In his book, “Sex and God,” which I highly recommend, author Darrel Ray tells a brief, but revealing story about the topic of porn addition. It goes something like this:
One day, an anxious and distressed man walks into a therapist’s office. He tells the therapist he’s addicted to porn. He spends no less than six hours a day watching, masturbating at least three times in the process. Needless to say, this habit has completely disrupted his life.
He struggles to hold down a job. He struggles to maintain a relationship. His porn consumption is so all-encompassing that it is a serious detriment to his day-to-day living. He desperately seeks help and the therapist listens intently, hoping to help this man overcome this issue and forge a healthier life.
The next day, another anxious and distressed man walks into the same therapist’s office. He also tells the therapist he’s addicted to porn. However, when the therapist asks how much porn he consumes, the man says he watches only a few hours every week. He does masturbates, but not every day and never more than twice.
He holds down a steady job. He has a wife and kids that he loves dearly. He also comes from a deeply religious community where he’s widely respected. He’s terrified that someone will find out that he watches porn or masturbates. The guilt he feels is so serious and he desperately seeks help.
The therapist still listens intently, but has to find a way to explain to the man that the porn itself is not the problem. It’s the undue guilt he feels that’s causing all these issues.
It’s a basic story, but one that reflects the strange, eccentric nature of our attitudes towards porn. It exists. It’s legal. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, complete with some of the most heavily trafficked websites on the internet. There have been efforts to ban it in the past, but those efforts rarely succeed. Even in non-democratic countries, porn finds a way to feed the human libido.
Despite this, there are still efforts by regressive people on both sides of the political spectrum who see porn the same way others see crystal meth. It’s not just an addictive drug. It’s one that has seriously detrimental side effects on those who use it and society as a whole. It’s one of those strange sentiments that both radical feminists and right-wing conservatives share for different reasons.
I don’t want to focus too much on the reasons for those sentiments, nor do I want to break down all the reasons why I believe they’re misguided. That’s not the reason I’m writing this article. In general, I try avoid talking about these sorts of moral crusades because, like other notable crusades, they tend to be more spectacle than substance.
That said, I have noticed the anti-porn crowd shifting their tactics in their quest to temper human desire. Rather than push for outright censorship, which is rarely popular in democratic societies, this crowd is attempting to label porn a public health crisis.
The government of Utah, the current title holder for most porn subscriptions by state, was the first to declare porn a public health crisis back in 2016. Other states have followed, but the most notable is Florida, who managed to declare it a public health crisis after denying a ban on assault rifles.
Let that sink in for a moment. Florida says that porn is a crisis that warrants greater scrutiny than assault weapons, which actually kill people. If that doesn’t show just how flawed our attitudes are about porn and guns, then I don’t know what does.
Bear in mind that just declaring porn a health crisis has limited effect beyond bad PR for the business. A government cannot censor porn any more than they can shut down another multi-billion dollar industry with massive global reach. As CNN reported, it’s more a symbolic gesture, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s one huge act of virtue signaling. It’s as empty and worthless as any declaration can possibly be.
While this crowd will eagerly cite studies that claim porn leads to all sorts of negative behaviors that destroy families and relationships, they’re just as eager to ignore the many flaws in those studies. They’ll also ignore data that suggests an increase in porn consumption actually decreases instances of sex crimes.
As I’ve noted before, human beings are complex, multi-layered creatures. Porn is just one of those few things that impacts a wider range of those complexities than most. It strikes at our moral values, our understanding of intimacy, our insights into sex, and our concept of love.
For some people, it has no effect. For some, it has a positive effect. For others, it has a negative effect. You could say the same thing for everything from fast food to video games to stamp collecting. When it comes to the effect, it depends on the attitude of the individual and how they’re wired.
The republican party in America has made no secret of their attitudes towards porn. That attitude is not unlike the one of the second man who walked into the therapists office that I described earlier. It’s not the porn that made him feel so damaged. It was his attitude and overbearing guilt, which is often religiously motivated.
It’s for this reason that organizations like the American Psychological Association don’t put porn addiction in the same category they do with substance abuse. They’ve noted that the vast majority of porn consumers rarely suffer ill-effects. For some, it even provides significant benefits.
There is, however, a small subset of the population that struggles with it. By small, I mean less than 10 percent. These people are, in their own minds, hopelessly addicted to porn. However, when compared to the prevalence of alcoholism or prescription drugs, porn is hardly a fair comparison. That’s not to take away from the suffering of those people, but there is a context to it.
Porn is not like a chemical you inject into your brain to directly evoke a particular effect. It’s not sort of mental conditioning, either. For those addicted to it, as with other addictions, there are other factors involved. It’s not the porn itself as much as it is the mentality behind it.
Maybe someone is using it because they’re just a lot hornier than the average person. Maybe it’s because they’re not getting enough sex from their current personal life. Maybe it’s because there’s a particular aspect of their sexuality that they cannot otherwise explore. Whatever their reason, the damage only gets worse when they’re racked with guilt about it.
Everyone’s experience with porn, sex, and everything in between is different. Actor Terry Crews claimed he battled porn addiction, but absent any larger context, it’s hard to know whether porn was actually the problem or whether it was an effect of something else.
That’s the ultimate irony of calling porn a public health crisis. It attempts to label an effect as a cause, which isn’t just asinine. It’s utterly backwards and detracts from other, more substantive issues. By calling porn a crisis, it creates the sentiment that there’s this one, simple target that’s the source of all these complex troubles.
I can already spoil the outcome of that effort right now. Even if porn disappeared tomorrow, those troubles would remain. Those attitudes would continue hurting those who were addicted. It won’t solve any problems. It’ll just redirect those issues, waste time, needlessly spend taxpayer money, and further undermine our ability to be comfortable with our sexuality.