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Op-ed: Anti-porn school program misrepresents science

First Published      Last Updated Dec 12 2016 06:12 pm

We write to express our concern regarding an Oct. 8 op-ed focused on the supposed neuroscientific backing of a sex education program from Fight The New Drug (FTND). Based on our expertise in neuroscience and clinical psychology, we find that FTND is systematically misrepresenting science.

The op-ed from FTND activists disregarded the scientific method. The scientific method requires forming a falsifiable hypothesis, then creating experiments to disprove this hypothesis. Only if data consistently fail to disprove the hypothesis can one conclude that the hypothesis is supported, not proven. The FTND letter suggests that (a) there has been rigorous testing seeking to disprove the hypothesis that pornography is addictive or harmful, (b) this testing has consistently failed to disprove this hypothesis, and (c) no contradictory evidence has been found. None of these claims is true.



The studies described by FTND are not rigorous. The assessment of possible positive effects was not included in any of the studies cited. Sex film users were not sampled in any representative way, and the studies ended up with biased samples reporting distress regarding their sex film use. Further, none of these studies provided controls for masturbation, an activity that almost always coincides with sex film use and is more likely to actually drive any claimed health effect. Most cited studies rely on self-reporting, an unreliable measure of sexual behavior that does not correspond to objective observations.

There is extensive evidence showing that the hypothesis that pornography use is universally harmful is false. In a nationally representative survey, only a tiny percentage of those who viewed sex films reported problems due to viewing (less than 2 percent of men, less than 0.05 percent of women). There is no evidence for permanent escalation over time. When asked balanced questions, studies find mostly positive effects of sex film use and viewing results in brain responses that resemble those of other innocuous pleasures in the brain.

Positive effects include enhancing sex, including sexual desire for the current partner, comfort with one's own appearance, comfort for sexual-orientation minorities, feelings of happiness and joy and reducing violence and sexual assaults and physical pain. Sex-film viewing also has been associated with more egalitarian attitudes, higher education, more prayer and religiosity at high use, and are commonly used in sex therapy. Female sex film performers have higher self-esteem than matched controls.

At a minimum, it is clear that sex films do not have even primarily negative effects. Teaching children that science unequivocally indicates negative outcomes from sex films, as FTND does, is inaccurate. Further, it is harmful, because the conceptualization of behavior as "addictive" has documented significant psychological harm and caused boys to think they have erectile dysfunction when they do not.

It is clear that FTND does not understand the ICD (International Classification of Diseases). ICD 10 has descriptive codes for symptoms related to medical conditions (e.g., W61.02, "struck by parrot"). "Hypersexual behaviors" is such a description, because it is a symptom in bipolar and other existing disorders. It was never accepted as a standalone diagnosis.

We agree that sex films do generate some cause for concern. For example, as an ethical matter, people should not be exposed to sex films without consent. We are actively researching methods to help distressed people manage their sexual urges.

If FTND wishes to continue to provide sex education in schools, they must:

1. Have all educational materials reviewed for accuracy by experts in neuroscience and sexual health education

2. Present a balanced view of the currently available scientific evidence, which includes the positive effects of sex films, and

3. Fall under appropriate sex education regulations.

Such education would truly serve our children.

Nicole Prause, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and licensed psychologist at Liberos. James Pfaus, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at Concordia University. Sara Blaine, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at Yale University. Janniko Georgiadis, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at University Medical Center in Groningen, The Netherlands. Paul Kieffaber, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at College of William and Mary. Erick Janssen, Ph.D., is a psychophysiologist at University of Leuven Institute for Family and Sexuality Studies. James Cantor, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at University of Toronto. Heather Hoffmann, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at Knox College.

 

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