The use of pornography, while unproblematic for the majority, can grow into addiction-like behavior which in its extreme form is labeled as compulsive sexual behavioral disorder in the ICD-11 (WHO, 2018). The aim of this study was to investigate the addiction-specific reactivity to cues in order to better understand underlying mechanisms in the development of this disorder.
We have used an optimized Sexual Incentive Delay Task to study brain activity in reward associated brain areas during an anticipation phase (with cues predicting pornographic videos, control videos or no videos) and a corresponding delivery phase in healthy men. Correlations to indicators of problematic pornography use, the time spent on pornography use, and trait sexual motivation were analyzed.
The results of 74 men showed that reward-related brain areas (amygdala, dorsal cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, thalamus, putamen, caudate nucleus, and insula) were significantly more activated by both the pornographic videos and the pornographic cues than by control videos and control cues, respectively. However, we found no relationship between these activations and indicators of problematic pornography use, time spent on pornography use, or with trait sexual motivation.
The activity in reward-related brain areas to both visual sexual stimuli as well as cues indicates that optimization of the Sexual Incentive Delay Task was successful. Presumably, associations between reward-related brain activity and indicators for problematic or pathological pornography use might only occur in samples with increased levels and not in a rather healthy sample used in the present study.