On the Internet, there are many sites which bemoan the “porn addiction” problem. There are also many service providers who offer recovery programs to people who want to kick the porn habit. But is the “porn addiction” problem real? And does “porn addiction” lead to health risks and negative side effects? These are important sexual health issues to address.

First some facts. It is a fact that “porn addiction” is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used by medical and mental health professionals, due to the lack of scientific data. More important, there is no scientific evidence for the so-called negative side effects of “porn addiction.” I recently did a survey of the literature on the “porn addiction” issue. My findings are summarized as follows:

1. There is no evidence that porn viewing leads to erectile dysfunction.

2. There is no sign of brain change due to the viewing of porn.

3. There is no evidence that porn viewing has an effect on adolescent behavior. For example, there is no evidence that porn watching would make teens commit sexual violence.

The foregoing data are from empirical research on the porn phenomenon. But should this be a big surprise? We must remember that porn is often used as a masturbation aid. Up until recently, various negative health effects have been attributed to masturbation behaviors. When I was in high school, I could find books in the school library which warned us about the “dangerous effects” of masturbation. The harm of masturbation has long been held as an established fact by the authorities until modern scientific research debunked such myths. Today, masturbation is popular for stress relief and sleeping aid among the younger generations. If masturbation could actually cause blindness, then such harm would have been reported to the medical community long ago. The fact is that today’s sex educators would even recommend masturbation to young people as a way to combat anxiety and a healthy way of self-pleasuring. Young people, including both boys and girls, have no qualms talking about their masturbation habits. Further, parents would generally approve of their children self-pleasuring, provided that they do it in private. Masturbation has been destigmatized as a vice and a health risk.

So, if the harm of masturbation is an old myth, then why would the harm of porn watching be any different? Remember, the viewing of porn is closely associated with self-pleasuring. People watch porn in order to induce orgasm. Or they may use porn with their partners to create the right atmosphere for sex. Again, the final objective is to create sexual arousal to induce orgasm, either by oneself or with someone. But there is no evidence that sexual arousal or orgasm would have a negative health effect. After all, it is the most natural thing. It is difficult to imagine that a maladaptive and harmful behavior would emerge in nature through natural selection.

Now, how about the addiction aspect, aside from any negative side effects? After all, anything that creates pleasure tend to create an addictive. We are pleasure seeking animals. If porn is pleasurable, would it make people lose control of themselves? Would it make them spend in inordinate amount of time on porn watching activities?

To answer this question, we must put things in perspective. Yes, porn watching is pleasurable. So is masturbation. So is sex with a partner. They are all very pleasurable activities. They are basically indistinguishable as behaviors inducing bodily pleasure. Could people be spending too much time masturbating? Could they spend too much time having sex with a partner? Yes, they could. It is a possibility. But how much sex is too much? If someone masturbates every day, is it too much? Have we heard of people who masturbate so much that they call in sick and don’t go to class? How about people who are so engaged in sex with a partner that they call off work? I would think that such cases are very rare, if they exist at all. People are rational. They seldom are so confused that they would put their school work or livelihood at risk. Even if such serious case of addiction exists, it just means that pleasure can make people misplace their priorities. It is really not about porn itself.

Just like anything in life, there is an upside and a downside. The porn-bashers have spent lots of time talking about the imagined negative effects of porn watching. They seldom mention the benefits of porn. Let me take this opportunity to name a few:

1. Improve our attitude towards sexuality and make us more sex-positive.

2. Enhance our quality of life by increasing pleasure.

3. Introduce us to a wider variety of sexual practices.

4. Enrich the erotic lives and pleasure of couples

5. Provide a legal alternative to illegal sexual behaviors and practices

6. Decrease sexual offenses such as child molestation.

All in all, the potential negative effects of porn is no different from the potential negative effects of an addiction to sex. Yes, today’s porn is delivered through a different platform and is based on Internet technology. But sex is sex and pleasure is pleasure. Sex and pleasure have been there since time immemorial. Today’s easy accessibility of porn through the Internet offers numerous tangible benefits. While we should always strive to seek a balance in life, the fearmongering promoted by those who have a moralist or religious agenda is not justified.

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Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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