First of all, let’s dispense with the argument about whether porn addiction actually exists. From a clinical perspective, porn addicts do not exhibit the same physiological symptoms as nicotine, alcohol and drug addicts. So in that sense, no, porn addiction does not exist.

However, from a behavioural perspective, the emotional dynamics of porn addiction are strikingly similar not only to clinically recognised addictions but to other cyclical, shame-based issues such as self-harm. Academics may quibble over abstract definitions. The misery of porn users is very real. The inability to stop porn binges can destroy relationships and lead to the loss of jobs and families.

There is also the not insignificant question of whether excessive exposure to porn causes men to objectify women. The issue is a pressing one. 97% of British boys aged 16-20 have viewed porn and 23% consider themselves addicted. In my opinion, viewing pornography does not cause the objectification of women: it’s too late. It’s already happened.

The sexual-spiritual split

Writing in The Journey toward Complete Recovery, Michael Picucci, PhD, describes how society’s traditional antipathy to sex causes what he terms the ‘sexual-spiritual split’. This is a “deep psychic schism within almost everyone in our culture which prohibits enduring, loving relationships to form, which at the same time can remain sexually alive and growing.”

In short, the sexual-spiritual split is a psychic wound resulting from the incompatibility of our animal sexuality and our so-called civilised humanity. (This is the same fundamental psychological fissure that Freud wrote about in Civilization and its Discontents.) Picucci gives the origin of this split as “early religious and cultural training, which teaches that God, love, and family are good while sex is dirty, bad and perverse”. As described in the post A brief history of shame, this is because sex is traditionally regarded as transgressive.

Madonna or whore

By the time boys develop an interest in porn they have already internalised society’s unconscious sex-negative bias. When the natural adolescent desire for sexual exploration emerges, boys are unknowingly funnelled into seeing women in Madonna-or-whore terms. Either as loving, lovable and implicitly non-sexual women like their mothers and sisters, or as depersonalised sex machines whose sole purpose is dispensing pleasure.

Our prevailing psychological paradigm does not teach boys to view women in complete terms. Commanding respect, capable of giving and receiving love, yet also actively sexual. Pornography is the only form of visual sex education that young men currently have access to. As a result, improvement is unlikely anytime soon and porn consumption can only rise.

Porn addiction has an entirely functional basis. When this is properly understood it provides a wealth of information that can be used to treat the condition. Personal development practices can be successfully used to acknowledge, accept and release the shame-based programming that keeps people trapped in addiction.