Can you be addicted to porn?
When it comes to alcoholism, gambling, and drugs, the answer is clear: Addiction exists. Studies show a clear association between those behaviors and alterations in brain chemistry, which is coupled with physical withdrawal effects if the given behavior is restricted.
But, “There really isn’t the science to demonstrate that porn is in and of itself harmful and addictive,” Ian Kerner, a licensed psychotherapist, and sex counselor told Fox News. “That has not been, in my estimation, scientifically or clinically proven.”
Rather, Kerner argued, excessive porn viewing often presents as a comorbidity with another health issue, like anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.
“When people get depressed, they may get lonely and tend to masturbate,” he said. “If they’re having anxiety, the problem occurs when the only way you know how to calm yourself is with masturbation … in those cases, porn is the symptom, not the problem.”
In fact, in Kerner’s experience, ethical, so-called feminist pornography — which often features storylines, and always contracted, paid adults having consensual sex — can enhance couples’ sexual experiences by helping partners get warmed up and be creative in the bedroom.
Perhaps counterintuitively, watching porn may also help keep some relationships intact, he said.
“I know a lot of men who travel and are happy to masturbate to porn rather than potentially pursue infidelity,” Kerner said. “When there are natural libido gaps in a relationship — maybe one partner is interested in sex more than the other partner, maybe one just had a baby and can’t have sex, or maybe illness is involved — porn is actually a really positive way to smooth over those libido gaps.”
As for adolescents consuming porn, the Virginia legislators argue the average age of exposure to porn is 11 to 12 — a stat that certainly would scare any responsible parent, yet one Kerner argued, if true, suggests a deeper issue for discussion.
“If kids are learning about sex through porn, well, that’s not a problem with porn — that’s a problem with a lack of proper sex education,” he argued. “If we live in a country that teaches abstinence only, the problem is there’s no competing script to porn.”
What don’t we know about porn?
And yet, experts like Struthers argue that basic psychological science suggests frequent exposure to something like porn may indeed lead to normalization of harmful behaviors.
“The more you’re exposed to something, the more you tend to see it as acceptable, whether it’s violence, gambling or sexuality,” Struthers said.
His concern, however, is the psychological effect that frequent exposure may have on developing brains.
“I think the questions we really need to be asking are, ‘What are the secondary effects that porn has?'” he said, explaining that pornography may cause some people to see others as objects rather than people in non-sexual settings due to potentially reduced empathy.
Wright, the professor at Indiana University, who has conducted research on porn’s potential influence on youths’ behavior, speculated that most scientists in this area and at this level of debate would agree with some of the lawmakers’ claims yet disagree with others.
But, he said one thing most would agree on is more can be done.
“Is there enough suggestive evidence of harm in terms of compulsive use and socialization toward attitudes and behaviors that most people perceive as antisocial that scientists should support policy efforts calling for further research, community and school education programs, and programs aimed at the prevention of harmful effects?” Wright said in an email. “I think the majority of scientists familiar with the research in this area would say, ‘Yes.’”