It’s Time to Admit the Reasons We Tell People to Stay Away From Porn Aren’t Working

I use Einstein’s definition of insanity too many times on this blog because it explain the frustration I feel with a lot of people’s attitudes and actions toward pornography and pornography addiction. I’ve never made my fight against pornography itself because I think it diverts attention from education, but it seems a correlation could be made if people were effectively dissuaded from using pornography, there would be less pornography addicts.

The problem is that our current list of reasons for urging people to stay away from pornography are ineffective. I’m not saying that they aren’t valid reasons – they almost always are. They aren’t scare tactics, which don’t play well with most, but well-reasoned rationalizations for putting down the porn. And none of them work.

I recall about 15 years ago, fast food restaurants were forced to put the calorie content on all of their menus by the FDA, with the belief if we only knew how bad it was for us, we’d stop. Yeah, that didn’t work. People knew fast food wasn’t quality food. In fact, fast food revenues exploded with the invention of the value menus with popular items for $1 or $2. People didn’t want healthy, they wanted cheap. It’s the same story with porn. If you’re paying money for porn these days, you’re doing it wrong. I think most people see it as junk food for the brain. It’s not healthy, but it’s not going to create lasting damage. Our standards reasons to stay away don’t combat that attitude effectively.

Why don’t our go-to reasons for staying away from porn work? I think I’ve figured most of them out:

The actors and actresses are exploited, don’t want to be there and had bad childhoods – All of this may be true, but has it stopped a single person from watching pornography? I think on some level everybody who watches porn understands its very essence is about the exploitation of the human body. As for not wanting to be there, I recently wrote a blog for a freelance client where I had to dig up statistics on job dissatisfaction in white-collar corporate America. Depending on the study, it ranged from 70% to 85%, so nobody likes their job.  As for having bad childhoods and still needing to seek out work, that isn’t a porn-exclusive thing either. I think when most people look at porn, they’re just not thinking about the poor professional conditions because they have to live with those conditions themselves and most would rather be having sex with beautiful people in pretty places than washing dishes at Buffalo Wild Wings.

It’s not realistic and doesn’t depict love – There have been a million and one studies on why people look at porn and one of the top two or three reasons, usually the top reason, is that it is an escape. People understand it’s not realistic because they only have to look to their own lives to reach that conclusion. I don’t think pizza guys and tennis instructors get into those vocations because they see a lot of sex in porno movies for guys in those industries. How many people would want to watch porn if it was people who looked like them doing things that they do? When it comes to love, I don’t think people turn to porn. If they want to see love, there’s a whole Hallmark Channel showing a slightly different version of the same Christmas movie for the next two months.

It’s going to rot your brain – For addicts, it actually does change the brain chemistry, but by that point, any standard reason to not use doesn’t work. I think that we’re told that so many things in this world are going to rot our brains and it simply doesn’t, and most people know that. First, you had people claiming rock music would make us all miscreants and Satanists. Didn’t happen. Then, kids raised on video games would all be prone to violent outbursts. Proven untrue. Porn certainly isn’t good for your brain, but enough people walk away without permanent scarring – or we’re still not talking about that scarring – that this argument falls on deaf ears for lack of proof.

Looking at porn brings you further away from God – I’m guessing this might work on some very devout people, but data would suggest otherwise. Two of the four fastest growing consumer groups of porn are members of the Roman Catholic Church and LDS Church and those who work in service of god (rabbis, priests, reverends) all report higher-than-average porn usage rates. This doesn’t even take into account that there are a lot of people who don’t believe in God or that he doesn’t play an active role in the consequences of their decision making. I have no hard statistics other than my own experience, but I bet 75% of the blogs I find on WordPress that talk about recovery from porn addiction give a lot of credit to God, but threats of the almighty fall on deaf ears prior.

I wish I had some great new techniques and solutions. I think most of the solutions are going to come from talking to our kids while they are young and informing them about the potential physical and mental dangers of taking porn use too far. We can argue whether that has or hasn’t worked with drugs and alcohol, but I think everybody who has a kid that is clean is thankful they said something.

We can keep repeating the standard “evils of pornography” list and while they certainly are valid, they are also ineffective. It’s tough to admit that, but the sooner we do, the sooner people far smarter than I can work to develop the new techniques and solutions we so desperately need.

Figuring Out if You’re A Casual or Problem User of Pornography

For this article, I’m going to suspend the discussion of whether pornography use in moderation is not unhealthy or if there is any moral component to the decision to utilize pornography. I’ll tackle those issues later on. For now, I simply want to provide a list of questions that people who are wondering if they have an issue with pornography can ask themselves to better understand their situation.

I think words like addiction, habit, obsession, compulsion and problem are more subjective than objective. Their definitions can be fluid and feature a lot of crossover from one term to the other. Ultimately, it’s up to you to honestly decide whether you have an issue or not with pornography and more importantly, what you’re going to do about it should you conclude there may be something there.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that much like there are people who can drink, play video games, gamble or eat in moderation – yet are not addicted, nor have a problem – that there are also people who can view and utilize pornography in moderation. At what point does “recreational” use start to bleed into being a problem? Asking yourself these questions may help point you in the right direction:

Is there any sort of trauma in your past? This doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual abuse, either. It can be physical or emotional. Roughly 90% of full-blown addicts of anything can trace their past to find some kind of meaningful trauma. With porn addicts, the number is 94%. That still leaves an opening to be an addict with no pre-existing trauma, but the two often go hand-in-hand. If your parent killed themselves in front of you, a sibling molested you, or any number of other major negative events in your life happened as a young person, addiction may be a symptom of how you deal with that trauma.

Is there any co-occurring disorder or previous addiction existing? While not at the numbers of trauma and addiction, more full-blown addicts have some kind of mental health issue than those who don’t.  These mental health problems may include bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety and a number of other diagnoses. Also, it is very easy for someone who is addicted to one substance or behavior to become addicted to another. Addictive behavior is not limited to one addiction at a time, although there are people who trade addictions, successfully battling one obsession only to take on another.

Are you addicted to pornography or masturbation? In my case, it didn’t take long to recognize once the porn was removed from my life, masturbation dropped to almost nothing. I masturbated more as an indicator to end a porn-viewing session than anything else. There are many people who have the opposite story. They were able to easily stop watching porn because it turned out pleasuring themselves was their actual vice. There’s a fairly easy way to determine which you’re addicted to, or if it’s both. For the next week or two, allow yourself to look at porn, but don’t utilize it to masturbate. Conversely, masturbate all you want, but do it without visual aids. You should be able to determine a trend among obsessive thoughts where your addictions truly lay.

Are there rituals around your use? Addicts generally use in the same way almost all the time. My alcohol use, which was certainly an addiction, came with rituals. I never drank cans of beer. It was either a bottle or in a pint glass when I was away from home. Corona, specifically, couldn’t touch my lips without a lemon or lime wedge. At home, I didn’t drink beer, just tequila and Red Bull. I’d only drink at night at home, and it always had to be in one of the three large plastic tumblers we had. I always poured the tequila and Red Bull the same way, almost parfait-style. First a dash of Red Bull, then tequila, then Red Bull, then tequila, and so on until the tumbler was full. That’s routine, or ritual and is common with addicts.

Do you lie to others, or yourself, about your usage? OK, it’s pornography, I get it. We all want to pretend that we’ve never looked at it, despite statistics saying those that don’t are in the massive minority. When the topic of pornography comes up in mixed company, do you stay quiet? Do you try to hide the role pornography plays in your life, especially the amount of time spent looking? Would you like about the time you spend if asked point-blank? When you’re finished looking at it, do you make deals with yourself that you won’t spend as much time engaged in the activity, yet you can’t keep the promises to yourself? Are you spending any money on pornography outside of typical Internet fees? Do you find yourself sometimes picking isolating to look at porn over other activities? Do you rationalize that the time you spend or material you look at is not as extreme as others with addiction, so if they have a problem, you have less than a problem? The answers are all small red flags that add up.

I am by no means a doctor, but do know how I answered these questions when I was in the throes of my addiction. I’ve also done more research and met more pornography addicts than most professionals, not to mention I’ve been through plenty of group and one-on-one therapy for my formerly rampant addictions. I understand if you don’t like your answers and want to discredit my opinion…but that may also be a sign you want to avoid the truth about your addiction.

As I mentioned earlier, anybody can diagnose you as an addict, but what matters is that you believe you have a problem. More importantly is deciding what you’re going to do about it. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do next when you’ve reached the conclusion you need to do something about your problem.