Is pornography truly addictive?

Wendy Maltz, LCSW, (LINK) author of the Porn Trap, reported recently that “porn addiction” entered the media spotlight this week:

“Dr. Valerie Voon, a research scientist at Cambridge University in the UK has just released results of a new study that analyzed MRI brain scans of compulsive porn users. It demonstrates that compulsive/addictive porn use results in similar brain activity as alcoholism or drug abuse. Her team used porn that matched each particular users favorite genre and had a control group. She also used MRI brain scans to assess the ventral striatum, the reward center where cue reaction occurs. Voon’s study will be the focus of an upcoming documentary called “Porn on the Brain” slated to air the end of September in the UK.” Pornography addiction leads to same brain activity as alcoholism or drug abuse, study shows

DailyMail: Compulsive pornography users shows the same brain activity as alcoholics and drug addicts

But Charlie Glickman, PhD, (LINK) Sexuality Educator, says the article uses rather misleading language:

“The first sentence: “People who are addicted to pornography show similar brain activity to alcoholics or drug addicts, a study has revealed.” If you only read that, it would be safe to assume that the research shows that porn = drugs. However, here’s a quote a few paragraphs further down from the lead researcher:

Lead scientist Dr Valerie Voon, an honorary consultant neuropsychiatrist, told the Sunday Times: “We found greater activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is a reward centre, involved in processing reward, motivation and pleasure.”

So what happens when someone who likes chocolate sees an ad for candy? Or a car aficionado sees an ad for a new car? Or someone who loves to travel sees an ad for a trip to the Amazon? Or a football fan sees a clip of their team winning? I don’t doubt that part of the brain that responds to things that we like lights up when we see media promoting them. But unless you can show that it’s different for different interests and stimuli, this doesn’t prove anything beyond that.”

Maltz, a therapist and author, Dr Voon a neuropsychiatrist and Glickman, a sex educator may all be correct. Is it possible that all of these researchers and scientists and therapists and educators are seeing a part of the obsessive behaviors and thoughts that sometimes manifest in sexual compulsivity? From each of their perspectives, their opinions make sense. The research in the article quoted is looking for neurological proof of sex addiction. Can science prove we get addicted to sex? Or do we all get “lit up” by something we feel passionately about?

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