• Ken Ribotsky

Mistaken beliefs about porn addiction

Updated: Jul 5

There are over 4.2 million pornographic websites, and on any given day, 68 million people are searching for them. Some of those viewers may also be self-diagnosing themselves as “online porn addicts. ” In a questionnaire that was completed by 40,000 people who were searching for help online, the majority (75%) said they were addicted to pornography (1).


But are they really?

I have watched men hang their heads down in shame after confessing to me that they are addicted to porn. Very often, they are not truly “addicted.” I have helped many of these men come to understand that they may just really like sex. And, perhaps as children, they received strong messages that sex and self-pleasuring are wrong or even sinful (2). These mistaken beliefs may also affect the partners of men who watch porn, which can also contribute to relationship problems.

For example, when a man like “Jack” occasionally retreats from the family room to his home office to watch porn on his computer, he tells himself unconsciously that he’s doing something that is dirty or shameful (2). In reality, Jack and “Alice” have 4 young children and little time for sex. Men like Jack often need help understanding that their strong sexual desires are perfectly healthy. Watching online porn is something Jack enjoys doing, not something he feels a compulsion to do. With support and guidance, Jack can even learn how to discuss his desire to view porn in a way that helps Alice accept his interest—without feeling abandoned or betrayed (because those are the messages that she heard as a child.)

I agree with psychologist David J. Ley that porn addiction is nothing more than a damaging label that has gained great traction in our country. He has written that empirical studies have shown that self-identified “porn addicts” tend to be men with a high libido (2). In reality, there is no clear medical definition of porn addiction or even any criteria for diagnosing it. Therapists often rely on criteria that they use for other types of addiction (1). Generally, addiction may be defined as “compulsive, uncontrollable dependence on substance, habit, or practice to such a degree that cessation causes severe emotional, mental, or physiologic reactions.” (1,3)

Can frequent pornography sometimes cause relational or sexual problems– yes. This may not be due to an addiction but rather a skewed set of expectations. Many men today had started using pornography at very young ages, prior to having real sex with a real person. Years of fantasy scenarios can create relational issues or an inability to enjoy real sex. This is something that men (or women) should seek treatment for and is a subject of a future article.

Before you (or anyone else) labels you as a porn addict, consult with a mental health professional who is nonjudgmental is not easily influenced by societal or cultural myths. For a man like Jack, who occasionally likes watching porn online, it does not always signal addiction to me.

References:

1. Darshan MS, Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Manickam S, Tandon A, Ram D. A case report of pornography addiction with dhat syndrome. Indian J Psychiatry. 2014;56(4):384-387.

2. Fey DJ. Porn is not the problem—You are. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-who-stray/201305/porn-is-not-the-problem-you-are.

3. Anderson KN, Glanze WD, Anderson LE. 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby; 1998. Mosby's Medical Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary.

Kenneth Ribotsky, M.A., L.M.F.T., C.A.M.S.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #118486

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