Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Updates from the psych ward, pornography edition remix

Occasionally I post on Facebook or Twitter entertaining but anonymous tidbits I hear about the goings on on the behavioral health floor at a local hospital. Typically they are a little sad but mostly funny. Today's was entirely sad.

A fairly young patient was admitted because she had attempted suicide. The reason she had attempted suicide is because of marital problems. The attributed source of her marital problems is that her husband is supposedly addicted to pornography.

Interestingly, pornography addiction is a made-up disease. There is no diagnosis for it in the DSM-IV. Which is not to say that looking at porn can't interfere with your life to the point of detriment (the generally accepted threshold for whether or not a behavior is addictive). For instance, viewing it at work may get you fired.

I don't know how often this woman's husband was looking at porn or the degree to which it got in the way of other things, but I do know of anecdotal examples of people describing someone as "addicted to porn" when that person was looking at it once every three weeks. Once every three weeks is not addiction. Once every three days probably isn't either. But if a man claims he has never looked at pornography at all, he is lying.

Here's the question that matters: how dangerous is it? The study referenced in the link above found that access to pornography actually decreases the incidence of rape and violent crimes against women. It acts as a sort of release valve, so to speak.

I am therefore left to wonder regarding the patient I described whether viewing pornography was a problem because it caused actual, direct problems, or whether it was a perceived problem because she had been told it was a problem, whether or not any adverse behaviors resulted from it. It could be that it would have been more or less harmless for this couple except that their culture informed them that they were supposed to make a big deal out of it so they did.

Obviously any details about the degree of harm caused by pornography in this case are conjecture. Here is what is not conjecture: this woman came to believe that the problem was so severe that the only solution was to take her own life. I can't help but wonder if she would have been in that situation if she believed that human beings are sexual creatures and having outlets to exhibit that sexuality is a healthy, normal, and critical aspect of life.

Here in Utah, modesty is a big deal. I often hear repeated "modest is hottest." We have clothing stores with names like "Sexy Modest" and "Diviine ModesTee."I have seen this tired meme posted to Facebook too many times to count.



If this is true, then by "pigs" this must mean "almost everybody." I have seen the attention my wife gets when she wears a form fitting shirt. It spans almost the entirety of those possessing a Y chromosome. I don't blame you--I stare at her too. I will also glance at a woman's butt as she exits the room. Sorry ladies if that bothers you, but I am not alone. Every man in the room is doing it. We all have hormones. Hormones are not evil. Literally not one of us would be interested in life if we got rid of them entirely.

There are appropriate ways to behave in every context. Just as it would be unacceptable (and not particularly hygienic) to wear a three piece suit in the swimming pool, neither would it be appropriate to wear a bikini in a conference room. But when a society scandalizes someone for having bare shoulders outdoors on a sunny day, especially when those shoulders belong to a four-year-old, something is wrong.

The human body is a beautiful thing. We should be comfortable with it. We should be comfortable with its many shapes and sizes and variations. We should accept its imperfections and embrace its uniqueness. We should each do our best to make ours as healthy and happy as it can be. And we should be familiar enough with the human form that when we see it, we can admire it without losing self control, regardless of how much of it the individual chooses to show.







5 comments:

  1. I am pretty sure this is a culture thing, knowing you are in Utah. But I also wonder if this was the sort of addiction that was causing marital problems because of the obsession and not really that it was porn. Imagine a husband so addicted to bicycles that he only cares for his bike, sleeps with his bike, spends his money on his bikes,... this could cause strain on a relationship (to the breaking point that this woman reached? I don't know)... but you see what I am getting at. it could be the addiction itself and not the object of the addiction.

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    1. Totally agree. Perhaps I didn't make my point well enough, but I don't think porn is the problem. I think if they both lightened up about the porn, they would realize it's not a big deal. But when you demonize a behavior, it can exacerbate the problem. Part of the problem is the forbidden nature--we want what we can't have. If porn is no big deal, the forbidden nature of it goes away.

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  2. Three points:
    1) The social effects of pornography remain poorly understood. The results of the studies carried out on the topic are mixed and inconclusive (wikipedia gives a good summary of research on the topic).
    2) As per the American Society of Addiction Medicine's newest (Aug. 2011) definition, "Food and sexual behaviors and gambling behaviors can be
    associated with the 'pathological pursuit of rewards' described in this [our] new definition
    of addiction." The ASAM goes on to point out that addiction is defined by changes to brain circuitry.
    3) DSM-5 (which won't be published until 2014) has been revised to include Hypersexual Disorder (which includes problematic, compulsive pornography use).

    What I'm trying to say/show here is that consensus is lacking in the literature as to whether pornography is either positive OR negative. In addition, further research is needed to substantiate claims of addiction. However, pornography may well fit within the current definition of addiction forwarded by the ASAM as several studies have shown pornography influences brain circuitry (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/).

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  3. Amen on the modesty party. I have a friend who sewed sleeves on the sleeveless dress her 4 year old daughter was asked to wear at a wedding. After my 9 year old daughter wondered allowed on several occasions whether my wife's running outfits or her own swimming suits were modest, my wife forbade modesty in our house.

    On the porn thing, you may have noticed a discussion in the NY Times on the topic this week. Certainly agree with the idea that there is a problem if, and only if, the behavior (whether it is porn, alcohol, t.v. or fasting/praying) is at inappropriate levels, times and places and interfering with other necessary life activities. That said, if my wife is reading, I have no interest in porn at all. B. Allen

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  4. Regardless of whether the pornography in their home is a perceived problem or an actual one, it doesn't change the fact that she tried to kill herself.

    In my marriage, if there was something I did that caused my wife so much stress that she became depressed and suicidal, I would want to know about it so I could change -- whether or not what I was doing was justifiable.

    I feel that, in your attempt to defend pornography as harmless and acceptable, you have trivialized her pain and her situation.

    Just because you perceive her values as different than yours doesn't give you the right to pass judgment.

    Her marriage is broken. Yours doesn't seem to be. Show some empathy.

    In fact, your post got me so worked up last night that I wrote about it on my blog - feel free to tell me where you disagree: Can Someone Be Addicted to Porn?

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