Can Adolescents Become Sex/Porn Addicted? Absolutely.

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 Jose is a 17-year-old high school student who started viewing and masturbating to highly explicit online porn at 12. By 15, he was locking himself in his room each evening for several hours of porn and masturbation. Over time, his once-good grades became average, then poor, because he stopped doing homework. Now a high school senior, Jose skips at least one class per day so he can hide in a bathroom stall and masturbate to videos accessed through his iPhone. Several times in the past year school administrators have suggested to Jose’s parents that he might have a problem with alcohol or drugs, little suspecting the real issue. Recently, at his parents’ behest, Jose agreed to enter therapy – not because he wants to change his behavior, but because he knows that his life has degenerated to the point where he has no friends and he’ll be lucky to get into college. Even worse, thanks to his challenges with pornography, he now thinks of himself as a loser and a pervert.

Asking if teens can become sexually addicted is a bit like asking if they can become alcoholic or drug addicted. Of course they can. In fact, they are every bit as vulnerable as adults to addictions of all types, perhaps more so because their emotional immaturity has prevented them from developing healthy coping skills, and because their brains are more malleable (and therefore more easily wired toward addictive stimuli) than adult brains.[i]

Once upon a time, of course, sexual addiction in adolescents was much less likely than today, mostly thanks to a lack of accessibility. For instance, prior to the Internet, finding and looking at porn took work. A teen had to surreptitiously raid his (or her) dad’s stash of Playboy magazines, grab something off the rack at the local gas station when the attendant wasn’t looking, or get lucky by finding a tattered nudie rag in someone’s trash bin. The options were extremely limited, and kids mostly played sneak-a-peek with whatever sexy pictures they could find. So, pre-Internet, the odds of a suburban teen getting hooked on porn were roughly the same as that same kid getting hooked on heroin: close to zero. The lack of access to sexual content (and heroin, for that matter) prevented potential problems.

Well, like it or not, those days are gone. In today’s world, sexual content, contacts, and activities of every ilk imaginable can be easily and instantly accessed by anyone who’s interested. If a teen (or even a pre-teen) is curious about sex – and almost all of them are – all he or she needs to do is find an online porn site (there are more than 2.5 million to choose from[ii]), a video chat site, a virtual sex game, or whatever else it is that looks interesting, click a button, and he or she is in. The child doesn’t have to flash a driver’s license as proof of age or provide credit card information because today the vast majority of online sexual content is available free of charge.

If you think an adolescent in your life may be suffering from sex or porn addiction, please contact us so we can direct you toward appropriate treatment.

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[i] Casey, B. J., & Jones, R. M. (2010). Neurobiology of the adolescent brain and behavior: implications for substance use disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(12), 1189-1201.

[ii] Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2012). A billion wicked thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships, p 8. New York, NY: Plume.