Cambridge study that showed men pictures of naked women suggests porn addiction is possible

The power of porn


According to new research led by the University of Cambridge, sex addicts, or those who suffer from compulsive sexual behaviour, are controlled by a constant need to find new sexual images. 

Affecting as many as one in 25 young adults, sex addiction is referred to as “an obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviour which they are unable to control.” In light of a UK government press release in July which said that “The UK’s top 10 adult sites account for 52% of all sites views.”, there is an increasing debate over pornography’s addictive effects and its stigmatization.

Cambridge’s latest study, led by Dr Valerie Voon, analysed the behaviour of 22 sex addicts and 40 “healthy” male volunteers when responding to various tasks. They were first shown pairs of images featuring naked women, clothed women and furniture.

chair

Those chairs…

The participants were then shown more image pairs, including familiar and new images, and had to make a choice between certain pairs of images to “win £1” – although the volunteers were unaware of the odds of their choices, the probability of winning was 50% for either image.

Viewing neutral object images, the results showed that those with a sex addiction were much more likely to choose the novel choice of sexual images relative to the familiar neutral object images. In contrast, the remaining chose neutral human images relative to neutral object images.

Best. Prize. Ever.

Best. Prize. Ever.

Dr Voon explains that “We can all relate in some way to searching for novel stimuli online – it could be flitting from one news website to another, or jumping from Facebook to Amazon to YouTube and on,” Voon also says that “For people who show compulsive sexual behaviour, though, this becomes a pattern of behaviour beyond their control, focused on pornographic images.”

The second study also used pairs of images, overlaying an undressed woman and a neutral grey box to create an abstract image.They were asked to decide between a series of abstract images and new abstract images, creating a conditioning effect. The addicts chose the abstract images which acted as a cue to find sexual images.

Ivan_Pavlov_NLM3

The study shows that cues happen in everyday internet use.  Cues such as “opening up their internet browser”, according to Dr Voon, “can trigger a chain of actions and before they know it, the addict is browsing through pornographic images.”

A further test found these cues to deliver similar reactions to that of drugs. 20 sex addicts matched with 20 “healthy” volunteers were presented with the same images whilst their brains were scanned : an undressed woman, a £1 coin, or a neutral grey box.

In consistency with the previous studies, the addicts underwent  a greater decrease of activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain responsible for the anticipation of rewards and new experiences. The rewarding effects of the pornographic stimulus lessened, leaving the addict dissatisfied.

Just one Sidgwick panini isn't rewarding enough anymore

Just one Sidgwick panini isn’t rewarding enough anymore

A previous study led by Voon in 2014 also showed participants lewd images, looking at a mirroring of sex addiction to drug addiction. Performing brain scans on 19 men watching alternating videos of sports and pornography, the study showed that “patients with compulsive sexual behaviour showed higher levels of desire towards the sexually explicit videos.” Activating the reward centres of the brain, their reactions were reflections of drug addicts’ responses to their drug of choice. Two of the men in the study had even lost their jobs due to pornography habits at work.

As Voon recognises, “the seemingly endless supply of novel sexual images available online” encourages and supplies addictions, “making it more and more difficult to escape.”

What sexperiment will Cambridge conduct next?