As we see increasing amounts of knowledge come out about porn addiction and those that grapple with its effects, there is a simultaneous emergence of deniers casually dismissing its veracity. This is largely attributed to there being no official recognition of porn addiction within the medical or mental health communities. In fact, it is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an addiction.
It stands to reason then that you will have psychologists that both support and deny the existence of porn addiction. Most of the major claims against porn addiction can be captured by one such denier, Dr. Ley.
One of his claims is that the majority of self-identified porn addicts are gay men with religious conflict (see article). This statement has no evidence to support it and is a clear attempt to belittle an emerging condition.
I am a heterosexual atheist male and I self-identify as a porn addict. NoFap was founded by an atheist and you’ll find people of all religions, genders, and sexuality there. It’s not overwhelmingly gay or religious, and this is a huge community (>140K members) where you’ll find lots of people struggling with porn addiction.
Furthermore, one study found “56% [of divorces in the U.S.] involve one party having an ‘obsessive interest’ in pornographic websites” (see article). If porn addiction is affecting so many heterosexual couples how can Dr. Ley make the claim that it’s mostly a homosexual problem?
As this one example demonstrates, many of the positions against porn addiction give no clarity to the issue but instead muddy the waters with confusing and poorly supported arguments put forth by so-called experts with professional credentials.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the arguments put forth by the naysayers and see if their arguments hold water. Then we’ll look at the current research supporting porn addiction, as well as what professional acknowledgment of porn addiction would mean for addicts, and if it matters.
A. Addressing the Arguments
The Argument Against Porn Addiction is Non-Productive
First off, denying porn addiction is like telling a gay person that it’s their choice, not biology, and that they are just confused. As we know, this position has no backing and serves only to harm those that are suffering.
Ironically enough, Dr. Ley compares treating porn addiction to gay conversion therapy (see article), meanwhile his position directly mirrors that of the religious groups telling people that homosexuality isn’t real and it’s just a choice.
As another example it’s like telling a depressed person to get over their depression because really they are the problem. Telling suffering people that the source of their suffering is fake is probably the most harmful thing you could do.
Dr. Ley makes the claim that porn does not cause erectile dysfunction and that instead “in young men, the causes are typically from the effects of medications, anxiety, cigarettes, drugs, obesity and lack of sexual experience” (see article). However, such claims conflict with the evidence in favor of porn-induced erectile dysfunction, and have no solid evidence to support their veracity.
A 2014 Canadian study showed “that problems in sexual functioning are curiously higher in adolescent males than in adult males… 53.5% [of male teens] were classified as reporting symptoms... Erectile dysfunction and low desire were the most common” (Your Brain on Porn, eBook, Page 44). The results of this study are very troubling as young men should not be having these types of issues.
Another study with an average participant age of 25 found that over half of subjects had trouble achieving erections with real people, yet had no trouble achieving erections to porn (see study). Again, how can this be healthy in young men?
In a study which supposedly disproves porn induced erectile dysfunction, the title says it all: Viewing Sexual Stimuli Associated with Greater Sexual Responsiveness, Not Erectile Dysfunction. Since the authors of the study don’t seem to be aware I’m going to break it down for them: the symptom of porn-induced erectile dysfunction is usually where the subject cannot get an erection for real sex but can only achieve an erection with porn. That being the case, demonstrating that the subjects get an erection with porn proves absolutely nothing.
To read a full critique of the above study, check out this article by Gabe Deem from Reboot Nation.
Whether or not you consider these studies conclusive at this point, the findings are extremely troubling. Young men should not have erectile dysfunction and the fact that many coming out about this condition can get erections to porn without problem, suggests this needs to be looked into a little more closely.
The Naysayers are Pro-Porn Biased
Dr. Ley and his team believe that porn “can improve attitudes towards sexuality, increase the quality of life and variety of sexual behaviors and increase pleasure in long-term relationships. It provides a legal outlet for illegal sexual behaviors or desires, and its consumption or availability has been associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation” (see article).
This position is very controversial as porn has been reported to be a factor in divorces, relationship problems, infidelity, objectification of women, bringing violence into peoples’ sex lives, and bringing extreme fantasies to people that otherwise never had such desires. For 2 examples:
- Watch this video where the speaker talks about how porn affected him personally: Why I Stopped Watching Porn by Ran Gavrieli.
- Read this book, Pornland, where author Gale Dines cites numerous examples of students coming to her and telling her about how their boyfriends want extreme and violent sex.
We cannot and should not take for granted that porn is somehow positive for our sex lives. Porn has gotten increasingly extreme over time and this deserves more attention. Don’t blindly believe that it’s healthy and good for you just because so-called experts purport it.
Do you think the porn industry actually cares about your marriage, your relationships, or your values? The porn industry is all about making money and they do that by getting people off, no matter the method or cost. Think about this, it’s not an industry run on values, so why would you trust it?
For more information on the questionable practices and values of the porn industry check out the article, The Dark Side of Porn.
As for the claim of reducing child molestation this is an extremely controversial topic that needs more unbiased research. Here’s an article that demonstrates the opposite viewpoint which is that porn could be causing and not preventing these sex crimes (see article). Many sex offenders including serial killers have reported to using porn and attribute their extreme sexual fantasies to their porn use.
Now this isn’t conclusive because many of these studies only look at convicted sex offenders, however it raises alarms and suggests that we should not blindly accept porn as being positive. Here’s one more study to illustrate this point (see study)
Another claim that Dr. Ley makes is that the lucrative field of porn addiction therapy is fueling false information in favor of porn addiction. However, if you want to talk about a lucrative field then look at the porn industry, which is a $97 billion industry globally (source).
Many people that come out with stories of porn addiction have nothing to gain from coming out and many of them never pay for treatment of any kind. In fact, YourBrainOnPorn.com is a website with videos and links to research and free information. This website never made a dime until they released their E-Book, which at $5 is hardly lucrative and more of a service to those seeking help.
Dr. Ley on the other hand has several books, all more than $5, and has a for profit practice.
The most obvious flaw in Dr. Ley’s argument is that if people are willing to pay for porn addiction treatment they must be having a lot of trouble quitting and must feel that they are genuinely addicted. These people aren’t being preyed upon, they are willing to pay for help because that’s how bad they want it.
Porn Addiction isn’t in the DSM-5
While porn addiction may not appear in the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s guide of addictions and conditions, it’s worth noting that this is all still very new.
The broader topic of Internet addictions is getting increased attention and research but there is still much work being done. As an example, the DSM-5 listed Internet Gaming Disorder as something requiring further studies.
Another issue is that where they do mention porn addiction, they lump it together with sex addiction in what they call “hypersexual disorder”. Porn addiction and sex addiction are totally different.
If it’s not obvious why, porn addiction involves watching, not engaging in sex, it involves browsing through many images/videos, novelty at the click of a mouse, and a sea of potential “new partners”. Many porn addicts are virgins and it can be a very isolating experience.
Porn addiction more closely resembles a very extreme variety of Internet addiction. Sex addiction, which I can’t speak for the validity of, doesn’t necessarily involve the Internet and is a totally different animal.
Where’s the evidence against porn addiction?
What’s especially interesting is that the naysayers poke fun at all the research at Your Brain On Porn, while most of their articles have zero research to support any of their opinions.
Let’s take a moment to unpack that; they’re criticizing the lack of research to support the existence of porn addiction, an addiction that has only become apparent recently with high speed Internet and people starting to come out sharing their stories, meanwhile they provide no research to prove it’s not real. Interesting…
In an article published September, 2014 Dr. Ley notes some new studies that supposedly prove porn addiction isn’t real. There’s just two problems:
- The study lumps sex addicts with porn addicts, which are in fact two very different things. If you want to prove porn addiction is false then study only porn addicts.
- Dr. Ley claims that the study proved “people who are problem users of porn are actually people with high libidos, NOT people whose brains have been warped sex and porn”. However, that finding is in direct conflict with the Cambridge study, which showed that compulsive porn users didn’t have higher libido than non-compulsive porn users but had greater wanting or craving. Craving comes from watching porn and is your brain’s way of trying to get another fix which closely resembles a drug addiction.
Another study, Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images, which the naysayers claim proves their point that porn addiction is not real, is flawed in several ways. The 52 subjects were not methodically chosen, and included men, women, homosexual, and heterosexual individuals. This is interesting when you note that Dr. Ley claims that most self-reported porn addicts are homosexual and male.
Additionally, the study did nothing to verify the subjects were actually compulsive porn users. Some of them didn’t view porn in the last month and how many times the rest viewed it is unknown and could in many cases be infrequent.
In contrast, the Cambridge study was meticulously conducted with careful consideration of variables and yielding some very interesting results. Also worth noting, while Dr. Ley repeatedly makes claims about porn addiction affecting homosexual men disproportionately, the Cambridge study was done entirely with heterosexual compulsive porn users.
Yet another bogus study, Transgression as Addiction: Religiosity and Moral Disapproval as Predictors of Perceived Addiction to Pornography, looked at the impact of religious or moral objections on individuals self identifying as porn addicts. Again, this study proves nothing.
To find that moral objections increase self identifying as a porn addict proves nothing about the actual addiction, unless the researchers are into speculation in the guise of science.
It actually makes perfect sense that if an individual has a moral objection to something they are more likely to be aware of that problem and want to address it. That’s like comparing two unfaithful husbands where one is religious and feels what he is doing is wrong, and the other has no conflicting values and sees no problem with it. Does that make it any less real in the second case just because the subject isn’t morally against it?
B. Evidence in Favor of Porn Addiction
Granted, the research on porn addiction may be incomplete at present but it continues to build and the brain studies are pointing overwhelmingly in favor of porn addiction’s existence. For some examples check out these studies:
A. Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn (2014). This German study, which looked at how much porn was being consumed by the subjects, had several interesting findings. Increased porn use correlated with reduced grey matter in the reward circuit of the brain, which translates to desensitization and numbed pleasure response in heavy porn users.
Lead author of the study, Simone Kühn, noted, "That could mean that regular consumption of pornography more or less wears out your reward system."
The study also found evidence of an association between porn use and impaired impulse control, which may be an indicator of hypofrontality. Hypofrontality is decreased function of an area of your brain thought to correlate with your willpower, therefore resulting in the erosion of willpower.
Finally, the study also found that the highest porn users actually had less, not more, libido, further discrediting the position of the naysayers.
B. Cambridge Study: Internet porn addiction mirrors drug addiction (2014). This study found through brain scans that compulsive porn users react to porn cues in the same way that drug addicts react to drug cues. They also found that compulsive porn users did not have higher libido than non porn users and they had a control group with which to test this.
Additionally, the study showed that compulsive porn users exhibited a craving for porn which is a hallmark of drug addiction disorders. Another major finding was that over half of the subjects (averaging 25 years old) had difficulty getting erections with real partners but had no problem getting erections with porn.
C. Enhanced Attentional Bias towards Sexually Explicit Cues in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours (2014). This is another Cambridge study in which the subjects were all heterosexual males with an average age of 24. The results complimented the other Cambridge study and mirrored results seen in drug abusers.
This study provides support for incentive motivation theories of addiction which further supports the existence of porn addiction.
The findings of all 3 studies are troubling and while more research is needed, they raise flags that something very real is going on here, something much bigger than the naysayers would like you to believe.
The Trend for the Future
Don’t be discouraged that the research is incomplete to date. It will catch up and the studies are growing progressively in number and quality in favor of porn addiction’s existence.
No addiction had research to support its existence right after it was discovered, that type of research takes time and funding. Funding is always an obstacle as porn is viewed as a dirty topic that most shy away from and all the money is in the porn industry, not the porn addiction industry.
Is more research needed on porn addiction? Absolutely. Is there currently good research to support its existence? Yes.
Do you think people became aware of alcohol and drug addiction because the science came first to show it existed? No, people became aware because people were suffering and the science came later as people wanted to verify it was real and better understand how it works.
In comparison porn addiction is very new and anyone without a hidden agenda should be looking at this issue with curiosity and a desire to do further research. Flat out denying it in the early stages without evidence to support your opinion is frankly just ignorant.
C. Professional Acknowledgment and Responsibility
I tried thousands of times to quit and failed, and there are many others like me. The recognition by the mental health community is irrelevant, we can’t wait for them to recognize it before we get help. Hell, many of us might be dead before porn addiction gets any formal recognition.
The acknowledgment by the APA would not be particularly beneficial to porn addicts anyway. No prescription drug is going to “heal” porn addiction and seeing a psychologist is an option but could be costly. Look at the brain studies and research and decide for yourself.
Another question, do all addicts have to have a professional diagnosis? I can assure you most alcoholics do not receive professional diagnosis of an alcohol addiction. They self-identify when alcohol starts causing problems in their lives and they find themselves unable to simply stop drinking. Then they go get help via AA or another method. So why is porn addiction treated differently?
Perhaps you’ll call me an idealist, but it seems to me that when people are showing up all over suffering from a wide-spread condition, it should be a doctor’s professional duty and responsibility to investigate that condition. If research is lacking it should be their responsibility to then do more honest, unbiased research.
Casually dismissing without research to support your claims is unethical. When the naysayers finally do produce research it by total coincidence supports their already predetermined and biased opinions. Clearly they’re just trying to support their hypothesis at this point.
People deserve better doctors.
New problems and conditions never have proper scientific evidence to substantiate them as this takes time. However, when people are popping up everywhere asking for help that’s a good time to do research to determine one way or the other what is going on.
If you’re suffering pay the naysayers no mind. What we do know is that brain studies exist which show strong effects of over consumption of porn on our reward circuits, the current science helps to explain what’s going on, and there are many others like you that are suffering.
Rather than focus on the unproductive assumptions and opinions of so-called “experts” let’s instead focus on learning everything we can, practicing techniques for overcoming it, and beating this addiction. While the APA gets its act together people will continue to suffer and people will continue to fight and overcome this addiction, every single day.
I didn’t need the verification of the psychology community to beat my addiction and completely transform my life, and neither do you.
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