Viewing internet pornography (IP) is an activity that has grown dramatically in recent years. Some individuals who view IP admit that it has negatively impacted their lives by increasing their feelings of anxiety and depression and creating conflict within their intimate relationships. Some people who spend an excessive amount of time viewing IP experience problems with work, finances, and even sexual fulfillment. Others, however, do not develop problems resulting from IP. Research has demonstrated that IP use is caused by lack of impulse control, compulsive behavior and is often used as a coping mechanism. In the same way that substance misuse is used to avoid negative feelings or traumatic memories, IP is also used as a method of escape from unpleasant life experiences, whether present or past. IP users have reported that although they may be aware of the negative consequences associated with IP, they receive positive reinforcement through increased sexual pleasure that leads them to continue viewing IP. This cycle often results in many individuals becoming addicted to IP. Understanding the mechanisms that lead to IP addiction, and identifying whether impulsivity or compulsivity contribute to the factors that motivate IP use, were the focus of a recent study led by Chad T. Wetterneck of the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Wetterneck analyzed reports from 494 randomly selected adults and found that over 70% of them had viewed IP at one time or another. He discovered that impulsivity and avoidant coping techniques were the most common traits in the participants with sexual urges that resulted in IP. These same participants also reported that they thought IP produced both positive and negative results, but the positive result increased their sexual compulsions, which caused them to engage in more IP use. This cycle was further exacerbated in these same participants because as they used more IP, they reported having more problems and sexual compulsions, and they then chose to engage in avoidant coping strategies through more IP use. Overall, the users who reported the most use also reported that they felt they were addicted to IP. These findings clearly demonstrate the need for interventions designed to target the addictive effects of IP brought on by impulsive, compulsive, and avoidant behaviors. Wetterneck added, “Thus, when assessing problematic IP use, clinicians may focus on negative life outcomes related to its use, rather than relying solely on the report of perceived positive and negative effects.”
Wetterneck, C. T., Burgess, A. J., Short, M. B., Smith, A. H., Cervantes, M. E. (2012). The role of sexual compulsivity, impulsivity and experiential avoidance in internet pornography use. The Psychological Record, 62.1, 3-17.
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