Tag Archives: porn addiction

Podcast 9: Dr David J Ley on Sex Addiction

This week, I spoke with Dr David J Ley, a clinical psychologist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is also an occasional contributor to Sex & Censorship and to Psychology Today. In 2012, David’s book The Myth of Sex Addiction confronted the rising moral panic over “sex addiction” and “porn addiction”, as well as the “addiction cure” industry which sells expensive remedies. His new book, Ethical Porn for Dicks, is a guide for men on how to use pornography responsibly, and will be published later this year.

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Frankie Mullin on sex work and gentrification – 30th January

Frankie Mullin is one of the most informed and prolific journalists writing about sexuality in the UK today. In her work for Vice, the Independent, and the Guardian, she has challenged media myths around porn addiction and casual sex, and given a voice to sex workers and victims of sexual violence. She has defended the right to family life of asylum seekers and dicussed the lack of qualified psychological support for LGBT people. She was instrumental in raising awareness of the recently defunct ATVOD’s damaging crusade against independent porn producers.

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On 30th January 4pm, Mullin will speak at a panel discussion hosted by the Camden People’s Theatre on gentrification and the crowding out of safe working spaces for sex workers for which she has written a number of cutting-edge reports. The event is highly recommended for those who are in or able to reach London that afternoon.

Cross-posted from Backlash

Porn Addiction Therapy: the New Gay Cure?

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?”

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He continued:

“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.”
The parallels with “gay cures” are strong. Just as the very existence of gay cures may have led to psychological harm, and even suicides, are the practitioners of “porn addiction therapy” sowing the seeds for more anguish?

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)

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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/

Religious people more likely to claim porn addiction

A new study has revealed Religious people are less likely than non-religious people to report using pornography, but tellingly those who do use it are more likely to claim they are addicted to it.

This may not be an especially new idea but it is the first study I have come across, specifically in recent years where there has been consistent and what seems to be increasingly anti-porn pressure coming from religion-based groups or individuals.

Porn addiction is, and has always been, notoriously poorly defined, and has no official diagnosis. Even porn itself is hard to define, with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart saying “I’ll know it when I see it” during the 1964 trial – Jacobellis v. Ohio. As reported here last year, the very existence of porn addiction is viewed with skepticism by psychologists.

“There are a lot of people out there [who] identify themselves as porn addicts,” Joshua Grubbs, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Grubbs and his colleagues performed two studies to investigate whether being religious is related to perceptions of porn addiction.

The first study involved young college students from three different U.S. universities, and the second study involved older adults. The researchers asked participants whether they watched porn and, if they did, whether they considered themselves to be addicted to it.

They also measured how religious the participants were, the extent to which they could control their use of porn, to what lengths they would go to access pornography and whether they disapprove of porn morally.

In both studies, they found that religious individuals were less likely than nonreligious individuals to report using porn. Religious people who do use porn, however, are exposed to about the same amount as nonreligious people are, the researchers said.

Religious people were more likely than nonreligious people to disapprove of porn on moral grounds, and were also more likely to perceive their use as an addiction.

“Despite the fact that religious people feel more addicted to porn, they’re not using it more,” Grubbs said. They probably just feel more addicted because they disapprove of it, he said.

In fact they may be using it far less than non-religious people but because those instances where they turn to porn are at such odds with years and years of religious and moral teachings about a specific view of what is acceptable they may well feel an overwhelming sense of shame or guilt.

Religious people could be using the term addiction as a get out of jail for free card and an excuse that helps shield them from judgment in their community.