I’ve been reading a series of articles from ArtofManliness.com about the effects of pornography on men biologically and mentally. It’s really relevant to me since even though I’ve never watched porn I’ve had masturbated frequently before (it’s only this year that I’ve stopped) and the effects are almost the same. The latest article in the series so far has an interesting section which I want to share. There’s actually a debate whether to call excessive pornography use an addiction or a habit.
(Copyright warning: everything below is from this article; all credit goes to the author)
The case is that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists only substance dependence (alcohol, nicotine, heroin, etc) as addictions whose effects include (I’m quoting from the article) “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.” Of course the effects can be also applied to gambling, video games, shopping, internet use - and porn. There are studies which say that porn is an addiction and studies which say that it isn’t, and it’s all a matter of opinion whether calling it as such. The interesting thing I found in the article is what the author has to say about the matter:
Labeling impulsive behaviors as addictions may hinder an individual from feeling capable of conquering an undesirable behavior. “Addiction” is a very loaded – even scary — word. When we tell ourselves we have an addiction, we’re implying that we’ve lost control of ourselves, that our ability to make our own choices is impaired, and that it may even be impossible to change course. Something else is in the driver’s seat, so to speak.
Thus, calling an undesirable behavior an addiction has the tendency to shift us from an internal locus of control to an external one. Research has shown that those with an internal locus exhibit greater control over their behavior and deal with challenges and stress better. Those with an external locus of control, on the other hand, feel like they’re a victim of powers outside themselves, which leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. The desire to soothe these hopeless feelings will then often lead right back to porn. And on the cycle will go.
If you’re trying to stop using porn (for whatever reason) and you are calling it an addiction, you handicap yourself by starting off with a frame of reference that you don’t have, or can’t regain, control of your behavior. While acknowledging that porn is a significant problem in your life is healthy, I think there’s a point where dialing up the seriousness actually makes it harder to quit. It makes the problem seem like a giant boogeyman, something you won’t be able to shake without a big-time intervention, rehab, special expensive retreats, that sort of thing.
If, on the other hand, you think of your porn habit just like any other habit you want to break, that debilitating weight goes away. Telling yourself that you’re “changing a habit” seems more in the realm of possibility and puts you in a proactive mindset. Even the way most “porn addiction” experts treat compulsive porn use is exactly the same as how you break any bad habit from swearing to biting your nails; so if you’re going to ultimately address the problem as a habit, why not frame it as a habit from the get-go?
There’s also a part where he talks about how religious men who have been caught in the porn net call it an addiction even though they’ve watched it only once or twice a week, and how calling it as such affects their self-esteem and causes them psychological distress. It’s too long to fit here so I recommend reading it in the article in the link above.
This raised questions for me. Yes, pornography is a sin which we should avoid since studies clearly show it has more negative effects on the person than positive ones. But can calling it an addiction really lead to more distress since the word itself connotes a sense of helplessness? Should we change in our approach of how to call pornography so that we can better help people who are struggling with excessive porn use to have the will to overcome such a sin? Alternatively in arguing against the author’s position, is calling it a habit downplaying the damage porn does to the person, mentally emotionally, and spiritually? Should we take special attention to porn because it’s more damaging than other such impulsive behaviors?
I don’t know what do you guys think? I want your reactions. And please be sensible and constructive in this discussion.