Porn is not addictive. Sex is not addictive. The ideas of porn and sex addiction are pop psychology concepts that seem to make sense, but have no legitimate scientific basis. For decades, these concepts have flourished in America, but have consistently been rejected by medicine and mental health. The media and American society have accepted that sex and porn are addictive, because it seems intuitively true – we all feel like sometimes, we might do something stupid or self-destructive, when sex is involved. But, this false belief is dangerous, and ultimately not helpful. Because when people buy into the belief that porn is addictive, it changes the argument, and all of a sudden, it seems like it is porn and sex that are the problems. Porn addiction becomes a label, and seems to be an explanation, when in fact, it is just meaningless words and platitudes that distract from the real issue. But sex and porn aren’t the problems. You are.
People do have a strong response to video pornography. Internet porn is very good at triggering male sexuality. The economic forces of the open market have driven modern internet porn to be very, very effective at triggering male sexual buttons, to get them aroused. But women actually have a stronger physiological response to porn than men and based upon this research, women should be more addicted to pornography than men. But the overwhelming majority of the stories we hear about are men. Why is this? Because one part of this issue is an attack on aspects of male sexuality, including masturbation and use of pornography, behaviors which society fears and doesn’t understand.
Porn can affect people, but it does not take them over or override their values. If someone watches porn showing something they find distasteful, it has no impact on their behavior or desires. But, if someone watches porn depicting acts that they, the watcher, are neutral about, then it does make it slightly more likely that they express interest in trying that act themselves. Take anal sex for instance. If a porn viewer finds it disgusting, watching anal pornography isn’t going to change that. But, if they are neutral on it, then watching anal porn probably will slightly increase the chance that I would be willing to at least give it a try. But, there is the crux of the issue—the people who gravitate towards unhealthy, violent porn, are people who already have a disposition towards violence. So—the problem is not in the porn, but in those people. Regulating porn access really is going to have no impact on these people as they can (and do) find far more violent and graphic images in mainstream Hollywood films like “Saw.”
Here’s some often-ignored empirical science about porn – as societies have increased their access to porn, rates of sex crimes, including exhibitionism, rape and child abuse, have gone down. (See the work of Milton Diamond) Across the world, and in America, as men have increased ability to view Internet erotica, sex crimes go down. Believe it or not – porn is good for society. This is correlational data, but it is extremely robust, repeated research. But, it is not a message that many people want to hear. Individuals may not like porn, but our society loves it, and benefits from it.
You are the problem, But, you’re also the solution.
It is getting increasingly difficult to find men in our society, who’ve never viewed pornography. But, if porn were the problem – if porn were addictive, then the problems of porn would be far, far greater than they are. In fact, in recent studies, fewer than 1% of people report that they have had problems in their life due to difficulties controlling their sexual behaviors, including watching porn. Now – higher numbers, around 10%, report “feeling” that their sexual desires are hard to control, but it is very different to feel something, versus ACTUALLY being out of control.
So – if you are one of that 1%, then what’s going on? If it isn’t the porn, then it must be you. Something about you (more than one thing, usually) has led you to be a person who makes bad decisions about sex. Now in that, you’re not alone – it is in fact a universal truth that people tend to make poorer decisions when they’re turned on, whether it’s choosing not to wear a condom, or choosing to masturbate to porn when you shouldn’t. Call it “sex-goggles,” and recognize that human sexual arousal affects our decision-making.
But, there’s more than that going on for you, if you’ve decided that porn is your problem. Here’s some more real science, that suggests some of the things that are going on for you – you like sex. Wow – earth-shattering, right? But several empirical studies (here’s a link to one of several) have found that self-identified porn addicts tend to be people with high libido. You are also a person who can get turned on very quickly (when you choose to). Further, you might have grown up in a home (or culture) where sex and masturbation were seen as morally wrong.
Having a high-libido is not a bad thing. In fact, one of the things I often argue is that men (and women) who like sex have changed this world, and made it better. Rock stars, politicians, military leaders and sports stars often tend to be people with high libidos, and a high desire to succeed. Sometimes, they actually want to succeed, just so they can have lots of sex.
But, if you are a man who likes sex, and likes porn, is that something you’ve ever really owned? I’m sad to say that our society has not taught men how to identify and negotiate their sexual desires or needs. We treat sex like a dirty secret. Then, when men get caught, they feed into that dirty secret mentality, and treat sex like it’s the problem.
Those other men, who like sex, watch porn, and don’t get in trouble – How do they do that? One thing is that they understand themselves, and their desires. Sometimes, they sit down with their wives and girlfriends and have a real, open discussion about their use of porn, their interest in it, and what it means, and doesn’t mean, about their attraction to and interest in their partner. That’s a hard, scary discussion (and not one for the first date, please), because it requires a man to stand up for himself and his sexual desires, to be willing to negotiate for those needs, to be willing to compromise, but stay true to himself, while asking for the same in return.
Another thing about those guys, who don’t get in trouble for watching porn? They are paying attention to themselves, and they are doing the work that is needed to make good decisions. Some men have the internet or cable turned off in their hotel rooms, or install a net nanny on their own computer, so they have less temptation. That’s not because porn is the problem, but because these men are recognizing (when they’re not turned on), that they need to do the prepwork, in advance, to make good decisions. It’s okay to admit that you make poor decisions when sex or porn are involved – you’re not alone in that, and it’s not a sin.
But, the responsibility is on you to identify why and how you make bad decisions, and take steps to make better decisions in the future. When you blame the problems on porn, you’re telling yourself “porn is more powerful than I am.” And I’m here to tell you, that’s not true – you CAN take responsibility for your life, your sex, for your good decisions and your bad ones, and have the life you want. Porn’s not the problem – you are. But you know what? You’re also the solution.