Why the Language of Porn Addiction Matters

Why the Language of Porn Addiction Matters October 8, 2016

Two blog posts recently crossed my screen that help illuminate why how we talk about porn and sex addiction matters.

Public domain photo from Pixabay.
Public domain photo from Pixabay.

First, Dr. David Ley talks about why it’s impossible to get “attached” to porn. The key word here is “attached,” which has specific theoretical connotations in a mental health context. Attachment theory is meant to apply to emotional development early in life; it doesn’t mean adults will imprint on any compelling images they see and frequently watch.

Importantly (to me), Dr. Ley also clarifies why talking about porn-viewing as a compulsion rather than an addiction isn’t that much better:

research and diagnostic theory on obsessive-compulsive disorders actually specifically excludes reinforcing, rewarding behaviors such as sex, or even eating, from being compulsive in nature because they are in and of themselves, pleasurable.

In other words, compulsions are something people engage in to reduce anxiety, not to directly experience pleasure. According to Dr. Ley, if we included porn use as a type of compulsive behavior, OCD diagnoses would skyrocket. Sure, some people do probably over-use/mis-use what would be pleasurable activities for others…but I found these thoughts on why porn use isn’t necessarily best labeled a compulsion really helpful and interesting.

A blog post from Dr. Marty Klein also helps clarify what’s at stake with the “addiction” label. Dr. Klein distinguishes between the behaviors he sees in people with chemical addictions in withdrawal (anguishing pain, headaches, nausea) with the behaviors he sees from supposed porn addicts (crankiness, distraction). He suggests, further, that due to the abstinence-as-healing solution favored by the (sex) addiction model, people who are self-diagnosed porn addicts also give up masturbating to porn in an effort to heal. Which means you’ve got people who aren’t experiencing the release of orgasm as often, and are cranky from that, not necessarily from missing out on their beloved porn. And while this can be unpleasant, it’s not on par with actual withdrawal symptoms.


See also: There Is No Such Thing As Backward Porn Addiction


 

Without minimizing the pain that people confused about their relationship with porn and sex in general are experiencing, Dr. Klain claims, “The irrational fear of (and anger about) porn is far more damaging than porn itself.” And that I totally agree with. It’s another moral panic, plain and simple. But porn is not a public health crisis. And if we let the panicked and those profiting from the panic control the dialogue, we let them win.

When Dr. Klein states that porn addiction “is, at best, a metaphor. Tens of thousands of people are spending tens of millions of dollars getting their metaphor treated” it reminds me of my guest blogger, Lucie(n) Fielding’s, post on The Metaphor of Sex Addiction. Yes, it’s a compelling metaphor…compelling enough that people are buying into an industry that profits off them and probably doesn’t benefit them quite as much as it should given the price-tag and the hyped-up claims.

So, let’s keep having these discussions. Because how we use language matters, and language that veers toward incorrect application of irrelevant concepts OR unnecessary pathologization is not ultimately helpful.

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