Why we tackle pornography the way we do.

We recently received this email from a concerned reader who was worried about the way we tackle dealing with the topic of pornography on the website, specifically with some of the things we had written…

Below is his letter and our reply

Hi there. I am a 25 year old male recovering from pornography addiction and quite frankly, I find this opening statement on the pornography page disturbing: “There is absolutely no scientific evidence what so ever that you can become addicted to porn or sex for that matter, so put that out of your head.” Read this article about a recent Cambridge University study: http://yourbrainonporn.com/cambridge-university-brain-scans-find-porn-addiction I understand that your intention is not to alarm young people and make them think there is something wrong with them, however as a long term sufferer of porn addiction I think the afore mentioned statement belittles the grossly negative effects pornography can have on malleuable young minds. If there’s one thing that I could go back and tell my 12 year old self it would probably be that porn can ruin your life and to steer clear. The intention of this message is to inform you that starting to watch porn at a young age can make long term physiological changes to the brain that can take years to undo. There is an epidemic of young otherwise healthy porn addicts that have developed sexual disfucntions (look at ED statistics over the last 5 years for example). And speaking from a man’s perspective this is extremely distressing and can cause a miriad of other side affects including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Your website in the unique position to be at the frontier of informing people about porn addiction and potential problems of wiring your brain to high-speed internet porn. Please save some kids potentially years of torment and unhealthy relationships and If you haven’t already please check out the rest of http://yourbrainonporn.com 

Here is our reply

Thank you for your email, we always welcome people giving us feedback on our site and our approach and realise that the tone or messages we give to young people may shock or upset some people. However, let me assure you that nothing goes on this site without due care and thought being put into every word.

I understand and sympathise with your position, it must take a lot of courage to face up to your own personal demons and we acknowledge that there are other vulnerable people out there that do struggle with their relationship with pornography.

We appreciate that some of the topics we address are highly sensitive and people have a variety of views and strong beliefs about them. However, we take the approach that young people should be presented with open and honest rhetoric that does not rely on sources that have their own personal agenda.

There is nothing wrong with having strong beliefs. Unfortunately the site quoted has, in our opinion, has it’s own agenda. They are an anti-porn, pro-censorship organisation, so often present scientific studies from a slightly biased view point.

The Cambridge study, whilst interesting, does not give us any hard evidence. Dr Voon the leading researcher on the project admits: ‘…nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individual are addicted to porn – or that porn is inherently addictive. Much more research is required to understand this relationship…’[1]

The actual study contains a lot of discussion around cause and effect. Do these individuals’ brains behave differently and that is why they struggle to control their impulses and porn just happens to be their outlet – rather than porn being the cause?

Unfortunately, when studies like the Cambridge study are published the popular newspapers report on them with sensationalist headlines, which is understandable; they are journalists not scientists that are reporting these ‘facts’ and are more interested in what the popular mood is and will sell.

To be fair if you look behind the headlines it is clear that there is very little hard evidence to support the claim that sex addiction exists in specific terms in the same way that alcohol or drug addiction exist. In fact there is still not a formally recognised definition of the condition. Dr Allen Frances, chair of the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) predicted that ‘hypersexuality’ or sex addiction as it is more commonly known would be the next hot ‘false epidemic’ inspired by celebrity culture and popular media.

Indeed, false epidemics often address societal unease with changing modes in behaviour and morals. As Dr Philip Hopley, an addiction specialist based at the Priory explains ‘the major concern is where sex-related problem behaviour is labelled an ‘addiction’ when in fact poor decision making and/or impulse control lie at the root of the problem’[2].

We understand that there are some young people that will struggle with their relationship with pornography and their decision making. However, we feel the best way to support young people is to engage in honest and open discussion – giving them the opportunity to ask questions without being judged.

All the evidence supports our approach – that the more we engage with young people the safer and better decisions they will make and this goes for pornography too. By engaging in discussion and acknowledging the legitimate reasons why people (not just young people) may wish to access pornography we give them a chance to contextualise what they see and help nullify many of the dangers that may occur.

Thank you for your email, as a result we have reviewed our pages and  will post your your query and our reply on the blog site for young people to see. That way they can make up their own mind.

For many people use of pornography is a moral issue – not a factual one. Until we are convinced by hard evidence to the contrary, we will continue with our current approach – this after all has been developed using a broad evidence base, built up on evidence of good practice. If there is new conclusive evidence that comes to light we will happily eat our words.

[1] http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/brain-activity-in-sex-addiction-mirrors-that-of-drug-addiction

[2] Quoted in Magnanti  (2012) ‘The Sex Myth’ pp50-1 Weidennfeld & Nicolson.



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