Excessive Pornography Use - Addiction or Habit?

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. :slight_smile:

Potato potahto.
Addiction or habit? All I know is when one chooses to type in certain keystrokes one chooses against God.:shrug: Call it whatever you want. I call it partaking in evil.

It is not salvific, or Holy.

To me, something becomes a habit, later progresses to an addiction. They are degrees of the same thing.

What does AA do? How do they refer to alcoholism, as a “habit” or an “addiction”? I say this since they have a good track record at helping people recover.

“Habit”, to me diminishes the severity of it, making it seem like it’s less of an issue, less of a problem, not a big deal. “Addiction” makes it sound more serious, like it needs addressing much more urgently, can’t be swept under the rug any longer, time to act.

To me, “addictions” usually have “habits” with them. A habit, to me, is the psychological component - the person does something because the person is simply used to doing it. An addiction, on the other-hand, is the chemical/physical component - the person’s body actually NEEDS the chemical that it’s getting (even if it’s a chemical being excessively produced by the body itself) and a person get actual withdrawal symptoms if he/she goes without the drug or activity stimulating a hormone release.

I think as ClearWater said, habituation is a step on the road to addiction, and can normalize addictive behaviors.

I am reluctant to frame addiction as merely “habit,” because people with genuine addictions will feel guilty when they can’t just “break a bad habit,” and may feel overwhelmed and helpless precisely because they are being told that they should just stop doing the thing that they feel compelled to do.

Sexual addiction is a real thing; it is possible to become addicted (chemically) to almost anything, especially things that produce endorphins. Things that are pleasurable can become destructive, and they are addictions when you cross the line between doing what you don’t want to do sometimes, and doing what you don’t want habitually.

Some people have never struggled with addiction and can be extremely unmerciful to those that do; the priests that I know personally are a little more forgiving than that. We all bear different crosses, and so it’s important to reserve judgment on the sins of other people. If Pope Francis can say “Who am I to judge?” [homosexuals] with a straight face, we should at least try to be kind and merciful to people who struggle with heterosexual lust–right?

Could be scandalous.

Lust is one of those things that can absolutely kill you. The death is not a dramatic death like an overdose or alcoholic car wreck, but it will kill you just the same.

There are many, many, people addicted to lust. They can no sooner quit today than a heroin user could. They are helpless, if relying on themselves. That doesn’t mean they can’t get help, or do things to help themselves. But in most circumstances they will not recover unless they get help, or grow old enough their libido diminishes.
This is what I mean by helpless:

Want to stop today, but indulge tomorrow.
Tried many times and many methods to stop without success.
Believe they can stop by themselves when the life they live directly contradicts that belief.
Shame, regret, isolation (keep you enslaved)
Continued behavior despite negative consequences to self, family, work.

In my experience I have found that those who have struggled with addictions are the harsh ones. Narc Anon, AA, etc. These are usually the ones banging the loudest about addictions. And they are the ones who are the “hardest” on those who are addicted.

Can we please, please stop taking the Pope’s words out of context.:rolleyes:

This is not true in my experience.

(recovering) Addicts have the blessing to know what the rest of us haven’t absorbed yet.
“I am nothing without the grace of God”.

If they are recovering, they know how hard it is to get there, and they know they cannot force treatment or judgment on anyone else. All it does is chase someone away from the truth. They will offer a hand, but not force it on you.

The harshest treatment is always from those who don’t get it.
“Why don’t you just stop” is something you won’t hear from a recovering addict. They know how foolish and frustrating that statement is.

You are correct on the “why don’t you just stop” aspect. But it is the recovering addict who will almost never excuse a behavior based on the “A” word. Most commonly, in my experience, it is a head shake and a revelation that it is too bad the person has not hit bottom bad enough to seek help.

The former addicts will say things like “well maybe jail or losing a family will be the thing that makes the person get help”

Especially with drinking, Most people who have been through the program think most every one else is an alcoholic. :wink: I find the judgement of people to be quite higher than those who have not been through a program.

This has been a good discussion, thanks all!

I have just a comment on the title. There is no such thing as “excessive” pornography use. It’s like saying “excessive” use of heroin. Unlike alcohol, one can’t be a “moderate” user of pornography.

Any amount is gravely sinful, for a Catholic, and for others it is, at the very least, disordered and self-destructive.

From the OP:

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,

If a religious man is watching porn “only” once or twice a week then he is in a very bad way indeed.

I have plenty of personal experience of this, and also of recovery through 12 step program. 18 months sexually sober now (ie. zero porn and masturbation) - One Day at a Time.

Excessive use is one time. That is neither addiction nor habit.

Does Jesus determine what’s “excessive” regarding pornography use?

1 John 2:16 everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.

Both these words are bad. “Addiction” does make one feel powerless. This is a problem because porn, more than drinking even, makes a man feel powerful. So if you call it an addiction, the man feels more and more powerless every time he thinks of his problem, and this makes porn look better and better as an antidote.

Calling it a habit is the opposite extreme. You start to think of it like nail-biting, and fail to realize the scope of the problem.

I like the words “dependency” or “attachment”. These words neither make one a victim nor a petty criminal.

Are you saying that an addiction to porn
makes a man powerful and powerless when he thinks about it?

I like the word SIN
Why haven’t you mentioned that?

Being powerful and feeling powerful are VERY different things. Read my post again, and more carefully this time.

Using porn makes a man *feel *powerful. It’s often sought by men who, for whatever reason, feel powerless in their ordinary lives.

Are you as confused as I am now?

I’m not confused because it makes sense. Having that feeling of power, especially within the context of porn, give a man a false sense of security and control. And he only realizes that he is powerless if he suddenly realizes that he has no actual control over himself.

Yes, we CAN consider calling porn a sin because it IS a sin. But I forgot to mention that the author’s context was everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, because this is a problem which affects everyone.

By the time we die, every human being will come to the realization that we are helpless -without God-. The sooner we realize this the better.
Addiction makes a person powerless, by definition. “I want to stop and can’t”. By contrast, “I need help” are the two most powerful words an addict can utter. The road to recovery starts when a person admits they need help, and seek it.
“I can do this myself” is the road to death. Self reliance is the reason most people get addicted in the first place. They believe they can indulge in something that has the power to destroy them, and still be able control it. Satan loves self reliance.

Addiction can be a blessing, if it leads one to rely on God. Our free will to choose properly is only free in Christ, when we give ourselves to him.

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