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Study Suggests Porn Addiction Isn’t Real

People who report porn addiction may have a problem, but it might not actually be an addiction, new research shows

Jun 26, 2015 at 9:36 AM ET

A new study out of the University of California Los Angeles suggests porn addiction does not exist.

Researchers found that people who said they had trouble controlling their consumption of pornography did not show a typical addiction response to sexual images. With addiction, increased brain activity is expected in response to relevant stimuli—heroin in the case of a drug addict, for example. But the porn study’s participants showed decreased brain activity in response to pornography, according to the paper published in the scientific journal Biological Psychology.

The decreased brain activity could be a result of habituation to sexual images, but that’s a phenomenon not typically seen with addiction.

“This finding is important, because it shows a reversal of a part of the brain response that has been consistently documented in other substance addictions and gambling disorder,” said researcher Nicole Prause. This builds on a previous study conducted by the same researchers in which they found no connection between the extent of participants’ pornography problems and their brain responses to sexual images.

Last year, a study out of Cambridge reported nearly opposite findings: participants with compulsive sexual behavior showed brain responses similar to those of drug addicts. Prause says the difference might be partly attributable to recruitment for the earlier study having been advertised in online communities that argue porn addiction is real.We know individuals who identify as sexually addicted have more conservative values and were more likely to be raised in religious households, so they may simply be picking up on shame, not addiction, in the brain,” she said.

The researchers acknowledge that some people do report lost jobs and ruined relationships as a result of compulsive porn-watching. “While we do not doubt that some people struggle with their sexual behaviors,” says Prause, “these data show that the nature of the problem is unlikely to be addictive.”

Update: This article originally stated that participants in the Cambridge study had been recruited from sites like YourBrainOnPorn.com; in fact, advertisements seeking participants had appeared on other websites.

Read More:
Coming Out as a Porn Addict (The Atlantic)
He’s Just Not That Into Anyone (New York Magazine)