Frequent Porn Use: “Addiction” Label Inaccurate

E-mail Email Icon Print Print Icon
Reddit Digg StumbleUpon Delicious Bookmark

Frequent use of visual sexual stimuli (or "porn") may be problematic, and lead people to seek treatment. Yet, research does not support the "addiction" model.

USB Porn

Photo: VincentG

While the term “addiction” is often applied to the frequent viewing of online sexual material, there is little research to support the use of the term. So suggest the authors of a recent article.

Pornography Addiction?

Whether using the terms “porn addiction,” “sexual compulsivity,” “hypersexual disorder,” a model of abnormality is often applied to those who use online sexual content at a high frequency. What do people mean when they use the term “addiction” to describe these behaviors? In the case of porn (and other similar areas such as food, or gaming), the word is an attempt to represent a set of behaviors one deems excessive or problematic. Yet, this is not an addiction per se. The authors of the recently published article discuss these issues and more in the journal, Current Sexual Health Reports, which I will cover in this post.

Key Component of Addiction

The authors describe one of the key aspects to an actual addiction, which is the shift at some point from seeking the substance specifically for pleasure, to using it based on need. Relieving the effects of withdrawal has not yet been shown to be a factor in cases where someone is claimed to have an “addiction” to porn. They also note that just because a behavior is (a) done in a high frequency, and is (b) associated with an “excessive appetite,” does not necessarily make the behavior an addiction.

Why is Using the Term “Addiction” a Problem?

The treatment of “porn addiction” is an industry with little research supporting its success. In addition, treatment of the problem is frequently associated with religious treatment centers and programs. In these situations, the religious culture is both diagnosing the problem and offering the treatment, resulting in a conflict of interest. This conflict is heightened by the findings that the more religious one is, the greater one might have problems associated with use of visual sexual stimuli (or VSS, a term that the authors suggest is more definable than the elusive definition of “pornography”).

If Not “Addiction” Then What?

Some might wonder what term to describe the problems that many report associated with frequent use (or in some cases, any use) of VSS. Here are some suggestions the authors provide, along with some common suggestions that a mental health professional might offer (in italics):

  • Symptom of Mental Health Struggles: Research has found that those who are more depressed, with a lower quality of life, have high rates of VSS use, in addition to more use of drugs and alcohol. Notably, however, VSS use has not been shown to lead to mental health problems. High frequency of VSS use may be a symptom of other underlying mental health issues. Addressing these underlying mental health concerns may be a key to resolving the problems one is experiencing with one’s own VSS use, or that of one’s partner.
  • Sex Drive: People with stronger libidos, or who are more easily aroused also use more VSS. In relationships, one partner may be blamed for VSS use, but the root of the problem may be in how the couple handles the discrepancy in their sexual needs. Discrepancy of sexual desire is a common problem reported by many couples. A sex or couples therapist (with experience working with sexual concerns) may be useful for couples in these situations.
  • Sensation Seeking: People who desire more sensation have also been found to use more VSS. Some people may seek out “forbidden or taboo experiences,” in order to increase sensation. Forms of sensation-seeking that are consistent with one’s values and not harmful could be considered.
  • Coping:  The authors suggest that VSS can be an effective means for distraction-based coping with stress and negative emotions. Distraction can be temporarily effective, and requires relatively little effort. Therefore, VSS use may help to improve one’s mood, in a similar way that other emotionally engaging entertainment would. Those who view VSS for dealing with emotions may want to also be sure that other coping methods are available.
  • Impulsivity: Those who are more impulsive may view VSS whenever they notice something sexual, without considering other issues such as their relationships, finances, personal values, or time management. While another term, “compulsivity” is commonly used, there is little research to support the idea. Examining decision-making, and clarification of values might be useful for these people.

In the next post, I will cover the positive and negative effects of the use of visual sexual stimuli, as well as how some VSS is problematic regardless of how it is used, and what factors (in addition to religion) make the use of VSS more likely to be problematic. For now, the key takeaway is that the term “addiction” is inaccurate, and lacks in empirical data when referring to frequent use of VSS. Other ways of understanding what is happening when there is a problem with the viewing ought to be considered. This shift in focus may satisfy the religious, the scientists, and the religious scientists, the majority of whom ostensibly have an interest in helping people live better lives and improving their relationships.

For other reading on sex addiction at Kinsey Confidential, see Dr. Debby Herbenick’s Q&A: How Legitimate is Sex Addiction?

Adam Fisher, M.A.

is a Ph.D. student in Counseling Psychology at Indiana University. Adam's professional interests include couple & sex therapy, parent education, and working with college students. His dissertation is investigating the effects of religious belief change on romantic relationships.
More posts by this author »

Comments