Can Porn Be Addictive? An fMRI Study of Men Seeking Treatment for Problematic Porn Use

By June 9, 2017February 20th, 2020No Comments

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.

Authors: Mateusz Gola Ph.D., Małgorzata Wordecha, Guillaume Sescousse Ph.D., Michał Lew-Starowicz MD, Ph.D., Bartosz Kossowski MSc, Marek Wypych Ph.D., Scott Makeig Ph.D., Marc N. Potenza, MD, Ph.D., Artur Marchewka Ph.D.
Published June 2016


Pornography consumption is highly prevalent, particularly among young adult males. For some individuals, problematic pornography use (PPU) is a reason for seeking treatment. Despite the pervasiveness of pornography, PPU appears under-investigated, including with respect to the underlying neural mechanisms.


Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers examined ventral striatal responses to erotic and monetary stimuli, disentangling cue-related ‘wanting’ from reward-related ‘liking’ among 28 heterosexual males seeking treatment for PPU and 24 heterosexual males without PPU.

Subjects engaged in an incentive delay task in the scanner, in which they received erotic or monetary rewards preceded by predictive cues. BOLD responses to erotic and monetary cues were analyzed and examined with respect to self-reported data on sexual activity collected over the 2 preceding months. Men with and without PPU differed in their striatal responses to cues predicting erotic pictures, but not in their responses to erotic pictures.


Findings suggested that, similar to what is observed in substance and gambling addictions, the neural and behavioral mechanisms associated with the anticipatory processing of cues specifically predicting erotic rewards relate importantly to clinically relevant features of PPU. These findings suggest that PPU may represent a behavioral addiction and that interventions helpful in targeting behavioral and substance addictions warrant consideration for adaptation and use in helping men with PPU.

The full study can be accessed here.

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