The Porn Panic – my name for the rising tide of scaremongering against sexual expression over the past decade – has followed familiar paths. As religion has declined in this country, so pseudo-science has risen to take its place. Attacks on normal sexual behaviours, once wrapped in biblical terminology, have evolved in step with the new, “enlightened”, times.
Sexuality may be impossible to switch off, but fear and guilt can be instilled to stigmatise and control sexual behaviours. Once it’s branded abnormal, a sexual behaviour can be attacked and suppressed, all in the name of helping the victim. In this way, “medical conditions” ranging from nymphomania to homosexuality have been attacked, stigmatised, and then turned into profit-making vehicles for peddlers of cures.
As already outlined on this blog by psychologist Dr David Ley, porn addiction is at the very least a dubious concept. But this has not stopped the media from promoting the condition as a genuine one. In recent months, the Porn Panic appears to have swung from a primarily feminist attack on sexual expression (under the “objectification” banner) to a pseudo-medical one.
A particularly blatant example appeared recently on the BBC’s yoof-news channel Newsbeat, where a young man’s “cure” from porn addiction was trumpeted without a shred of scepticism. The story was based on a self-diagnosis by a 23 year old who had found that his “porn addiction” was leading him to watch “pornographic content that disturbed him” – although the nature of the content wasn’t revealed. The article then introduced an expert, Robert Hudson, who said:
“The first thing we ask them to do is stop masturbating for 90 days”
This sounded familiar: masturbation-as-sin has been a target for centuries, and has long been stigmatised under a variety of pretexts. It has only been in the Internet age that much of the stigma has been lifted, and people have felt more free to admit that they, too are wankers. It is now well known that masturbation is good for both physical and mental health; we also know that it is an outlet for pent-up sexual frustration. This advice seemed deeply troubling to me, so I approached Dr Ley for his thoughts, and he agreed:
“It’s disturbing to me when people recommend giving up masturbation for 90 days. I always wonder how they treat “oxygen addiction?” Should I give up breathing for 90 minutes?”
“The sad fact is that teenagers and teenage boys especially, need lots of support to understand, talk about and express their sexual feelings. We don’t allow that, so these young men go to porn instead. Blaming problems on porn is like blaming Fast and Furious movies for a speeding ticket. Society has a responsibility to teach people about sexual health, and sadly, we’ve neglected that responsibility.
Porn isn’t addictive: excessive use of porn reflects libido, sexual shame, and an inability to understand and discuss one’s private sexual desires. When we allow young men and women to safely discuss and express their sexual needs, even those we are afraid of, this pseudoscientific concept of “porn addiction” will vanish.” [My highlight]
But cures for porn- and sex-addiction are rising in popularity, with the help of promotion from the BBC and others. Just as “gay cures” became popular in those parts of the US where homosexuality was not widely accepted, so today normal sexual feelings in young people are stigmatised as an illness; and once an illness is deemed to exist, remedies can be sold, and money can be made.
But selling cures for fake ailments isn’t just harmless profiteering. Research has found
(HuffPo link) that people with sexual hang-ups (in particular, religious people) are more likely to self-diagnose as “addicted”. In fact, perceived addiction is not related to the amount of porn viewed, but to the levels of guilt felt by the viewer. Furthermore, the research suggests that a belief one suffers from porn addiction can itself be harmful:
“Regardless of whether porn addiction is “real,” Grubbs and his co-authors note that perceived addiction has been linked to several real elements of psychological distress, such as depression, compulsive behavior and anxiety.”