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The Dangers of the “Addict” Label

If you view pornography a lot, does that make you an addict?

The adverse effect of the casual use of the label “Addict” has commented on by both scientific and religious figures. Three examples:

From an article in the Deseret News July 22, 2018 by Sara Israelsen-Hartley entitled “If you view pornography a lot, does that make you an addict?, we read:

The word "addiction" has been tossed around so cavalierly in society that it has become a verbal placeholder to mean that someone is doing something more than they want to — but that doesn't mean it's a disorder, says Joshua Grubbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University who studies the psychologies of religion and spirituality, human sexuality and addiction. Rather than labeling sexual behavior or porn use as the ultimate problem, Grubbs says he considers those behaviors warning signs, much like a stomachache. The pain itself is not a diagnosis, but requires further questioning and tests. Is it an ulcer? Stomach cancer? Indigestion? Appendicitis? "Having problems with porn doesn't tell me you have an addiction," says Grubbs. "We need to investigate further." Maybe the underlying issue is unaddressed anxiety or depression or even undiagnosed attention deficit or bipolar disorder. "I've been at this for a long time, and I have never seen a man or a woman who was having this level of sexual behavioral problems and didn’t have other issues going on in their life," said David Ley, clinical psychologist and critic of the sex addiction label.

A March 2017 study by BYU researchers Nathan Leonhardt, Brian Willoughby and Bonnie Young-Petersen, published in The Journal of Sex Research includes the following:

The results suggested that people experience relationship anxiety to the extent that they perceive themselves to be addicted to pornography. "This adds support to the idea that religious individuals either have a higher propensity for developing a pornography compulsion," the report states, "or simply misattribute their pornography use to be an addiction, due to the guilt and shame accompanying sexual expression." Willoughby said the study did not look at whether pornography addiction exists, or whether viewing pornography damages relationships. Instead, he said, the BYU research team was focused on the distress people feel when discussing pornography and when disclosing their own adult material habits to a romantic partner.

"In our society in general, and particularly in religious cultures, there needs to be more openness around this topic to help people reduce some of their anxiety," Willoughby said. "Right now, a lot of our conversations around pornography are very black and white — you either are a pornography addict or you're not." Willoughby said his own research and that of his peers suggest a small correlation between pornography and negative relationship effects. And he estimates that roughly 15 percent of all pornography users experience daily, secretive, compulsive behavior that mirrors or could be perceived as addiction.

But while most people who view pornography do not experience compulsive behavior, Willoughby said, their personal attitudes toward sexual expression can lead them to label themselves as addicts.

And Elder Dallin H. Oakes from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in a 2005 article entitled “Recovering from the Trap of Pornography”

If behavior is incorrectly classified as an addiction, the user may think he or she has lost agency and the capacity to overcome the problem. On the other hand, having a clearer understanding of the depth of a problem—that it may not be as ingrained or extreme as feared—can give hope and an increased capacity to escape the trap. This can weaken resolve to recover and repent. On the other hand, having a clearer understanding of the depth of a problem—that it may not be as ingrained or extreme as feared—can give hope and an increased capacity to exercise agency to discontinue and repent.

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