Can pornography be an addiction?

Marty Klein says no. Take away an addict’s drugs, and witness their withdrawals — physical illness. Take away a frequent porn watcher’s porn, says Klein, and the person may at most act a bit “crabby.”

“It’s so disrespectful to genuine [drug] addiction to talk about porn addiction,” the sex therapist, author and public policy analyst said Friday in Salt Lake City.

Klein spoke to about 200 therapists and others who gathered for the Rocky Mountain Sex and Intimacy Summit, hitting on a number of pornography-related themes that have become frequent Utah topics of discussion — and legislative action — in recent years.

In 2016, the Utah Legislature declared pornography to be a public health crisis. Earlier this year, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill that allows lawsuits against pornographers for damage to minors.

And last week, a new privately-funded Utah campaign emerged to “protect our kids” from porn. It will include billboards, radio spots and a website to raise awareness about the perils of porn. At a news conference, Rep. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, compared the new pornography-fighting effort to the homeless problem on Salt Lake City streets, now being tackled with Operation Rio Grande.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could collaborate on trying to protect our children from some of the filth we know as pornography?” Weiler said at the announcement.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Senator Todd Weiler speaks about 2HB 141 Unborn Child Protection Amendments during Senate Floor Time at the Utah State Capitol Thursday March 9, 2017.

Klein, who recently released the book “His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic with Honest Talk About Sex,” offered a more moderate stance Friday. He criticized the state’s approach to creating porn legislation as lacking a sufficient range of perspectives.

“There’s no other consumer product in America [other than pornography] that you can regulate without input from manufacturers, distributors or consumers,” he said.

Klein argued we live in such a “confused” atmosphere about sexuality that “porn is being blamed for problems that existed before porn.” He said clients he sees often blame porn as being the primary factor in their relationship or sex troubles, when deeper examination often finds another culprit.

“You don’t need someone jacking off to pornography to [find] people not having much sex,” Klein said. “People can manage not having much sex very well. And they’ve been doing that for thousands of years.”

He disputed other serious claims about porn. Data do not demonstrate that the proliferation of online pornography since 2000 has caused an uptick in sexual assault, divorce or child exploitation and abuse rates, he said. All three numbers nationally have trended down since the start of the century and sudden growth of the internet.

Porn, however, does create challenges, Klein said. It cannot serve as sex education for children — and parents bear the responsibility of teaching their kids about sex before they see porn, he argued. It also can create unrealistic expectations about sex for young adults, or body image problems for men and women comparing themselves to porn actors, he said.

Klein said it is important for young people to be educated about what porn leaves out about sex — the preparation, discussion, kissing, going slowly, birth control, hugging. He said it is also important for them to know the way porn looks is not how sex really feels.

But Klein argues that despite pornography’s downsides, it’s certainly not an addiction.

And it’s not often porn’s fault something bad occurred in a couple’s sex life, he told the crowd of therapists.

“This whole idea that porn is like some panther sneaking into your house, where you’re having a great sexual relationship, and it grabs the guy and drags him off to the panther cave where there’s lots of pornography? Well, I agree with you that’s pretty silly,” Klein said. “But if that’s silly, why do some many of our patients believe that?”