New Study Finds, “More Church = Less Porn”

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Image Shutterstock

From PsychCentral.

A new study finds that attendance of religious services by young people is associated with a reduction in viewing pornography over time.

The study findings appear in the Journal of Adolescence.

“We were able to determine that there is a barrier effect at play wherein religious social control encourages adolescents to view less pornography over time,” said Kyler Rasmussen, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in the University of Calgary’s Department of Psychology.

“This increase in pornography consumption as adolescents get older isn’t as drastic among those who attend religious services. We can see that religious attendance is a factor in shaping the trajectories of pornography viewing in adolescents.”

Rasmussen added, “Some might see it as a vindication of the role of religion, in that it can shape the behavior of young adolescents in a positive way.”

…So what is it about attending religious services that would help steer adolescents away from viewing pornography? “People in religious communities learn that there are expected patterns of behavior,” says Bierman.

“It may be the notion of a divine significant other who watches over them and there may also be a social support component. When you become integrated within a moral community where pornography is used less often and is, in fact, discouraged, this may shape and deter pornography usage. There’s a kind of social control function at play.”  Read the full article here.

To discover more faithful ideas for raising loving, moral, godly, porn-resistant kids, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.

Pornography: A Public Health Crisis

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The question is no longer just about the morality of porn.  The science shows it is a public health crisis.

From the Chicago Tribune

The thing is, no matter what you think of pornography (whether it’s harmful or harmless fantasy) the science is there. After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality – for the worse. By taking a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large, Utah’s resolution simply reflects the latest research.

The statistics on today’s porn use are staggering. A Huffington Post headline announced in 2013 that “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter Combined,” and one of the largest free porn sites in the world, YouPorn, streamed six times the bandwidth of Hulu in 2013. Pornhub, another major free porn site, boasted that in 2015 it received 21.2 billion visits and “streamed 75GB of data a second, which translates to enough porn to fill the storage in around 175 million 16GB iPhones.”

Extensive scientific research reveals that exposure to and consumption of porn threaten the social, emotional and physical health of individuals, families and communities, and highlights the degree to which porn is a public health crisis rather than a private matter. But just as the tobacco industry argued for decades that there was no proof of a connection between smoking and lung cancer, so, too, has the porn industry, with the help of a well-oiled public relations machine, denied the existence of empirical research on the impact of its products.

Using a wide range of methodologies, researchers from a number of disciplines have shown that viewing pornography is associated with damaging outcomes. In a study of U.S. college men, researchers found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography, and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault (if they knew they wouldn’t be caught) than men who hadn’t seen porn in the past 12 months. The same study found that porn consumers were less likely to intervene if they observed a sexual assault taking place. In a study of young teens throughout the southeastern United States, 66 percent of boys reported porn consumption in the past year; this early porn exposure was correlated with perpetration of sexual harassment two years later. A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies between 1978 and 2014 from seven different countries concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression, regardless of age. A 2010 meta-analysis of several studies found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women.”

A 2012 study of college-age women with male partners who used porn concluded that the young women suffered diminished self-esteem, relationship quality and sexual satisfaction correlated with their partners’ porn use. Meanwhile, a 2004 study found that exposure to filmed sexual content profoundly hastens adolescents’ initiation of sexual behavior: “The size of the adjusted intercourse effect was such that youths in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation [in the subsequent year] that was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile,” the study’s authors wrote. All of these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Because so much porn is free and unfiltered on most digital devices, the average age of first viewing porn is estimated by some researchers to be 11. In the absence of a comprehensive sex-education curriculum in many schools, pornography has become de facto sex education for youth. And what are these children looking at? If you have in your mind’s eye a Playboy centerfold with a naked woman smiling in a cornfield, then think again. While “classy” lad mags like Playboy are dispensing with the soft-core nudes of yesteryear, free and widely available pornography is often violent, degrading and extreme.

In a content analysis of best-selling and most-rented porn films, researchers found that 88 percent of analyzed scenes contained physical aggression, generally spanking, gagging, choking or slapping. Verbal aggression occurred in 49 percent of the scenes, most often in the form of calling a woman “bitch” and “slut.” Men perpetrated 70 percent of the aggressive acts, while women were the targets 94 percent of the time. It is difficult to account for all of the “gonzo” and amateur porn available online, but there is reason to believe that the rented and purchased porn in the analysis largely reflects the content of free porn sites. As researcher Shira Tarrant points out, “The tube sites are aggregators of a bunch of different links and clips, and they are very often pirated or stolen.” So porn that was produced for sale is proffered for free. READ MORE

Why Porn Is NOT An Addiction (Part Deux) and Why That Matters For Your Healing.


A while back, I shared a study arguing that porn was not an addiction. I also explained why this matters for treatment.  In the months since then, I’ve gotten several emails from people asking questions about that post. Many of these messages cited a response by Matt Fradd  that took issue (very respectfully, thank you Matt) with my position.  Most recently, I received an email from a pastor who was interested in the debate about the issue. My conversation with this pastor–who, like many pastors, works with a lot of people who confess the sin of pornography and masturbation–led me to believe that an update to my original post was in order.


To be clear, I have no issue with the phrase “sexual addiction” if it is used casually to refer to inappropriate and destructive sexual behavior.  There is no question that pornography is a pervasive, insidious, and terribly destructive problem. It can even seem, superficially, addictive.  I and my associates at the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-counseling practice treat a lot of people who struggle with this issue and we regularly witness, first hand, the havoc it causes.

That said, in treatment, labels do matter because they direct both how we think about the roots of a problem and how we treat it.  In light of this, people are often surprised to learn that despite the fact that this phrase has been around since the late 1980’s, “sexual addiction” doesn’t exist as a diagnosis in either the DSM-V or the ICD-10 (which general physicians use).  Even the people who argue that pornography use is an addiction are, in fact, obliged to diagnose it either as an “impulse control disorder” or some type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The psychiatric and medical professions simply do not recognize the pop-psych diagnosis of “sexual addiction” because there is insufficient evidence to suggest it is an addiction rather that a compulsion/impulse control disorder.

Again, here’s why that matters to you.

Addiction VS. Compulsion

There are several important reasons mental health professionals view problem porn use and masturbation as an impulse control disorder or compulsion instead of an addiction.  A good rule-of-thumb for determining the difference between a compulsion and an addiction is that addictions are experienced more as a source of pleasure than guilt while compulsions are experienced as more a source of guilt than pleasure.

If sex were an addiction the person…

1) wouldn’t tend to feel guilty about what he did,
2) would experience physiological withdrawal (that jeopardized his health–not just caused psychological discomfort) when the “drug” was removed for a period of time, and
3) once he was “clean” the problem would be largely resolved.  (And yes, I’m aware of the “dry drunk” phenomenon, but those behaviors tend to be treated as issues that are co-morbid with the addiction as opposed to the cause of the addiction.)

The compulsive, on the other hand, is simultaneously drawn to the object of his obsession and repulsed by his connection to it.  He HATES himself for doing it but he can’t stop.  (By contrast the addict will often say he hates himself for indulging, but there’s little emotion behind the claim.  In truth, he loves it and lives for it).

Likewise, a sexual compulsion is not driven by a physiological need for either the object (porn)/action (masturbation).  While an addict could die from not getting his fix in time, no one is going to die from not being allowed to look at porn or masturbate. Instead, what drives a compulsion–sexual or otherwise– is an underlying, misunderstood, frustrated emotional need.  For the sexual compulsive,  we are specifically talking about the need for intimacy.  Most sexual compulsives are terrible at intimacy and use porn as a substitute.  But because, as Mark Shea often says, “you can never get enough of what you don’t really want”  the ache of the unsatisfied need for intimacy makes them hate themselves for settling for less.  An addict has no such internal struggle,  they believe they have found what they need in the bottle or the drug.

Sin versus Disorder

But what about sin?  Does everything have to be pathologized?  Isn’t there at least SOME time when lust is “just” sinful?

It’s true. For most, otherwise healthy, normal, (sinful) people, porn is attractive simply because we tend to be fascinated by provocative images.  This is the sin of lust and, at this level, porn use/masturbation is a bad habit that can be overcome by grace, self-discipline, and accountability. You don’t need therapy for this.  Go to confession.  Practice virtue.  If need be, get some support with an internet filter.  You’re good to go.

When Porn Becomes a Pathology

Unfortunately, for more serious porn problems, this approach doesn’t tend to work because the mere fact that porn involves provocative images isn’t what makes porn so hard to resist.

Ultimately, the degree to which a person struggles with porn use is almost directly proportional to his/her struggle to be authentically, genuinely intimate with the people in his or her life.   People struggle with compulsive use of porn because they have poor relationship skills, can’t figure out how to be vulnerable in healthy ways, aren’t good at articulating their needs in relationships, and aren’t comfortable dealing with emotions–especially negative emotions.  They use porn to self-medicate for all of this.  Using filters on your computer or smartphone can be a fine first step, but it can also strengthen the force of the compulsion because now, you don’t even have unhealthy ways to meet these other, very legitimate needs (e.g., needs for healthy intimate connection, emotional expression, personal fulfillment).

Porn is just the tip of the iceberg for these individuals.  It’s a symptom, and they’ll continue to struggle with it until the underlying issues are addressed.  That’s why an addiction model (which says, in essence, “just avoid it and you’ll be fixed”) doesn’t really work and can even make things worse for these individuals.  It leads people to believe that if they could just put their phone away or shut down the computer all would be well but, in fact, these people have much deeper problems expressing their emotional and relational selves in healthy ways; problems that must be addressed if they want to be genuinely free of their sexual compulsions.

Porn isn’t a social problem because people like porn.  It is a social problem because, as a society, families have stopped teaching children how to have healthy relationships.  This breakdown in the capacity for interpersonal attachment and intimacy is rooted in the breakdown of family life (and even many intact families don’t have an actual family life) which then expresses itself as a compulsion to use porn.

Healing & Hope

We need to think of compulsive porn use, not as the disease itself, but as the fever that accompanies the disease. Yes, sometimes a fever becomes so serious that has to be the focus of treatment.  But more often, you watch the fever to judge the progress of healing the underlying infection.  The problem with the addiction model is that it tends to ignore both the deeper infection and the responsibility one has to heal this deeper wound.  Telling someone “just put a filter on your computer” and “have custody of your eyes” does nothing to encourage them to get the help they need to develop the relational/emotional skills they are lacking; the very problem that drove them to a compulsive relationship with porn in the first place.

Healing from compulsive porn use can be challenging, but it is absolutely possible.  If you or a loved one would like more information on what it takes to overcome the struggle against compulsive pornography use, start with both Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart which explores how to stop hating yourself and start healing the hurt, and Holy Sex!  which reveals what it takes to experience your sexuality as God intended.  For additional assistance, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn how our tele-counseling practice can help you find healing for yourself and your relationships.



New Research Suggests Porn is NOT an Addiction. It is a Compulsion. Here’s Why That Matters.

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Image via Shutterstock

New research puts another nail in the coffin of the idea that pornography is an addiction.  First the study, then I’ll explain why this matters for treating problem sexual behaviors and why it’s GOOD news for sufferers.  According to…

A new study published in Biological Psychology provides provocative evidence in favor of dropping the addiction label because what’s going on inside the brains of so-called porn “addicts” is nothing like what you would expect from someone who has an addiction.

In this study, researchers recruited 122 heterosexual men and women who reported “problems regulating their viewing of sexual images.” These participants came to a lab where they viewed a series of images (some sexual, some non-sexual) while an electroencephalograph (EEG) measured their brain waves.

The researchers focused on one specific brain activity pattern, the late positive potential (LPP), which reveals the extent to which a stimulus evokes an emotional response. LPP is a frequently used measure in neuroscience studies of emotion.

Previous studies of drug addicts have found that, when shown images of their drug of choice, their LPP levels spike—that is, they show a strong emotional response to images of the drug.

To the extent that pornography is addictive, one would expect a similar finding when a so-called porn addict is shown sexually explicit imagery; however, that’s not what was found in this study. Instead, what researchers found was the reverse—that is, these individuals showed decreased LPP levels when viewing sexual images compared to non-sexual images.

As noted by the study’s lead author, Dr. Nicole Prause, in a press release: “While we do not doubt that some people struggle with their sexual behaviors, these data show that the nature of the problem is unlikely to be addictive.”  In light of such findings, it would seem advisable to drop the “addiction” label when talking about people who are having issues regulating their porn use because it does not appear to be accurate.   


Saying that pornography is not addictive does NOT mean it is not problematic.  We know that it is–unquestionably.  BUT if the urge to view pornography is an addiction then that means that one can never hope to fully recover from the urge to view pornography and/or masturbate.  As the saying goes, “Once and addict, always an addict.”   Although some people are helped by recovery programs that follow an addiction model, many other people are demoralized by the idea that they might never be free of the struggle.  This idea causes many to give up treatment or never try in the first place.  “After all, if I’m never going to be free, why start in the first place.”

This might seem like a cop-out on the surface, after all, plenty of people have drug and alcohol addictions and they seek help.  But the difference is that with drugs or alcohol, you can learn to avoid the chemicals that drive the addiction.  But if pornography is actually an addiction, you always carry the chemicals that cause the addiction inside of you. You can never really be sure when they might strike again.  An alcoholic can tell himself, “I can be OK as long as I don’t take the first drink.”  but while a “porn addict” can avoid pornography, they can’t avoid feeling physically attracted to someone.  If they’re married, they can’t avoid sex.  They can’t avoid every image on TV or in the movies the might provoke arousal.  Can you imagine the kind of pressure this approach can put on a client and why so many people despair of ever recovering when they are treated using an addiction model?   No matter how many controls you put on your computer, no matter how accountable you make yourself to a partner, you can ever be scrupulous enough to get away from every imaginable trigger.


The mounting research suggests that rather than an addiction, it might be truer to call porn and problem sexual behavior “compulsions.”  To say that the urge to view pornography is more like a compulsion than an addiction means that it can be treated like many other impulse control problems such as, anger control problems.  The treatment for compulsions involves helping clients learn mindfulness-based techniques that empower them to avoid triggers when possible, recognize urges early, identify the problem driving the urge and address the real, underlying concern.  There is good reason to believe that this approach actually heals the damage compulsions can cause in the brain and enable clients to experience healthy arousal without triggering a compulsive response. Many clients who learn this approach report that they can become free from the urge to view pornography or engage in other problem sexual behaviors altogether AND go on to have healthier and more intimate marriages post-treatment.

Through the Pastoral Solutions Institute tele-counseling practice we successfully treat problem sexual behaviors such as compulsive pornography use using this compulsion model of treatment.  We also encourage our clients to use a wonderful support program called which created a coaching program to support clients going through therapy for this issue.


The bottom line is that if you or someone you love is struggling with problem sexual behavior, there is hope.  There is healing.  There is a way through.  And if you need assistance, we are here to help.

Men & Porn: New Study Finds 4 Reason Porn isn’t “Normal” For Guys

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Image via Shutterstock

Pornography is a huge industry.  In fact, it is difficult to wrap one’s head around how big a business pornography is.  According to the Science of Relationships Blog, pornography use generates 13 billion dollars a year, which is more annual revenue than Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, eBay and Netflix produce combined.

Although we do know that pornography has negative effects on people, little is known about the specific problems associated with the use of pornography.  A new study addressed this question and found four particular problems associated with the use of pornography.

“To understand the effect of pornography on men’s romantic relationships researchers examined pornography viewing among young men who were in heterosexual relationships. They sampled 373 college-attending men who were involved in relationships of 4 months to just over 7 years in duration. The men were asked to complete a series of questionnaires, including measures of gender role conflict, attachment style, relationship quality, and pornography use. The questions measuring porn viewing asked about frequency, amount of time each week and per sitting, and if porn interfered or negatively impacted daily life.

What did they find? The frequency of men’s pornography viewing was positively associated with gender role conflict, insecure attachment, lower relationship quality, and decreased sexual satisfaction.” READ MORE

What Does This Mean?

The researchers note that their study could not determine whether these problems were caused by porn use or made the use of pornography more likely.  It is probably some combination of both.  For instance, because attachment styles are relatively fixed traits that are established in the first several years of life, it is more likely that anxious or avoidant attachment styles (as opposed to secure attachment) are associated with greater use of porn than it is likely that porn leads to insecure attachment.  At the same time,  there is good reason to believe that pornography use could contribute to gender-role conflict, since other studies have suggested that porn use tends to increase misogyny, and decrease both relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.

Porn Isn’t “Normal”–Even for Men.

Whether subsequent research determines that pornography is the cause or bad fruit of these problems, it is clear that porn use isn’t the sign of a normal, healthy functioning person.  For instance,  many people believe that more men’s use of  pornography is both normal and unavoidable because they are “more visual” and because men “think about sex every 7-15 seconds.”   These oft quoted “facts” are actually both myths (see here and here).   In fact, as I point out in Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids. based on the available research it is much more likely that the reason men are more frequent users of porn is that male children are often more poorly attached than female children due to parent’s fear of giving too much affection to boys less they “sissify” them.  The fact that this study found a lower association between securely attached men and porn use reinforces this conclusion. In other words, degree of porn use is not a normal part of masculine behavior, it suggests that many traits that we popularly associate with “maleness” are actually traits that men and women display if they are poorly attached.

Good Help is Available

Regardless, if you or someone you love is using pornography, don’t accept is as normal.  Address it directly and seek appropriate help. To learn more about how to have a healthy, vital, adult sexuality read, Holy Sex! or, for help raising porn-free kids, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.

Long Term Help for Those in Recovery

Recovering from addictions is a painful process.  It isn’t unusual for a serious addict to have to go through a treatment program 3 or more times before they can maintain sobriety.  One of the biggest challenges of recovery is changing your life and your social network after you get out of treatment.  If the addict keeps the same friends or stays in the same environment post recovery as he or she did before seeking help, there are just too many temptations.

Comunita Cenacolo (Community of the Cenacle) is a Catholic program designed to assist those who desire to live a life free of addictions.  It is not so much a treatment program as an opportunity to rebuild one’s life centered around God, service, and healthy friendships.  The Community requires a minimum 3 year commitment and offers support to both the addict and their parents.  They accept men 18-40 and women 18-30.  From their website:

…founded in Italy in 1983 by a dynamic, vibrant, and faith-filled religious sister named Elvira Petrozzi.  Mother Elvira felt certain that God was calling her to serve the poor of the modern world: disillusioned young men and women who live in desperation and hopelessness, convinced that life has no meaning or value. Unable to find peace or joy in their lives, they seek to fill the emptiness with the illusory pleasures of the world, only to find themselves steeped in an intense interior isolation.

Trusting unwaveringly in the direction of the Holy Spirit, Mother Elvira proclaims to all those who live in darkness that only Jesus Christ can heal and transform their shattered lives, changing despair into hope, sadness into joy, hatred into forgiveness, and death into life.

Our Way of Life

To everyone we welcome, we propose a simple, disciplined, family style of life, based on the rediscovery of the essential gifts of prayer and work (”ora et labora”), true friendship, sacrifice, and faith in Jesus.   The spirituality of the Community is profoundly Eucharistic and Marian.  The day is structured around times of prayer (Eucharistic Adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary), work, deep sharing about one’s own life in the light of the Word of God, recreation, and times of celebration.  We believe that the Christian life in its simplicity and fullness is the true answer to every restlessness in the human heart and that, in the living encounter with God’s Mercy, man is reborn into hope and is freed from the chains that have enslaved him, thus rediscovering the joy of loving.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addictions of any kind, check out Comunita Cenacolo. It’s a unique resource that can make a profound difference.