If you google “pornography addiction,” you’re immediately directed to a huge variety of advocacy organizations, professionals, and self-help articles that can help you “break free” of its negative effects on your life. Celebrities such as Terry Crews and David Duchovny have spoken out about their struggles with pornography consumption. State legislators have even gotten involved, with many states passing or considering resolutions defining pornography addiction as a public health crisis. At the same time, social scientists have critiqued the simple application of medical concepts to understand social problems like addiction. In their new article, Burke and MillerMacPhee chronicle the recent attention to “pornography addiction,” how this focus contradicts science, and the consequences of labeling porn as addictive.
Burke and Miller MacPhee conducted a content analysis of over 600 documents to understand how activists, religious leaders, politicians and scientists framed the harms of pornography. They found that references in popular media and legislation to pornography as “addictive” are a relatively recent phenomenon, emerging during the early 21st century. The news media and politicians repeatedly refer to the dangers of pornography addiction despite inconclusive neuroscientific evidence that pornography can be addictive in the same sense as substances like nicotine or alcohol. Yet references to “pornography addiction” have increased dramatically in the last ten years.
Activists, reporters, religious leaders, and legislators all use terms such as to “pornography addiction” to highlight porn’s harmful effects on not only individual health but, also, heterosexual relationships and society. By framing pornography as biologically addictive, their judgements appear neutral or unbiased, rather than rooted in particular interests such as conservative christianity or the therapeutic profession. In short, social actors can use scientific and biomedical framings of pornography “addiction” to give legitimacy and authority to their own judgements about sexual behavior.