Should We Call It Porn “Addiction”?

There’s a debate among medical professional when it comes to the terms we use to describe problematic use of pornography. Should we call it porn addiction? Should we call it compulsive pornography use? Should we call it pornography dependence? Or something else?

The debate is actually a fairly old one, and it is bigger than just pornography, involving all kinds of addictions and compulsions. In medicine, there has been a long-standing debate about these terms. Sometimes the definitions have considerable overlap.

For instance, back when the DSM III was being edited, there was considerable debate among committee members between the words “addiction” and “dependence.”

  • Those who favored “dependence” felt it was less pejorative than “addiction”; it was a more neutral term that would not stigmatize substance abusers.
  • Some committee members favored the label “addiction” when it came to drugs and alcohol because it they thought the word more accurately portrayed the overwhelming habit of substance abuse as distinguished from “physical” dependence (which can occur in anyone who takes medications that affect the central nervous system).

In end the room was split, and the word “dependence” won over “addiction” by a single vote.

Addiction: Pro Arguments

  • Some prefer the word “addiction” because it denotes a sense of proper seriousness—it is something oppressive and requires help from a Power greater than yourself.
  • Some prefer the term because, like it or not, it is a common term: let’s not fight it. Let’s just used it and then help people define it well.
  • Some prefer the term because it has a lot of utility for people who have these habits—it can really free people up to talk about their problem. When they see their problem as partially “medical,” regardless of what it actually is medically speaking, then the shame factor is reduced and then we can immerse people in communities of support where they can really take responsibility for their behavior.

Addiction: Con Arguments

  • Some are okay with the term itself, but they just think it is overused. Not everyone who looks at porn is really addicted to it, they say, so don’t use it as a blanket label, which is the tendency we see happening.
  • Some reject the term altogether because they think the term denotes something of permanence: once and addict, always an addict. This unnecessarily seals a person’s fate where they never feel like they can ever fully recover, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, make stay locked in patterns of behavior even though they don’t want to.
  • Some dislike the term because they hate this disease-model—they think if something is a disease, this makes it excusable.

Debating Labels

The primary concern here is over labels. Words can be defined different by different people, and words change meaning over time.

Over 100 years ago, the word addiction didn’t have a medical flavor at all, nor was it universally negative. It was just a way to talk about a compulsive sort of dedication and devotion to something. Today, the term has a real medical feel. For instance, the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines “addiction” as a chronic disease of brain circuitry.

I’m less concerned about the terms we used, and I’m more concerned about what we mean by those terms. Not everyone shares our definitions, so we have to be cognizant that the words we use often carry a lot of baggage.

Written by: Matt Fradd is the author of Delivered: True Stories of Men and Woman Who Turned from Porn to Purity.

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