Porn addiction remains problem for UA students

What started as a racy spam email became an obsession for one third-year graduate student at the UA.

Andrew, whose name has been changed by request, first encountered porn when he was 10 years old. He received an email containing images of a woman’s breasts and a message that said something like, “Hey, come check out my website!” he said. Out of curiosity, he clicked on the link in the email.

Among college-age adults, 87 percent of men and 31 percent of women watch pornography, according to a 2008 study by researchers at Brigham Young University.

“Everybody in my dorm watched it and talked about it,” said Jack Podczerwinski, a political science junior. “We’re all sexual beings. It is what it is.”

While online pornography may be used to satisfy sexual and physiological needs, it may also be used to escape from mental and emotional pressures. People turn to porn to alleviate stress, loneliness and depression, said Debra Cox-Howard, a counselor at Counseling and Psych Services at Campus Health Service. What initially seems like a casual pastime can turn into an addiction, she said.

To combat the problem, an addict might find something to replace the substance, just like a cigarette smoker might start chewing gum. However, the problem with Internet pornography is that it is ubiquitous and easily accessible, Cox-Howard said.

“We’re married to our computers,” she added.

In the beginning, Andrew satisfied his curiosity by looking at pictures of women’s breasts. But soon he was visiting sex blogs, having sexually explicit conversations in online chat rooms and sharing pornographic pictures with other users.

“At first, it was only spending like 15 minutes or so at a time on the computer, but at the worst point, sometimes it would be like five or six hours,” he said. “One thing that pornography does too is that it always demands more. So, what you did online the night before almost never is good enough for tonight. So you always want more and more and more — something new, you always want something new.”

His addiction followed him to college and began to take a toll on his social life.

“A couple times in undergrad my roommate would say, ‘Hey, do you want to go do this or that?’ and I’d be like, ‘No, not really,’ and then, as soon as he’d leave, I’d be on the computer,” he said.

Spending several hours hunched over the computer caused Andrew to lose sleep, waste time and develop poor posture and severe back pain. In social situations, he noticed he couldn’t resist “checking people out,” especially women.

“I could never let girls get too close because I felt like I would somehow make them dirty just by being around them,” he said. “I couldn’t be a true friend, sometimes.”

Then, about three years ago, Andrew exchanged sexually explicit photos with a female friend. At the time, he was dating another woman, and sharing pictures with his friend felt like betraying his girlfriend, he said.

For Andrew, this was the final straw. Soon after, he found a counselor who helped him understand his needs, his insecurities and his obsession with pornography.

“I felt comfortable just telling the straight truth to him (the counselor), which was helpful,” he said. “He could tell when I was kind of wiggling around the truth and he’d call me out on it.”

Finding a counselor, a support group or an accountability partner can sometimes be the most challenging aspect of combating porn addiction, said Philip Alderink, a campus chaplain for the Graduate Christian Fellowship at the UA. Alderink often counsels graduate students struggling with such problems. The negative social stigma attributed to porn addiction prevents users from admitting their obsession and seeking help, he said.

Alderink described pornography as “rampant” among college students, and said he expects every man he meets has viewed pornography.

“I don’t think that anybody is immune from it,” he said. “Society is fooling itself if it thinks pornography is not a problem.”

The UA Main Library is all too familiar with the popularity of porn. While porn isn’t illegal in Arizona, viewing it publicly is. The UA Main Library staff catches people viewing pornography on the public computers “several times per week,” according to Travis Teetor, library operations supervisor. Those caught watching porn on library computers are asked to stop.

“If they refuse to discontinue their behavior or to comply with our request, we would call UAPD immediately,” Teetor said.

Many anti-pornography advocacy groups, such as Enough is Enough and Pure Hope, say pornography motivates people to perform bizarre or violent sexual activities in their real lives, leading them to sexually abuse others. Some believe pornography objectifies women, encouraging viewers to devalue the women they interact with on a day-to-day basis.

However, some argue that consuming pornography actually prevents users from abusing and objectifying others. Viewing pornography allows people to explore their sexual desires; this keeps them from experimenting and potentially harming their sexual partners, said Brion Scroggins, district manager for Continental Adult Shop.

“The industry is an outlet for males, females, couples to get out sexual frustrations and desires,” Scroggins said. “We’re here to make money because people want to come in here and buy what we sell; we’re here to increase people’s sexual awareness. We’re not here to increase the negative aspects,” Scroggins said.

For Andrew, the “negative aspects” — social isolation, a “splintered” identity, emotional detachment, guilt and shame — grew unbearable.

“Once you get tired of being sick and tired, I think that’s a good thing. Because that’s when you’re ready to admit you have a problem, to really look for change,” he said.

It has been almost 15 years since he opened that first email. Andrew has confronted his addiction and managed to be porn-free for the better part of a year.

“I feel a ton of relief, a ton of gratitude, and I feel like I can connect to people again,” he said. “I get a lot more sleep, which is great. I don’t feel dirty like I used to feel. I’m not over sexualized, I don’t feel like a brute.”

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(12/31/69 5:00pm)

Great, personal but still factual story. I was impressed with the through-ness of reporting in this article; the quotes selected capture the story succinctly and powerfully.

Alan Aversa
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

Another reason not to support pornography is that it supports child prostitution, too. Between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are enslaved for child prostitution every year (source). This music video tells the story of Paige Hallman, a young woman enslaved in Phoenix, AZ. See also the trailer for Branded , which is about child sex slavery in Phoenix.

Reality Check
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

Generally, a sexual problem doesn’t exist until as there’s a taboo against it. In an ideal world, we would encourage our young people to be open and honest about their sexuality, but the reality is that we’re a sexually repressed society. Because there’s a feeling of shame attached to our sexuality, two things happen: 1) we only feel safe expressing ourselves in unhealthy ways (porn, escorts), and 2) we become obsessive. Would Andrew have developed his addiction had he felt it was safe to come to a parent, friend, or girlfriend and tell them that he spends most of his time seeking gratification on his computer? More importantly, would things have been different had he felt safe asking for the things he felt were only safe on the internet? Porn isn’t the problem; it’s just a symptom. Our attitude towards sexuality, especially male sexuality, is.

(12/31/69 5:00pm)

I know it may sound stupid, but programs like Net Nanny can really help with combating porn addiction. Even though 3rd party/professional help is necessary in order for recovery to be effective, people are inevitably alone at home sometimes. This is where a good internet filter comes in, acting like a safety net for those who really want to change.

(12/31/69 5:00pm)

@Reality Check The story you share sounds reasonable, but overlooks the plasticity of the human brain in response to the hyperstimulation of today’s Internet porn (constant novelty, seeking, escalation, unending supply), all of which hammer the brain with dopamine…and, in some brains, cause dopamine dysregulation – an addiction-related brain change.
While you’re right that anxiety-producing material releases even more stimulating neurochemicals, shame isn’t the only way to up those stimulating neurochemicals. Escalation to more shocking material and edging for hours can also do it, even if someone, and those around him, are perfectly at ease with porn use and masturbation.
Please learn the difference between ‘sexual freedom’ and porn dependence, which curtails human choice and drives addictions. For more:

Mike South
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

Would you people please educate yourselves, porn is NOT an addiction it is a compulsive/obsessive behavior. Heroin, Oxycodone, alcohol, nicotine those ARE addictions.

And to the idiot that thinks that pornography has anything to do with child porn, you are massively ignorant of the reality of child abuse and the psychology behind it.

Please stop bowing to the fundamentalist ideology of pathologizing sex, it’s retarded.

(12/31/69 5:00pm)

How can pornography have nothing to do with child porn? Child porn is a form of pornography, is it not? Perhaps adult pornography has no link to pedophilia, is that what was meant? While I agree that we are, ironically, a sexually repressed society (I think sexually immature is perhaps more accurate) and sex should not be pathologized,it is nevertheless naive to suggest that sex, pornography, the porn industry, etc. is incapable of harming society and the individuals within it and is always “natural, harmless, etc.” Porn addiction is real for the reasons the person who described the dopamine effect suggested. It can destroy relationships, marriages, lives. We need to remember the adage of “moderation in all things.” Sex included – as difficult as that may be for some people to accept.

(12/31/69 5:00pm)

I agree with both “Reality Check” and “anyone.” We’re sexual creatures by nature and responsible sexual freedom is a great thing. Like “anyone” said, the problem is that this re-wires the brain over time. It is not just an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it is an emotional and neurophysiological addiction.

In response to “Mike South”, I’d like to point him to the following site for his educational benefit:

What Mike is calling an addiction (substance abuse) is now referred to as a “dependency.” Addictions are not just to drugs, but to behaviors that relieve anxiety or pain. A lot of people use pornography to “blow off some steam.” No problem there. The addiction to pornography comes when the user can’t make the self stop when it would be rational to do so. I would argue that for some individuals, pornography use is a casual way to satisfy curiosity or blow off steam. For others, it’s an expression of their sexuality, or perhaps a guilty pleasure. For others, it’s an OCD thing, and for still others, it’s a full-blown addiction. I have heard that it’s harder for many so-called porn addicts to stop using pornography than it is for people with substance dependencies to stop (anyone have a reference), as it does the same things to the brain that drugs do (developing physiological dependencies) but also adds an element of emotional addiction.

Also, as Andrew said, once you’ve seen one thing, you’ve “been there, done that” — and you desire something new. Child abuse has always been an unspeakable evil that society ignores, but several kinds of pornography promote socially unacceptable behaviors — Google “incest porn,” “tentacle rape,” “ex-girlfriend porn,” “beastiality,” or “exhibitionists” if you doubt. These days, almost whenever there’s a news article about a child molester, the article says that police found child porn on the offender’s computer. Did the fact that the person viewed child porn cause them to act out? There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, but I think it’s very naïve to disregard the evidence.

I agree that any view that “pathologizes” sex is messed up, but having been raised in a Christian household, I can’t say I’ve ever heard that sex is bad…. :-)

(12/31/69 5:00pm)

Mike south is incorrect. All addictions involve the same basic brain alterations.

1) As the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) stated in their new definition of addiction: a collection of signs, symptoms, and behaviors represent a specific set of brain alterations. This simple concept is the basis for clinical diagnosis. – If porn addicts exhibit the same set of signs, symptoms, and behaviors, they have the same set of brain changes as all other addicts. – It’s uncharacteristic for neuroscientists to make blanket statement – but they did.

2) ALL addictions both behavioral and chemical involve the same mechanisms, same major changes, and same brain alterations. – That’s why ASAM confidently stated that sexual behavior addictions exist.

3) These brain changes include, but are not limited to: Sensitization, desensitization, hypofrontality, frontal cortex disorganized white matter, high levels of DeltaFosB.

4) ALL brain changes (and more) must be simultaneously present.

5) Addiction processes CAUSE these brain changes to occur.
-Again, chronic high levels of DeltaFosB accumulating in the nucleus accumbens cause desensitization, sensitization and hypofrontality.

6) If it’s OCD then it’s not addiction as defined by ASAM. It does not involve all the brain changes. It is something else.

7) All evidence gathered so far on Internet addiction (it’s more than 8 studies) has pointed in only one direction – addiction related brain changes, and the behaviors that reflect these changes.

TL;DR – All addictions involve the same major brain changes in the same circuits, initiated by the same molecular switch (DeltaFosB). These universal brain changes are reflected in a constellation of signs, symptoms and behaviors. Exhibiting this constellation of signs, symptoms and behaviors indicates the underlying brain changes have occurred. If you cannot refute this statement with citations from brain research, you have no argument.

(12/31/69 5:00pm)

I am so appreciative about this article. Front page news. For those of people in our society who are affected by sexual addiction, it’s amazing that it can be something that is discussed in open air now. I understand where many commenters are coming from in that pornography in and of itself may or may not be in an issue, but ASIDE from that, an addict knows when they are addicted to any substance. For example, 1 person may watch porn twice a day and be a fully functional person, but another person may watch porn only once a day and be completely debilitated by his NEED and COMPULSION to watch. To truly get a grasp on the idea of what sexual addiction is and feeling like, perhaps check out Shame at the Loft right now. It’s not about society’s pressures about what is “ok” to do sexually, its about the anxiety and pressure and compulsion of acts that the person committing them doesn’t want to do (sexual or not). Imagine being addicted to alcohol and having a flask in your pants while trying to recover.