Psychologists Identify Phenomenon That May Explain Why Many People Are Distraught About Their Porn Habits

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Aliyah Kovner 22 Aug 2018, 22:44

A group of human sexuality researchers and psychologists have formulated a theory that could explain why many people believe themselves to be addicted to pornography when, in reality, they seek out explicit entertainment in a similar fashion as those who are unfazed by their proclivities. Their paper, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, argues that although some individuals may have a truly compulsive relationship with porn – a concept that has been controversial within the mental health community ever since the advent of internet pornography – one factor that seems to be closely associated with an individual's self-reported issues around explicit entertainment is a religious belief that the content is bad in the first place.

Lead author Joshua Grubbs and his colleagues explain how findings from more than 15 diverse American and European studies examining the effects of religion or religious morality on pornography – totaling nearly 7,000 male and female participants – support this psychological phenomenon, which they dub Pornography Problems due to Moral Incongruence (PPMI).

“There is considerable evidence to indicate that religiousness is associated with greater experience of moral incongruence and with greater report of problems related to pornography use,” they wrote, noting that although people do need to have some level of habitual porn use in order to have self-reported problems with porn, there is only a small association between said problems and their frequency of use. Furthermore, only a small number of study subjects claiming to be addicted looked at porn at extreme levels.

"What we know from past scientific studies is that some people seem to be reporting real problems of addiction or dysregulation (they can’t stop viewing pornography excessively, even when it’s causing major problems for them)," Grubbs told IFLScience via email. "However, there is also evidence that other people might not be dysregulated or compulsive, but are actually dealing with shame and guilt." 

"In some cases, it seems that this shame and guilt component, which we’ve labeled moral incongruence, is driving people to think they have an addiction, even when their behaviors don’t line up."  

As clinical psychologist and sexuality specialist David Ley notes in a Psychology Today column about the research, many individuals who grew up in conservative, religious households are strongly morally opposed to pornography; yet a significant proportion of these people still watch or view pornographic media.

“And then they feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior, and angry at themselves and their sexual desire to watch more porn,” he wrote. “[This] moral conflict over your porn use (PPMI) does turn out to be really bad for you. But not because of the porn. Instead, higher levels of moral conflict over porn use predict higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, diminished sexual well-being, as well as religious and spiritual struggles.”

For example, one of the studies examined by the quartet of authors found that men who used pornography but disapproved of it on religious grounds were more prone to experience increases in depression over the six-year follow-up than those who had no moral opposition.

Moving forward, the authors hope that therapists and other mental health professionals treating patients with self-described pornography issues will begin trying to differentiate PPMI from the separate entity of addiction – diagnosed as a type of Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder (CSBD). Thankfully, even if these concepts remain murky in clinical practice, the team notes that the widely used approach of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is effective for both behavioral change and addressing self-stigma and shame.

[H/T: Psychology Today]

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