Study on ‘Problematic Internet Pornography Viewing’ Published

CYBERSPACE—Clinical research journal Behavioral Therapy has published results of the first-ever study conducted to address a malady referred to as “problematic internet pornography viewing.” Though it is common for many pornography watchers to refer to issues related to the excessive use of internet porn as “addiction,” the authors of the study, Utah State University psychologist Michael Twohig and graduate student Jess Crosby, approached the problem rather as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

“Despite the prevalence of problematic internet pornography viewing and the breadth of intervention approaches to potentially address it, no studies to address this problem have been reported to date,” reads an abstract of the study. “An emerging treatment approach, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), holds promise as a treatment for internet pornography viewing because of its focus on processes hypothesized to underlie this maladaptive behavior.”

ACT, according to Psychology Today blogger Stephen C. Hayes, from the University of Nevada, Reno, psychology department, teaches “people to walk in the exact opposite direction than that suggested by the problem-solving organ between our ears. Instead of controlling urges, ACT teaches acceptance and mindful awareness of them. Instead of self-loathing and criticism, ACT teaches self-compassion. Instead of avoidance, ACT instigates approaching ones' values.”

Hayes, in a column titled, “Watching Porn: The Problem That Must Not Be Named,” continues, “This is counter-intuitive. Suppressive avoidance is what the mind knows how to do. A highly religious young man struggling with pornography viewing is likely to criticize himself horribly, and then try to eliminate the urge and suppress all thoughts about it. It almost looks as though that is the moral thing to do, but instead this research suggests that it is a route toward more struggle, more suffering, and ironically toward more obsessive viewing.”

The study, which appears in the September issue of Behavioral Therapy, reports that the outcome was successful.

“In the first experiment on the treatment of problematic internet pornography viewing,” the abstract continues, “6 adult males who reported that their internet pornography viewing was affecting their quality of life were treated in eight 1.5-hour sessions of ACT for problematic pornography viewing. The effects of the intervention were assessed in a multiple-baseline-across-participants design with time viewing pornography as the dependent variable. Treatment resulted in an 85 percent reduction in viewing at post treatment with results being maintained at 3-month follow-up (83 percent reduction).”

In other words, says Hayes, “Religious obsessions went down but positive commitments went up. Obsessive thinking was relieved and with it worry that unbidden thoughts alone cause harm. People became more accepting of their emotions and less entangled with their thoughts. And they were more able to act in accord with their values as a positive goal, carrying difficult thoughts and feelings with them in a more compassionate way.”

The authors of the study believe the “results suggest the promise of ACT as a treatment for problematic Internet pornography viewing and the value of future randomized trials of this approach.”

Hayes suggests that the positive results also hold out the prospect for a more “adult conversation about the problem that must not be named.”

More information on the study, which costs $31.50 to purchase, can be found here.