Man looks at adult content on a computer

A Sex Therapist’s Response to Pamela Anderson’s Anti-Porn Piece

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Man looks at adult content on a computer

Pamela Anderson first made a splash in the early 90s when she slipped into that red one-piece for Baywatch, but last summer she made waves for a different reason. In a Wall Street Journal article titled Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn,” Pamela Anderson joined forces with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in August to write an anti-porn piece right off the heels of the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal that finally imploded his marriage to Huma Abedin. In the scathing exposé, she states that we are raising an entire generation on digitized sexual images and creating adults that have no way to receive real intimacy. This problem has spiraled so much out of control that Anderson calls this new demographic the “crack babies of porn.”

Her position on this topic has received major backlash from those in the mainstream media who find it hypocritical that a former Playboy model and sex icon should say anything about sexual refinement, and others who find the idea appalling that porn could be addictive. In one Daily Beast article, a writer claims that sex addiction is “scientifically controversial and infamously ill-defined” and that porn addiction is just a “trendy, oft-cited sex addiction spinoff” that has little to do with the increasing availability of technology, and more to do with the condemning influence of religion instead.

Due to all the back and forth on this topic, we reached out to Stefanie Carnes, daughter of the famous Patrick Carnes, who is a sex therapist in her own right for her scientific input.

Is Porn a Real Issue?

Due to all the back and forth on this topic, we reached out to Dr. Stefanie Carnes, PhD, who is the daughter of leading sex addiction researcher Dr. Patrick Carnes, PhD and is a sex therapist in her own right for her scientific input. She says that while there are some people from very conservative backgrounds who do feel horrible using pornography a couple times a week and think they have an addiction because of it, there are many secular and atheist websites dedicated to people from very liberal backgrounds who are spending hours and hours watching porn and are totally out of control with their usage. She considers porn an “equal opportunity destroyer” and not limited to any one kind of ideology.

Neuroscientifically, the brain and dopamine circuitry responds to behavioral addictions in the same way as they do to substance addictions. Behavioral addictions, in this case, include things like gambling, binge eating, pornography, sex, video gaming and even shopping. In a recent study done at the University of Cambridge, this was proven when researchers showed cocaine addicts a line of cocaine and found that their brain responded differently than someone who’s not addicted. They then took porn addicts and put them in a FMRI and showed them porn, and got the same exact type of response. Addiction has always been referred to as a brain disease, and the same goes for porn addiction.

Before we go any further, we need to lay out the qualifiers for porn addiction. To help with this, Carnes offers the following questions to consider as a litmus test:

  • Is it done in secret and isolative?
  • Is the person spending excessive amounts of time?
  • Are they trying to stop and they can’t?
  • Is it getting in the way of their relationship?
  • Is it getting in the way of their sexual functioning?
  • Are they having consequences because of it?
  • Are they irritable when they can’t access it?
  • Is it escalating and progressing to things that they normally would not be aroused by?
  • Is it morphing their sexuality into things that they don’t feel comfortable with?

If you or someone you know is meeting these types of criteria, then Carnes suggests that they should get an evaluation from a certified sex therapist and get some support.

The Role of Technology

Of course, the more an addictive substance or thing is available, the more addictions arise along with it. Carnes likens it to any kind of addiction in that where there are more casinos, there are more problematic gambling; where there are more bars, there are more alcoholism; where there are more meth labs, there are more meth addiction. “So now that technology is so readily available,” she says, “we’re starting to see increased rates of people struggling with porn addiction.”

Just how widespread has technology made it, you ask? The answer is perhaps much more than we’re prepared for. In a 2009 study where Canadian researcher Simon Lajeunesse, PhD was trying to study porn’s impact, he ran into a serious dilemma. He couldn’t find any college-age males who hadn’t been exposed to porn. “The researcher couldn’t find the control group,” Carnes explains. “Like, he couldn’t find anybody who hasn’t been exposed to porn to serve in that sample.” This reality creates a huge blind spot for us as a society and is one of the reasons why Anderson calls the whole dissemination of pornography “an experiment in mass debasement...whose full nefarious impact may not be known for years.” It sounds dramatic, but you’d have to tell that to the experts as well.

In a TEDx talk called “The Great Porn Experiment,” former retired anatomy and physiology teacher Gary Wilson referred to the widespread use of internet porn as “one of the fastest moving, most global experiments ever unconsciously conducted.” Though it’s true that no one can possibly know the long-term ramifications of what Anderson describes as children “being raised in an environment of wall-to-wall, digitized sexual images, Carnes is already seeing new changes taking effect and the emergence of a new type of sex addict. This new type of addict is referred to in research literature as a “contemporary sex addict” and has a very different profile from the “classic sex addict.” For one, a classic sex addict is typically someone with a history of significant sexual trauma and attachment impairment during childhood. The individual also often has other addictions along with their sex addiction. However, the contemporary sex addict doesn’t necessarily have the same trauma history or attachment impairment. In fact, some contemporary sex addicts come from very solid homes with no trauma history at all. This person is getting online really early and being exposed to graphic, intense content and is primarily addicted to porn. Carnes describes this generation as one that is “sexually conditioning themselves to respond to intense novelty in pornography.” They are “mapping their sexuality to the screen” and, in turn, are developing a compulsive habit to porn and even struggling with their actual sexual functioning.

Taking Away the Stigma

Even though there are still a lot of misconceptions on the topic of pornography, Carnes does acknowledge that awareness is better than it was before. The media is starting to speak up about it with similar articles in Anderson’s veins as well as popular celebrities opening up about their own struggles with porn addiction. Parents are also doing a better job talking to their kids about it more than they used to. However, this does not take away from the reality that there is still much more we can do.

For one, Carnes points out that as a society, “we need to destigmatize sex addiction and porn addiction so that people understand that this is treatable.” Porn addiction is much more common than people realize and there should not be any shame in reaching out to get help. Since the topic is so misunderstood, one of the benefits of going to treatment is meeting other people who have the same struggles and can help reduce the shame. Carnes explains, “People are suicidal over this. People need to understand that treatment is available and treatment works, and not to make light of it and pretend that this doesn’t exist.”

Another thing that needs to change is the education in schools about pornography. “Our sex education is woefully inadequate,” Carnes says. “Just our basic healthy sex education, let alone letting children know that porn can be addictive for some people and what some of the dangers are.” Just as we’ve done with nicotine and alcohol in schools, Carnes proposes that we make it harder for children to access porn until they were adults and can make decisions on their own. But most children have free access to pornography whenever they want and are watching it in the back of study halls on their phones. “So I feel like, in terms of education and protecting our children, we’re really far behind,” she says.

Good, Hot Sex

Not only is the concept of pornography misunderstood, but the idea of recovery is also misunderstood as well. People may jump to the conclusion that those who treat porn addiction must operate under the assumption that “sex is bad” and that one needs to just abstain. However, Carnes makes it clear that that’s not the case at all. “In recovery from sex addiction, you make an individualized plan of what healthy sex looks like for you and you develop a healthy relationship with your sexual self,” she says. In fact, treatment is actually the opposite of abstaining, it pushes an individual to deeper, better sex. “We want people to have a hot, healthy, positive sex life when they’re in recovery,” Carnes says. “Whatever that means for them.”

Anderson calls this the “sensual revolution” which she describes as “the alloying of sex with love, of physicality with personality, of the body’s mechanics with imagination, of orgasmic release with binding relationships.” This may sound pretty complex, but at its core it’s simply human intimacy 101, all of which is lost in our high-speed Internet-connected world.

Stefanie Carnes, PhD, LCSW is a leading therapist, author and expert in the treatment of sexual addiction and intimacy disorders. She is an Elements Behavioral Health clinical consultant for Malibu Vista in Malibu, CA and The Sundance Center in Scottsdale, AZ. She is also the President of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, a company that provides training and materials to addiction professionals.

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