Open Letter to NSPCC re: “Porn Addiction” Study

The letter below was sent to Peter Wanless, CEO of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, on Friday 10th April. It is signed by leading academics, sex educators, journalists and campaigners.

 

To: Peter Wanless, Chief Executive Officer, NSPCC

Dear Mr Wanless,

We write to express our deep concern about a report you published last week, which received significant press coverage. The report claimed that a tenth of 12-13 year olds believe they are addicted to pornography, and appears to have been fed to the media with accompanying quotes suggesting that pornography is causing harm to new generations of young people.

Your study appears to rely entirely on self-report evidence from young people of 11 and older, and so is not – as it has been presented – indicative of actual harm but rather, provides evidence that some young people are fearful that pornography is harming them. In other words, this study looks at the effects on young people of widely published but unevidenced concerns about pornography, not the effects of pornography itself.

It appears that your study was not an academic one, but was carried out by a “creative market research” group called OnePoll. We are concerned that you, a renowned child protection agency, are presenting the findings of an opinion poll as a serious piece of research. Management Today recently critiqued OnePoll in an article that opened as follows: “What naive readers may not realise is that much of what is reported as scientific is not in fact genuine research at all, but dishonest marketing concocted by PR firms.”

There have been countless studies into the effects of porn since the late 1960s, and yet the existence of the kinds of harm you report remains contested. In fact, many researchers have reached the opposite conclusion: that increased availability of porn correlates with healthier attitudes towards sex, and with steadily reducing rates of sexual violence. For example, the UK government’s own research (1) generated the following conclusion in 2005: “There seems to be no relationship between the availability of pornography and an increase in sex crimes …; in comparison there is more evidence for the opposite effect.”

The very existence of “porn addiction” is questionable, and it is not an accepted medical condition. Dr David J Ley, a psychologist specialising in this field, says: “Sex and porn can cause problems in people’s lives, just like any other human behavior or form of entertainment. But, to invoke the idea of “addiction” is unethical, using invalid, scientifically and medically-rejected concepts to invoke fear and feed panic.” (2)

Immediately following the release of your report, the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the Tories would be introducing strong censorship of the Internet if they win the next election, in order to “protect children” from pornography. The Culture Secretary’s new announcement would probably lead to millions of websites being blocked by British ISPs, should it come into force. We would point out the experience of the optional “porn filters”, introduced in early 2014, which turned out in practise to block a vast range of content including sex education material.

The BBC news website quotes you as saying, in response to the minister’s announcement: “Any action that makes it more difficult for young people to find this material is to be welcomed.” We disagree: we believe that introducing Chinese-style blocking of websites is not warranted by the findings of your opinion poll, and that serious research instead needs to be undertaken to determine whether your claims of harm are backed by rigorous evidence.

Signatories:

Jerry Barnett, CEO Sex & Censorship
Frankie Mullin, Journalist
Clarissa Smith, Professor of Sexual Cultures, University of Sunderland
Julian Petley, Professor of Screen Media, Brunel University
David J. Ley PhD. Clinical Psychologist (USA)
Dr Brooke Magnanti
Feona Attwood, Professor of Media & Communication at Middlesex University
Martin Barker, Emeritus Professor at University of Aberystwyth
Jessica Ringrose, Professor, Sociology of Gender and Education, UCL Institute of Education
Ronete Cohen MA, Psychologist
Dr Meg John Barker, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, The Open University
Kath Albury, Associate Professor, UNSW Australia
Myles Jackman, specialist in obscenity law
Dr Helen Hester, Middlesex University
Justin Hancock, youth worker and sex educator
Ian Dunt, Editor in Chief, Politics.co.uk
Ally Fogg, Journalist
Dr Emily Cooper, Northumbria University
Gareth May, Journalist
Dr Kate Egan,  Lecturer in Film Studies,  Aberystwyth University
Dr Ann Luce, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Communication, Bournemouth University
John Mercer, Reader in Gender and Sexuality, Birmingham City University
Dr. William Proctor, Lecturer in Media, Culture and Communication, Bournemouth University
Dr Jude Roberts, Teaching Fellow, University of Surrey
Dr Debra Ferreday, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Lancaster University
Jane Fae, author of “Taming the beast” a review of law/regulation governing online pornography
Michael Marshall, Vice President, Merseyside Skeptics Society
Martin Robbins, Journalist
Assoc. Prof. Paul J. Maginn (University of Western Australia)
Dr Lucy Neville, Lecturer in Criminology, Middlesex University
Alix Fox, Journalist and Sex Educator
Dr Mark McCormack, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Durham University
Chris Ashford, Professor of Law and Society, Northumbria University
Diane Duke, CEO Free Speech Coalition (USA)
Dr Steve Jones, Senior Lecturer in Media, Northumbria University
Dr Johnny Walker, Lecturer in Media, Northumbria University

Added post-publication:

Dr Anna Arrowsmith
Tuppy Owens, veteran campaigner for sexual rights for disabled people
Eric Paul Leue, Director of Sexual Health & Advocacy, kink.com

Footnotes:

1) http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/internet/explicit-material-vod.pdf Page 15

2) Article published at sexandcensorship.org by Dr David J Ley http://sexandcensorship.org/2013/11/sex-porn-addictive-david-ley/

31 thoughts on “Open Letter to NSPCC re: “Porn Addiction” Study”

  1. You’re right that porn is a loaded topic, with abuses on all sides. However, as far as I can see none of the signatories to this letter have formally studied addiction. Why should anyone care what they have to say on this topic?

    1. Of course they’ve studied addiction, there are many psychologists and sociologists among the signatories. Perhaps you mean they haven’t studied *porn* addiction, because it is not clear such thing even exists.

      (It’s like bashing a letter by atheists because none of them is a priest.)

      1. Did you check what fields they got their PhDs in? I did. Most are in film studies, geography, social studies and feminist studies. Not one addiction medical expert.

    2. Well, Dr David Ley is a signatory, which means that at least one of the signatories specialises in this area. Are you certain that none of the other signatories is a specialist in addiction? You must be remarkably knowledgeable of a lot of people’s work!

      Besides that, one doesn’t have to be an expert in order to understand a consensus view. It appears to be increasingly apparent that the idea of “addiction”, which originally referred to physical dependency on substances like heroin, has become enormously misused. I’m not an expert on Bigfoot or leprachauns, but I’m aware that the scientific consensus on these – as with porn addiction – is that they are not real, and I’m prepared to accept that consensus

      1. Not one of these signatories has a background in medical anything, let alone addiction neuroscience, and that includes Ley. Sad but true. The “consensus view” of these “experts” is hardly relevant.

        If you want the consensus view on behavioral addiction, go to medical experts in the field. You will find they have the exact opposite “consensus view.”

    3. The problem here is that the condition of ‘porn addiction’ was created by those you say should be the sole arbiters of this dodgy opinion poll. Its a bit like plastic surgeons creating ‘problems’ with specific bodily features so they can cure them. Why can’t non experts have a view that is valid on this topic? Especially given that it involves one of our most basic human needs. Your insistence on only one narrow academic line of thinking being the only ‘true’ response is indicative of extremely fetishistic behaviour if you really want to drill down on this subject.

  2. The key issue in this is the presentation of a study that was represented as “research”. It has been found to seriously lack rigour and therefore, has fallen foul of learned review.

    This has come from an organisation that begged innocent victims of Operation Ore to withdraw their legal action against the Police, for fear it might lead to the overturning of prior convictions of genuinely guilty offenders. The notion that innocent men had every right to definitively clear their names – especially of such heinous crimes, seemed to the NSPCC to be of little import – it’s as if they had forgotten that these men had all once been children and that for some, their own children had suffered immeasurably as a result of ORE.

    I am all for protecting children from harm, but I have serious misgivings about the motives and methods of the NSPCC. Where the higher echelons of that organisation is concerned, it seems to be more about the politics of child protection than it is about real child welfare – more propaganda than truth, more confrontation that compassion. I would call for the close scrutiny of the NSPCC’s agenda and management for frankly, something doesn’t smell right.

      1. Marina, if I am not mistaken, both these studies are careful to point out, that they do not prove or imply any causality between the observervations and porn. The causality at this point is just “assumed” by the anti-porn zealots and their interpretation of “science”. Why is this never mentioned, whenever YBOP et al are commenting?

        Btw nice attempt to discredit the authors and deflect from the calls for censorship, obvious porn panic and, hold your breath, an appallingly bad “study” issue. Fear, uncertainty, doubt. The trusted tools of propaganda.

        1. @ Robert
          Whenever someone counters with “these studies don’t show causality only correlation” it’s clear they know little to nothing about science. Every study published on the effects of porn is correlative. Just as every study published on the negative effects of smoking is correlative. Causation is rarely proven in any biological/pathological sphere of study.

          A true “causation study” on porn’s effects would be impossible to do. Researchers would need to have two separate groups of pre-teens who have never seen porn. One group would be required to watch the same porn for same amount of time each day. The other group would not be allowed to watch any porn. At age 25, after 15 years of both conditions, each group would be compared using multiple assessment tools.

          This will of course never happen. That’s why your post is so laughable.

  3. I think it’s pretty crucial to have academics and experts on the topic but who AREN’T addiction specialists being critical of the area.

    Because of course most addiction specialist are going to want to come along and stamp an ‘addiction’ label on this. Its what they’re invested in.

    (from an MSc in Psychiatric Epidemiology)

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