Image by Dalibor Levícek
Art of Manliness recently did a series of articles on pornography which covered the history, neurochemistry, and consequences of porn use from a scientific and data-backed perspective. The whole series is worth reading and if you think porn is harmless or even beneficial it will have you checking your assumptions on the subject. As much as I liked the series I was mildly disappointed that when discussing the pitfalls of too much porn use Brett refused to call pornography an addiction. Here’s his take:
What about when porn use turns into a full-blown addiction? Is that another one of its pitfalls? Can it even truly become an addiction or is it just a habit?
Suffice it to say, these questions are the subject of much heated debate.
Currently the DSM-5, the Bible of psychiatric diagnosis (which, just like the actual Bible, is super controversial) does not consider behaviors like porn use, eating, or gambling, to be addictions. Only dependence on substances, like drugs, alcohol, and nicotine, are “officially” considered addictions. You can have a look at the criteria the DSM-5 lays out for substance abuse dependence, here. The list includes things like strong cravings for the substance, the creation of professional and relationship problems, needing more and more of the substance to get the same high as before, difficulty quitting, and withdrawal symptoms when doing so.
Looking over that list, one can easily see how certain behaviors outside drug and alcohol use would seem to qualify as an addiction. Millions of people have reported behaviors like compulsive gambling, shopping, and web surfing as meeting several of the criteria.
So, while the DSM-5 still does not currently consider behaviors to technically be addictions, a case could be made for labeling compulsive porn viewing as such. Different studies have both supported and contradicted the idea of porn being addictive. Given the length of this post, I won’t go into the details of these studies; this article from the APA does a good job examining the two sides of the issue. Ultimately, drawing the line between habit and addiction is always going to be subjective, no matter what scientific research and opinions are brought to bear on the question.
I also admit that there isn’t a consensus agreeing that pornography can be an addiction but I want to explore why I think Brett is wrong to reject that label. Continue reading