Can You Be Addicted to Sex or Porn?

March 1, 2014

in Sexuality

I’ve never liked the idea of “porn addiction”. Aside from not seeming to fit the true definition of addiction, I fear some use the label to excuse or downplay their sin.

I should probably acknowledge up front that my personal experience colours my opinion here. I started to look at porn at age seven. This was the late 60’s so it was magazines and paperback books. By the age of twelve, I was using porn nightly. At fifteen, I realised porn was not pleasing to God and I stopped. Cold turkey. Really stopped, did not slip at all. I’ve always figured if I could to it, and at such a young age, others should be able to do it. 

Addiction? © Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

A recent study, The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model reports there’s no good science to back up claims porn can be addictive. Most of the articles on porn addiction don’t cite data. When data is cited, it’s often not scientifically rigours. Many articles contain only anecdotal evidence while others build on untested theories. Some contain full-on junk science. This doesn’t disprove porn addiction, but it does bring into question those who claim it exists. Anything built on a bad foundation is tainted at best.

Another study looked at brain scans of people viewing various pleasant and unsettling images, some sexual, some not. Those who said they were “addicted” or “hyper-sexual” react to the sexual images just like other people did. Additionally, the self-identified addict’s brains did not respond to sexual images the way drug addicts respond to drugs. In short, brain scans showed the individuals were not addicted to porn. The study did find a correlation between sexual desire and brain response to sexual images. In other words, the higher a person’s sex drive, the more strongly they reacted to sexual images.

Based on these and other studies, it seems people with a higher sex drive are more likely to find it difficult to stop looking at porn. This means it’s not about addiction, it’s about those with a stronger desire being more likely to give in to temptation. The implication is we can fight the temptation. This also supports the suggestions a good sex life helps men (and women) avoid sexual sin.

I have friends who tell me they’re sex addicts. I’ve heard their stories, and I have heard their desperation to change. It’s not my intent to downplay the pain of those who struggle with porn or other sexual urges. Thing is, Jesus said we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. If sex and porn addiction are not real, they are not the truth. Perhaps many struggle so much because they have accepted a lie. A compulsion and an addiction are two different things, with different treatments. Labelling a compulsion as an addiction results in the wrong approach, which reduces the chances of success.

We all have areas of greater and lesser temptation, but 1 Cor 10:13 promises that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”. I believe we have the ability to say “no more” and stop. With God’s help, I believe we can stop, walk away, and never return. I believe we can fight the temptations to go back, and those temptations will diminish.

It helps to put something else in place of what we give up. When I gave up porn I had a growing hunger to know God, and that was a big help. Additionally, I didn’t stop masturbating, so I wasn’t struggling with my sex drive, just choosing not to plug it into porn.

I think you can stop using porn apart from help from your wife, but it’s easier is she’s willing to be involved. Of course, saying, “I’m giving up porn, and I’ll need more sex” is a bad plan. Odds are the two of you haven’t communicated honestly about sex and that needs to change. You need to be totally open and honest with her about your sexuality, no matter how she reacts. My XY Code post Why Sex is Such a Big Deal to Him might be of some help.

Please don’t think I’m saying porn is okay. I know porn can destroy marriages, careers, and lives. I know porn use can leave a man unable or unwilling to have sex with his wife. I know a man’s porn use can make sex miserable for his wife. However, none of that makes is an addiction. We need to build on a foundation of solid truth. Dump the confirmation bias and look for the truth. Theories are fine, but make it clear when something is a theory. Never present theories as facts.

I realise some will not agree with what I’ve said here. Feel free to disagree in the comments.

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18 comments
countongod
countongod

Written by rabbi Tenenbaum, professional therapist, in yhe dailu emails sent out by guardyoureyes:

Question: Journalists and psychologists are quick to describe someone as being a porn "addict". Is there strong scientific research that shows such addictions actually exists? 

Response: People with the so called "porn addiction" suffer from a maladaptive relationship to sex in an obsessive & compulsive manner. "Porn addicts" have a number of criteria similar to those used to diagnose drug addiction, making them very similar in their appearance. Here we have the DSM-IV criteria for Substance  Dependence (soon we will compare it with sexual addiction). You need 3 or more of these criteria below within a 12 month period for a diagnosable SUD (Substance Use Disorder): 

1 - Tolerance 

2 - Withdrawal 

3 - The substance is taken in larger amounts than intended or over a longer period of time than intended. 

4 - There is a persistent desire to stop yet unsuccessful attempts at cutting down 

5 - A great deal of time is spent with preoccupation about obtaining the drug, using the drug, and recovering from the usage  

6 - Social, occupational, and relational activities are given up or greatly reduced as a result of the drug use 

7 - The drug use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the drug use 

Now, just watch how closely related "porn addiction" appears to drug addiction according to the above criteria. Watch closely with an objective eye! Here are some common observations of proposed "porn addiction": 

1 - Tolerance. There is an easily observable phenomenon of tolerance in regards to sex/lust addiction. The more a person uses porn, the less he is able to achieve the desired arousal effect. This causes the user to continue seeking ever more hardcore, perverted and explicit imagery to achieve the same high. To be fair, some articles say that in empirically supported research, it is difficult to observe this, and that this is one of the weak links to showing how it is an addiction. However, if you interview dozens of "porn addicts" within any given year, like I have the opportunity to do, you'll see in most cases that there is an easily identifiable tolerance phenomenology. I am not a researcher but I "observe this" every day, and have correlated this with other therapists who are heavily involved in sexual addiction work. The research of Patrick Carnes also observed this for over 25 years and clearly lays all of this out in his fantastic book "Out of the Shadows" in chapter two. I am willing to concede with some researchers that they have found this hard to measure scientifically, but at the same time, I see it in my face every day, and have found other researchers like Carnes to rely on. I choose here to go with the old dictum, "if it walks like a chicken and talks like a chicken, it's probably a chicken". The word probably is emphasized to show that it's not necessarily absolute but at least probable.  2 - Withdrawal. This too is a bit of a weak link because although there is some observable withdrawal, it is not as strong as the withdrawal found by drugs. Also, even the withdrawal that is observed is hard to measure, and is not similar from one person to the next, unlike e.g. the withdrawal from opiates that for most people, involves similar observable symptoms. 3 - "Porn addicts" always use porn longer than intended or in larger amounts than intended. In this regard, the research is not at all weak but exactly like drug addiction. 4 - "Porn addicts" are people who experience adverse consequences from their acting out and desperately want to stop, yet cannot successfully stay stopped. People become very hopeless after years of attempted abstinence. This is exactly like drug addiction is this regard. 5 - Preoccupation is a hallmark of "porn addiction" and is one of the biggest hallmarks of sexual addiction in general. In this regard too, it is exactly like drug addiction. 6 - Social, occupational, religious, and relational duties are gravely neglected by "porn addiction", exactly like drug addiction. 7 - The "porn addict" continues the sexual acting out despite the most terrible, gloomy, sad, scary, real, and adverse consequences in both the physical and psychological realm. In this regard, it is exactly like drug addiction. To sum it all up, "porn addiction" seems to meet 5 of the 7 criteria mentioned for drug addiction. And since you only need 3 out of 7 criteria to make a diagnosis of substance dependence, it seems plausible to make a diagnosis of sexual addiction. If you read a lot of articles on this subject, you will find that the only two weaknesses that repeatedly come up in the research is the withdrawal and tolerance criteria, which are only 2 out of 7. The American Society of Addiction Medicine classifies certain problematic sexual behaviors as an addiction. These are a legitimate bunch of scientists, in great number, who have done rigorous scientific research and determined that sexual addiction does exist.Written by Rabbi Tenenbaum, taken from the daily emails sent out by the website guardyoureyes:

Bigman4jc
Bigman4jc

Hmmm...Good thoughts. As one who battled the sin of porn for years, I had never considered myself an addict until I was discipling an alcoholic who after I shared my battle, pointed out that I got him because I too had been controlled by something that was not right. I have read the articles linked here and while I understand their hesitation to use the label porn addict, I do feel that there is a serious dopamine addiction that I felt/feel. I don't know quite what I think yet, but one thing I do know is labels or no labels, freedom from porn is only truly found in a walk with God. 

FreedomTruthMarriage
FreedomTruthMarriage

Good article. Sometimes I've wondered the same thing, even as I was addicted to porn. Well, not porn, but sex in general. In reality, I wasn't addicted to sex at all. I was addicted to the medicating effect of the dopamine rush I got when I engaged in porn binges or illicit sex. 


I definitely agree that "...a good sex life helps men (and women) avoid sexual sin." I may have mentioned before that the porn I sought after was, most often, in areas that my wife was withholding in. What she refused to do or let me do, I looked for elsewhere. She didn't cause my addiction. Nor did that give me an excuse, by any means. It didn't help me recover either.

onewomanman
onewomanman

I agree that we cannot resort to labeling it an addiction in order to avoid the moral implications of rejecting God and His commandments.    However if you reject calling it addictive in order to justify unhealthy, if not unbiblical, obsession or excessive sexual behavior then this doesn't solve the problem (if you're willing to admit to a problem). I can see it now.  "honey, I don't have a porn or sex addiction. I just have a really high sex drive and (rather than me bringing all things into submission to the will of God) what you really need to do is fulfill my every sexual desire and fantasy and have sex with me whenever, wherever, whatever ways I desire. Otherwise you are causing me to sin and therefore are yourself sinning against God. You see I'm not addicted to sex, I just have a God given healthy desire. "

WinkWB
WinkWB

I'm reminded of all the "smoking doesn't cause cancer" articles from the 1980's.


I agree that truth is truth. So be careful which articles you accept as truth. The authors of the study you referred to seem to have a pro-porn agenda.


There are other studies that suggest that porn addiction is real. I'd say the jury is still out.


Don't make the mistake of thinking that because something is not addictive for you, it can't be addictive for others.


Take alcohol. I know there are Christians who don't approve of its use at all, but I'm not one of them.


My wife and I enjoy alcohol and are able to moderate our use of it. Is it an addictive substance? No. But are there people who are alcoholics and are unable to moderate their use of alcohol? Yes.

MrShorty
MrShorty

Here's another review of Ley's paper that is interesting.  http://sexuality.about.com/b/2014/02/14/challenging-the-sex-addiction-narrative.htm

One thing that I would point out that may be of particular interest to your target audience (believing Christians): I may be confusing some things, but I thought I recall one reviewer explained that it seems that most "porn addiction" treatment centers are operated by religious groups or religious individuals. Grub's article (also reviewed in my link) specifically looks at the relationship between religiosity and self-reported "addiction" and found that religiosity was a better predictor of "addiction" than how much porn was consumed, among other things.


I wonder if it might be important for us as Christians to really look at this idea of porn addiction and try to understand why we feel so "vested" in the argument. Along the way, maybe we will get a better understanding, not only of addiction and the allure of porn, but perhaps even a better understanding of our sexuality.

MrShorty
MrShorty

@countongod Rabbi Tenenbaum's writings are certainly the first I have seen that seem to show, with little room for doubt, that people get addicted to porn. Sometimes I find the evidence quite compelling. The thing I find most interesting about these writings is that they have not convinced psychologists like David Ley. I have to believe that Mr. Ley is well aware of these studies and claims, and yet he is not convinced. Not only is he not convinced, but he is convinced enough that porn is not addictive to write and publish an article in a professional journal arguing against it.


Perhaps more interesting involves the DSM-V committee. When the APA decided to update and revise the DSM, I expect they chose some of their best to be on that committee. I have to believe that the committee was well aware of these kind of studies and claims that porn is addictive. When they weighed the evidence for both sides, they decided that there was not enough evidence to include porn/sex addiction, even though they had previously included "hypersexuality" in previous editions of the DSM.


At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if you convince me or not. I have no influence or clout with the psychological community to make any statement one way or the other. Now, if you convince Paul (who has been blogging about men's issues and sexual issues and marriage from a Christian perspective for many years), that might mean something, but convincing me will mean nothing one way or the other. The thing that I think is really interesting is that these kind of articles and arguments, no matter how compelling they seem to me, do not convince many of those who are supposed to be experts in the field of addiction and psychological disorders.

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@countongod  The problem is there are men who use porn often for years who do NOT show any of those. Some can use a steady amount. This is not the case for most drugs.

I think it is more of a moral and spiritual issue than anything else, and science has neither the interest nor ability to measure those. My fear is that by trying to label it with worldly terms we distract from the real moral and spiritual issues.

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@Bigman4jc  I think some have made far too much of the dopamine affect. Yes, it happens with porn, and with so many other things we enjoy. Music and watching a sunset cause a dopamine release. 

The key is not being controlled by anything - even something that is not wrong. 

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@FreedomTruthMarriage  I think heavy porn us is almost always about self-medicating. Sometimes it is self-medicating the pain of being sexually refused, which makes it look like it is about sex.

Looking for what you have been refused is common. When oral sex became a big deal in the 70's it was claimed men who had never thought about going to a prostitute either did or seriously considered it because their wife refused them oral sex. Maybe it seems justified to do what is wrong because we have been wronged? I think the enemy knows us well, and knows how to exploit things like this.

I also know that some men do this as a form of hidden retaliation - "If you won't do it, I will masturbate to images of others doing it."

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@onewomanman  Regardless of what we call sin, it is still sin and should be dealt with.

Yes we can do things that put others in a place of temptation, and Jesus indicates we will be judged for that. However, that does not change the responsibility of the to other to avoid sin, nor does it reduce the consequence if they choose to sin.

All to often "both sides" do more justifying than repenting and changing. 

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

I would agree the authors are not anti-porn, and some do think it has benefits. This is an area where everyone has a belief, and most have an agenda.

If you read the full studies, as opposed to the slanted versions found in popular media, you see that all of these researchers indicated they had not disproved porn addiction. They point out the flaws and lack of hard facts from those who claim it is addictive, and acknowledge the jury is still out. Porn addiction remains a claim without supporting evidence.

I have not seen any solid study showing porn is addictive. It seems that porn addiction is a bandwagon popular with those who find porn a moral issue. I agree it is morally wrong, but I refuse to jump on a bandwagon without some real proof.

My rant here is because I am tired of Christians going out of their way to make themselves irrelevant to the general culture in which they live. Aside from meaning they cannot convince anyone outside the church about porn (or whatever), this hurts our ability to share the gospel. If we want the world to take us seriously about porn (or whatever) we need to avoid making claims we cannot back up. At best we look like we do not care about facts, at worst, we are proven wrong and we give the Gospel a black eye.

The alcohol analogy is interesting. Maybe the term "pornaholic" would be useful. I do think some are more easily tempted, and more given to excess. It would be an interesting thing to study.

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@MrShorty  How odd - I ran across the "Transgression as Addiction" report just before I cam in to check comments. It is a small study with a lot of potential problems, but I would agree with the findings. I think calling it an addiction makes us feel better about ourselves. It's not a moral failure, it is an addiction.

countongod
countongod

For me it doesnt matter what experts say. I was caught in this for 15 years, and the one thing that set me free was realizing it is an addiction and treating it that way. Whether it really is an addiction or not is irrelevant for me.

I have struggled with the thought on whether I was saved during the time I was enslaved to this. I used to fall, hate myself, pray for forgiveness, sincerely mean it, fall again, and go through the loop again. When I realized its an addiction it all made sense. We dont expect a newly saved alcoholic to be set free automatically and quit cold turkey. We expect him to go through rehab and do everything in his power to get rid of the sin (no alcoholic will inherit the kongdom). And as long as he is saved, hates his addiction and tries to get rid of it, we still see him as a saved person, even before he has been able to quit permanently. I realized that by not treating my addiction as an addiction I was caught up in it and couldnt quit, no matter how hard I tried. It was a physical condition, a addiction that had formed over the years as a result of sinful behavior I indulged in as a teenager not knowing better.

Only when I started to read the handbooks on guardyoureyes.com and started to be accountable on a number of forums, came clean to my wife, and installed accountability software on all my computers, and treat it as the addiction it is, I am finally seeing the light in the end of the tunnel.

Blessed&Annointed
Blessed&Annointed

@countongod  @TheGenerousHusband  i am very new here and infact was liberated from an 11year addiction to porn when  i read an ebook recommended by  you. MEN Only by Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn. In chapter 7 the closing remarks , he made mention that porn is actually CHEATING because the good book makes us understand that "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." This is indeed something i haven't given a thought to, though i am a staunch christian who shares testimonies about my old lifestyle and actually champion Sexual purity in my testimonies but haven't been able to overcome it myself till i read Feldhahn's book. It delights me to here people say they have been able to overcome it and gives me hope that i too can overcome it too.. Bless you guys for a good job.

FreedomTruthMarriage
FreedomTruthMarriage

@countongod I agree as I've been in the same boat. I strongly believe different approaches to porn/lust/sex/sin addiction are different to each individual. Yes, we're all spiritual. As TGH says below, the bottom line is the spiritual aspects. But the day to day walking out of getting out of this sin trap may be different depending on how God uniquely wired us. 12 Step programs don't work for me. For some they've been a source of freedom. For me it's been a combination of neurochemical (thanks in part to alcohol) and spiritual. Some have to see it as an addiction. Others can just walk away from porn like I walked away from cigarettes. The important thing is finding out what we need to do get free and run that direction.

TheGenerousHusband
TheGenerousHusband moderator

@countongod  I suppose the bottom line for me is dealing with the moral/spiritual aspects of porn and other sexual sins. This is not something much of the mental health community cares about, and we are not going to win any argument in that arena. I worry that adopting their words and ideas may get in the way of treating these things as God would.

I am all for learning what we can from science, including less hard science, but we must take care not to get distracted from the spiritual realities. I don' think anyone in this discussion is doing that, but others might fall into it.

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