WebMD Weighs in on ‘Porn Addiction’ Debate

NEW YORK — WebMD, publisher of a popular website and magazine covering a broad range of medical issues, recently surveyed a number of psychologists hoping to clarify the long-running debate over whether pornography can be considered addictive.

While the publication’s findings were inconclusive, the report, titled “Is Pornography Addictive?”, did present a more balanced view of the issue than has been typical of the mainstream media.

“The difference between describing the behavior as a compulsion or an addiction is subtle, but important,” says the report’s author, Martin Downs.

Downs points to abuses of the term “addictive” by supposed experts during testimony before a Senate subcommittee last year in which one psychologist claimed "prolonged exposure to pornography stimulates a preference for depictions of group sex, sadomasochistic practices and sexual contact with animals."

Such hyperbole is refuted by Dr. Erick Janssen, a researcher at the Kinsey Institute, who criticizes the use of the term addiction when talking about porn, and sex therapist Dr. Louanne Cole Weston, who argues that it would be more responsible of her colleagues to use the word “compulsion.”

Unfortunately, neither Janssen nor Weston — nor anyone involved in the adult entertainment industry — were invited to testify at last year’s Congressional hearings.

Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychologist, was invited to testify, and she contends that the same criteria used to diagnose substance abuse can be applied to problematic porn use.

For example, she says, frequent porn users are apt to develop a tolerance to the material and gradually require more — and more intense — content to find sexual satisfaction.

"Most of the addicts will say, well, here's the stuff I would never look at, it's so disgusting I would never look at it, whatever that is — sex with kids, sex with animals, sex involving feces," Layden says. "At some point they often cross over."

But Janssen says such arguments are pure conjecture and are not supported by any scientific evidence.

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