Utahns: You’re Not Addicted to Porn

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If you’ve ever driven to Utah County you’ve probably noticed quite a few billboards for treatment centers along I-15, but these loud and proud billboards aren’t for drug and alcohol treatment, they’re for pornography addiction. Smiling happy faces look back at you from the side of the road and proclaim, “Sober 365 Days!” They’re referring to sobriety with porn addiction, but I’m here to tell you that pornography addiction isn’t recognized by the APA–it’s a concoction born of puritanical capitalism– and you are almost definitely not a porn addict.

The advent of porn addiction facilities in Utah comes as no surprise given that 60% of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an organization that is decidedly anti-porn. The LDS Church is so adamantly opposed to porn they even have a website dedicated to the topic: “Overcoming Pornography Through The Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Porn, or an “evil of the adversary,” is a big no-no in Mormon culture and doctrine, but it isn’t because it will devastate your life and cause you to lose your job, it’s because the church is anti-non-procreative-sex, and the LDS Church leadership refuses to engage in nuanced discussions about sex (which you need to do in order to have articulate conversations about porn).

Exceptions to the rule and not all porn is benign

Let’s get a few things out-of-the-way. First, I have no doubt that there are some people in the world who have experienced compulsions around pornography consumption, and those compulsions are no laughing matter. However, they are the exception, not the rule. In addition to people with actual compulsions, I understand that porn causes tension in a lot of romantic partnerships. If porn is making your life difficult in some way, I’m sorry, that sucks. But I’m fairly confident that some open, honest communication with your partner (and possibly a non-judgmental therapist) can help alleviate that tension.

Second, I don’t endorse all porn production or consumption. You should consume erotica consciously. How do you know if porn isn’t worthwhile? We all agree that child porn is violent and morally reprehensible. So let’s get that on the record.  Porn that glorifies sexual assault is bad. Full stop. Also, avoid the type of porn (and other media) that reinforces racist, sexist, transphobic, and/or homophobic hierarchies. If you’re consuming any of the three previous types of porn, then what you’re watching is garbage. So there. Some people might experience negative life consequences from porn, but they’re the exception. Not all porn is good. In fact, some porn is reprehensible. Let’s continue.

If it isn’t an addiction, why is “porn addiction” everywhere?

In our capitalist economy no stone is left unturned for profit, and rehab centers are big business. According to Market Watch, “Drug, alcohol and other addiction rehab in the United States is big business – $35 billion this year. There are now 14,000+ treatment facilities and growing.” Combine the American past-time of puritanical sex panic with a desire to profit, and you get porn rehabilitation centers popping up like weeds. It’s difficult to find exact numbers around inpatient rehab costs, but borrowing from other models, it’s safe to say the programs aren’t cheap (it’s difficult to find drug and alcohol rehab for under $10,000). Most Americans willingly accept a rehabilitation model for pornography, because the industry uses rhetoric which closely mirrors accepted language used to describe drug/alcohol addiction.

If you have doubts about the efficacy of pornography treatment, you’re in good company, because there isn’t one specific treatment modality recommended by behavioral health professionals. In fact, in Kirstein Weir’s (2014) article, “Is pornography addictive?,” Nicole Prause, PhD, warns, “You can harm patients by using treatment models that aren’t research-supported.” And there isn’t a current research-supported model receiving endorsement from the APA. Porn as “the new drug” is a common them in popular discourse, which uses medical terminology to gain legitimacy (this is a common tact used in pseudoscience). A recent example of how flippantly the media uses porn addiction as a legitimate disease Josh Duggar. Duggar, an admitted child molester, bigot, and hypocrite, was looking for sex online over at Ashley Madison, the match-up site for married people looking to have an affair, and he was caught in a recent hacking. Rather than admit he’s a human pile of garbage, he blamed his infidelity on internet porn:

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.”

Duggar is currently in a rehab facility for his alleged porn addiction, because blaming your personal shortcomings on a medical condition is so much easier than saying:

“I grew up in a strictly patriarchal home environment that discouraged all sexual exploration, and I don’t know how to moderate or safely indulge my proclivities with my wife. So instead I wanted a hook-up with someone who wouldn’t tell me I’m Satan’s emissary for wanting a little butt play.”

How do we convince people porn isn’t an evil addiction straight from hell?

Porn is a divisive issue. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that porn is innately good. If the inherent evil of porn is inextricably linked to your religious views–I’m sorry. I’m just gonna leave this blog post here with some thoughts:

  1. It’s perfectly normal and perfectly healthy to want to watch people have sex.
  2. There isn’t anything wrong with you if you want to see people fornicate. Your preacher/priest/Imam might think there’s something wrong with it, but educated health professionals don’t pathologize casual porn watching and/or masturbation.

So just take that in, chew on it, and do with it what you will.

Tips for talking with a hesitant partner about pornography.

If someone is consuming porn in your house, you should talk about it. If all involved parties like porn, the conversation will be more fun than anything! However, if your partner is uncomfortable with pornography,  a frank conversation with them about what you’re watching is a good place to start. Here are some tips for how to frame the conversation:

  1. Offer to watch pornography together. It might be good foreplay.
  2. Let your partner help you pick the video, or alternate who chooses. You might have something in common, or you might realize that you’re no fulfilling a serious need of your sexual counterpart(s).
  3. Set some rules of consent for all parties. This conversation is about setting healthy boundaries to help you feel empowered sexually. Honesty is key, so be respectful. Remember that feelings are facts. Some requests might be simple, for instance: “It makes me feel bad about myself when you watch porn after we have sex. Can you limit porn time to when I’m not around?
  4. Explain to your partner the things you like about the type of porn you’re watching. Maybe you can enact some of those fantasies in real life instead of watching them on screen (I doubt anyone is going to forego the real thing for video).
  5. Offer to make a homemade video, because maybe it’s just the other people part that makes one person uncomfortable with porn. This one is kind of tricky, because no one wants their genitals online after a bad divorce or breakup, but it’s an option if you’re in a healthy relationship with clear lines of communication and consent. Just rely heavily on rule number three for this option.

Those are just a few tips, with full disclosure that I’m not a sex therapist. If the conversation gets tense and unnavigable, it might be time to find a good non-judgmental therapist. As always, don’t try to force an uncomfortable partner into conversations or acts they don’t want to do. Period. With that being said, maybe it’s time you consider the relationship that you’re in, because all parties in a relationship should feel comfortable and supported to explore and embrace their healthy expressions of sexuality.

Moving forward.

The discourse surrounding porn addiction is fraught with judgment, a dearth of scientific evidence, and a lot of hellfire and brimstone. Pornography as “addiction” is used to justify infidelity, child molestation, and it demonizes healthy sexual expression. Science doesn’t support the claim that pornography addiction is a legitimate concern, but hey, porn addiction evangelists, one day the literature might support you. That being said, remember to critically consume erotica–ask yourself questions about the structures of power and oppression represented in your viewing material. If porn is making you miss work, cut holes in your pants pockets, or ruining an important relationship, talk to a trained therapist. Compulsions happen, but help is out there. Just steer clear of porn addiction facilities, because you’re not likely to receive medical care that truly probes the root cause of your issue.

You can make porn a part of your sex life with a hesitant partner, but it might take time, and it will definitely take some nuanced conversations. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to lead happy, healthy lives; sometimes that includes porn, sometimes it doesn’t, but you’re not a seething addict if it does.

Comments

  1. Very interesting. Had not considered porn rehab as a racket before- now I am. My issue w/ porn is consent and healthy choices for those acting in porn. Does anyone know any research about their backgrounds? How many porn actors were abused growing up and is this participation as a sex worker linked to that? I’m fine w/ porn if the actors are “healthy”, consenting. If they are exploited I’m not.

    • Chelsea Kilpack says:

      DeAnn, we’re definitely in agreement that porn participants should be consenting! It’s such a nuanced issue, but issues of consent are crystal clear. That’s why I’m an advocate for conscious consumption of all things, particularly pornography. Have you read The Feminist Porn Book? I highly recommend it as a counterpoint to theorists like Dworkin.

  2. High porn consumption in Utah doesn’t shock me anymore. Those numbers have been around for many years. What’s crazy is that people in Utah are so dumb that they actually pay for Porn. There is an unlimited amount of porn, of all types, that can be easily found for free. Why do Utahans keep paying for it?

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