A report out of Mormon country this week claims that Internet porn and cybersex can be as addictive as heroine, cocaine, or alcohol, pick your poison, and that online porn usage is quickly reaching epidemic proportions.
The report also states that viewing online porn can radically alter chemicals in the brain and body and increase the intensity of the addiction.
According to recent research, an estimated 40 million people in the U.S. are said to be sexually involved with the Internet, and 70 percent of those users say their online porn use is a secret from friends and family. Recent research also states that porn is the number one seller on the Internet, surpassing all other industry sectors, and that an estimated 72 million people will visit porn sites in this year alone.
But along with favorable statistics for the porn industry, researchers are seeing an increasing number of people fall victim to addictive online behavior that drastically affects their personal lives, and in some cases can be more difficult to kick than addiction to narcotics.
Calling it the "Drug of the New Millennium," Mark Kastleman, a former tax accountant, warns web surfers who favor adult content that they could be tipping the scales on a potentially harmful addiction.
"Internet pornography is the most addictive drug on earth," Kastleman states, adding that the Internet is the true breeding ground for pornography because it provides people with anonymity and affordable options for accessing porn. The danger, warns Kastleman, is that online porn viewing can be kept secret and forces people to lead double lives.
A longtime researcher and author on the subject, Kastleman claims that people who indulge in online porn experience a powerful release of chemicals in the brain and body. When people view porn, Kastleman states, it causes the brain to release self-produced endogenous drugs, also known as endogenous chemicals, which stimulate sensory nerves. It is precisely that sensory overload in the brain that creates an insatiable desire to view online porn, Kastleman claims.
"Now suddenly you have a little mouse where you hit a button, and instantly you get this flood of brain chemicals," Kastleman said. " No one knows you're doing it and it's completely affordable or no cost at all."
However, many adult industry leaders believe that the media and researchers over-hype the possibility of online porn addiction as a way of discrediting the industry and casting an "evil" light on a product that historically has always been in high demand.
Many critics of Kastleman and anti-porn advocates believe that online adult content actually leads to healthier sexual relationships.
Dr. Robert Hsiung of the University of Chicago agrees that there are healthy ways to use cybersex. "I don’t think that any involvement is bad. If a couple surfs together and it turns them on and helps their sex life, I don't see any problem with that."
In the meantime, the Internet pornography industry is expected to reap in an estimated $3 billion in revenue in 2003, with sales and growth projections for next year already soaring.