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Addicted to Porn

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It's time to face the facts.

I'm a porn addict.

According to at least one popular right-wing, American, anti-porn lobby group, "a person is addicted to pornography when he or she goes back for more."

I've gone back for more, and not always just for research.

Then again, can porn, and/or sex, truly become addictions like drugs or alcohol? Is increased access to porn on the Internet actually creating more porn addicts?

And, if you are a sex or porn addict, is it like alcohol, one quick peek and you're off the wagon? How then could a porn addict survive in a world jammed with sexual imagery? Poke his eyes out?

As someone who has seen a lot of porn (online and elsewhere) and thinks and writes about sex (even has it on occasion), shouldn't all this exposure should have me good and hooked on both by now?

I called Stanton Peele for some answers. Peele, author of the book Love and Addiction, has been studying, thinking, writing and speaking (I wonder if you can become addicted to the subject of addiction) about addictions of all kinds since 1969.

"Like any other addiction, sex can be considered an addiction if the person is harming themselves physically or emotionally," Peele tells me over the phone. "If you masturbate so much that you can't interact with people for example, it's a little dysfunctional. The question you should ask yourself is, 'Are your sexual activities increasing your abilities to get genuinely gratifying sex with another individual on a regular basis or diminishing them?"

I think I'm okay on that front. I still seem to manage some good, emotionally satisfying sex once in awhile, solo or with someone else.

So what about the accessibility argument -- this idea that because porn is so accessible online, it's creating porn addicts. I remember a time when I subscribed to the Game Show Network and was able to watch game shows any time of the day or night and it did get a little ugly.

"It's that age-old question," Peele continues. "Does the fact that porn is more accessible make it easier for those who are susceptible to become hooked? Most of us have been exposed to porn sites by now and we're not all addicted to them. But maybe it's similar to gambling. If you have one-armed bandits in every bar and restaurant, you're going to lure more people into tempting their limits."

So what are you gonna do? Shut down every porn site on the Internet? I'm sure the anti-porn lobbyists would be all for it. Probably not going to happen though.

Which is why Peele has spent years challenging the whole notion of addiction -- to alcohol, drugs, porn or sex -- as a disease, that is, something beyond a person's control, a theory that keeps 12-step organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous (or anything else Anonymous) in business.

"If you go out and tell people that porn addiction is a disease -- that someone is born a sex addict -- and if that if that person is exposed to sex or porn, they won't be able to control themselves, well, how is that going to work?" questions Peele. In his opinion, "It's impossible to avoid sex and sexually-oriented material entirely."

I think even Sexaholics Anonymous struggles with this reality.

In AA, where total abstinence is the goal, some people find that one one drop of alcohol is too much. Sexaholics Anonymous allows its members to have sex but only within a marital relationship.

"I don't know how they come up this idea that you won't lose control as long as you have sex with a husband or wife," laughs Peele. "This is a moralistic value judgment that may not work for everyone or even be an option. And besides, just because you're married to the person doesn't mean the sex is healthy and meaningful."

That's not to say there aren't plenty of people wasting way too much time with porn or really messing up their life with their need for sex. But like any other "addiction," I think that it has to do with our own abilities to cope and achieve healthy, interpersonal sexual and emotional relationships.

"It's remarkable how many things human beings do that some people do too much of... to the point that it becomes detrimental and negative," says Peele. "Sex is really just one of a large number of appetite-related activities that we have to learn to deal with moderately to be able to live successfully."

Some of us learn to do this better than others for a whole slew of reasons: our upbringing, our emotional baggage, the speed of our Internet connection.

I don't think wiping out porn would wipe out people's problems achieving genuine intimacy. In fact, maybe the Internet is doing us a favour and bringing our sexual dysfunctions out of the closet so we actually have to face them.