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Online porn triggers sex addicts' desire for new sexual images

London: Online porn may feed sex addicts’ desire for new sexual images, find researchers, suggesting that people who show compulsive sexual behaviour are driven to search more for new sexual images than their peers.

The team from University of Cambridge also reported that sex addicts are more susceptible to environment 'cues' linked to sexual images than to those linked to neutral images.

Representational pic

"We can all relate in some way to searching for novel stimuli online - it could be flitting from one news website to another, or jumping from Facebook to Amazon to YouTube and on,” explains Dr Valerie Voon from the department of psychiatry.

"For people who show compulsive sexual behaviour, though, this becomes a pattern of behaviour beyond their control, focused on pornographic images,” he added.

Sex addiction - when an individual has difficulty controlling their sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviour - is relatively common, affecting as many as one in 25 young adults.

In the new study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Dr Voon and colleagues studied the behaviour of 22 sex addicts and 40 “healthy” male volunteerr.

In the first task, individuals were shown a series of images in pairs, including naked women, clothed women and furniture.

They were then shown further image pairs, including familiar and new images, and asked to choose an image to 'win one pound' - although the participants were unaware of the odds, the probability of winning for either images was 50 percent.

The researchers found that sex addicts were more likely to choose the novel over the familiar choice for sexual images relative to neutral object images.

Healthy volunteers, however, were more likely to choose the novel choice for neutral human female images relative to neutral object images.

In a second task, volunteers were shown pairs of images - an undressed woman and a neutral grey box - both of which were overlaid on different abstract patterns.

This time, the researchers showed that sex addicts where more likely to choose cues (in this case the abstract patterns) associated with sexual and monetary rewards.

This supports the notion that apparently innocuous cues in an addict's environment can 'trigger' them to seek out sexual images.

Cues can be as simple as just opening up their internet browser.

"They can trigger a chain of actions and before they know it, the addict is browsing through pornographic images. Breaking the link between these cues and the behaviour can be extremely challenging,” Dr Voon emphasised.

They found that when the sex addicts viewed the same sexual image repeatedly, they experienced a greater decrease of activity in a specific region of the brain known to be involved in anticipating rewards and responding to new events.

This is consistent with “habituation” where the addict finds the same stimulus less and less rewarding.

The findings may be particularly relevant in the context of online pornography, which potentially provides an almost endless source of new images.

The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

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