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October 10, 2016

Debunking 'Porn Addiction'

This article ran in AVN magazine's October 2016 issue as part of a cover package exploring the war on porn. See the digital edition here. The following are excerpts from Dr. Marty Klein’s newest book, His Porn, Her Pain: Healing America’s Pornography Obsession With Honest Talk About Sex. Klein, a licensed therapist and seasoned speaker on the topics of sexuality and relationships, also wrote America’s War on Sex (Praeger, 2012). His Porn, Her Pain is now available from SexEd.org or Amazon.com. I’ve been a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist for 34 years. That’s some 35,000 sessions with men, women, and couples—a ringside seat at the human circus. Since the day I opened my practice, I’ve seen patients who go to massage parlors, strip clubs, and prostitutes. I’m always working with several men and women having affairs, or dealing with the aftermath of one. And every few months someone brings in their mate because their constant flirting is way, way over the top. But until about ten years ago no one ever came in claiming to be a porn addict, or saying that his partner told him he was one. The number of these people has grown tremendously. Not the number of people acting out sexually—just the number of people using the magic words “porn addict” or “porn addiction.” Let’s start with “addiction.” “I keep doing stupid things” is not an addiction. “I swore to myself I wouldn’t do it, but I did it” is not an addiction. “Wow, the results of doing that were just as bad as everyone predicted” is not an addiction. “I guess I didn’t learn my lesson from doing it those other times” is not an addiction. “I kept telling myself, ‘don’t do it, you’ll regret it’ and I did it anyway” is not an addiction. “When I abstain from doing it, I feel deprived, crabby, and bored” is not an addiction. Doing it, experiencing negative consequences, and doing it again is not an addiction. If these things do, in fact, describe addiction, then the word “addiction” has lost its value. “Addiction” then just means repeating a bad choice, or making a stupid decision you later wish you hadn’t, or making the same mistake over and over, or impulsively pursuing something now, and regretting the consequences later. If you call these experiences addiction, every person on earth is addicted. And yes, if these are your definitions of addiction, millions of Americans are afflicted with porn addiction. Here are some problems with the disease of “porn addiction” (which was invented in the late 1990s as "cybersex addiction"): • It pathologizes behavior that is often harmless—but which upsets someone other than the porn consumer himself. • It is moralism pretending to be science. There is no consensus on what defines “porn addiction,” nor on how to treat it, nor on what constitutes a successful cure. No porn? Some porn (how much?)? Only certain kinds of porn? Increased desire for one’s partner? • It is contemptuous of masturbation; porn addicts are typically told they have to stop masturbating. • It honors “addicts” and their partners as the most knowledgeable people about the condition, reducing science to just another opinion. We don’t do this with real diseases like diabetes or heart disease. • There are no withdrawal symptoms when someone discontinues using porn. They might be crabby (especially if they’ve given up masturbation), but their body doesn’t shake, sweat, or get clammy, they don’t suffer muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting, and they don’t experience nightmares, paranoia, or crying spells. That’s what withdrawal is like from any real addiction. • If porn consumers/addicts really needed to increase their dose over time (the classical definition of addiction), they’d all quit their school/jobs and spend all their time masturbating to porn, which is clearly not true. The porn addiction gravy train has been slowed down a bit by losing the struggle for inclusion in the DSM 5, the diagnostic manual of the mental health profession updated in 2013. How was the decision to exclude it made? Or put another way, why did the most prestigious body of psychiatrists in the world decide that neither “sex addiction” nor “porn addiction” were fit to include in the worldwide manual of mental disorders? After sifting through mountains of data, knowledgeable opinions, and clinical charts, the review panel of experts decided that “there is insufficient peer-reviewed evidence to establish the diagnostic criteria and course descriptions needed” to include sex addiction or porn addiction as actual disorders. The simplistic argument that porn is like drugs and therefore works like drugs is just silly. An analogy is not evidence. Flour looks like cocaine, but they work differently. Jogging and talking to the police both make you sweat, but the activities are very different, and your body even experiences them differently. Do some consumers have a problem with porn? Of course. But “problematic” is not the same as “addictive”; since these are treated quite differently, we shouldn’t mistake the first for the second. And if the porn addiction movement is using “porn addiction” metaphorically, they should either put the phrase in quotes or stop using it. As befits a “PornPanic,” the new concept of porn as toxic substance contains no model of healthy porn use. Porn addicts are encouraged to get and stay “sober” forever—hardly the “teach a man to fish” routine we hear so much about. The PornPanic enterprise most certainly makes our lives worse. As I said almost ten years ago in America’s War on Sex, there’s an unlimited amount of money and power to be gained by scaring the hell out of Americans about sex. This is true regarding porn. And with the transition from the criticism of porn as an “immorality” problem to porn as a “public health/danger” problem, more and more groups are jumping on the anti-porn bandwagon, making the PornPanic louder than ever. By preventing research on the actual effects of porn, and endlessly repeating Big Lies about porn’s effects, and simultaneously opposing sex education that addresses pornography, the PornPanic perpetuates the problems America fears so much. Since our society doesn’t properly sex educate our kids, doesn’t train mental health professionals in porn and how it’s used, and doesn’t have honest discussions about the uses of sexuality in advertising and the arts, too many people get to blame porn for a lot—and solve nothing. The best approach to America’s destructive PornPanic is honest talk about sex. And lots of it.

 
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