2.6.2020 5:00 AM

Mind and Body

2 types of people who rarely watch porn think they are addicted to porn

Self-perceptions of porn use don't always reflect reality.

Porn addiction is a controversial subject. Some experts claim there's enough evidence to say that it is a real issue while other experts say it's still too difficult to say whether or not watching porn can become a pathological problem. Regardless of professional opinion, two groups of people decidedly do think porn is addictive — religious people and those who find it morally repugnant.

That finding comes from research published Thursday in the Journal of Abnormal Sexual Behavior. After surveying 3,500 adults over the course of two studies, the research team found that those two groups of individuals were the most likely to diagnose themselves as "porn addicts" than other groups of people — even if their own porn use was categorized as low or average.

In turn, the study authors explain that the shame or judgment people attach to porn may make them think their personal porn habits are more problematic than they actually are.

“We are not suggesting that people need to change their moral or religious beliefs, but it’s not helpful for someone with a low or normal amount of porn use to be convinced that they have an addiction because they feel bad about it,” lead author Joshua Grubbs, a psychology researcher at Bowling Green State University, explained in a statement.

“However, if someone wants to reduce their porn use because it causes distress, then therapists should work with them in a non-judgmental way that doesn’t induce shame.”

Asking people about porn

To evaluate how people’s moral or religious views shape their self-perception around porn addiction, Grubbs’ team analyzed three samples of people who reported intentionally watching porn at least once in the past year: 467 college students at Bowling Green State University, 2,200 online participants representing the United States adult population, and a group of 850 U.S. adult porn users, also recruited online.

"Therapists should work with them in a non-judgmental way that doesn't induce shame."

Through surveys, participants reported how often they watched porn, as well as their religious and moral beliefs. They also rated the strength of their agreement to statements like "even when I do not want to view pornography online, I feel drawn to it" and “I believe that viewing pornography is wrong.”

In all three samples, religious people and people who think porn is “bad,” were more likely to report their porn use was problematic or constituted porn addiction than people without those beliefs.

“When people morally disapprove of pornography but still use it anyway, they are more likely to report that pornography is interfering with their lives,” Grubbs explains.

What’s in a diagnosis?

Since porn addiction — as well as compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD)— isn't included in the DSM-5 (American psychologists’ top source of diagnostic guidance), it can be hard for people to pinpoint when sexual behavior becomes problematic, let alone addiction.

Grubbs, meanwhile, does support a diagnosis for CSBD as a distinct mental illness, even if other mental health professionals disagree. But the problem with diagnosing someone with CSBD, Grubbs notes, is that the diagnosis relies heavily on the subjective feelings of the subject — and those feelings might not accurately reflect their behavior.

"Therapists should work with them in a non-judgmental way that doesn't induce shame."Getty Images

His stance is shared by the World Health Organization, which included CSBD in its 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases. In the ICD, CSBD is categorized as an impulse control disorder, which includes “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.” The problematic behavior must persist for at least six months, cause significant clinical distress, and interfere with other parts of life.

Additionally, ICD specifically states that moral judgments or disapproval about sexual impulses are not sufficient as diagnostic criteria.

What does porn have to do with CSBD? In this study, Grubbs and his colleagues argue that there is strong reason to believe porn use may be driving CSBD, due to its accessibility and cost. In field studies, four out of five people with hypersexual disorder reported excessive pornography use, they write.

Ultimately, Grubbs thinks diagnosis can enable "access to care for people who need treatment." He argues that, if CSBD becomes official, then clinicians and therapists will need to be sensitive to how their clients present their symptoms. Some people seeking treatment may not diagnostic criteria, even if they are distressed about their porn use. Clinicians will need to find objective measures, not just use subjective feelings.

Abstract: Despite controversies about the diagnosis, the World Health Organization recently elected to include compulsive sexual behavior disorder in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases. Both recent and remote works have suggested that various cultural factors such as personal religiousness and morality can influence both the experience and expression of compulsive sexual behaviors. Because prior works have indicated that pornography use is likely to be the most common expression of compulsive sexual behavior, the present work sought to examine whether moral incongruence about pornography use may account for a substantive part of self-reports of compulsive sexual behavior. In 2 studies involving 4 samples, the present work tested the hypothesis that moral incongruence would positively predict self-reported compulsivity in pornography use. In Study 1, across 3 samples (Sample 1, N 􏰌 467; Sample 2, N 􏰌 739; Sample 3, N 􏰌 1,461), including 2 matched to U.S. nationally representative norms (Samples 2 and 3), results indicated that moral incongruence was a substantive and robust predictor of self-reported compulsivity. In Study 2 (baseline N 􏰌 850), parallel process latent growth curve analyses over the course of 1 year revealed that the trajectories of pornography use, self-reported compulsivity, and moral disapproval of such use covaried together over time. Collectively, these results underscore the contention that personal morality may influence individuals’ self-perceptions of their sexual behaviors, which, in turn, may complicate efforts to accurately diagnose compulsive sexual behavior disorder.
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