advertisement
Home » Blogs » Sex and Intimacy » The Porn Panic: Is Porn a ‘Public Health Crisis’?

The Porn Panic: Is Porn a ‘Public Health Crisis’?

Several weeks ago, I was invited overseas to speak about Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorders (CSBD) at an Australian public health conference. This conference was the leading edge of a larger current movement in Australia intended to prevent underage children from accessing online pornography. That is a cause I can back wholeheartedly.

Like many therapists who deal with sexual issues, I have seen the potential longer-term results of early-life porn use in the clients who seek help in my sexual disorder treatment programs. While research on this topic is generally lacking (write me if you need a research project), therapists like myself are unquestionably seeing an increase in the number of people who started using porn at a young age, sometimes before puberty, and now, as adults, find themselves preferring ‘pixel sex’ to real-world sex or struggling to form meaningfully intimate real-world romantic and sexual relationships.

This conference was both a good and bad experience. First, the positive. It was a good experience because I was able to speak about the ways in which sexual behavior, including the use of pornography, can, for some people, spiral out of control and result in negative life consequences. More importantly, I was able to discuss how clinicians can accurately and effectively diagnose and treat the men and women (and sometimes kids) who struggle with compulsive and addictive sexual behavior. At the same time, I was able to witness, firsthand, how Australia views the ‘porn issue’ and how they hope to better protect their children.

Now the negative. Almost every other ‘expert’ at this otherwise well-organized conference was screaming that the sky is falling and porn is the cause. Honestly, it was a full-on Henny Penny porn panic. And this is hardly the first time I’ve been ambushed in a supposedly clinical setting by extremist viewpoints. If it’s not the Gail Dines crowd screaming that porn is inherently anti-women and evil, it’s the David Ley crowd arguing that porn is great and wonderful and never a problem for anyone. One group thinks porn is a public health crisis; the other group thinks porn is every bit as awesome as sliced bread.

Either way, these extremist arguments are not fully grounded in scholarly research, not fully grounded in clinical observation, not fully grounded in much of anything beyond, with anti-porn activists, a strange mix of staunch feminist beliefs and deeply conservative morality (is there any issue other than porn than puts ardent feminists and religious conservatives on the same side of the fence), and, with pro-porn activists, a belief that all sexual behavior is good sexual behavior. Are there people in the porn industry who are abused, taken advantage of, and suffering? Of course there are. But there are also people who take a role in the porn industry and use the money they make to feed themselves and their families, and who are we to judge that decision?

As a social worker and PhD sexologist, I have spent most of the last 20 years writing about, teaching about, and treating Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder (aka, sex addiction). In recent years, that disorder has involved the use of pornography more often than not. In fact, in today’s increasingly digital world you’d be hard-pressed to find even one sex addict for whom porn is not at least part of the addiction. So I’m more than passingly familiar with the downside of compulsive and addictive porn use. In fact, I’m currently writing a book about compulsive porn use, which can be pre-ordered on Amazon at this link.

At the same time, I’m acutely aware of the culture war surrounding porn – a war in which I intentionally do not take sides. I stay neutral about porn because, as a therapist, my job is to look at the individual who walks into my office, including the crisis or crises that he or she is struggling with, and to help that person as best I can without imposing any personal opinions or beliefs that I may or may not have about the client’s issues and behaviors. If pornography is, in some way, part of the presenting issue, I must accept that and address that without embroiling myself in the Gail Dines vs. David Ley culture war.

So, do I think porn can be a problem for some people, some of the time? Yes, of course I do. And there is plenty of research and a clinical diagnosis for Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder to back this up. Do I think that porn itself is inherently and automatically a problem for everyone? No, I don’t. For many users, porn is a healthy recreational escape. And despite all the Henny Penny anti-porn and pro-porn screeching taking place not just in Australia but in the US, Canada, and the UK, there is little credible research and little clinical evidence to support either of these extremist views. (There is plenty of pseudo-evidence cited by both sides of the debate, but the relatively small amount of actual scientific research we have is generally ignored.)

Nevertheless, anti-porn activists argue that porn is our number one public health crisis. To date, a dozen states have fallen prey to this tactic, with several others considering legislative passage of similar declarations. But none of that does anything to help our children. Instead of calling this a public health crisis, why don’t we do something more useful like providing decent sexual education in all 50 states? Why don’t we limit porn use to people over 18 by using facial recognition software as they’re doing in Australia? Those are sexual health messages that work.

Meanwhile, porn proponents argue, “If it feels good, go for it.” And if it doesn’t feel good, find a therapist who will help you find a way to make it feel good. For example, on the sexualized webcam site Stripchat, users can view or chat with porn performers if they want to be sexual, or, if they’re feeling bad (anxious, ashamed, or otherwise distressed) about the fact that they’re online using porn and sexualized webcams, they can chat with David Ley, getting a few minutes of webcam therapy designed to help them feel OK about their behavior. And no, I am not making that up.

Valerie Webber and Rebecca Sullivan debunk the anti-porn extremists in their recently published journal article, Constructing a Crisis: Porn Panics and Public Health, writing, “Not one global health agency – the usual experts to identify and define the field of public health – supports [the idea of identifying porn as a public health crisis].” At the same time, the World Health Organization has debunked the ‘porn harms no-one’ argument by adding Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder as an official diagnosis in the ICD-11.

As stated earlier, the extremes of the porn debate are mostly based on personal beliefs and opinions, not research-backed facts. In their article, Webber and Sullivan examine this phenomenon, stating that extremist viewpoints on porn are generally espoused by “activists with a retrograde understanding of both health and media scholarship.” This is without question what I encountered in Australia, and it’s what I encounter relatively often in the US as well – activists with a retrograde understanding (if any understanding at all) of scientific and clinical research on the social and psychological impact of porn and other sexual media.

We’ve seen this before with various aspects of sexuality – false mental health diagnoses, criminalization and incarceration, human rights violations, dangerous/untested/incompetent forced medical interventions, and more. Once upon a time, we put ‘fallen women’ in asylums. From 1932 to 1972, the US Public Health Service tested the effects of untreated syphilis on impoverished African American men. Until the 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association viewed homosexuality as a disease, and homosexual activity was criminalized in numerous states until very, very recently. Now we’ve got anti-porn and pro-porn advocates screaming for legislation to either eliminate or free pornography.

Are these individuals entitled to their opinions? Of course they are. I would never argue otherwise. But public health policy should be based on research, facts, and public safety. No more, no less. Moral outrage and personal beliefs should not factor into the equation. And these things definitely should not factor into the equation in the therapy space.

Is there an easy solution to the dilemma in which I sometimes find myself, where I am trying to work with research, facts, and clinical experience while anti-porn and pro-porn advocates argue morality, abuse, free will, and free speech without ever looking at the reality of how people do and don’t use porn, and the effects and non-effects of participating in and/or using porn? Probably not. People with an ax to grind are going to grind it regardless of facts. But the public health sector is not the proper venue for this. Public health should be based on scientific and clinical research, established facts, and ethical consideration for the population(s) that may be impacted by any decisions made. As should therapy. Those who argue otherwise are doing a disservice to the people they say they’re trying to help.

The Porn Panic: Is Porn a ‘Public Health Crisis’?


Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW

Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW is Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity Treatment Centers. He is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex/porn/relationship addictions along with co-occurring drug/sex addiction. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, Dr. Rob frequently serves as a subject matter expert for major media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others.Dr. Rob is the author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Out of the Doghouse, Sex Addiction 101, and Cruise Control, among other books. He blogs regularly for Psychology Today and Psych Central. His podcast, Sex, Love, & Addiction, is rated as a Top 10 Addiction Podcast for 2019. He also hosts a weekly live no-cost Webinar with Q&A on SexandRelationshipHealing.com. A skilled clinical educator, Dr. Rob routinely provides training to therapists, hospitals, psychiatric organizations, and even the US military. Over the years, he has created and overseen nearly a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities across the globe. For more information or to reach Dr. Rob, visit SeekingIntegrity.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).


8 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment

 

 

APA Reference
Weiss PhD, R. (2019). The Porn Panic: Is Porn a ‘Public Health Crisis’?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2019/11/the-porn-panic-is-porn-a-public-health-crisis/

 

Last updated: 13 Nov 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.