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Pornography has been around for centuries, but over the past few years, so many have succumbed to it that it has become a serious concern. However, new research suggests labeling someone as a porn addict is misleading, as the study’s author says there is no such thing as an addiction to porn.
While some stand by the diagnosis of porn addiction, a review article titled “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model” concluded there is no strong scientific research suggesting pornography addiction exists. The review, published Feb. 12 in the journal Current Sexual Health Reports, found that 37 percent of articles about high frequency sexual behavior describe it as an addiction.
The 2013 revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a collection of diagnostic criteria for all psychiatric disorders recognized by mental health professionals in the United States, has not included sex addiction because including it as an addiction “would require published scientific research that does not exist at this time,” the manual stated.
David Ley, lead author of the review and executive director at New Mexico Solutions, an outpatient mental health and substance abuse program, found porn addiction research failed to meet standards of addiction because of faulty statistical analyses, sample bias, poor experimental designs and an unclear definition of what constitutes pornography.
“The issue is when we look at the science behind porn addiction, what we would expect to see is data and experiments that would rule out the possibility that these problems that are attributed to porn could be caused by something else,” Ley said. “Instead what we see, overwhelmingly, are articles published basically on anecdote, untested hypotheses and cultural bias.”
Ley said people who frequently view porn are often mislabeled as addicts because of a misunderstanding of what addiction means, leading them to pathologize “normal” human behavior.
“There is no clear idea or definition of how much porn you have to use before you are really an addict because nobody knows,” Ley said. “[Addiction] is commonly used in our society at this point to describe any problematic behavior that someone subjectively believes is problematic and at that point addiction is meaningless.”
Ley also said current research lacks proof that there is any type of behavioral or neurological shift in “porn addicts,” traits scientists usually look for when diagnosing an addictive disorder. For example, those addicted to alcohol or drugs show a shift from wanting to use a substance to needing to use a substance, at which point a user becomes neurologically dependent on it.
“If you take away alcohol from somebody that is a long-term alcoholic, they may actually experience seizures and die because their brain has reached a point where it needs the alcohol,” Ley said. “We can see it in neurological research that has been done around substance addictions, and there is not a single published study anywhere that shows either a neurological or behavioral shift in regards to pornography from wanting to use it to needing to use it.”
For some, frequently viewing sexual stimuli remains an addiction whether or not it is scientifically identified as one, according to George Collins, founder and director of Compulsion Solutions, an organization that helps clients deal with sex and porn addictions.
Collins, who has a Masters in counseling, said he lost two wives to his porn addiction, which he said resulted from being sexually and physically abused as a child. He said after he found his father’s porn collection when he was younger, it became a mechanism.
“Porn addiction is hallmarked by the inability to understand true intimacy and true sexual relations, and I don’t care what word you use for it, [people] are in trouble,” Collins said. “It’s a huge disservice to people to pretend that there is not a problem with sex addiction, and [Ley] seems to [dismiss] it as a minor disorder that people just aren’t doing what they are supposed to do. But if you can’t stop doing it, then it’s generally classified as an addiction.”
Robert Johnson, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Crossroads Counseling of Chicago, and said he acknowledges the realities of people like Collins, stating the semantics of porn addiction is really not the issue, what matters is whether the struggle is negatively impacting a person’s daily life.
“You can or cannot call it an addiction, but if I look at it through a lens that says it’s an addiction, it helps me understand how to approach it and treat it better,” Johnson said.
Collins said the impact of porn addiction on his life is very real and that when he was battling his porn addiction, he would masturbate at least four times a day. He added that he has had patients who have masturbated at least 10 times a day.
“If I was having sex with a real live woman, there were times where I couldn’t get an erection just because it was too complicated,” Collins said. “I also have clients who masturbate so often that they ejaculate blood because their body couldn’t secrete traditional seminal fluid.”
Ley’s review also cited a lack of evidence to discredit some of the alleged negative side effects of porn addiction such as neurological changes and erectile dysfunction, effects commonly understood as consequences of reliance on pornography.
Ley added that pornography can have positive impacts, suggesting it can improve attitudes toward sexuality.
“The problem that I have with the porn addiction label is that it changes the focus from the person to the porn, and when people have problems with pornography use, the problem is invariably related to their personal relationship and their level of sexual desire,” Ley said. “But those issues don’t have to do with pornography. It has to do with the person. Porn isn’t the problem, the person is. But when we use the porn addiction label, it takes the focus away.”