Peer-reviewed critiques of Steele et al., 2013

Furthermore, habituation may be revealed through decreased reward sensitivity to normally salient stimuli and may impact reward responses to sexual stimuli including pornography viewing and partnered sex [1, 68]. Habituation has also been implicated in substance and behavioral addictions [73-79].

COMMENTS: In the above excerpt the authors of this review are referring to Steele et al’s finding of greater cue-reactivity to porn related to less desire for sex with a partner (but not lower desire to masturbate to porn). To put another way – individuals with more brain activation and cravings related to porn preferred to  masturbate to porn than have sex with a real person. That’s less reward sensitivity to “partnered sex”, which is “normally salient stimuli”.  Together these two Steele et al. findings indicate greater brain activity to cues (porn images), yet less reactivity to natural rewards (sex with a person). Both are hallmarks of an addiction.


Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don’t—A Systematic Review (2019)

Excerpt critiquing Steele et al., 2013 (citation 105 is Steele et al.)

Evidence of this neural activity signalizing desire is particularly prominent in the prefrontal cortex [101] and the amygdala [102,103], being evidence of sensitization. Activation in these brain regions is reminiscent of financial reward [104] and it may carry a similar impact. Moreover, there are higher EEG readings in these users, as well as the diminished desire for sex with a partner, but not for masturbation to pornography [105], something that reflects also on the difference in erection quality [8]. This can be considered a sign of desensitization. However, Steele’s study contains several methodological flaws to consider (subject heterogeneity, a lack of screening for mental disorders or addictions, the absence of a control group, and the use of questionnaires not validated for porn use) [106]. A study by Prause [107], this time with a control group, replicated these very findings. The role of cue reactivity and craving in the development of cybersex addiction have been corroborated in heterosexual female [108] and homosexual male samples [109].

COMMENTS: Steele et al., 2013 was touted in the media as evidence against the existence of porn/sex addiction. It wasn’t. As the above review by medical doctors explained, Steele et al. actually lends support to the existence of both porn addiction and porn use down-regulating sexual desire. How so? The study reported higher EEG readings (relative to neutral pictures) when subjects were briefly exposed to pornographic photos. Studies consistently show that an elevated P300 occurs when addicts are exposed to cues (such as images) related to their addiction.

In line with the Cambridge University brain scan studies, this EEG study also reported greater cue-reactivity to porn correlating with less desire for partnered sex. To put it another way – individuals with greater brain activation to porn would rather masturbate to porn than have sex with a real person. Shockingly, study spokesperson Nicole Prause claimed that porn users merely had “high libido,” yet the results of the study say the exact opposite (subjects’ desire for partnered sex was dropping in relation to their porn use).


Update: Much has transpired since July, 2013.

UCLA did not renew Nicole Prause’s contract (late 2014/early 2015). No longer an academic Prause has engaged in multiple documented incidents harassment and defamation as part of an ongoing “astroturf” campaign to persuade people that anyone who disagrees with her conclusions deserves to be reviled. Prause has accumulated a long history of harassing authors, researchers, therapists, reporters and others who dare to report evidence of harms from internet porn use. She appears to be quite cozy with the pornography industry, as can be seen from this image of her (far right) on the red carpet of the X-Rated Critics Organization (XRCO) awards ceremony. (According to Wikipedia the XRCO Awards are given by the American X-Rated Critics Organization annually to people working in adult entertainment and it is the only adult industry awards show reserved exclusively for industry members.[1]). It also appears that Prause may have obtained porn performers as subjects through another porn industry interest group, the Free Speech Coalition. The FSC subjects were allegedly used in her hired-gun study on the heavily tainted and very commercial “Orgasmic Meditation” scheme. Prause has also made unsupported claims about the results of her studies and her study’s methodologies. For much more documentation, see: Is Nicole Prause Influenced by the Porn Industry?

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  1. […] 1: Much has transpired since July, 2013, when Prause published the first half of her EEG study. UCLA did not renew Nicole Prause’s contract (late 2014/early 2015). No longer an academic Prause […]

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