A Whole New World

When I was a teenager, finding and looking at porn took work. In order to find some naked pictures, either I or one of my friends would have to locate and surreptitiously raid one of our dads’ stashes of Playboy magazines, rely on someone who’d inherited a magazine from his older brother, or raid a magazine from the local gas station.

Once in a while, if we were very lucky, one of us would find some old porn in a neighbor’s trash can or in a dumpster. Basically, our options were extremely limited, and we mostly played sneak-a-peek with whatever sexy pictures we could find.

A mere twenty-five years ago, the chances of a suburban teenager getting hooked on porn were roughly equivalent to that same kid getting hooked on heroin—close to zero. For the most part, our lack of access to pornography (and heroin, for that matter) prevented addiction.

Those days are long gone. In the Internet age, hardcore pornography is widely and instantly accessible to anyone who goes looking for it, and even to people who aren’t looking for it. (The number of seemingly benign words you can type into Internet search engines that bring up porn is actually kind of shocking).

If a teenaged boy or girl is curious about sex today —and most are—all they need to do is find a porn site, click a button that says “Yes I’m 18,” and they’re in. He or she doesn’t have to flash a driver’s license as proof of age or even borrow a parent’s credit card to pay for anything. Pornography of every ilk imaginable is now ubiquitous, accessible 24/7 from any smartphone or laptop, and more often than not it’s free.

For obvious reasons, research on teen sexuality is difficult to conduct, and in the studies that have been carried out results sometimes vary. Nevertheless, certain trends are abundantly clear. For instance, in technologically developed countries such as the United States, 75 to 90 percent of kids are exposed to online pornography before they turn 18—oftentimes the first exposure occurs as early as 11 or 12 years old.

The percentages are higher and the ages younger for boys than for girls, and boys are more likely than girls to intentionally view porn. Typically, minors who intentionally view pornography do so out of natural curiosity and for “educational” purposes, gauging their peers’ reactions in an attempt to establish what is “normal.”

Common reactions include excitement, embarrassment, shock, disgust, and even guilt or shame. Not surprisingly, boys tend to be more accepting of pornography, and they are more likely to return to it and use it for sexual inspiration and excitement.

Diagnosing Sexual Addiction in Teens

Unfortunately, we don’t have a legitimate criteria-based diagnosis for sexual addition in adults yet, let alone for adolescents. A definition for Hypersexual Disorder is just now being proposed to the APA for inclusion in the upcoming version of the DSM, and that proposed definition does not include anyone under the age of 18. But that doesn’t mean problematic sexual behaviors don’t exist for kids.

There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t get at least a few calls or emails from people seeking treatment for adolescents who are sexually acting out in an abusive or compulsive way. And that last bit—abusive or compulsive—is the difference between healthy behavior and a behavioral disorder. Common warning signs that an adolescent may be experiencing problems around compulsive sexual behavior include:

• A demonstrated lack of empathy toward other individuals involved (either directly or indirectly) in the child’s sexual behavior

• Viewing and/or masturbating to pornography or online chats (text or video) for multiple hours per day/night

• Decreased interest in and/or declining performance in school and extracurricular activities

• Diminished interest in and/or ability to socialize with peers

• Excessive interest (or a total lack of interest) in typical adolescent dating activities

• Secretiveness around computer and smartphone usage such as erasing browser histories, password protecting devices, etc.

• Lying to parents or others about the nature or the amount of sexual/romantic activities

• Sexual aggression, incest, age-inappropriate relationships, etc.

• Secrecy in general, such as spending large amounts of time alone in a room with the door locked

• Sexual behavior involving drug use

Consider “Alex,” a 17-year-old high school student who started looking at online porn when he was 15. Alex has locked himself in his room every evening for more than a year, spending four to five hours each night looking at porn. His grades have dipped because he no longer does his homework or studies for examinations. The girls who once were interested in him now view him as distant, unavailable and uninterested. At school he masturbates in a bathroom stall to videos stored in his iPad.

After school he’s been going to strip clubs and adult bookstores—most of the time they either don’t let him in (strip clubs) or kick him out (adult bookstores), but occasionally he gets in and stays in. In the past six months school administrators have suggested, repeatedly, to his parents that he has a problem with alcohol or drugs, little suspecting his real issue.

Alex started in therapy a month ago after his mother searched his computer, found a portion of the thousands of hardcore images and videos he’d downloaded, and confronted him. So far, Alex is resistant to change, though he does accept that his life has degenerated to the point where he has no friends left and he’ll be lucky to get into college. His parents and therapist are hopeful even if he, as yet, is not.

Who is Most at Risk?

As with all addictions, an adolescent’s drive to engage in compulsive sexual behavior stems from a desire to feel better, which usually means feeling less. Addiction to pleasurable experiences and substances is the fastest way for an adolescent to disconnect, numb out, and not have to experience life on life’s terms. As such, the kids most at risk are those with preexisting emotional, psychological, or behavioral disorders.

Children who’ve suffered neglect or abuse, children with ADD, children with Asperger’s syndrome, children who struggle with social anxiety, shyness, and building social relationships, children who tend to isolate, and children who have previous issues with alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or any other behavioral disorder are more at risk. The child who is emotionally vulnerable and the child with neurological or psychological concerns is the child that needs to be watched most carefully. Not surprisingly, these are the same kids who are most at risk for developing drug and alcohol addiction.

Another significant risk factor is age of first exposure to pornography. Studies repeatedly show that children exposed to pornography, especially hardcore pornography, at younger ages are far more likely to eventually become sexually compulsive. Thus, parents should probably be less worried about a 16-year-old male child who is occasionally viewing porn on his computer for masturbation/stimulation than about his 12-year-old brother, to whom he shows the images (either intentionally or inadvertently).

Consequences of Sexual Addiction in Adolescents

When adolescents engage in sexual behavior compulsively and additively, their social, emotional and psychological growth can become stunted. These individuals will likely miss important growth milestones of adolescence and as a result later struggle with dating, developing relationships, and intimacy. And, of course, adolescent sex addicts also suffer many of the same consequences as adult sex addicts, such as:

• Social isolation, loneliness

• Depression

• Anxiety

• Relationship problems with girlfriends/boyfriends (as well as parents, teachers, and other adults)

• Hours, sometimes days, lost to sexual fantasy, porn use, masturbation, and other sexual behaviors

• Physical harm to genitalia (caused by excessive masturbation)

• Drug and/or alcohol use/abuse/addiction in conjunction with sexual acting out

• Sexually transmitted diseases

What About Girls?

Adolescent sexual addiction is not solely the purview of boys. Girls are also susceptible to the Internet’s allure, though they are much more likely to become hooked on romance and intense “love” experiences. Whereas boys are primarily interested in graphic imagery—sexual acts, body parts, non-relationship oriented pornography—girls are more likely to compulsively seek out romance and relationships.

Interestingly, pornographers are becoming more aware of what turns females on, and they are creating content with that in mind. The romantic/erotic novel Fifty Shades of Gray—geared primarily toward women—recently surpassed the 10 million mark in sales, and with a large percentage of those sales occurring online it’s hardly a leap to suggest that at least a few of those readers are teenaged girls.

The simple fact is adolescent girls are much more likely to become compulsive with erotic/romantic fiction or to get into trouble in chat rooms and on social media sites by engaging in romantic fantasy with someone they’ve never met than they are to develop a problem with more traditional forms of pornography and overt sexual acting out. As such, dating, social media, chat, and other friendship/relationship websites and smartphone apps can be troublesome venues for adolescent females.

What if You Suspect Sexual Addiction in a Teen?

For any parent, the best path to understanding your teen’s sexual life is to talk to him or her about it. If you’re worried about his or her online sexual behavior, you may want to consider an Internet porn filter/tracker. Don’t install this software without first telling your child, making sure the child knows you’re monitoring where he or she goes online and that you’re doing this not to cause embarrassment, but because you care about what he or she does.

An excellent review of filtering/tracking software can be found at HERE.

Nevertheless, you need to accept that you can’t protect children from everything; what they can’t access at home or on their own smartphone, they’ll access at a friend’s house or on some other mobile device. Much as it is with drugs and alcohol, the best thing you can do is talk to your child in a nonjudgmental way, encouraging discussion about all aspects of sexuality, including the use of online pornography, chat rooms and social media.

The biggest challenge many parents face when investigating this type of issue is to not overreact when experiencing fear or discomfort at their child’s porn use. Oftentimes parents become overly angry, punitive, dismissive, or anxious after learning about a child’s sexual activity. It is best if parents can work through their feelings about the issue first, and then determine the discussion/outcome path they want to pursue.

Fear and anger based responses tend to drive away potentially valuable family-growth moments. Again, the best thing a parent can do is talk to the child in a nonjudgmental way. There’s a big difference between saying, “This morning I noticed some porn on your computer, and it makes me uncomfortable,” and saying, “Oh my god, I cannot believe you are looking at that awful crap. You can forget using the car this month AND and we’re taking you to a therapist this very instant.”

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is for parents to work through their own reactions to pornography and any specific images they may have seen—by discussing the issue with other parents, a therapist, etc.—before talking to their child. Having done that, the parent should then try to learn the extent and purpose of the child’s porn usage. If the behavior seems extreme (multiple times daily, for hours at a time, etc.) or if it’s being engaged in as an escape/avoidance mechanism (child seems isolated, is avoiding social/dating settings), then it might be wise to seek the help of a supportive therapist.

Parents should be careful in selecting a therapist, though, because there are very few professionals trained in the treatment of adolescent sexuality. Consider going to www.aasect.org, the website of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. There you will find comprehensive referral information. Also take a look at www.safersociety.org, a site dedicated to child victims of offending that also has many useful resources, including lists of insightful professionals who can offer parents direction and support.

 Resource:  Protecting Children from Online Pornography: A Primer for Parents

 

 

 

 

 

 

LCSW, CSAT-S is the author of three books on sexual addiction and an expert on the juxtaposition of human sexuality, intimacy, and technology. He is Founding Director of The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles and Director of Intimacy and Sexual Disorders Services at The Ranch in Tennessee and Promises Treatment Centers in California. Mr. Weiss is a clinical psychotherapist and educator. He has provided sexual addiction treatment training internationally for psychology professionals, addiction treatment centers, and the US military. A media expert for Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times, Mr. Weiss has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, Oprah, and ESPN among many others. You can follow Rob Weiss on Twitter at @RobWeissMSW.

 

 

 


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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (August 2, 2012)

Doris Fone (August 2, 2012)

Mental Health Social (August 2, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (August 3, 2012)

Teenagers, Porn And Sexual Addiction: What’s The Problem? | Boulder Sex TherapyBoulder Sex Therapy (August 14, 2012)

The Porn Addiction of Teens: Loss Innocence Online | The Social Advocate Voice — by Traci S. Campbell (August 15, 2012)






    Last reviewed: 2 Aug 2012

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). Teenagers, Porn and Sexual Addiction: What’s the Problem?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 22, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/08/teenagers-porn-sex-addiction/

 

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