Two new studies seem to confirm what cynics have long suspected — while most healthy adults have a sex drive, which in turn inspires some to look at pornography, there's no such thing as “sex addiction” or “porn addiction” (though there are people who sincerely believe themselves to have such addictions; we'll get to that later).
The first study, headed by clinical psychologist Dr. David Ley and published in the journal Current Sexual Health Reports, analyzes and finds wanting various claims of “pornography addiction” and its alleged side effects:
“The research actually found very little evidence – if any at all – to support some of the purported negative side effects of porn 'addiction.' There was no sign that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction, or that it causes any changes to the brains of users. Also, despite great furor over the effects of childhood exposure to pornography, the use of sexually explicit material explains very little of the variance in adolescents' behaviors. These are better explained and predicted by other individual and family variables. ….
“Clinicians should be aware that people reporting “addiction” are likely to be male, have a non-heterosexual orientation, have a high libido, tend towards sensation seeking and have religious values that conflict with their sexual behavior and desires. They may be using visually stimulating images to cope with negative emotional states or decreased life satisfaction."
The eye of the beholder
In other words, most people who self-identify as sex or pornography “addicts” are those raised to believe their sexuality is inherently unhealthy – for example, a gay man raised to believe being gay is sinful will describe his regular libido as pathological.
This idea is underscored by the second study, titled “Transgression as Addiction: Religiosity and Moral Disapproval as Predictors of Perceived Addiction to Pornography” and published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Bowling Green State University noted that “strong religious beliefs may drive self-perception of being addicted to online pornography.”
Again, it's almost a tautology: if you are raised to think that looking at pornography is inherently sick behavior, you're likely to think your own pornography viewing is sick behavior.
Joshua Grubbs, the study's lead author, noted that, of the 1,200 Amazon.com listings of books claiming to offer help for pornography addiction, half of them were listed in the religion or spirituality sections.
When Case Western mentioned the study on its blog, it noted that one purpose of the study is to help therapists whose clients self-identify as pornography addicts: “The information may help therapists understand that the perception of addiction is more about religious beliefs than actual viewing.”