Dr. Michael Ian Rothenberg, LCSW holds a faculty appointment at the University of Central Florida School of Social Work where he teaches courses in Human Sexuality and Child Abuse Treatment and Prevention and is the Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Counseling and Sexual Health of Winter Park (Orlando), Florida where he provides counseling and therapy for straight, LGBT, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults, children and adolescents and specialized treatment for sexual addiction, pornography addiction, hypersexual behaviors and male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Dr. Rothenberg has served as a keynote speaker, conference presenter, guest lecturer and panel participant at venues including Yale University, Peking University (Beijing, China) and The German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research (Munich, Germany).
Q. Dr. Rothenberg, please define pornography addiction for us.
Pornography addiction is a specific form of sexual addiction whereby individuals receive a neurochemical reaction from viewing or reading pornography. Like sexual addiction, pornography addiction is a recurrent phenomenon characterized by steadily increasing patterns of sexual thoughts and, often but not always, masturbatory behavior that leads to negative consequences for individuals as well as for their significant others.
In my professional practice, as in sexual addiction, I most often treat clients whose pornography addiction is a neurochemical response to burgeoning levels anxiety and stress in their lives.
Q. Is this a fairly new condition because of the easy access to Internet porn, like for example, Internet gambling addiction?
Pornography has, in fact, been around for thousands of years but because pornography is now so readily accessible through the Internet and through electronic devices such as tablets and phones, addiction to pornography is now running rampant and it continues to grow at a rapid pace. Due to the ease of access and availability, I have in recent years, seen a great increase in pornography usage in the workplace itself. I am also seeing younger teens and treating more young adults who struggle with addiction to pornography and the subsequent sexual side effects such as lack of sexual desire for their partner and sexual performance issues.
Q. Is porn addiction a predominantly male condition?
There are women who do struggle with pornography addiction but the vast majority of those individuals who seek treatment at The Center for Counseling and Sexual Health for addiction to pornography are men.
Q. Can porn addiction lead to sexual addiction or are they two distinct behaviors?
I view pornography addiction as a specific form of sexual addiction.
Q. How is this treated?
As a clinical sexologist, I treat pornography addiction by utilizing cognitive-behavioral methodologies and treating the triggers that fuel the behaviors. These triggers often include anxiety, stress, boredom, loneliness, anger and the effects of childhood sexual abuse and trauma.
For example, if an individual is experiencing anxiety or stress, their mind tells them, through past conditioning, that the stress will be alleviated by engaging in impulsive or compulsive sexual behaviors which can include the viewing of pornography and compulsive masturbation. There is a neurochemical reaction that occurs whereby the brain releases dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, norepinephrine, adrenalin and other “feel good’ chemicals and the anxiety and stress are, in fact, alleviated but only for a short while. My goal as a practitioner is to help individuals to better understand the anxiety and stress that prompts this initial reaction.
Q. What can a spouse or partner do to help a loved one with this condition?
It is not uncommon for the spouse or partner of an individual with an addiction to pornography to become angry because their partner appears to be choosing another person, or image, over them. Many partners and spouses will, indeed, view this choice as form of cheating. As a therapist, it is important to help partners to reframe the sexual behavior as a neurochemical response to anxiety and stress if this is, in fact, what is occurring. Partners can help by researching mental health practitioners who are specifically trained to treat these sexual behaviors.
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