Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Clinician's Digest

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Clinician's Digest

Article excerpt

Clinician's Digest

Has Porn Become a Public Health Crisis?

Thereâ[euro](TM)s no question that todayâ[euro](TM)s porn is a far cry from the heyday of girlie magazines, back-alley strip clubs, and curtained-off rooms in the local video store. With porn accounting for more than one-third of all web traffic, once risqué publications like Playboy have become the equivalent of the horse and buggy. Playboy CEO Scott Flanders summed up this change in an interview with The New York Times last October. "That battle [between paper and digital porn] has been fought and won," he said. "Youâ[euro](TM)re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free."

But is pornâ[euro](TM)s unprecedented ubiquity and accessibility affecting our mental health? Inside and outside of psychotherapy circles, thereâ[euro](TM)s an increasingly heated debate about the degree to which porn is having harmful effects on our emotions, brains, and sexual performance. In the April issue of Skeptic magazine, psychologist and Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo penned "How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood," in which he claims that pornography is negatively affecting young men in particular, who, "hijacked by watching copious amounts of online porn," now suffer from "sexual anorexia," in which they struggle to have satisfying sex with a real-life partner. Zimbardo also cites studies that blame pornography for a dramatic increase in conditions such as erectile dysfunction, low sexual desire, and delayed ejaculation. "Some brains on porn are being digitally rewired in a totally new way," he writes, "to demand change, excitement, and constant stimulation."

Several days after Zimbardoâ[euro](TM)s post was published, sex therapist Marty Klein wrote a rebuttal, "Skeptical of the Porn Skeptics," arguing that while itâ[euro](TM)s concerning that so many men seem to get their sex education from porn, Zimbardoâ[euro](TM)s claims arenâ[euro](TM)t conclusive, nor are they supported by neuroscience. Instead, Klein says, theyâ[euro](TM)re based on a few isolated studies with small sample sizes. Refuting Zimbardoâ[euro](TM)s claim that "young porn addicts exhibit brain responses that are comparable to [those of] drug addicts," he adds that many reports that analyze the fMRI scans of porn users mislead those who are easily impressed by neuroscientific hype. According to Klein, the brain lights up in the same observable way whether weâ[euro](TM)re watching porn, cuddling a grandchild, or witnessing a sunset. "The brain is a reward machine," he says. "If your brain didnâ[euro](TM)t light up looking at porn, why would you be looking at it in the first place?"

Even as the debate intensifies about whether porn is a healthy sexual outlet or an erection-killing relationship death knell, consensus on the matter is lacking, both within the mental health field and beyond it. In fact, when the DSM-5 was being crafted in the run-up to its 2013 publication, committee members from the American Psychological Association considered adding a category for "hypersexual disorder," to include a subdiagnosis for pornography users. But evidence for the necessity of such a classification came up short, and the idea was scrapped. Likewise, the American Academy of Psychiatry has found insufficient evidence to categorize excessive porn use as a mental disorder.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, takes a warier stance on pornâ[euro](TM)s potential impact on young adults. According to David Hill, who chairs the organizationâ[euro](TM)s Council on Communications and Media, the group recommends that parents keep screens out of their childrenâ[euro](TM)s bedrooms, lest they use them secretly to access porn. "We encourage parents to co-view TV and movies with kids to give perspective," he said in an Atlantic interview earlier this year, claiming that most mainstream television and film encourages risky behavior. …

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