Experts urge more support to combat online porn addiction

Up to 4 per cent of the UK population have a sex addiction
Up to 4 per cent of the UK population have a sex addiction
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New international guidelines recognising sex addiction as a mental health disorder have sparked calls from leading Scots experts for more support to help tackle online porn addiction.

The World Health Organisation announced last month that compulsive sexual behaviour disorder is to be included in the mental health chapter in the new International Classification of Diseases, coming into effect in 2022.

Up to 4 per cent of the UK population have a sex addiction. Picture: Getty

Up to 4 per cent of the UK population have a sex addiction. Picture: Getty

To be diagnosed, patients must suffer from a sexual disorder for at least six months, and experience “substantial distress” as a result of their addiction.

The updated guidance has prompted widespread calls for specialist support services to help combat harmful effects of porn addiction. It has also raised concerns that classifying sex and porn addictions as mental health disorders could fuel stigma.

Figures suggest 2 to 4 per cent of the UK population have a sex addiction, but experts in Scotland say porn addiction is by far the leading sexual behaviour problem.

Mary Sharpe, founder of the Reward Foundation charity, said: “Several studies show up to 80 per cent of people seeking help for ‘sex addiction’ actually have a porn-related problem.”

The Edinburgh-based charity delivers porn awareness workshops in primary and secondary schools as part of a pilot project and workshops for GPs. Sharpe said: “The new classification is critical. It shows porn addiction is a real, clinical problem requiring treatment.”

Excessive viewing of online porn can have serious consequences, especially for those already inclined toward compulsive sexual behaviour. In 2014, a Cambridge University study found that pornography triggers brain activity in sex addicts in the same way drugs trigger drug addicts. The study found the younger the user, the greater the neural response to porn, potentially for the long-term.

Stephen Evans, chartered associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, said there are growing concerns about the effects of porn on young people. “Online porn gives the impression of anonymity. It can be easy for people to be drawn into excessive and harmful use,” he said.

Dr Lorraine Johnstone, consultant clinical and forensic psychologist visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde, said the risks of harm are high when young people get involved in sending images of themselves: “There are cases where once children are exposed, suicide risk is increased as this can be a preferred option for them rather than having to face the embarrassment. Sexual health – and mental health – is a public health issue and that is the way it should be tackled.”