Excessive viewing of pornographic materials can be an indicator of sexual addiction in adolescents and adults according to Eli Machen, LCSW, founder and president of The Omega Recovery Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.

Pornography has an effect on the brain for individuals who have experienced shame or inner conflict. The neuro-chemical rush that takes place while looking at pornography neutralizes this inner pain, thereby quickly hooking individuals. Once involved in pornographic materials, they keep coming back for more and still more.

Pornography provides very exciting and powerful imagery that is frequently recalled to mind and elaborated on in fantasies. Most clients find that in time they experience a need to increase the risk, intensity or frequency of their behavior to achieve the same feeling or neuro-chemical affects.

Once addicted, individuals cannot throw off their dependence on the material by themselves, despite many negative consequences such as divorce, loss of family, and problems with the law (job loss, harassment or abuse of fellow employees).

Machen is dedicated to helping not only those who suffer from sexual addiction but the spouses of addicts as well. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an M.A. in Marriage and Family Counseling. He also was graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Master's degree in Clinical Social Work.

As a Clinical Social Worker, he has treated approximately 3,500 sex addicts. This treatment includes many types of unwanted compulsive sexual acting-out, plus such things as exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadomasochism, fetishism and rape. With several exceptions, pornography has been a major contributor or facilitator in the acquisition of their sexual addiction.

In addition to the work being done through The Omega Recovery Institute, Machen has produced a video to give hope to spouses of sex addicts. Surviving Life with a Sex Addict, available through The Omega Recovery Institute web site, helps light the path of recovery for families affected by this addiction.

Following is a brief Question and Answer interview with Machen regarding this emphasis on Pornography Awareness.

Q: What is sexual addiction, and how much of a problem is it in our society today?
Sexual addiction is the continual repetition of sexual behavior with negative consequences. Most individuals can point to an age that the behaviors started and say they have increased in intensity, frequency, or danger over time.

Q: Even today, most people find sexual addiction a subject that makes them uncomfortable. People sometimes seem very unwilling to step forward and seek help or even ask questions about this illness. Why do you think this happens?

A: Most sex addicts experience a lot of shame around their sexual addictive behaviors. This shame and belief about themselves leads to covering up or being secretive with their behaviors, for fear of rejection or abandonment of loved ones.

Q: This week dedicated to Pornography Awareness is a relatively new emphasis. Do you see benefits from such efforts?
Yes, I do! There are many individuals who are not aware that what they struggle with can be named, treated and overcome. When individuals find out that they are not alone in their struggle and that they can overcome this addiction, they often experience hope for the first time in many years. Spouses who are married to sex addicts gain hope by learning that they can also change their lives and find a supportive community in which to heal and grow.

Q: In your video, Surviving Life with a Sex Addict, you teach about observable indicators of possible sexual addiction. What are the warning signs?

1. Financial difficulty or unwillingness to be accountable with finances (bills to phone company, cable company, or internet expenses that indicate inappropriate behaviors)
2. Distance in the relationship (unaccountable times away from family events, while traveling on business, or other times when the story does not match the facts)
3. Mood swings that don't make sense to you (These can be indicators of periods of acting out and the shame and anger that follows.)
4. Sexualized jokes and sexual innuendo in conversations (Sex is often a main theme for a sex addict in social settings or at work.)
5. Disconnection or distraction around your sexual relationship or disinterest in it at all
6. Repeated promises to quit inappropriate behaviors such as affairs, internet porn, pornography in general, strip bars, etc., without success
7. The spouse's gut instinct is most often correct.