The Rise in Teen Cybersex and Pornography Addiction
by Mary Hockett, LCPC
When you hear the words “sexual addiction” what images come to mind?
The sleazy looking guy in the video shop or the nasty guy at the bar, right?
Usually the images you have are not of the respected lawyer you do business with or the doctor whom you trust or even the pastor of your church and certainly not your spouse, or even yet, your teen. The truth is, sexual addiction is no respecter of persons. Anyone, male or female, young and old can develop an addiction to sex which includes pornography usage.
Statistics show us that young teens are becoming pornography addicts at an alarming rate. Pornography is easily available, and can be viewed privately on an iPad, iPhone, computer or television. The Internet is accessible to everyone. Three and four-year-olds can work computers and iPads. Teens have grown up on computer usage.
There are no immediate boundaries or restrictions put in place for children by computer companies regarding computer usage. There are no laws that say children and teens cannot enter adult websites. The sky is the limit when it comes to what any person regardless of age can view on the internet. What’s more is that producers of pornography target children and teens. They want your teens to find their graphic pornographic sites so they buy up benevolent looking addresses and unload their pornography on the innocent looking sites. Your child or teen thinks he or she is going to check out a video game site and ends of looking at nude women or nude men.
At first, your child is shocked at what he or she has seen but also mesmerized by it at the same time. If your teen is having a particularly bad day, his feelings of arousal and pleasure kick in and he wants to see more. Teens are curious and will look for other websites and soon he or she is viewing porn sites on a regular basis. The adolescent is too ashamed to tell anybody and keeps it all a secret. The next thing you know he has a secret life of looking at sexual stimulating material.
The addiction to pornography is not unlike an addiction to alcohol. There is the initial trial usage, the overstimulation of the dopamine mesolimbic pathway of the brain, the pleasure it creates, the emotional pain it takes away, and the secret life begins. However, the pornographic images create a pleasure sensation that also is usually accompanied by the self-stimulating act of masturbation. The brain cries out for more of that substance or in the case of pornography, more graphic sexual images, and soon the young teen is engaging in a compulsive diet of pornography.
The brain is responsible for our addictive behaviors. Take coffee, for instance. The pleasure pathway in your brain is stimulated with the caffeine and it makes you feel better, gives you a sense of well-being. Soon you get hooked on coffee. Your brain wants to continue to feel that stimulation which has become a new pattern of normal for you and you become addicted to caffeine.
Cybersex and pornography are so much more powerful to your pleasure pathway than caffeine, it is the cocaine of images to your brain. The pleasure is also translated into a bodily arousal and soon the individual is masturbating to the sexual images on the screen possibly 4 times a day. In addition, the teenager’s brain development is in a critical stage. He or she has a heightened emotional center with a less developed prefrontal cortex at this stage of development in life. The adolescent feels more intensely at this stage while the logical and rational part of the brain is trying to catch up.
So two things are happening:
1) The adolescent cannot always think his or her way out of an emotionally heightened situation because the prefrontal cortex is still developing.
2) If the teen is indulging in any type of an addiction, the development of the prefrontal cortex can be stunted while the emotional pleasure pathway is over-stimulated by the pornography.
Sex addiction or pornography addiction is very difficult to quit. Individual counseling and 12 step programs are available to help an individual who has a sexual addiction. These programs involve many of the same principles as an AA program. Porn addiction is so much more powerful than alcohol. You can get rid of the alcohol in your home but a pornography addict can not readily get rid of the graphic sexual images he or she has stored in his or her memory. It takes a lot of work and therapy to recover from the addiction.
So, back to the teenager who is looking at pornography. Not every teen will develop the addiction, but statistics do show us the longer the teen’s usage of porn, the more apt he is to develop an addiction.
What can you do to prevent your teen from becoming an addict?
First all, prevention works. Dentists have suggested that giving all of us fluoride treatments and adding it to our drinking water is a better method of care than waiting for us to develop cavities and filling them. People have fewer cavities now and we are keeping our teeth lifelong. Prevention for pornography will work the same way. Parents, you can be the authority and place safeguards on your computer.
Put on software that will restrict the type of sites that can be accessed on your home computers and your teen’s computer. There are literally 5 million pornographic websites and most are available free of charge and accessed with a click of the mouse. The average age of an individual for first time internet pornography exposure is 9 years old. The computer companies are not interested in keeping your child safe. You as parents need to intervene and put those filters on.
Talk to your teen about the dangers of becoming addicted to pornography.
Put your computer in an open area of your home where people in your home mingle or often walk by that area. Don’t let your teen isolate himself in his room with the computer.
Check your teen’s history on the computer as well as the computer at home.
If you find that your teen is viewing pornography find out if there is a long-standing pattern of usage and sit down and have a conversation with him about the signs of addiction and the consequences of usage.
Bring your teen to a counselor who specializes in pornography addictions.
There are recovery programs that have been developed for teens that are addicted to pornography. These programs are very successful if the addiction is found out sooner than later. The longer the addiction continues, the more difficult the recovery is. If you discover your teen is viewing pornography and you want to take him or her to a counselor, please call our office and our office managers will match up your teen with a clinical counselor who specializes in this area.
Parents, please remember prevention is the key. Help your teens to stay healthy by being the loving but firm parents they need by getting involved in their lives and by being aware of their thoughts, feeling, and behaviors, and putting healthy boundaries in place.