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Porn Addiction in Schoolchildren May Soon Reach Epidemic Levels

A new study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has found that seven out of ten teenagers have viewed pornography on the Internet, adding to growing concern among experts that porn addiction is on the verge of becoming a national epidemic among American youth.

The Daily Mail is reporting that the Kaiser study is just the latest in a series of studies that are exposing an upswing in the number of porn addicted children. In 2004, the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography was 11 years old, but the latest studies show that age has now dropped to just eight years.

Some of the most disturbing research came out of the University of New Hampshire which showed that some children admitted to being trapped in a cycle of viewing online pornography since the third grade.

According to ABC's Nightline, the New Hampshire study, which surveyed 500 students, uncovered a worrying trend of exposure of young people to deviant sexual behavior online.

For instance, in boys, repeated viewing of violent sexual imagery threatened to link pornography and sexual aggression.

More than two-thirds of both boys and girls who viewed porn under the age of 18 described feeling shock or surprise at what they saw. Half of boys and about a third of the girls said they felt shame or guilt after what they saw.

Even more troubling was the fact that three-quarters of teenagers' unwanted exposure to porn happened on their home computer because schools tended to have more effective blocking software.

The two teens who were featured on Nightline had very troubling stories.

Nathan Haug, 17, the oldest of eight children living in a Mormon home in Alpine, Utah, said he became addicted to porn when he was just 12 years-old.

"I became almost numb to it," he told ABC. "It became such a part of my daily routine."

He eventually sought help from his parents and underwent a church program to help him confront his problem.

Breanne Saldivar, 22, from Austin, Texas, developed an addiction to online porn when she started high school.

"I started to isolate myself, because I hated what I was doing," she said. "I hated that I couldn't stop."

At the time, she was too young to understand its addictive qualities and didn't discover it until it was too late.

Experts say porn addiction occurs because viewing this kind of material causes a surge of chemicals - dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and epinephrine in the brain - which lead to addiction.

Robert Mittiga, an Australian addiction specialist, told the Mail that increased accessibility to smart phones and laptops is one of the factors behind the surge in children with porn addictions.

Another problem is that just three percent of the hundreds of millions of pornographic websites available on the internet require proof-of-age before granting access to sexually explicit material.

Children can also be exposed to adult sex sites via e-mail spam.

Compounding the problem is that children are ten times more likely to develop an addiction than adults, Mittiga says, and this can potentially escalate into criminality. Some of his own patients have admitted to stealing credit cards to fuel their addiction and to racking up bills of more than $9,000 on pornography sites and sex lines.

The American Psychological Association has not yet classified pornography as a listed addiction, but some professionals are treating it as such. Psychotherapist Matt Bulkley in Saint George, Utah, told ABC he treats teenagers exclusively, some of whom have committed sexual offenses and some who are just hooked.

"A lot of times the pornography becomes a coping style," Bulkley said. "It becomes a way that they deal with negative emotions in their life, pornography provides a euphoria. It provides a high, of sorts."

Unless something is done about it, Bulkley estimates that in the next five to 10 years, as the addicted youth of today mature,  online pornography addiction will become an epidemic.

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