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No such thing as porn addiction, researcher says

Feb. 13, 2014
Courtesy of Springer Science+Business Media
and World Science staff

Jour­nal­ists and psy­chol­o­gists are quick to de­scribe some­one as be­ing a porn ad­dict, yet there’s no strong evi­dence that such ad­diction ex­ists, a re­port says.

The pa­per—pub­lished in the re­search jour­nal Cur­rent Sex­u­al Health Re­ports—charges that so-called porn ad­diction treat­ment is a luc­ra­tive busi­ness based on very ques­tion­a­ble sci­ence.

“Pornog­ra­phy ad­diction” is­n’t in­clud­ed in the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­at­ric As­socia­t­ion’s re­cently re­vised Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­u­al be­cause of a lack of sci­en­tif­ic da­ta, said Da­vid Ley, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in Al­bu­quer­que, N.M., and the re­port’s au­thor.

Only 37 per­cent of past re­search ar­ti­cles about high-fre­quen­cy sex­u­al be­hav­ior de­scribe it as be­ing an ad­diction, while only 27 per­cent of ar­ti­cles on the sub­ject con­tained ac­tu­al da­ta, ac­cord­ing to Ley. His ar­ti­cle claims many of the re­ports suf­fer from poor ex­pe­ri­men­tal de­signs and lack of method­olog­i­cal rig­or.

The re­search ac­tu­ally found very lit­tle if any ev­i­dence for some of the pur­ported neg­a­tive side ef­fects of porn “ad­diction,” he added. There was no sign, ac­cord­ing to Ley, that use of por­nog­ra­phy is con­nect­ed to erec­tile dys­func­tion, or that it causes any changes to the brain. 

Al­so, de­spite fu­ror over the ef­fects of child­hood ex­po­sure to por­nog­ra­phy, the use of sex­u­ally ex­plic­it ma­te­ri­al ex­plains very lit­tle of the var­i­ance in ado­les­cents’ be­hav­iors, Ley claimed; these are bet­ter ex­plained by oth­er in­di­vid­ual and family vari­ables.

Ley ar­gues that por­nog­ra­phy can ac­tu­ally pro­vide ben­e­fits and pro­vides a le­gal out­let for ille­gal sex­u­al be­hav­iors or de­sires. Its con­sump­tion or avail­abil­ity has been as­so­ci­at­ed with a de­crease in sex of­fenses, es­pe­cially child mo­lesta­t­ion, said Ley, who is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New Mex­i­co So­lu­tions, a be­hav­ioral health pro­gram.

The pa­per claims that peo­ple re­porting “ad­diction” are likely to be non-heterosex­u­al men with a high li­bi­do, who tend to­wards sensa­t­ion seek­ing and whose re­li­gions con­flict with their sex­u­al be­hav­ior and de­sires. They may be us­ing vis­u­ally stim­u­lat­ing im­ages to cope with neg­a­tive emo­tion­al states or de­creased life sat­is­fac­tion, the pa­per ar­gues.

“We need bet­ter meth­ods to help peo­ple who strug­gle with the high fre­quen­cy use of vis­u­al sex­u­al stim­u­li, with­out pathol­o­giz­ing them or their use there­of,” writes Ley. “Rather than help­ing pa­tients who may strug­gle to con­trol view­ing im­ages of a sex­u­al na­ture, the ‘porn ad­diction’ con­cept in­stead seems to feed an in­dus­try with sec­ond­ary gain from the ac­cept­ance of the idea.”


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Journalists and psychologists are quick to describe someone as being a porn addict, yet there’s no strong scientific research that such addictions actually exists, a research report said. The paper—published in the research journal Current Sexual Health Reports—charges that so-called porn addiction treatment is often a lucrative business based on very questionable science. “Pornography addiction” isn’t included in the American Psychiatric Association’s recently revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual because of a lack of scientific data, said David Ley, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, N.M., and the report’s author. Only 37 percent of past research articles about high-frequency sexual behavior describe it as being an addiction, while only 27 percent of articles on the subject contained actual data, according to Ley. His article claims many of the reports suffer from poor experimental designs and lack of methodological rigor. The research actually found very little if any evidence for some of the purported negative side effects of porn “addiction,” he added. There was no sign, according to Ley, that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction, or that it causes any changes to the brains of users. Also, despite furor over the effects of childhood exposure to pornography, the use of sexually explicit material explains very little of the variance in adolescents’ behaviors, Ley claimed; these are better explained by other individual and family variables. Ley argues that pornography can actually provide benefits and provides a legal outlet for illegal sexual behaviors or desires. Its consumption or availability has been associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation, said Ley, who is executive director of New Mexico Solutions, a behavioral health program. The paper claims that people reporting “addiction” are likely to be non-heterosexual men with a high libido, who tend towards sensation seeking and whose religions conflict with their sexual behavior and desires. They may be using visually stimulating images to cope with negative emotional states or decreased life satisfaction, the paper argues. “We need better methods to help people who struggle with the high frequency use of visual sexual stimuli, without pathologizing them or their use thereof,” writes Ley. “Rather than helping patients who may struggle to control viewing images of a sexual nature, the ‘porn addiction’ concept instead seems to feed an industry with secondary gain from the acceptance of the idea.”