Torn on porn: A look at addiction & pornography

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Illustration by Cristina Williams

Illustration by Cristina Williams

Where do we draw the line between overuse and addiction in an internet-obsessed culture?

Charlotte Loppie, a UVic Professor in the School of Public Health, Social Policy, and Community-Based Aboriginal Health Research, has recently noticed a significant increase in the number of male students seeking advice about erectile dysfunction in relationships due to extensive viewing of online pornography.

Internet porn can be “eventually desensitizing material,” Loppie explains, because the “rapid fire stimulation” of unrealistic explicit content leaves the viewer unable to become aroused by sex with a real person.

One case of this phenomenon is self-proclaimed porn addict and fourth-year Creative Writing major, Spencer Thompson, who addressed Loppie about his personal experience with addiction last year. Loppie says Thompson was her first encounter with a case precisely like Thompson’s but adds, “I’ve had students contacting me for years who have struggled with this.”

Thompson explains that his interest in porn began in Grade 10 and that he continues to suffer from the addiction. “I still struggle,” he says. “There’s no remedy.”

“At times I wish I was a kid from the eighties. They didn’t have to deal with [computers].”

In a 2015 volume of the Texas Review of Law & Politics, Alexandra Harrison writes: “Internet pornography addiction contains elements of both sexual addiction and Internet addiction, making it potentially more toxic than other addictions. The American Bar Association (ABA),  defines sexual addictions as a ‘compulsive dependence on any sexual behavior that preoccupies the addict, who continues to act compulsively as the consequences mount and who experiences the compulsion as beyond his or her ability to resist, control, or stop it.’”

In his “darkest” days, watching porn provided the only happiness in Thompson’s life. He used to skip school to watch online pornography, and eventually became incapable of connecting  sexually and emotionally with potential romantic interests. “When [I] have the urge, my conscious mind is just gone and I’m all motivated by body,” says Thompson.

Harrison continues in the Texas Review: “The ABA notes that while ‘the addiction develops, the addict needs to engage in more frequent or riskier behaviors to produce the same biochemical rush,’ and the ‘preoccupation, persistence, and compulsive need to continue,’ rather than specific acts, mar the addiction.” So the gratification no longer becomes about sex per se but about the specific activity of online porn watching.

“You move on to more extreme stuff because [the previous genre] isn’t doing it for you anymore . . . but at the same time, your conscience is saying that’s [awful content],” Thompson explains.

According to Emma Carter of the Center for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC), no research is currently being done by CARBC regarding online pornography addiction. As sufficient research lags behind new issues in pornography, contrasting medical viewpoints abound. What is fairly well-established is the divide between male and female experiences with online pornography. “In all my years [working in sexual health], I’ve never heard a woman say [she’s] watched so much porn that [she] can’t get excited with a real partner,” says Loppie.

Dr. Daniel Linz’s 2007 book Online Pornography: Opposing Viewpoints argues that “labels such as ‘sex addict’ or ‘pornography addict’ may tell us more about our society and gender roles than shed light on any new syndrome.” Linz suggests that since those diagnosed as “sex addicts” are disproportionately men, some researchers believe that society’s expectations of hyper-sexualized males may lead men to express their masculinity through sexual excesses.

According to Harrison, the “Coolridge Effect,” described as the novelty-seeking element of male sexuality, means that the infinite pool of fresh internet stimuli is ideal in facilitating male addiction.

However, Loppie questions whether addiction is the correct term. “I think what we’re seeing [with so-called online porn addiction] is overuse of a certain type of stimuli.”

Regardless, some online communities work to address those who suffer from online pornography overuse or addiction. In 2011, a subreddit called NoFap sprung up and eventually became available as an app. Another website called YourBrainOnPorn.com educates users on the scientific effects of porn and promotes a process called Reboot where users abstain from masturbation and pornography for 90 days. Thompson confirms that the Reboot process successfully works for him in correcting erectile dysfunction caused by online porn.

Thompson offers some advice for those who worry they may overindulge in online pornography: “Even if you’re seeing some weird [stuff] online, [and] you think that’s what . . . you’re really into, I wouldn’t make that judgement until you’ve stepped away.”

If you think you may be addicted to online pornography, UVic counsellors are available to help. Visit Thompson’s blog to learn more about his experience: spencerthomp.wordpress.com

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  • jordanyutes

    The following sentence is incorrect: “According to Emma Carter of the Center for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC), no research is currently being done regarding online pornography addiction.”

    While research is way behind the phenomenon, about 23 neuroscience based studies have been published. All offer support for the existence of porn addiction. The list is here – http://pornstudycritiques.com/current-list-of-brain-studies-on-porn-users/