Staying Neutral in the Porn War

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By Scott Brassart

A few weeks, a post from Alexander Rhodes came across my Twitter feed. Alex is creator of the NoFap.com website and an educator about potential problems related to porn (especially with younger users). His tweet was a request to help him defend himself against pro-porn activists. In the tweet, Alex provided a link to a webpage headlined “In retaliation for effectively whistleblowing the negative effects of compulsive Internet porn use, the porn industry and its allies are on a mission to defame, de-platform, and destroy NoFap and its founder Alexander Rhodes.”

I don’t know the full facts about the alleged ‘escalating campaign to defame and de-platform,’ nor do I want to. It’s none of my business, really. But I do know that my friend and colleague Dr. Rob Weiss has been caught in the crossfire of an ongoing social battle over pornography on more than one occasion. In fact, he blogged about the most recent occurrence a few months ago. I will also state that in my experience, both sides in the porn war seem uninterested in actual facts about pornography and its impact. They have very strong opinions, but those opinions are rarely grounded in any sort of verifiable evidence.

As Director of Content for a website that deals with sex and porn-related issues, I can tell you that we are continually expected to take sides. And we continually refuse to do so. We do not believe that porn is inherently evil and should be banished from the face of the earth, but we do understand (and see on a regular basis in clients at our Seeking Integrity Treatment Center) the harm that porn sometimes creates. Mostly, though not always, these issues are related to the compulsive/addictive use of porn.

Porn addiction is generally identified using the same basic criteria as sex addition, other behavioral addictions, and substance addictions.

  1. Preoccupation to the point of obsession with the substance/behavior of choice.
  2. Loss of control over use of the substance/behavior (generally evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back).
  3. Negative life consequences related to use of the substance/behavior.

If you’re looking for the official diagnostic criteria for sex/porn addiction, the information is listed under Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder in the ICD-11. That diagnosis, provided by the World Health Organization, reads as follows:

Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior. Symptoms may include repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities; numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive sexual behavior; and continued repetitive sexual behavior despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it. The pattern of failure to control intense, sexual impulses or urges and resulting repetitive sexual behavior is manifested over an extended period of time (e.g., 6 months or more), and causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviors is not sufficient to meet this requirement.

As you can see, the ICD-11 description (diagnostic code 6C72) meshes nicely with the simplified criteria provided above.

Another common issue that we see with porn use results from early-life exposure. Essentially, kids who start using porn at a young age, often before puberty starts, become conditioned to the intensity of porn and come to expect all romantic/sexual interactions to match that. Over time, they start to prefer pixel-sex to real-world sex. Because of this, and because porn has overtaken more traditional forms of romantic and sexual learning and development, they find themselves desiring but struggling to form and maintain romantic/sexual connections in the real world.

This does not, however, mean that porn is inherently evil any more than the fact that some people have problems with alcohol means that alcohol is inherently evil. What this does mean is that some of the time, for some of the people who use it, porn can be problematic. But try telling that to the combatants embroiled in the porn war.

As a company focused on sexual issues, including issues related to pornography, Seeking Integrity believes that we must stay neutral about the evils and/or benefits of pornography. Our job is not to judge the behavior, our job is to help people who are struggling with porn (for whatever reason) work through their issues, to guide them toward an understanding about what is right and what is not right for them as individuals. If we find ourselves attempting to impose moral or cultural values, we’re overstepping our boundaries in unhelpful and potentially harmful ways.

So, is there a way for us to somehow stay out of the crossfire in a battle we do not wish to fight? Probably not. The best we can do is to perform our work based on research-based facts and clinical experience. Our efforts cannot be colored in any way by the fact that anti-porn and pro-porn advocates are very busy arguing about morality, free will, and free speech without ever considering the reality of why people use porn, how people use porn, and what the effects tend to be (both good and bad). So, while opposing forces continue to grind their axes and throw lawsuits at one another, we will do our best to remain neutral and to help the individuals who visit our websites and enter our treatment center for help related to their use of pornography. Our sincere hope is that you can respect this ‘neutral’ stance as the most beneficial way for us to help the individuals who struggle.