Is internet addiction real?

If internet use interferes with one’s life and ability to function, internet addiction or compulsive internet use may be a concern.

Internet Addiction

Although there is debate in the academic world about the authenticity of internet addiction there is no dispute that, for some people, excessive internet use can cause distress, strife, and disruption in their ability to function. Internet addiction is somewhat of a misnomer and compulsive internet use seems to capture the nature of the disorder more accurately. It’s compulsive because use of the internet acts as a substitute for an unmet lifestyle need. For example, someone who suffers from depression or anxiety may turn to the fantasy world of the internet to escape those uncomfortable emotions. Obviously this is also true of drug addictions, and although a recent study shows differences in the brain anatomy of excessive internet users, the results are inconclusive.

The Center for Internet Addictions proposes  the following diagnostic criteria for internet addiction for users who have experienced four or more of the following symptoms in the last month:

  • Feeling preoccupied with the Internet or online services and thinking about it while off line
  • Feeling a need to spend more and more time online to achieve satisfaction
  • Inability to control online use
  • Feeling restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop online use
  • Going online to escape problems or relieve feelings such as helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Lying to family members or friends to conceal how often and how long you stay online
  • Risking the loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of online use
  • Continuing use even after spending too much money on online fees
  • Going through withdrawal when offline, displaying symptoms such as increased depression, moodiness, or irritability
  • Staying online longer than originally intended

Compulsive internet use can take on several forms:

  • cybersex & pornography
  • online relationships
  • gaming
  • compulsive shopping

Regardless of the biological underpinnings of excessive internet use, it is clear that people experience distress and disruption to their lives when they compulsively turn to the internet for relief. If you think your internet usage is compulsive, contact a mental health professional for an evaluation. It is highly likely that you are using the internet to cope with an underlying issue.

Photo credit: Federico Morando

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The Conditioning Power of Orgasm

Orgasm

The role of orgasm includes more than just procreation and partner bonding. Orgasm is also a powerful reinforcement of the behaviors and stimuli that elicit the response.

Classical conditioning theory can help explain this process. You’ve probably heard of Pavlov’s dog experiment, but just in case you haven’t: Pavlov rang a bell before feeding the dogs in this experiment. The food elicited a salivation response from the dogs, but after multiple trials, the ringing bell would cause the dogs to salivate. Therefore, the ringing bell became associated with food.

A similar process occurs with sexual stimuli and orgasm. Let’s take porn for example. John enjoys pornography that includes group sex, so he seeks out this type of stimulus when he masturbates. Every time he orgasms to stimuli (visual or fantasy) of group sex, John’s brain forms an association between the stimuli and orgasm. And the more he pairs his orgasm to group sex, the stronger the association. Now, this doesn’t mean that simply seeing or thinking about group sex will cause John to orgasm, but it will start the arousal process. And more importantly, John might find that it takes longer to become aroused or to achieve orgasm to other types of sexual stimuli. He may even have to fantasize about group sex when he’s being intimate with his partner in order to orgasm.

Understanding this process and the conditioning power of orgasm is crucial to cultivating healthy sexual behaviors. It is important to remain mindful of the stimuli one associates with orgasm and how frequently one orgasms to stimuli that aren’t accessible through  sexual relationships. The use of pornography is not necessarily unhealthy, but fantasizing during sex with a partner certainly can be. (The reason I am using vagueness here is because healthy sexual behavior has an idiosyncratic definition. What’s healthy for one may be self-destructive to another.) In John’s case, I would encourage him to include fantasy of his sexual partner and other types of pornography to his masturbatory practice. In some cases, stimulus switching is necessary for re-conditioning orgasm. The person is instructed to switch from the problematic stimulus to a healthier one right before orgasm. Over time, the person switches to the healthier stimulus earlier in the arousal process and eventually can become aroused by the healthier stimulus.

Photo credit mustardgreen

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