Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pornography, Addiction, Depression and Science

I've seen quite a few conversations recently around the link between pornography addiction and depression. There have been quite a few articles on the subject in the past few years, and recently there seems to have been an uptick in conversation.

The articles all talk about scientific studies, but rarely give references.That is fairly typical; most people don't want to wade through scientific studies, and often the studies are not available for free, public consumption. Price to access such studies can run into the hundreds of dollars.

I did find this study from 1998. It seems to be reasonably sound, albeit short. The methods are well documented, and they do a good job of summarizing the results without bias.

The articles are often very good, very well thought out, and make very compelling, and logically reasonable arguments (I though this one was particularly compelling).

But they are ultimately opinion pieces, and they are interpreting the data the way they choose. Nearly every article I have read seems to be interpreting in the same way. The directly or indirectly implied assertion of the articles is that Pornography addiction leads to depression.

This concerns me. It concerns me because the general public may take this assertion as proven, scientific truth, when it isn't. It is certainly one way to interpret the data, but it is not the only way.

From the study I referenced, the following quote is critical (emphasis added):

"Based on the findings, it is concluded that evaluation of suspected cases of PIU [pathological internet use] should include assessment for depression. These results, however, do not clearly indicate whether depression preceded the development of such Internet abuse or if it was a consequence."

In other words, while it is POSSIBLE that Pornography addiction causes depression....

It is EQUALLY POSSIBLE that depression causes a predisposition to addiction (not just addiction to pornography but any and all addictive/compulsive behaviors).

Most articles I am seeing only consider the former, and not the latter possibility. This is concerning, as it can lead to blaming the victim. There is a commonly repeated theme - perhaps more frequently in America, that we are solely responsible for our destinies. That thought, infused with pride, tends to lead to a converse thought that others are solely to blame for their misfortunes. "They are the just punishments for their sins", either in this life or the life previous. The oversimplification of the phrase "You reap what you sow" ignores life's, floods, firestorms, hurricanes, droughts... It discounts the impact of genetics, environment, and the effects of social interaction for good or ill.

My own theory, I suspect that depression and addiction work together in a feedback cycle. each increasing the effects of the other. I'd even go so far as to suggest that a long-term addiction could effect a genetic change, increasing the probability of a predisposition in offspring. And thus the key is to work up, rather than down the spiral.

What would change by recognizing both possibilities equally?

Treatment for addiction probably wouldn't change all that much. Perhaps a little more attention to possible links to - and treatment for depression might arise,

But there might be a greater degree of compassion for those who suffer from addictions, if we recognized the genetic predisposition. We might also be able to develop means to identify those genetically predisposed to addiction, and better prepare them in advance to avoid becoming trapped in addictive behaviors. Perhaps also, we as a society would be more willing to make potentially addictive substances less overtly available, if we understood how we were negatively effecting those individuals.


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