New Study Finds Porn Addiction Stems from Problematic Use Patterns, Not Moral or Religious Belief

By KC

Truth About Porn

There’s a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it’s important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn’s harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

The full study can be accessed here.

Self-identification as a pornography addict: examining the roles of pornography use, religiousness, and moral incongruence

Authors: Joshua B. Grubbs, Jennifer T. Grant & Joel Engelman
Published March 2019

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, DOI: 10.1080/10720162.2019.1565848

Background

Internet Pornography Use (IPU) is a common recreational activity throughout the United States (Price, Patterson, Regnerus, & Walley, 2016; Regnerus, Gordon, & Price, 2016) and the developed world (Chen, Leung, Chen, & Yang, 2013; Rissel et al., 2017; Ross, Månsson, & Daneback, 2012). Despite its popularity, IPU remains controversial in popular (Ley, 2016) and academic literatures (Chisholm & Gall, 2015; Ley, Prause, & Finn,2014). At the heart of these controversies have been the ongoing debates about whether or not IPU can become addictive – that is, whether or not individuals may become dysregulated or compulsive in their use of pornography (Clarkson & Kopaczewski, 2013; Duffy, Dawson, & das Nair, 2016). The recent inclusion of Compulsive Sexual Behavior disorder in the ICD11 suggests that there is increasing awareness of such a possibility in the mental health community (Kraus et al., 2018; World Health Organization, 2018). This new recognition is consistent with the considerable body of evidence that many people (especially men) may report feelings of addiction or compulsivity related to their IPU (Cavaglion, 2008, 2009; Grubbs, Sessoms, Wheeler, & Volk, 2010), and many organizations and social groups are full of individuals who self-identify as having been addicted to internet pornography. The present work sought to examine these factors, specifically focusing on what might prompt someone to self-identify as addicted to internet pornography.

Shortly after the advent of the internet, technology quickly became a venue for the propagation of pornography (Johnson, 1996). Following this recognition, reports quickly emerged, detailing the potential for IPU to become unregulated and out of control for some people (Cooper, 1998). In the two decades that followed these initial reports, hundreds of empirical articles have described the various ways that IPU may be problematic for some individuals (Duffy et al., 2016; Short, Black, Smith, Wetterneck, & Wells, 2012; Walton, Cantor, Bhullar, & Lykins, 2017; Wright, Tokunaga, & Kraus, 2016), with many of these reports focusing on the potential for users of pornography to become excessive or compulsive in their use (Byers, Menzies, & O’Grady, 2004; Cooper, Delmonico, & Burg, 2000; Young, 2008).

Given such popularity in the general public, it is unsurprising that problematic IPU is also commonly encountered in clinical practice (Crosby & Twohig, 2016; Kalman, 2008; Mitchell, Becker-Blease, & Finkelhor, 2005; Twohig & Crosby, 2010). In field trials for the DSM-5, IPU was the most commonly reported compulsive sexual behavior seen in clinical settings (Reid et al., 2012). Additionally, across a variety of mental health settings, clientele often present with complaints of problematic or compulsive IPU (Gola, Lewczuk, et al., 2016; Kraus, Martino, & Potenza, 2016; Sutton, Stratton, Pytyck, Kolla, & Cantor, 2015). Such popularity also extends to mental health professionals as well, with counselors from a variety of training backgrounds purporting to treat such problems (Short, Wetterneck, Bistricky, Shutter, & Chase, 2016). In sum, there is a preponderance of evidence suggesting that many people believe themselves to be addicted to internet pornography and that many of these individuals are seeking professional mental health treatment for these perceived problems, despite the lack of consensus in the scientific community about the accuracy of such perceptions.

As such, the present work was designed to add to an already rich body of research and to add nuance to a controversial research domain.

Methods

For the present work, we analyzed data from four samples of online pornography users. Each of these samples were part of larger data collection efforts than the variables analyzed for this study. Each study was slightly different than the other three and involved separate participants. Complete descriptions of each data collection effort, including all measures involved in the studies, are available on the Open Science Framework (Sample 1: https://osf.io/6esb4/; Sample 2 https://osf.io/n29xw/; Sample 3: https://osf.io/hxgsy/; Sample 4: https://osf.io/rm46n/).

Results

At the outset of this study, we sought to examine what factors might be associated with a willingness to self-identify as addicted to internet pornography. Whereas past works chose to examine similar questions dimensionally (i.e., assessing self-reported feelings of addiction on ordinal scales; Grubbs, Exline, et al., 2015; Leonhardt et al., 2018), the present work specifically asked participants binary response questions assessing whether or not they saw themselves as addicted to pornography. Past works examining self-reported feelings of addiction as a dimensional construct often revealed that moral incongruence was one of the strongest associates or best predictors of self-reported feelings of addiction, alongside male gender itself (Grubbs, Wilt, et al., 2019; Volk et al., 2016).

In contrast to this prior work and to our pre-registered hypotheses, the present work consistently found that male gender and average daily use were the best predictors of self-identification as a pornography addict, though moral incongruence remained an important contributing factor in each analysis. Such a discrepancy suggests that there is a qualitative difference between dimensional ratings of self-reported feelings of addiction and binary endorsement of addiction. Importantly, these findings were evident even in divergent samples (e.g., adults online vs. college students vs. a sample matched to U.S. demographic norms), suggesting that these results may generalize to the larger population.

In an exploratory capacity, we examined how self-identified addicts differed from non-addicts in terms of average IPU, frequency of IPU, religiousness, and moral incongruence. We consistently found differences between self-identified addicts and non-addicts on most variables. Self-identified addicts reported substantially greater use of pornography, more frequent use of pornography, more moral incongruence about their use, and slightly higher levels of religiousness. Furthermore, in exploratory correlational analyses, across three samples, the most consistent associates of self-identification as an addict were male gender, average daily use of pornography, and moral incongruence. Again, religiousness was associated with greater likelihood of self-identification as an addict, but these associations were small in magnitude.

Whereas past work in community (i.e., non-clinical) samples has suggested self-reported feelings of addiction may predominantly be a function of moral scruples or religiousness, our binary analysis suggests that self-identification as an addict is robustly associated with IPU itself. More succinctly, the present work suggests that individuals who self-label as addicted to pornography are likely engaging in more average daily use of pornography and greater frequency of pornography use. Those who identify as addicts are engaging in IPU more often and spending more time in IPU.

Collectively, these findings suggest that mental and sexual health professionals should take the concerns of clients identifying as pornography addicts seriously, while also considering the roles of both self-perception and behavioral dysregulation.

The full study can be accessed here.

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