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Study Finds “Porn Binges” to Be a Common Pattern of Compulsive Sexual Behavior

According to the patients, binging porn allows them to feel excitement and pleasure and helps to “turn off thinking and emotions.”

By January 30, 2019No Comments

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions, have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption for individuals, relationships, and society. "What’s the Research" aims to shed light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn’s harms in a variety of ways. Below are selected excerpts from published studies on this issue.

The full study can be accessed here.

“Pornographic Binges” as a Key Characteristic of Males Seeking Treatment for Compulsive Sexual Behaviors: Qualitative and Quantitative 10-Week-Long Diary Assessment

Authors: Malgorzata Wordecha, Mateusz Wilk, Ewelina Kowalewska, Macie Skorko, Adam Lapinski, and Mateusz Gola
Published June 2018

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Journal of Behavioral Addictions (2018)  7(2): 433–444

Background

For some people, compulsive sexual behaviors (CSBs) are a reason to seek treatment. Given this reality, the number of studies on this topic has increased substantially (Gola, Wordecha, Marchewka, & Sescousse, 2016; Kraus, Voon, & Potenza, 2016a), and there is an ongoing discussion about including CSB in the next edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD; Gola & Potenza, 2018; Kraus et al., 2018; Potenza, Gola, Voon, Kor, & Kraus, 2017; World Health Organization [WHO], 2018). The most commonly reported symptoms concern time spent on pornography viewing (mainly on the internet) and excessive masturbation (Gola, Lewczuk, et al., 2016; Kafka, 2010; Reid, Garos, & Carpenter, 2011). Other reported types of behaviors include risky casual sexual relations, anonymous sex, and use of paid sexual services (Kraus, Voon, & Potenza, 2016a).

Despite the ongoing debate on how to conceptualize CSB, the World Health Organization included CSB in the proposal for the upcoming ICD-11 (WHO, 2018) as an impulse control disorder (Kraus et al., 2018). As there are no quantitative norms for sexual behaviors (Gola, Lewczuk, et al., 2016), CSBs are usually defined by descriptive symptoms, reflecting the subjective loss of control over sexual activity. In this study, the researchers try to find some quantitative factors underlying this subjective phenomenon, such as an excessive amount of time spent on sexual activity (i.e., masturbation and pornography use interfering with one’s job) or the wrong places where one engages in sexual activity (i.e., in public places or restrooms).

One such measurable pattern of addictive behavior is binging – a repetitive, continuous, and massive behavior – often leading to a subjective feeling of the loss of control. Binges have been extensively described in substance-use disorders, such as alcohol-use disorder (Rolland & Naassila, 2017). Patients seeking treatment for CSB also report binge sexual activity (Gola, Wordecha, et al., 2017), and often mention that this is the most extreme form of the loss of control over one’s behavior (Lewczuk et al., 2017). Usually, such binges involve many hours of pornography viewing (continuously or multiple times a day), accompanied by multiple masturbations. Binge pornography use has not been described in scientific literature in sufficient detail. Therefore, this study takes a closer look at this aspect of CSB and to find out how common a symptom it is among individuals seeking treatment for CSB.

Methods

The sample for this study consisted of nine males experiencing compulsive sexual behavior males aged 22–37 years (M = 31.7, SD = 4.85). All patients suffered from recurrent sexual fantasies/behaviors and admitted that their sexual behavior resulted in the mishandling of important life duties. All patients noticed a gradual progression of the problem and admitted using sexual behaviors (mostly pornography viewing accompanied by masturbation) to cope with stressful life events. Each of the patients reported multiple attempts to limit or terminate CSB. Usually, effects were poor and temporary, but some reported longer periods of sexual abstinence (several months up to 1 year) followed by relapses. Almost all subjects had a history of previous CSB treatment.

Results

In this study, the researchers interviewed nine patients seeking treatment for problematic pornography use and masturbation.  They then collected questionnaire data and used a 10-week-long diary assessment to examine how the subjects describe factors related to their problematic sexual activity and how it corresponds to data collected in the diary assessment. Both self-reported and diary data show that despite the fact of previous treatments, all individuals met CSB criteria (Kafka, 2010), and that the most common problematic sexual behavior was pornography use and masturbation.  The majority subjects reported that, in the course of their life, they experienced binge pornography use and masturbation lasting multiple hours and happening multiple times a day. In the case of such binges, the majority of subjects were able to indicate a number of triggers. Among the most commonly mentioned were stress, problems in personal life, fear of failure in meeting high expectations of significant others, anger, and feeling of loneliness and rejection.

According to the patients, binge pornography use allows them to feel excitement and pleasure and helps to “turn off thinking and emotions.” Such outcomes may be experienced as an effective short-term coping mechanism. Unfortunately, immediately after the binge, all subjects experienced negative emotions (such as shame, feeling of loneliness, disgust, guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness) and negative thoughts about themselves (e.g., “I am weak,” “I waste my time,” and “I failed again”); and according to patients, the experience of binge is related to the feeling of having lost control over one’s own behavior.

These findings support the existence of the mechanisms of habituation in pornography use, similar to substance use disorders. Substance addiction models postulate decreased experience of pleasure during addiction development as an effect of habituation for rewards (Volkow et al., 2010). Such habituation leads to increased doses. In the case of CSB, the ultimate reward is the climax (Gola, Wordecha, Marchewka, et al., 2016); and in most solitary sexual behaviors, pornography provides the stimulation necessary for masturbation to end with climax. It is possible that for CSB individuals, most erotic content is insufficient for climax and it takes more time to find novel, sufficiently arousing stimuli. It is also possible that after one climax there is a higher threshold for subsequent experiences, and longer pornography viewing is needed to find sufficiently arousing stimulation. The researchers also suggest that is also possible that for some users, climax itself may not be the most pleasurable aspect of solitary sexual activity for some individuals with CSB. Therefore, they hypothesize that if CSB subjects experience climax as less pleasurable than the average person (i.e., due to habituation), they may focus more on pornography watching – which is a source of pleasure – and try to delay climax, which leads to long sessions of pornography use.

The full study can be accessed here.

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