There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

The full study can be accessed here.

Mood Changes After Watching Pornography on the Internet are Linked to Tendencies Toward Internet-Pornography-Viewing Disorder

Authors: Christian Laier and Matthias Brand
Published: June 2017

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Addictive Behaviors Reports, Vol 5, Jun, 2017. pp. 9-13.

Background

It has become obvious that some individuals report a loss of control regarding their pornography use, which is frequently accompanied by increasing using times and negative consequences in several life domains, such as school/academic/job functioning (Duffy, Dawson, & das Nair, 2016; Griffiths, 2012; Wéry & Billieux, 2015). The addictive nature of sexual behaviors is still debated (Potenza, 2014), but many researchers argue that both watching pornography and sexual behaviors, in general, might be considered addictive (Brand, Young, & Laier, 2014; Garcia & Thibaut, 2010; Kraus, Voon, & Potenza, 2016; Love, Laier, Brand, Hatch, & Hajela, 2015). While some argue that addictive viewing of internet pornography may be a specific form of sex addiction or hypersexuality (Garcia & Thibaut, 2010; Kafka, 2015), others argue that it should be classified as a specific type of internet addiction (Laier & Brand, 2014; Young, 2008). Indeed pornography was shown to be the internet application at risk for developing an addictive usage pattern (Meerkerk, van den Eijnden, & Garretsen, 2006).

Because of the ongoing discussion on its phenomenology we use the term internet-pornography-viewing disorder (IPD) in analogy to internet-gaming disorder as used in the DSM-5 (APA, 2013). Since there is no agreement on the diagnostic criteria of IPD, the prevalence of the phenomenon can only be estimated. One study examined a sample representative from Sweden and found 2% of the female and 5% of the male participants reporting symptoms of IPD (Ross, Månsson, & Daneback, 2012). With respect to the development of IPD it was argued that characteristics of the medium (e.g., reinforcing effects, anonymity, accessibility) contribute to the motivation to watch pornography (Cooper, Delmonico, Griffin-Shelley, & Mathy, 2004). With respect to the characteristics of the users, it was argued that individuals might be predisposed for the development of IPD symptoms by personal characteristics (e.g., high sexual excitability) and that these characteristics interact with cognitions related to pornography usage (e.g., positive use expectancies) (Laier & Brand, 2014).

Due to the reinforcing effects in terms of sexual gratification by watching pornography, processes of conditioning should lead to the development of cue-reactivity and resulting craving reactions to internal or external addiction-related cues. Evidence for the important role of sexual arousal and craving reactions for IPD has been shown in several studies (Brand et al., 2011; Laier, Pawlikowski, Pekal, Schulte, & Brand, 2013; Laier, Pekal, & Brand, 2014, 2015; Rosenberg & Kraus, 2014; Snagowski, Wegmann, Pekal, Laier, & Brand, 2015). These findings are consistent with the assumption that particularly those individuals are prone to develop IPD who functionalize pornography consumption to cope with depressive mood or stress (Cooper, Putnam, Planchon, & Boies, 1999).  Although dysfunctional coping has been shown to be associated to IPD (Laier & Brand, 2014), the role of current mood and mood changes after watching pornography on the internet for symptoms of IPD has not been investigated, so far.

The aim of the study was to contribute to filling this research gap by addressing the following hypotheses in a sample of regular internet-pornography users: 1.) Tendencies towards IPD are related with general mood and with perceived stress, 2.) Tendencies towards IPD are associated with current mood and with sexual arousal before and after internet pornography use, 3.) Tendencies towards IPD are associated with changes in mood and sexual arousal due to internet pornography use, and 4.) The relationship between tendencies towards IPD and the motivation to use internet pornography is moderated by sexual arousal gained due to watching pornography. To address these hypotheses, an online field study with three measuring points was conducted.

Methods

To address the effect of internet pornography use on mood, an online study with three measuring points with a sample of male participants was conducted. Participants were investigated regarding their tendencies towards IPD, personal use of internet pornography, general mood, perceived stress, and their internet pornography use motivation. Moreover, participants were asked regarding their current mood, sexual arousal, and need to masturbate before and after they watched internet pornography self-determinedly in a private environment.

Participants were recruited through e-mail lists, social network sites, and advertisements at the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany). The description indicated explicitly that the online study investigates internet pornography use and that only male individuals were invited to participate. Individuals interested in participation were asked to answer the invitation by e-mail and were then briefed via a detailed description of the study. The study was introduced as a survey with three measuring points. In the first part, participants gave information about sociodemographic variables, the personal use of the internet for sexually motivated behaviors, subjectively perceived stress, and symptoms of IPD (t1). It was explained to the participants that if they should self-determinedly watch internet pornography in their private environment for the next time, they were asked to answer questions regarding their current mood and sexual arousal before (second measuring point, t2) and after (third measuring point, t3) viewing internet pornography.

Results

The main results of the study are that tendencies towards IPD were associated positively with feeling generally bad, depressed, and anxious.  They also correlated positively with perceived stress in daily life and the motivation to use internet pornography in terms of excitation seeking and emotional avoidance. Moreover, it has been shown that watching internet pornography self-determinedly in private environment was—unsurprisingly—accompanied by strong reductions of sexual arousal and the need to masturbate, but also by an increase of mood in terms of feeling better, more awake and calmer. Furthermore, tendencies towards IPD were negatively related to mood before and after watching internet pornography as well as an actual increase of good and calm mood. The relationship between tendencies towards IPD and excitement seeking due to internet pornography use was moderated by the evaluation of the experienced orgasm’s satisfaction.

Generally, the results of the study are in line with the hypothesis that IPD is linked to the motivation to find sexual gratification and to avoid or to cope with aversive emotions as well as with the assumption that mood changes following pornography consumption are linked to IPD (Cooper et al., 1999; Laier & Brand, 2014). It was postulated earlier that functionalizing internet pornography use to cope with depressive mood or stress might be considered to be a risk factor for developing IPD (Cooper et al., 1999). Since we investigated a non-clinical sample, the descriptive results indicate that these individuals report rather low scores of symptom severity of IPD, stress, and rather a good general mood. However, as expected, watching internet pornography leads to an increase in mood and a decrease in sexual arousal, even in a non-clinical sample. The results that tendencies towards IPD were associated negatively with mood before and after internet pornography use and positively with the corresponding changes in mood are consistent with the hypothesized link of dysfunctional coping and IPD (Cooper et al., 1999).

This result might be related to another assumption, namely that internet pornography addiction should lead to gratification in the short-run, but that some individuals are at-risk to experience a shift from gratification to compensation as the addictive circle goes on leading to the development of cue-reactivity and craving as well as to an increasingly diminished control over the pornography use and negative consequences in daily life (Brand, Young, Laier, Wolfing, et al., 2016). Since sexual arousal can be understood as a primary and therefore strong reinforcing stimulus (Georgiadis & Kringelbach, 2012; Janssen, 2011) and against the background of conditioning processes in the context of addiction (Berridge, Robinson, & Aldridge, 2009), it makes sense to assume that sexual arousal can be understood as an unconditioned stimulus which can become associated to external and internal former neutral cues leading to cue-reactivity and resulting craving reactions. This corresponds with studies assessing brain correlates of perceived problems in controlling sexual behaviors which showed that the activity of reward-related brain structures and subjectively perceived craving are correlated to the presentation of addiction-related sexual cues (Brand, Snagowski, Laier, & Maderwald, 2016; Voon et al., 2014). So far, the results are in line with the prediction that the dysfunctional use of internet pornography to cope with depressive mood or stress might be considered as a risk factor for developing an IPD.

The full study can be accessed here.

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