Porn Addiction

This is another unverified claim, and no studies have shown, proven or given any truth to the idea that viewing pornography is a “gateway drug” for anything.

Some organizations and porn addiction pundit (such as Doug Weiss of Addicted.com) attempt to support this claim with pseudo-science such as suggesting – but never proving in unbiased studies or clinical research – that porn creates a physical chemical addiction. In a new TIME Magazine article (discussed below), this claim is shown to be untrue.

Porn Is Like Drugs, A Chemical Addiction

But what is the actual science behind watching porn and brain chemicals? Academic Jessi Fischer explains the chemistry of porn addiction in Explaining Porn Watching With Science – in great detail. Excerpt:

(…) The term “sex addiction” is the new darling of sensational media. The narrative of an addict is a compelling one, their struggle with external forces in the world leaves much room for pity. After all, this isn’t their fault but the fault of the pesky stimulus hijacking their tender neurological reward circuitry. Right?

(…) The story is that orgasm and novelty trigger dopamine, we feel rewarded and are then driven for even bigger ‘hits’ of porn. (What does that even mean? You can’t quantify a porn clip for intensity.)

While dopamine is involved in the reward system, it doesn’t work quite like that. Dopamine is a motivator for the reward, not the reward itself.

(…) So the idea posited by the sex addiction set is utterly false: your brain is not rewarding you with dopamine. Your brain uses dopamine to motivate you. And amazingly, humans can release dopamine when the reward is months or ever years away.

One of the other claims made is that porn “burns you out” on sex with other people because it “hijacks” your system by hyperstimulation of your reward system, subsequently burning out the sex part of your brain making sex a pleasure-less activity. The problem is, there is no specific sex part of your brain. Sexual excitement and arousal involve several parts of your brain structure: nucleus accumbens, cingulate cortex, insular cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and the Paraventricular Nucleus of the Hypothalamus (PVN). Nor are there orgasm specific chemicals as any chemical involved in orgasm is involved in some other function.

There is much more in Explaining Porn Watching With Science. Also examined are several recent academic, peer-reviewed studies on internet pornography, Mayo Clinic case studies, potential negative effects of porn use, and the oft-suggested comparison of porn use and heroin.

That suggestion, and claims about dopamine and other brain chemicals, has been alluring because anti-porn pundits are eager to prove to non-religious-believers that science backs their agenda – and many anti-porn businesses have created their own studies (within their own organizations and not subject to peer review) to generate data to back these claims. Read why this is in their financial interests in The Business of Being Anti-Porn: The “War on Porn” Profiteers.

Meanwhile, the rest of the scientific world is waiting.

Debunking the “porn addiction” myths, trends and profiteering

Sex therapist Louanne Cole Weston, PhD. told Web MD, “There’s no doubt that some people’s porn consumption gets them in trouble — in the form of maxed-out credit cards, lost sleep, neglected responsibilities, or neglected loved ones. But Weston is one who takes issue with calling problem behavior involving porn an addiction. “‘Compulsive’ is more appropriate,” she told WebMD in an article examining the “porn addiction” treatment trend.

The difference between describing the behavior as a compulsion or an addiction is important.

For the WebMD article, Erick Janssen, PhD, a researcher at the Kinsey Institute, criticized the use of the term addiction when talking about porn because he says it merely describes certain people’s behavior as being addiction-like, but treating them as addicts may not help them.

The fact of “porn addiction” is that people diagnose themselves as porn addicts after reading popular books on the subject, taking online tests, or getting caught and needing to appear helpless to eschew blame for the guilt they feel for what most people simply experience as benign masturbation practices.

TIME Magazine: No chemical addiction; no study has proven that sex is tied to opiate receptors

In 2011′s groundbreaking investigative article on sex addiction, Sex Addiction: Real Disease or Convenient Excuse?, many myths about sex and chemical dependency (as well as sex addictions as a disease) were explored. The results did not make those trying to make porn use into the new heroin very happy. But the article does not shy away from confronting compulsive sexual – as akin to handwashing, hoarding, religious or other more widespread obsessive-compulsive – behaviors:

(…) Today the proposed APA definition of hypersexual disorder says you have an illness if you spend so much time pursuing intercourse or masturbation as to interfere with your job or other important activities. According to the working language of the diagnosis, “repetitively engaging” in sexual behaviors when you are anxious, depressed or stressed would be considered a major warning sign for the disorder.

But when it comes to sex, what could possibly be too much? The proposed definition of hypersexual disorder draws no distinction between masturbation and intercourse. Many studies, however, have shown that regular intercourse with a committed partner (up to once a day) is a sign of a good relationship. So at what point do partners in a healthy relationship become too focused on sex? And what constitutes too little sex?

Porn is discussed throughout the must-read article, with the author observing wisely that distinctions need to be drawn (in places anti-porn extremists notoriously blur the lines): “Someone who rents too many adult films is surely different from a child molester.”

Looking closely at where sex addiction and porn addiction claims are being based is sobering – the TIME article unpacks more than expected:

(…) But when it comes to sex, what could possibly be too much? The proposed definition of hypersexual disorder draws no distinction between masturbation and intercourse. Many studies, however, have shown that regular intercourse with a committed partner (up to once a day) is a sign of a good relationship. So at what point do partners in a healthy relationship become too focused on sex? And what constitutes too little sex?

In the late 1940s, the sex-research team led by biologist Alfred Kinsey said only 3% of college-age men reported a “total sexual outlet” of seven or more per week. Total sexual outlet was a euphemism for the number of orgasms. Although Kinsey’s data set was famously flawed — he used a largely self-selected sample that included some prison inmates — seven orgasms a week (either alone or with someone) is still considered by many experts to be a threshold for possible disorder. In a November 2009 Archives of Sexual Behavior paper, Dr. Martin Kafka, a Harvard Medical School professor and a prominent member of the APA work group on sex disorders, defined “hypersexual desire” among men as having seven or more orgasms per week for at least six months after age 15. Never mind that by Kafka’s definition, virtually every human male undergoes a period of sex addiction in his life. It’s called high school.

Kafka has also reported that the average man says he has three orgasms per week — but because some men are inclined to overestimate and others to underestimate, we have little idea what the accurate average is. The data on women’s sexual habits are even more meager. (…read Sex Addiction: Real Disease or Convenient Excuse?)

Mental health professionals: porn addiction is not a disease, and there is no standard criteria to diagnose porn addiction

Porn addiction is a concern that has emerged within the past four years. In An Epidemic of Sex Addiction? Dr. Marty Klein provides clarity about understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and pornography use.

Dr. Charlie Glickman weighed in on female porn addiction in this thoughtful article where he discusses smart solutions for a delicate subject: a very young woman coping with her relationship with porn.

It’s quite true that some people can become habituated to certain stimuli (especially when they find something that works well for them), such as a frequent erotic fantasy, a pet vibrator, or a favorite sex position.

When you find something that you really like (or that brings reliable enjoyment to sex), repeat use does not mean that you are “addicted” to it. Though if you’d like to change your masturbation habits, broaden your range, or incorporate something to share with your partner, you can adopt new practices.

Masturbation is the key method for incorporating new sexual practices, and by arousing yourself with masturbation through familiar methods, you can try new sexual behaviors and evolve your sexual repertoire.

It’s important to note that the labels “sex addiction” and “porn addiction” are interchangeable to anti-porn pundits. In An Epidemic of Sex Addiction? Dr. Marty Klein relates recent experiences talking to patients (and potential clients) about their dubiously, casually diagnosed “sex addiction.”

In it, Klein also tells his patients useful things to say to their partners when they’ve been accused of being sex addicts. Excerpt:

(…) I saw a guy last fall in an even more extreme situation. His wife had caught him seeing out-of-town prostitutes. Not only did she decide he was a sex addict (and porn addict), she demanded he begin treatment at an in-patient facility. He asked what I thought of that.

“Is your wife a psychologist or an addictionologist?”

“No.”

“Well, I don’t find ‘sex addiction’ a clinically meaningful or useful term,” I said. “But if I did—if I were a professional who claims to be a serious sex addiction specialist—I would probably say you had some symptoms of this disorder. I would then give you some tests, interview you, and evaluate you. Then I’d prescribe a treatment program, which might include attending 12-step meetings, reading books, being in a group, or even going into a hospital.”

“But since your wife isn’t a psychologist or an addiction specialist,” I continued, “I wonder why she feels qualified to not only diagnose you, but to prescribe an extremely complex treatment program.”

He hadn’t looked at it that way. He asked what I would suggest.

I don’t treat sex addiction. The concept is superficial. It isn’t clearly defined or clinically validated, and it’s completely pathology-oriented. It presents no healthy model of non-monogamy, pornography use, or stuff like S/M. Some programs eliminate masturbation, which is inhumane, naïve, and crazy.

Oh, I observe people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and a few other exotic states. That accounts for some of what laypeople call “sex addiction.”

What I mostly see instead of “sex addicts” is people who are neurotic or narcissistic. They can’t quite believe that the normal rules of life (“tell the truth,” “all behavior has consequences”) apply to them. They make promises they intend to keep—but then they want relief from frustration, or loneliness, or anxiety so much, they are unwilling to keep their promises, even promises to themselves. And some “sex addicts” just can’t come to terms with having one, relatively brief, life. They want several lives, so they can have everything.

(…read more, carnalnation.com)

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