Informal study shows pornography is more addictive than people think

One of the challenges of trying to accurately define the numbers of people addicted to sex is that the primary form of sex addiction (pornography) often goes unreported, since people don’t view it as a problematic or unhealthy behavior. And so we have people growing dependent on a certain sexual behavior but not realizing it because they don’t see it as a problem. It’s much like the situation were college students become binge drinkers and don’t realize they are becoming addicted to alcohol. They don’t sense their growing dependence on alcohol because it’s so common among their peers and doesn’t feel problematic. But when challenged to cut down, they realize the power that alcohol has over them. What about pornography? What happens when people who think it’s okay to view pornography are challenged to stop using it?

In her excellent book “Pornified” Pamela Paul writes about an informal study conducted by the founder of a humor website called “A Pointless Waste of Time.” I’m not linking to that website because it’s rather vulgar and contains links to pornography, which is rather ironic. I checked the site to make sure Paul’s book accurately reports on the study, and am happy to report that it does. (And by the way, I’m also happy to report that I’m still sober.)

The writer of “A Pointless Waste of Time” conducted an informal study of a hundred online pornography users — basically people he knew who looked at porn — and he challenged them to go without looking at pornography for two weeks. These were people who didn’t view their pornography use as problematic, but they decided to take him up on the challenge. Of the 100 pornography users, six dropped out of the study, 52 were unable to go even a week without pornography, and 24 couldn’t last for three days. In the end, only 28 of the subjects were able to go through the two-week period without pornography. The graph below gives another way of viewing the numbers:

Porn study

The author of the study noted that even though the subjects did not view themselves as addicts, they tended to describe their experience with the study in “addict’s terms.” He writes:

“The participants were not strangers to me and were largely people I know in an online sense. And while I had heard lots of jokes over time about them being alcoholics or hopelessly fat or hopelessly poor, I had never, ever heard any of them talk about being porn addicts.

“Until we did the study.

“From the first hours on, lots of these guys were suddenly talking about ‘withdrawal’ and talking about how tomorrow was going to be a ‘tough day’ with time alone and high-speed access. They were using the language recovering addicts use, which I admit both surprised me and creeped me out a little.”

In her own study for the book, Paul found that almost three fourths of ‘normal’ users of pornography “admitted that they could see themselves becoming addicted to porn, even if they didn’t think they had particular ‘addictive’ personalities.” Almost a dozen of the men she interviewed for the book (self-described ‘normal’ users of pornography) had “made efforts to cut down on their consumption of pornography, with only limited success, typically hard-won.” (Pornified, by Pamela Paul, page 214).

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