Pornography and addiction--three harmful myths

Toronto, Ontario registered psychotherapist Beth Mares

by psychotherapist Beth Mares RP

The internet is awash in these myths, which cause needless distress and can destroy marriages.

Viewing pornography leads to addiction. In North America, it is estimated that 70% or more of men and at least 30% of women are currently using porn, and most have done so for many years. The vast majority have never developed a habit problem. Contrast this with the proportion of credit card users who get trapped in debt.

Once an addict, always an addict. This was accepted as "gospel truth" in the alcoholism field until a few decades ago when scientists started to seriously research it. Turns out a whole lot of people recover from alcoholism and become moderate drinkers without any further problems. (See The Diseasing of America by Stanton Peele.) Close to 100% of people who have seen me for compulsive internet porn use and other sex addictions get over it, most of them in under 20 sessions. Also, the popular term "pornography addiction" can be misleading. It is not like a nicotine, heroin or sleeping pill addiction in which the body adapts to the substance and becomes dependent on it. It is a psychological addiction/ obsession/ habit problem. Even the committee writing the latest version of the DSM, the Bible of the mental health establishment, opted not to include it, as they did not view it as a mental disorder. (The DSM folks have a pretty broad definition of mental disorders--ladies, we narrowly missed being included for PMS a few years ago thanks to a protest campaign.) In my experience, people develop a sex addiction or some other addiction or affliction because they are not getting their emotional needs met through a balanced life and close, caring relationships.

Using pornography causes people to seek increasingly "extreme" stimulation. There is no evidence for this myth. Two assumptions seem to underlie it. One, that "extreme" sex is more exciting than "ordinary" sex, I guess because the myth-makers find it more sensational and titillating; there is a current in our dominant Christianity-based culture that equates pleasure with sin, such that the more extremely sinful something is, the more intensely pleasurable it must be. The other assumption is that being exposed to images of things that do not arouse a person will cause him to become aroused by them. What turns a person on seems to be established early in life, and it is highly stable. The people who push this myth--the religious right--are the same that don't believe in sexual orientation--they call being gay a "lifestyle choice"--sinful, of course.

Online counselling for sex addictions

Four more myths about pornography

When men use "adult material" they find their wives less attractive. One reason for this misunderstanding is that masturbation and its accompaniments tend to increase when a couple's love life is not going well as a result of illness, work stress, crying babies, fighting, lack of privacy, etc.; people may think that the increase in pornography has caused the decrease in couple sex, when it's really the other way around.

Another is that many women have a fear that their husbands might lose interest in them if they have access to more "sexy" women, or even pictures of same. Not so. Millions of elderly women, none of whom look like Playboy bunnies, enjoy deeply satisfying sexual relationships with their husbands, many of whom enjoy erotica as well. And any man who has experienced loving, caring physical intimacy can tell you that "adult material" pales by comparison. There are some unfortunate men for whom a woman is primarily a status symbol; this comes from attachment problems in childhood, not from looking at attractive women.

Viewing pornography leads men to disrespect and dehumanize women. Well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and offer $100 to anyone who can demonstrate that the Taliban learnt their attitude to women from internet porn. Have you noticed that the people who are keenest to maintain sexual inequality are the most vociferous opponents of sexually explicit material? Like the religious right in North America and the rulers of Saudi Arabia, where displaying a picture of a female arm or leg is a criminal offense? Those folks like women "in their place", which doesn't include strutting their stuff in front of a camera, choosing whether and with whom to have sex, making their own choices about birth control, or otherwise owning their own bodies. Cultural products, including depictions of sexuality that would turn most people off, are reflections of the attitudes, conscious and unconscious, learned during the creator's experience of acculturation, primarily in the family, in the society we live in--for many children, not a pretty sight.

Depictions of sexual violence causes domestic abuse and criminal acts. There was never any reason to believe this, and extensive research on the subject has turned up empty. (Some studies suggest that violent porn might set off a tiny minority of disturbed people who are already likely to commit such crimes, but that it is the violence rather than the sexual content that is operative. Notice that the anti-porn crusaders want to ban depictions of sex, not of violence, which is ubiquitous in the media.) and A review of research by Malmouth.

Porn stars do it because they are "sex slaves".
These actresses are just "wage slaves" like most of us--it's a job. As with other jobs available to the less privileged in our society, the workplace health and safety conditions can sometimes be less than optimal. (You might recall the 1991 chicken factory fire in Hamlet, North Carolina that killed 25 and injured 55 mostly young black women trapped behind locked fire doors.) The main push behind the "sex slave" myth seems to be from a movement promoting crackdowns on immigrants in the US; to this end it is claimed that there is an epidemic of illegal immigrant "sex slaves" (sapping the Family Values of True Americans, no doubt). Thus has arisen the "rescue industry", dedicated to saving sex workers from themselves (subtext: getting immigrants deported). See Sex at the Margins, by Laura Maria Augustin.

To be sure, sexual slavery in America is no myth. It was endemic to that Old South which inspires so much nostalgia among--well, let's see--pretty much the same crowd that whips up hysteria about sex and immigrants.

--Beth Mares, Registered Psychotherapist, Toronto


Copyright © 2007 Beth Mares
since updated