography becomes addictive, there are some key characteristics likely to show up:
The addict uses pornography to avoid physical or emotional intimacy
The addict uses pornography to escape negative feelings
The addict is secretive about the use of pornography
The addict continues to use pornography despite negative consequences
The addict continues to use pornography despite feelings of shame and even though its use or images witnessed lie outside of his or her value system
The addict promises to quit, maybe more than once, but can never seem to keep this promise to him or herself or to others
Acknowledging the Problem
According to international sex addiction expert Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, and founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute, many of the men in sex addiction treatment are there because of their spouses or partners. Maybe they were caught. Maybe they were given ultimatums. But Weiss says this is largely untrue of the women who attend sex addiction recovery; they show up initially to treat other things, and through that treatment come to an understanding of the underlying problem of sex addiction.
But gender differences aside, loved ones, no matter how concerned or well-meaning, do not have the power to diagnose pornography or other sexual addiction. Only the addict does. Addiction, as we know, will never get better until and unless the addict acknowledges the problem.
Pornography addiction cannot be determined by the number of hours per week a user engages, because again, it is not found in quantity. Its basis lies in the relationship the addict experiences with his or her addictive object. Is there secrecy? Is there shame? Are there the repeated promises to quit but the repeated failure to do so? Are their consequences as a result of the use of porn that are being ignored? And most important, is the use of pornography a means of escape and a tool to avoid intimacy? Sex addiction, after all, is an intimacy disorder, no matter what form it takes