Every now and then I search twitter for things like “porn addiction” and “sex addicts anonymous” to see who’s talking about what. Generally the content seems to break down as follows:
- Idiotic, insensitive jokes about sex addicts (e.g. “SAA must be the best place to get laid”) – 80%
- Religious groups and others proclaiming how evil porn is – 15%
- People opening or having genuine discussion about porn addiction – 4%
- Sufferers talking about their addiction – 1%
Why is the last one so small? I think because porn addicts on twitter rarely tweet the words “porn addiction” – we talk about all sorts of feelings, motivations and other views, but don’t waste each tweet with self-evident phrases like that.
Anyway, I came across one guy, who actually works in the porn industry, asking about people’s views on porn addiction (WARNING: his twitter account is NSFW – if you are struggling with sex addiction DO NOT VISIT!). He gave me his email address, and I sent him the following (minus introduction and a bit about my own addiction):
Email to Naked Truth Podcast (a.k.a. @nakedtruthguy), 08/01/2015:
What is porn addiction?
I define an addiction as compulsive continuation of an activity in spite of the negative consequences that result from that activity. I.e. even though someone knows that they shouldn’t do something, and actively don’t want to do it for that reason, and they know that doing it will have negative impacts on their life, they still do it. It is a compulsion that overrides their sensibilities.
By that definition, there can be no doubt that porn is addictive. The numbers of people on twitter, on Facebook, attending 12-step groups, visiting therapists, going on tv, all show that there is something serious here that needs to be acknowledged, and that these people are desperate for support that is not readily available.
From what I’ve learned, I believe the following is true:
- Porn is just one type of sexual activity that falls under the Sex Addiction banner. When talking about porn addiction, you’re really talking about one aspect of sex addiction. Often porn addicts are just sex addicts at an early stage of acting out. Like most addictions, the addict often needs a ‘bigger hit’ of the drug, so it is common for porn addicts to progress onto more serious and impactful activities like fetishes, prostitutes and cheating on partners.
- Porn does something to the brain. There is a growing amount of research on this that I’m not close enough to refer to in detail, but essentially it refers to the dopamine hit that users get when watching porn (proven to be almost identical to the hit a drug user gets), and how the addict develops an immunity, requiring a bigger hit and therefore an increased level of ‘acting out’ with the addiction.
- Sex addiction is a means of dealing with pain. It has very little to do with sex. That pain can be physical, emotional or otherwise, but acting out with sex addiction is a way to escape from pains and stresses of reality in an intense form of ‘self-love’. Of course, once the acting out is over, the temporary soothing effect is replaced by depression as the addict realises they’ve let themselves, and others, down once again. Often they will act out again just to escape from that refreshed pain, and so the cycle continues.
- Porn is not a physical addiction, more a psychological one. The Your Brain On Porn site, and other research, talks about the hunter-gatherer caveman side of it. A porn addict will watch porn for hours and hours, constantly hunting for a better scene or the perfect scene to climax to. This is the mental equivalent of your brain seeking out the right partner, but the chemicals in your brain can’t tell the difference between real-life dopamine hits and those from porn, so it seeks out porn as it is easy. I’m probably not explaining this one very well – have a watch of this.
Not everyone is going to get addicted to porn
Because porn is used to deal with pain and get various mental highs, different people are affected differently. Just like many people can drink socially and not get addicted, so too can people watch porn and not get addicted. They probably have healthy ways of dealing with their pains, or perhaps unhealthy ways! Perhaps they don’t have a predisposition to addictive materials. Either way, because some/many/most people don’t get addicted to porn is not in itself proof that others can’t get addicted to it.
Beating sex addiction
Once you understand that you are addicted, you need to look into yourself and understand your own personal circumstances. On the basis porn/sex acting out is being used to numb and escape from pain, the addict needs to identify that pain and where it stems from, as well as what day-to-day triggers exist that may encourage acting out (arguments, feeling depressed/stressed etc), and start to rebalance their life. I.e. instead of using porn to escape stress, find other more healthy ways of dealing with that stress, and identify it earlier so you can avoid acting out. This is very hard to do alone, and is why 12-step groups and therapy is so useful. Others can help the addict identify things they may not have been able to do themselves. Some pains are buried deep.
I admit I don’t quite understand the position that people like David Ley take. My cynical view is that they have simply found a controversial opinion that the masses enjoy hearing, and have built a career out of voicing it. My main concern is that regardless of whether porn is or is not addictive, these people are actively diverting attention away from the people who genuinely need help. They are quick to dismiss, and very slow to assist. There is no doubt in my mind that porn can be used as a method of dealing with pain and that people can become addicted to it. It is not physically addictive, like alcohol or drugs, but it is addictive nonetheless.
Our society and sex addiction
I feel our society is way behind in terms of comprehension, compassion and assistance regarding sex addiction. It is a taboo subject. Alcoholics and drug addicts can relatively easily admit to their addiction and expect support and general encouragement. There are plenty of public resources to help them beat their addiction. However, porn is generally a taboo subject regardless of addiction – so for those suffering from it, admitting this in public is drastically more difficult. People you tell will not even understand what you’re addicted to, or even know that porn can be addictive. The fact that I had to create anonymous accounts just to express my thoughts on the addiction speaks volumes – I genuinely worried about keeping my job and general social dignity by admitting this addiction (although I am preparing to start telling people in my life this year as I want to remove the shame and secrecy).
Just look at the 2014 stats from PornHub. 78.9 billion porn videos viewed in the year!! 18.35 billion total visits. That’s 35,000 site hits a minute. Let that sink in, then think about how many people actively talk about porn in daily life. There is a HUGE discrepancy. People don’t talk about porn, but clearly far more people than are letting on are visiting and watching porn regularly. So how can we possibly have a good understanding of the levels of porn addiction if we can’t even talk about it? You can be addicted to porn in secret. You can’t stay up all night getting drunk or taking drugs without eventually some exterior signs showing.
How can people like David Ley possibly assume to have a good understanding of porn addiction, and go so far as to make judgements and assertions, when there are literally billions of people looking at porn who aren’t admitting it!?
The industry is not taking responsibility
I feel like the porn industry is on course for the same wake-up call that the tobacco industry had. Remember that internet porn is only 20 years old. We’re still in generation 1 of porn addicts – i.e. those like me who started getting hooked right when internet porn first started existing. Who knows what level of openness and impact our society will experience regarding porn over the coming generations? Either way, I think, or at least I really hope, that the porn industry is legally forced to take more responsibility for its output. I am by no means a porn-anti – I don’t think it should be banned, but I think the potential risks must be made clear. Just like the cancer ads on cigarette packets, I see a future where porn websites require you to state that porn is addictive if not used carefully.
Unfortunately, just like the tobacco companies, the porn industry itself is going to not only deny any addictiveness, but they are going to actively fight against any progress made on this front. This site says the porn industry is generating $2.8b a year. This seems low to me, but regardless, if that number is threatened, the people earning the big bucks are going to do whatever it takes (think lobbying, lies etc) to protect their revenue, regardless of the impact on people’s health. It is really sad, but there’s no way we can look to the industry to ‘do the right thing’ – they’ll need to be forced by law.
Our schools are not educating
Sex education currently does not include talking about the risks of excessive porn use. It needs to. Our society needs to wake up and take responsibility for the biggest elephant in the room that we’ve ever seen. Education is our strongest defence against future addicts being created. If I knew that porn was addictive when I started looking at it nightly as a teenager, would I have been more careful? I actively avoided smoking because I knew it was harmful, things may have been different if I knew the risks. Regardless, if the risks exist, our schools and parents have a responsibility to educate against them. What’s the harm? It can’t hurt to say “porn can be harmful if used in excess and can become addictive” – we aren’t we telling our kids this?