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Porn Addiction: A Growing Problem

By: Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager- EHN Vancouver

“Pornography” by definition is a combination of Greek words meaning ‘to fornicate’ (and also ‘to practice idolatry”) and ‘graph’, to write, and to depict. It has evolved since the beginning of its existence along with how it’s depicted and when it’s used. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that ever since human beings discovered they had the ability to draw on surfaces, some of the very first images were of sexual acts. A rock etching, whether for celebratory, instructional, spiritual or for other reasons, was once the standard for erotic imagery.

Over time, human beings developed technologies like dyes, paints, printing and photography that would facilitate the depiction of the most basic and yet, mystified of human behaviours. The introduction of the Internet to a worldwide audience in the late 1990’s was  accompanied by an exponential growth of access to images about sex, most of them explicit and not all necessarily for an ‘erotic’ purpose.

At the Edgewood Health Network and perhaps at other treatment centres, more clients- often men, have been seeking help for what has become a compulsive use of pornography. These men and their partners have difficulty with establishing or maintaining satisfying intimate relationships. What is it about online pornography which makes it so difficult to stop using despite all the negative consequences one might endure??

The following are a list of reasons why the use of pornography can become a compulsive behavioural problem:

1. Access: Almost any device can connect to the Internet. There is easier access to pornography. In the past it took a bit of effort to track down the wide variety of pornographic images online. Today access to porn is literally a click away.

2. Availability: Unless there are software or hardware restrictions limiting Internet connections available at a given device, anyone can post, distribute and market pornography. No longer restrained by laws or societal norms, images a person deems sexual can be found, often with no more effort than a click. Online pornography provides access to see things which someone might have been curious about yet provides no context to understand what the curiosity means. What might have been left strictly to the imagination, in the past, is now easily available. Many sources of pornography are free, making point of entry no issue whatsoever.

3. Anonymity: There is a perception that cruising on the Internet is a solitary activity except for group chat or video sharing. Although a computer’s IP address is visible to an Internet service provider and law enforcement entities, the illusion of privacy is a tempting draw for people who would not otherwise declare their sexual interests openly. Paradoxically, compulsive use of online pornography often leads to isolation.

“Given the widespread availability of sexually explicit materials online, Internet sex addiction is the most common form of problem online behavior among users.”1

Cybersex is the compulsive use of the Internet for acting out sexually. The activities which fall under this category are:

Who are the people that develop this as a problem?

The largest consumer segment of Internet pornography are between  12 – 17 years old and are usually males. Research reported by the International Institute for Addiction and Trauma Professionals in 2012 delineated adolescent and pre-adolescent males and females by age. The findings are remarkable. By age the age of 10, 10% of the boys and 6% of girls had already been exposed to online pornography; by the age of 12, 19% of boys and 10% of girls respectively.

Adult males who use cybersex tend to get into trouble more dramatically and therefore are the stereotype for the porn abuser. These dramatic consequences can include ruined relationships, divorce, broken families, legal difficulties, lost productivity, concurrent substance abuse issues and social isolation.

A Growing Problem

Despite the male stereotype that exists for the porn abuser, research is indicating a rise in female porn users. According to the Family Safe Media website’s pornography statistics, 1 in 3 visitors to porn sites are women. From those women approximately 17% of met the criteria for porn addiction 2. A 2014 study indicates that Canada is second only to the U.S. amongst first world nations in per capita page views.

Assessment of Porn Addiction

Much of the criteria for diagnosing cybersex addiction would be familiar to those treating or suffering from substance abuse addiction. These include pre-occupation, compulsive use, negative and life threatening consequences, powerlessness to stop or reduce use.

A great place to start assessing whether you or a loved one meets diagnostic criteria is available at:
Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) are available at many of our outpatient clinics and treatment centres The Edgewood Health Network Outpatient Clinics in Toronto and Vancouver, as well as the Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo and Bellwood Health Services in Toronto can all provide treatment for sexual addiction. Please contact us for a consultation or to talk to a counsellor 1-888-202-3531.

Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager of EHN Vancouver holds a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology as well as certification in substance abuse counseling. He has been working in the addictions field for 20 years. Nelson sees his role as helping our clients and their families to understand the nature of addictions, and to facilitate discovery of their inner strengths and integrity. As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, he is also available to help men and women struggling with compulsive sexual behaviours

At, EHN Vancouver, a new 10-Day Recovery Start Program for Men starts on Wednesday April 13th. To learn more call 604-734-1110 or email: [email protected]

1 Young, K. S.  (2008). Internet sex addiction: Risk factors, stages of development, and treatment. American Behavioral Scientist, 52, 21-37.