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Who said it's an Addiction?

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?

the.guard Sunday, 09 March 2014
Part 1/2 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

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, and he continues to seek 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 in research, 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.

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