Is Porn Addiction Real or Pseudoscience?

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Porn has been getting a bad rap. Last week, the New York Times published two articles about porn—one article about how porn impacts the sexual development of teens (spoiler alert: they think if they see it in porn, they should try it in life) and one editorial calling for an outright pornography ban. A ban on porn may seem impossible—how can you ban something that is just a click away?—but, in 2017, over a dozen state legislatures began considering a bill called the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act” that would require tech manufacturers to install obscenity filters on all devices, which consumers would then have to pay to uninstall. Would this violate the First Ammendment? Probably, yes, but that hasn’t stopped states from considering it.

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The Human Trafficking Prevention Act, as the Daily Beast’s Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny reported last year, was the brain-child of Chris Sevier (also known as Mark Sevier and Chris Severe), an EDM producer and disbarred attorney who was charged with stalking a 17-year-old girl and who once sued states for the right to marry his computer as a moral stand against same-sex marriage. Sevier reportedly blames tech companies for his own self-diagnosed “porn addiction.” At one point, he sued Apple for selling him a device without an obscenity filter, which he argued led to the downfall of his marriage. “The Plaintiff began desiring younger more beautiful girls featured in porn videos than his wife, who was no longer 21,” his complaint said. The case was dismissed, and Sevier eventually turned his attention to getting states to adopt anti-porn laws.

Porn, like few other things, is demonized by both the far left and the far right: Right-wingers like Sevier hate it because Jesus, radical feminists like the late Andrea Dworkin hate it because patriarchy, and “porn addiction” is a convenient excuse when people get busted for misconduct. Jared Fogle, for instance, the former Subway spokesman who is now spending 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to a range of sex crimes, including sex with minors, blamed, in part, his porn addiction.

But, according a new paper published in the scholarly, peer-reviewed journal Porn Studies, the concept of “porn addiction” is based not on evidence but on pseudoscience—and, according to the author, telling people they have a porn addiction does more damage than it does good.

The paper’s author, psychologist and sexpert David Ley, looked at contemporary research in the field, and found a few notable trends. For one, people who seek treatment for porn addiction actually view less porn that average, “they just feel worse about it,” Ley writes. The shame, he concludes, isn’t because there’s something inherently immoral about porn; rather, they’re just getting the wrong messages. “A majority of self-identified sex and porn addicts in treatment centres are religious, usually heterosexual, and mostly married white men,” Ley writes. “Similarly, sex addiction therapists tend to come from sexually moralistic and religiously conservative backgrounds.”

Ley also explored the idea frequently espoused by anti-porn crusaders that “porn addiction” (and all addiction) is a disease. You have a pornography/gambling/alcohol/drug problem because there is something disordered with your brain. “Unfortunately,” Ley writes, “this belief is unsupported by science, as addiction cannot be reliably diagnosed or distinguished through neurological markers.” But, he adds, describing porn or any addiction as a brain disease could actually increase the stigma towards people struggling with porn because, under the biological model, it seems both permanent and intractable.

“The porn-is-addictive movement is deeply damaging and harmful,” Ley told me over email. “It promotes a narrative that leads people to declare war on their own sexuality, to fight and battle against their sexual desires. This is inherently a losing battle and leads to people trying to excise, suppress and shame themselves for having very normal, healthy sexual desires.”

As for the proposals to either ban porn entirely or make it harder to access, Ley, as you might imagine, is against them. “I find it interesting that these folks at happy to stomp on the First Amendment in order to ban material they find sexually immoral, but are unwilling to restrict guns in service of the Second Amendment,” he says. “Before I’m willing to consider giving people control over what kind of sexual material or experience other people get to have, I REALLY want to know what these people think ‘healthy sexuality’ is. Because typically, their definition is rooted in the ideas that the only kind of sex that is healthy is heterosexual monogamy. Anything other than that, especially masturbation, is hated and despised.”

Plus, he says, there’s another reason not to ban porn. While porn can certainly cause shame and guilt, as well as relationship problems, according to Ley—and contrary to what you may hear on Christian radio or read on the Huffington Post—access to porn may actually reduce rates of sexual violence and sexual abuse. Anti-porn activists sometimes say that “porn is the theory; rape is the practice,” but Ley says that research has proved otherwise: As the rise of the internet made porn cheap, easy, and everywhere, rates of sexual violence have plummeted both in the U.S. and across the world. This question, however, existed long before we all had porn machines in our back pockets: In 1969, President Johnson tasked a commission with determining whether or not pornography was harmful to society, and they found that there was no evidence that exposure to porn was harmful to either individuals or society. But, by the time their report came out, Johnson was out of office, Nixon was in the White House, and he and most of Congress rejected the report.

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Nearly 50 years later, we’re still debating the impact and addictiveness of porn, but for his part, Ley says there is a solution: Instead of banning porn, what we need is more education, especially when it comes to teaching youth about sex. “The way to prevent any of these alleged negative outcomes for youth exposed to porn is to do better comprehensive, real-world sex education,” Ley says. “It probably IS a negative thing for teens to learn about sex from porn. Porn was never intended for that. But instead of fixing that by good education, we just blame, shame and hate porn.” And blaming porn, he adds, distracts us from helping people who really are struggling with it, for whatever reason. “Those people are out there,” he says. “And they’re being told that porn is the problem, as opposed to helping them understand that porn is a symptom.”

Want to hear more about porn? Listen to last week’s Blabbermouth.

Source

https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2018/02/19/25832874/is-porn-addiction-real-or-pseudoscience