The Role of Sexual Compulsivity, Impulsivity, and Experiential Avoidance in Internet Pornography Use
Wetterneck, Chad T., Burgess, Angela J., Short, Mary B., Smith, Angela H., Cervantes, Maritza E., The Psychological Record
In recent years, the Internet pornography (IP) business has grown to an estimated 13-billion-dollar industry (Ropelato, 2006), with nearly 50% of all Internet use related to sexually oriented websites (McNair, 2002). For several years research has indicated that, for some individuals, IP use may be associated with negative outcomes, including depression, anxiety, relationship/intimacy difficulties (Philaretou, Malhfouz, & Allen, 2005), career problems, financial losses (Schneider, 2000), decreased sexual satisfaction (Stack, Wasserman, & Kern, 2004), and risky sexual behavior (Carroll et al., 2008; Haggstrom-Nordin, Hanson, & Tyden, 2005; Morrison, Harriman, Morrison, Bearden, & Ellis, 2004; Peter & Valkenburg, 2008). More than half of male IP users indicate that their pornography use is problematic in at least one major life domain, with the greatest implications in psychological/spiritual, behavioral (e.g., relationship problems, problems at work or school), and social domains (Twohig, Crosby, & Cox, 2009). While it is evident that some individuals suffer significant negative outcomes from IP use, which individuals suffer and why they suffer remains unclear. There is an ongoing debate in IP research regarding what constitutes problematic levels of IP use (Kubey, Lavin, & Barrows, 2001) and how problem use should be conceptualized.
Problem IP use has been conceptualized as an aspect of sexual impulsivity (Mick & Hollander, 2006), sexual compulsivity (Cooper, Scherer, Boies, & Gordan, 1999; Davis, Flett, & Besser, 2002; Griffiths, 2001), and sexual addiction (Orzack & Ross, 2000). Previous research has estimated that 17% of the U.S. population who view pornography regularly meet criteria for sexual compulsivity (Cooper, Delmonico, & Burg, 2000), and often individuals describe their own use as "impulsive," "compulsive," or "addictive" (Bancroft & Vukadinovic, 2004). Impulsivity often is defined as acting suddenly on an urge with little forethought. Impulsive actions can be dysfunctional or functional. Though impulsive behavior most often is thought of negatively, it also can be adaptive or functional, such as in situations where quick action without excessive deliberation allows an individual to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity (Evenden, 1999). Impulsivity also commonly is understood as action toward engaging in pleasurable activities with little forethought (Grant, Mancebo, Pinto, Eisen, & Rasmussen, 2006; Schlosser, Black, Blum, & Goldstein, 1994). Sexual compulsivity has been characterized by the insistent, repetitive, and intrusive urge to engage in sexual behaviors (Kalichman & Rompa, 2001). Compulsivity tends to be associated with the idea of removing a negative feeling and likened to a compelling, nagging, or distracting feeling that one must engage in a certain behavior (e.g., feeling that one must scratch an itch).
Mick and Hollander (2006) conceptualized problematic sexual behaviors as being related to characteristics of both impulsivity and compulsivity. Within this model, acting on an impulse initiates a cycle of urges to engage in sexual behavior (i.e., the compulsive component). Several studies have supported the relationship between impulsivity and Internet use (Davis et al., 2002; Shapira, Goldsmith, Keck, Khosla, & McElroy, 2000), which may initiate the cycle. The sexual behavior is pleasurable at first, and physiological reinforcement maintains the behavior. However, personal factors such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, or interpersonal stress may contribute to the ease of conditioning as the behavior alters a negative mood (Cooper, Putnam, Planchon, & Sylvain, 1999), leading to compulsions to engage in the behavior for some. Thus, the pleasurable physiological response initiates sexual behavior, and the physiological and psychological reinforcement that results from the behavior maintain the cycle. Further, Quayle and Vaughan (2006) theorized that individuals using the Internet to satisfy sexual needs may be particularly prone to addictive use because of this cycle of reinforcement. Specifically, Quayle and Vaughan asserted that the ease of accessing the Internet and the relative anonymity one can maintain while using it, combined with its capabilities for mood alteration, make it likely to inspire addiction.
The unique characteristics of the Internet also provide a likely outlet for an increase in problematic sexual behavior. Even before the omnibus use of the Internet, an estimated 3-6% of the population experienced significant difficulty related to sexual compulsivity (Coleman, 1992), and the Internet provides a likely outlet for more of this behavior. Cooper, Putnam, et al. (1999) posited that the accessible, affordable, and anonymous nature of the Internet provides a convenient medium for sexual behavior. Young (1999) added two other concepts to Cooper's model. First, he explained that engaging in sexual behavior in one's home or workplace engenders a feeling of safety. Second, the mood-altering experience provided by IP use allows one to escape from the stress and demands of real life. Thus, the Internet may contribute to increases in the prevalence of sexual compulsivity.
Research on problematic Internet use has indicated that individuals often use the Internet for mood alteration (Caplan, 2002). One mode of mood alteration is experiential avoidance, the avoidance of aversive private experiences (e.g., bodily sensations, thoughts, memories, emotions) and attempts to alter the form or frequency of such private experiences (Hayes, Wilson, Gifford, Follette, & Strosahl, 1996). Previous research has indicated that experiential avoidance may maintain and/or exacerbate compulsive (Hayes et al., 1996; Twohig, 2010), impulsive (Begotka, Woods, & Wetterneck, 2004; Flessner, Busch, Heideman, & Woods, 2008), and addictive behaviors (Hayes et al., 2004; Stotts, Masuda, & Wilson, 2009; Wilson, Byrd, Hayes, & Strosahl, 2005), all of which have been conceptually related to sexual compulsivity and problematic IP use (Grant & Potenza, 2006).
One similarity that impulsive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors may share is the urge to avoid either actions and/or thoughts. That is, individuals engaging in compulsive behavior can be said to use their compulsive behavior to avoid/reduce anxiety experienced with the presence of frightening or egodystonic obsessions (Twohig et al., 2010). Similarly, impulsive behaviors, such as trichotillomania, may involve an element of distraction from boredom or anxiety (Norberg, Wetterneck, Woods, & Conelea, 2007). Addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse, also are clinically well known to involve regulation of negative emotions (e.g., avoidance of painful memories) and/or the avoidance of boredom or anxiety through substance use (Hayes et al., 2004; Stotts et al., 2009; Wilson et al., 2005). Thus, whether sexual compulsivity is considered a compulsive, impulsive, or addictive problem, experiential avoidance may be indicated. Conceptualizations of compulsive, impulsive, and addictive behaviors may all involve regulation of thoughts, feelings, or urges through behavior. Likewise, some have posited that the urge to use IP is one that is regulated through the use of IP (Twohig & Crosby, 2010). Additional evidence also has indicated that experiential avoidance may be positively correlated with higher distress from IP use (Twohig & Crosby, 2010). Thus, preliminary evidence suggests that experiential avoidance may be related to problematic IP use.
Despite these recent advances, additional research is needed to clarify how problematic IP use should be conceptualized and how it may be related to sexual compulsivity, impulsivity, and experiential avoidance. The current study examined relationships between experiential avoidance, sexual compulsivity, impulsivity, and IP use. Specifically, the current study sought to examine how experiential avoidance, sexual compulsivity, and impulsivity are related to IP use being problematic or nonproblematic. This research was expected to replicate and expand on several previous findings indicating relationships between sexual compulsivity and problematic sexual behavior; impulsivity, …
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Publication information: Article title: The Role of Sexual Compulsivity, Impulsivity, and Experiential Avoidance in Internet Pornography Use. Contributors: Wetterneck, Chad T. - Author, Burgess, Angela J. - Author, Short, Mary B. - Author, Smith, Angela H. - Author, Cervantes, Maritza E. - Author. Journal title: The Psychological Record. Volume: 62. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2012. Page number: 3+. © 1999 Psychological Record. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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