In the world of science denial, the attempt to deny the existence of sex and porn addiction occupies a special place. Although a large and growing body of science demonstrates the reality of porn and sex addiction, the barrage of assaults continues in the form of weaponized research and ideological demonization.
Even among many who accept the reality of behavioral addictions generally, such as food, shopping, exercise and gambling, the idea of sex and porn addiction is seen as a bridge too far. What are the motivations for such powerful reactions?
Financial motives: the best science money can buy
As with the recently publicized attempt by Exxon to hide the truth about climate change by providing financial support to alternative “findings”, or the well documented campaign of misinformation on the part of the tobacco industry with regard to the risk of cancer, the sex and porn industries have a very substantial financial stake, in my opinion, in suppressing science about the potentially damaging effects of their products.
As I referred to in a previous post, I was approached by the most well known extramarital sex website with an offer to pay me to find and disseminate any research findings supporting the idea that such random hook-ups were harmless. Cybersex websites, sexual webcam sites, voyeuristic sites and of course the vast world of online pornography all have a powerful interest in muddying the scientific waters. This financial motivation includes attempting to discredit any data on human trafficking, spreading of disease, physically abusive exploitation and, oh yeah, the potentially harmful affects on their customers.
Conspiracy Fears and Paranoia
The field of sex and porn addiction treatment is viewed by some with the extreme suspicion that Americans are so good at. It is the reaction to anything that the government or the academic establishment sees as bad for us, like enormous sugary drinks, or sees as good for us, like vaccinating children. So there is a tendency to fight any attempt to regulate or treat something when it is seen as infringing on personal freedoms. This kind of paranoia rapidly gets out of hand.
One particularly screwball example of this is the idea I’ve heard that sex addiction therapists try to “cure” homosexuality and that they are “sex negative”. These characterizations feed the unrealistic fear that the concept of sex addiction is some kind of attempt to control and limit personal freedom. This overlaps with the other branch of the conspiracy theories — namely that sex and porn addiction professionals are “labeling” people with a problem they don’t have in order to get rich off treating them.
A patient of mine who felt great distress about his long-standing habit of compulsive viewing of violent rape porn was greatly relieved to be taken seriously. It seems his previous therapist had told him it was not a problem and he just shouldn’t worry about it. See also my post on the formation and rapid growth of no-cost self-help networks relating to sex addiction worldwide.
Sex addiction treatment as immoral
There are those who feel that the concept of helping sex and porn addicts is itself a betrayal of the people the addict has harmed. And there is a seemingly deep seated need to make sense out of things in moralistic terms, terms that are not scientific but are emotionally more understandable.
In this line of attack, sex addiction treatment is a cop-out, a way of letting a perpetrator get off without any accountability. The most direct parallel for this is the early resistance to seeing alcoholism as anything but a moral failing. Sex and porn addiction may not be victimless but that does not mean they should be seen in criminal terms only.
As with denial of the holocaust and the denial of evolution, rejections of scientific or historical fact often favor explanations that are more congruent with non-scientific ideology, i.e. with a more emotionally comfortable world view. This sometimes relates to the very real need to feel some control of our lives in the struggle against large corporations which leads people to latch on to things like the non-GMO issue.
For some, anything but unmitigated condemnation of the sex addict’s bad behavior is unacceptable. But the reality is that addiction treatment does not relieve the addict of personal responsibility. It is a highly demanding, action oriented and task oriented form of treatment which confronts the addict’s harmful and deceptive way of living.
Splinter groups and subject-changers
There are attacks on a number of fronts that seem designed to shift the focus rather than providing any scientifically based alternative to treating sex and porn addiction. Some see porn as a form of free speech and believe that porn stars, prostitutes and other sex workers are not being exploited but should be treated as a legitimate part of the work force.
Other subject-changers include helping professionals in the field of sexuality who have come up with dizzying number of alternative “models” for approaching out of control sexual behavior. In my opinion, none of these seems to me to offer anything not already present in the most long-established treatment protocols. It is natural for people to want to carve out their own turf and to take issue with orthodoxy of any kind. I am reminded of the factionalism found in the history of every revolutionary movement and every groundbreaking area of knowledge; psychoanalysis being a prime example.
The best of these new directions are actually based on hard science as to the etiology and neurobiology of sex and porn addiction. For example, the research on the brain changes in online porn addiction, or the studies linking disrupted attachment history to sex addiction.
The bottom line
Although these many vested interests and motives have resulted in attempts to change or debunk the idea of sex addiction and porn addiction, there is an inherently more sticky problem. The fact that sexuality is so central to our identity and our very existence means that it is deeply rooted in a way that tobacco, vaccinations and climate change are not. It is an area in which people are likely to be more profoundly and more personally threatened than any other. Sex and porn addiction are relatively new fields. They ask us to think about ourselves in radically new ways. Perhaps the only idea as radical and challenging to our sense of ourselves in recent history was, and continues to be, the idea of the unconscious mind.