In Psychology Today, David J. Ley explains that there’s no such thing as pornography addiction or sexual addiction:
Porn is not addictive. Sex is not addictive. The ideas of porn and sex addiction are pop psychology concepts that seem to make sense, but have no legitimate scientific basis. For decades, these concepts have flourished in America, but have consistently been rejected by medicine and mental health. The media and American society have accepted that sex and porn are addictive, because it seems intuitively true — we all feel like sometimes, we might do something stupid or self-destructive, when sex is involved. But, this false belief is dangerous, and ultimately not helpful. Because when people buy into the belief that porn is addictive, it changes the argument, and all of a sudden, it seems like it is porn and sex that are the problems. Porn addiction becomes a label, and seems to be an explanation, when in fact, it is just meaningless words and platitudes that distract from the real issue. But sex and porn aren’t the problems. You are.
People do have a strong response to video pornography. Internet porn is very good at triggering male sexuality. The economic forces of the open market have driven modern internet porn to be very, very effective at triggering male sexual buttons, to get them aroused. But women actually have a stronger physiological response to porn than men and based upon this research, women should be more addicted to pornography than men. But the overwhelming majority of the stories we hear about are men. Why is this? Because one part of this issue is an attack on aspects of male sexuality, including masturbation and use of pornography, behaviors which society fears and doesn’t understand.
Porn can affect people, but it does not take them over or override their values. If someone watches porn showing something they find distasteful, it has no impact on their behavior or desires. But, if someone watches porn depicting acts that they, the watcher, are neutral about, then it does make it slightly more likely that they express interest in trying that act themselves. Take anal sex for instance. If a porn viewer finds it disgusting, watching anal pornography isn’t going to change that. But, if they are neutral on it, then watching anal porn probably will slightly increase the chance that I would be willing to at least give it a try. But, there is the crux of the issue — the people who gravitate towards unhealthy, violent porn, are people who already have a disposition towards violence. So — the problem is not in the porn, but in those people. Regulating porn access really is going to have no impact on these people as they can (and do) find far more violent and graphic images in mainstream Hollywood films like Saw.
Here’s some often-ignored empirical science about porn — as societies have increased their access to porn, rates of sex crimes, including exhibitionism, rape and child abuse, have gone down. […] Across the world, and in America, as men have increased ability to view Internet erotica, sex crimes go down. Believe it or not — porn is good for society. This is correlational data, but it is extremely robust, repeated research. But, it is not a message that many people want to hear. Individuals may not like porn, but our society loves it, and benefits from it.
H/T to Radley Balko for the link.