Love & Sex

Surprising Study Finds Porn Addiction Doesn’t Actually Exist

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There goes the plot of Don Jon.

Porn addiction is a real, pathological affliction—at least, that's the cultural narrative surrounding the compulsive desire to stream the over 420 million porn sites available to anyone with an internet connection. In 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine released a new definition of addiction that included pursuits of all kinds of external rewards, including hypersexuality, gambling, and, of course, the happy hander's porn addiction. But the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (better known as the good ole DSM) has never supported porn addiction as a valid diagnosis due to lack of scientific evidence. That doesn't stop daytime talk shows, Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicles, countless psychology studies, and over 73,000 ardent anti-porn Redditors known as Fapstronauts from spreading concern about the enslaving effects of internet porn.

But Dr. David Ley, author of a new study in the Current Sexual Health Reports, says that slapping the label of porn addict on net smut enthusiasts is not only missing the point, but ignoring the benefits of watching porn. Ley contends that fewer than two in every five research articles about high frequency sexual behavior describe it as being an addiction, and furthermore, a limiting 27 percent of articles on porn addiction actually contain any empirical data. In fact, in studies, there's been no evidence of any of the commonly hyped life-crushing negative effects of porn addiction, like erectile dysfunction and brain rewiring. 

When we pathologize common sexual behaviors, even if they seem compulsive, we're also stigmatizing them. Frequently watching porn, even up to five hours a week, maybe could cause a mean case of carpal tunnel and near-sightedness, but it also increases positive attitudes towards sex, increases frequency of sex, decreases rates of sex crimes, and fosters open dialogues of sexuality between couples.

Statistically, people most likely to hop on the porn addict train are usually male, have a non-heterosexual orientation, have high libidos, and have religious values that conflict with their compulsions. Meaning: we like to diagnose things that run counter to our carefully constructed social and family values, when maybe, masturbating frequently is perfectly normal. Watching porn isn't accepted in every circle, so it became quite easy to call the behaviors of everyone — from the helpless, to the hyper horny, to the completely ordinary — an illness.

Porn addiction is also a business. The highly profitable conversation surrounding porn addiction is worrisome to Dr. Ley, who claims, "we need better methods to help people who struggle with the high frequency use of visual sexual stimuli, without pathologizing them or their use thereof…Rather than helping patients who may struggle to control viewing images of a sexual nature, the 'porn addiction' concept instead seems to feed an industry with secondary gain from the acceptance of the idea." Which is not to say there aren't individuals with complicated sexual obsessions, just that not every Don Jon, despite his preoccupation with PornHub, is clinically ill. 

Image via HitRecord Films.