How Religion Can Make You a Sex Addict

Think you’re addicted to porn? Doubtful, according to a new study, “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model,” co-authored by David Ley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, N.M. If his name sounds familiar, it’s likely because Ley, author of The Myth of Sex Addiction, is an outspoken and oft-quoted critic of the idea that sex addiction should be a clinical designation. He disputes claims that porn triggers the same responses in the brain as do drugs and alcohol and says that “sex addiction” is a myth perpetuated largely by people and organizations with a religious agenda.

Ley’s study participants were much more likely to label themselves porn addicts if religion played a strong role in their lives. In fact, the amount of porn they viewed had little to do with whether they thought of themselves as addicts; religious affiliation was a much more significant marker.

“If you go back to the origins of even the label ‘porn addict,’ there’s always been a religious and spiritual component,” Ley says. “In the early ’80s, porn was used by Focus on the Family to get 7-11 to remove Playboy from their shelves because they said porn is addictive.”

Although not everyone who thinks that porn addiction is real has a religious agenda, it is nevertheless an idea that faith-based writers and organizations have embraced whole-heartedly.

In an article for morality-based World Net Daily (now called WND), Bob Unruh wrote, “Judith Reisman, a dynamo who has exposed 1950s sexual revolutionary Alfred Kinsey as a fraud, said it’s the argument she’s been presenting for years: The addictive power of porn. She even has coined a term for the chemicals that stimulate the brain under the influence of porn, ‘erototoxins.’ ‘My term ‘erototoxin’ refers to natural, endogenous chemicals associated with sexual arousal that synergistically works to induce an addictive milieu in the brain.’ She noted that toxin, from the Latin toxicus, means literally ‘imbued with poison,’ which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘any substance which, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, destroys life or injures health. So, is porn toxic?…Of course it is and always was.’”

Reisman herself noted Donald L. Hilton Jr., M.D.’s strange theory that the homosexualization of gypsy moths show us how the male brain can be ruined by porn:

“An airplane scatters … pellets imbedded with the scent of the pheromone … [that] overpower the male’s ability to find the female. He is thus desensitized to the natural scent of the female by this artificially produced pheromone. … The male either becomes confused and doesn’t know which direction to turn for the female, or he becomes desensitized to the lower levels of pheromones naturally given out by the female and has no incentive to mate with her.”

Google “porn addiction treatment” and you’ll find that many if not most of the retreats and sex rehab clinics have ties to religion. Even facilities that aren’t obviously faith-based use Alcoholic’s Anonymous 12-step program, which is predicated on the belief in a “higher power.”

Treatment centers that claim to cure porn addiction, Ley says, are “nonregulated industries. There’s no evidence that the treatments they’re providing are effective. Patients aren’t informed ‘Look, porn addiction is not an accepted diagnosis. We think it’s real, but there’s no evidence the treatment we’re providing works; it’s experimental.’ I just simply think that’s unethical.”

I tried to find out how much money is spent on porn and sex addiction treatment, but there are no figures that I could find. Ley wasn’t surprised.

“Nobody really has numbers or data on the finances of this,” he says. “Treatment centers tell clients they’ll try to work with their insurance companies, but insurance won’t pay for it because sex addiction is not an accepted diagnosis. Unfortunately, it’s a smoke screen: Folks walk into those programs with hopes that insurance will pay for it and walk out with $20,000, $30,000 bills that they have to pay for out of pocket.”

Arlene Goldman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and sex therapist in Philadelphia and co-author of Secrets of Sexual Ecstasy says, however, that although many of these treatment facilities might be faith-based, “A lot of programs that help people with sex addiction are not morally based. They’re more about what’s going on with your life and how your porn habits might be affecting you and your relationships.”

Levy is one of the better-known crusaders against the use of the term sex addiction, but he isn’t its only critic. Psychotherapist and sex therapist Marty Klein wrote on his site:

“I don’t use the diagnosis of sex addiction. In 31 years as a sex therapist, marriage counselor, and psychotherapist, I’ve never seen sex addiction. I’ve heard about virtually every sexual variation, obsession, fantasy, trauma, and involvement with sex workers, but I’ve never seen sex addiction. New patients tell me all the time how they can’t keep from doing self-destructive sexual things; still, I see no sex addiction. Instead, I see people regretting the sexual choices they make, often denying that these are decisions…

“The conflict over sex addiction is important to humanists for several reasons. ‘Sex addiction’ is a special weapon now used by the religious right to combat perceived liberalism, to ignore science and to ignite fear. It also helps legitimize anti-sex moralism and bigotry. And psychologists, judges, legislators, and the media are buying it…

“The rest of the people who are in pain about their sexual decision-making are generally struggling with one or more of the following: compulsivity, impulsivity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. An idiosyncratic response to medication can even be a factor.”

In 2009, Susan Block wrote for CounterPunch that the term “sex addict” had even become a fad:

“Though sex addiction is a real problem, much of what is solemnly or sensationally labeled ‘sex addiction’ is just normal erotic angst, sexual experimentation, fetishistic fun and relationship troubles. Ironically, these days, many people seem to grab the term like a designer label on sale, because even though it’s embarrassing and demeaning, calling yourself a “sex addict” is, well, sexy. Some long to wear a glittering Scarlet Letter ‘A’ for Addict on their breast, and seem disappointed when I say “um, just because you masturbate three times a week does not make you a sex addict.”

Goldman agrees with Block that it can be a real problem, although she says that she has seen couples in her practice where one partner views porn but doesn’t see it as a problem; it’s the person’s partner who’s saying he (or she, but it’s usually males) is an addict.

“Is everyone who uses porn an addict? No,” Goldman says. “But in some cases, addiction to porn can cause other problems such as difficulty in later sexual relationships. I treat a number of young men who grew up using porn and masturbating as their sexual outlet. When they’re older and try to relate in a real sexual situation, it can create difficulties.”

Ley writes in his paper that treating someone for porn consumption alone does the patient a disservice. He says that turning to porn can be due to depression, dissatisfaction in relationships, escapism after a divorce or other disappointment, not due to a neurological issue. In other words, he urges caution before buying into the idea that porn addiction is an “epidemic” as some in the field of sex addiction recovery, such as Rob Weiss, M.SW.; former minister Doug Weiss; and Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. say.

“The real danger of this is that it’s not clear to patients or to the general public that religious groups are framing this as a medical disease and obscuring their religious agenda. Nor is it clear that they’re pathologizing the sexual behaviors of gay and bi males,” Ley says. “Ultimately, what I think needs to be clear is that religious groups are using porn addiction pseudo-science labels to mask their moral attacks on porn and sexual behavior.”

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  • kbhmsw
  • jordanyutes

    The above article cites “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A review of the Pornography Addiction model” – by David Ley, It’s important to understand that this was NOT an unbiased review of the literature. The lead author was David Ley. David Ley is the Author of the Myth of Sex Addiction. Everyone knows David Ley’s position, as he has written about 20 Psychology Today blog posts claiming that porn addiction doesn’t exist,

    The Ley review has been completely dismantled by this analysis – “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Fractured Fairytale Posing As A Review” http://pornstudycritiques.com/the-emperor-has-no-clothes-a-fractured-fairytale-posing-as-a-review/

    The Ley review was not a real review of the available literature as it:
    1) omitted many studies
    2) misrepresented the content of many of the studies they did cite
    3) contained about 10 citations that had nothing to do with the text
    4) made a complete mess of addiction neuroscience (claiming that the only real addictions are to opiates, and that you need gay rats to study porn addiction)

    You have to ask your self why David Ley was chosen to produce an “unbiased” review of the literature when –
    1) Leys life’s work is to dispute porn and sex addiction.
    2) Ley has written a book stating that porn addiction cannot exist.
    3) Ley has made numerous appearances on TV shows, radio, and podcasts to discredit porn addiction.
    4) Ley has never published research.
    5) Ley has no training in addiction neurobiology, and has admitted this publicly (read his blog posts).
    6) Ley has said on his blog that he doesn’t understand the mechanisms of addiction.

    The editors of the journal specifically asked Ley to write his opinion piece masquerading as a review. It’s clear that they have an agenda. If editors Moser and Kleinplatz seriously wanted an impartial review of the state of relevant research and its implications for clinicians, why didn’t they ask a neuroscientist, or an addiction specialist who has spent years studying addiction?

  • Aaron Litz

    “Sex Addiction” is a crock. If someone has an addiction- or habit- prone personality, they could become “addicted” to anything they find pleasurable, from pr0n to monopoly to popping plastic packing bubbles, but a specific, isolated addiction to sex is just pure BS. The problem is a lack of control on the person’s part, not in the addictiveness of pr0n or sex. (Actually, you could say that

  • CL Nicholson

    Well, here’s another ‘religion is bad’ article. Now, the Dr. Goldman and the author make the point that “Sex Addiction” is more a buzzword than a clinical diagnosis and it best to see a trained mental health professional to deal with the myriad of issues related to said buzzword. But, if people are finding a means to address and deal with their compulsions and underlying anxieties through a spiritual context (the twelves steps in AA make it clear that alcohol or drug abuse isn’t the cause of your problems, the substance (or sex) is a symptom), is it a bad thing?

    • Virginia Pelley

      No, not at all.

    • JozefAL

      The only problem I see with your whole comment is the fact that you overlook the point that was made to CONNECT the (apparently fraudulent) diagnosis of “sex addiction” from a RELIGIOUS perspective.

      Some sample passages:

      “Ley’s study participants were much more likely to label themselves porn addicts if religion played a strong role in their lives. In fact, the amount of porn they viewed had little to do with whether they thought of themselves as addicts; religious affiliation was a much more significant marker.”

      “Although not everyone who thinks that porn addiction is real has a religious agenda, it is nevertheless an idea that faith-based writers and organizations have embraced whole-heartedly.”

      “The conflict over sex addiction is important to humanists for several reasons. ‘Sex addiction’ is a special weapon now used by the religious right to combat perceived liberalism, to ignore science and to ignite fear. It also helps legitimize anti-sex moralism and bigotry. And psychologists, judges, legislators, and the media are buying it…”

      “The real danger of this is that it’s not clear to patients or to the general public that religious groups are framing this as a medical disease and obscuring their religious agenda. Nor is it clear that they’re pathologizing the sexual behaviors of gay and bi males,” Ley says. “Ultimately, what I think needs to be clear is that religious groups are using porn addiction pseudo-science labels to mask their moral attacks on porn and sexual behavior.”

      The problem is that most religious groups–even those which demonize drugs and alcohol–are willing to acknowledge the substance is the root of the problem WITHOUT demonizing the addict. These religious groups in this situation are not merely demonizing the “addiction” but also demonizing or shaming the “addict” at the same time. They see sex outside of marriage (even if it’s just masturbation) as EVIL–an affront to God and Jesus, something which is NEVER to be condoned. They’re passing a judgment on the “sex addict”–a judgment far worse than they would a drug addict or alcoholic

      Basically, the article’s point was the more religious you believe yourself to be, the more likely you’ll consider your porn habits to be an addiction.

  • Jason E

    If were to believe that god made us in his image than he/she must have a freaky side. Also, if he/she sees and knows everything, like Santa Clause then aren’t we all actors in his/her ultimate porn/snuff/action/documentary/romantic comedy film?