New Study on Porn and Erectile Dysfunction is a Wax Banana [fake fruit]

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By Linda Hatch, PhD

I chose the metaphor of fake fruit to describe the recent article by Prause and Pfaus entitled Viewing Sexual Stimuli Associated with Greater Sexual Responsiveness, Not Erectile Dysfunction. I did this not because of any phallic symbolism with bananas but because the authors present fake conclusions. Published in the online journal Sexual Medicine (04/2015; DOI: 10.1002/sm2.58) this article appears to offer a synthesis of findings from Prause’s prior attempts at porn research.  On closer inspection the article turns out to be lacking in any real substance.

Based on this attempt, the authors offer up the unwarranted conclusions that porn is harmless and should really be hailed as a sexual superfood. This is along the same lines as their previous “conclusion” that sex addiction was non-existent, and that some people just need more of a good thing.

The lead author has made it her crusade to discredit the idea that porn and sexual behaviors can ever be addictions. In social media she has made it part of her signature to refer to sex addiction as “nonsense”.  But all her research suffers from a common pattern. She takes a questionable set of data based on lousy research methodology and announces an earthshaking, if unrelated, finding.

I sort of understand the impulse. The fact that bad research fails to demonstrate a connection between two things is not only meaningless, it is boring.  If you want to grab headlines, you can’t say “No Reliable Connection Found Between Some People’s Porn Viewing in the Lab and  Self-Rated Sexual Functioning!” This would sound about as exciting as the satirical headline in the Pan-Arabia Enquirer: “Condolences flood in For Expat After Brunch Plans ruined!”

So in this case the headline morphs into the “finding” that porn is actually good for your sexual functioning, which is as unsupported as it is sensational. There have been a number of thorough and scathing critiques of this research in terms of what these data actually represent and the fact that no conclusions of any kind can be drawn from them. Zero.

Proclaiming this article to be a scientific study by a UCLA researcher that proves anything about the effects of porn is wrong on all counts. It is way too flawed to be called scientific as you will see if you look at the critiques cited below. It is not really a study, but rather an attempt at a meta-analysis of prior sets of data. And there are questions as to whether these data can be reliably combined in any useful way; hence it is being called a “franken-paper”.  Lastly, although these data come from Dr. Prause’s work at UCLA, her previous ties with that institution appear to have ended.

This so-called study has been demolished by Dr. Rick Isenberg MD, Uro-Gynecology Interim Exec Director, American Foundation for Addiction Research, who has written a lengthy critique to the editors of the journal and has stated privately that he is astounded that qualified peer reviewers would consider this to be credible research worthy of publication. The study has been taken apart in the most basic and comprehensible terms in an article by Gabe Deem.  Research which supports the porn-ED link has been outlined in Your Brain on Porn. The recent Prause article has also been further rebutted in an upcoming article by Rob Weiss LCSW and Dr. Stefanie Carnes. None of these critics has an ideological bias, although they all believe, based on a growing body of research as well as their clinical experience, that sex and porn can become addictive and that internet porn carries certain predictable hazards.

There are those professionals who claim that pornography can help some patients overcome  their sexual dysfunction.  But even if this is the case, it is irrelevant to the fact that porn can be addictive and harmful.  The two hypotheses need to be investigated separately as the truth or falsity of one does not prove or disprove the other.

If you have been following this whole trumped up debate, you will have noticed that there is something at stake in the real world. The pornography cheerleaders would have you believe that the clinicians and agencies who work with sex and porn addicts are just in it for the money. But the vast majority of us who do this work are not getting rich.

Who is getting rich? The internet porn industry. And by the way the adult industry and related internet platforms and apps aggressively seek out writers and researchers who may be willing to write things favorable to their interests. I know this because I was approached by a high profile online hook-up service about whether I would be willing to highlight findings favorable to them in my writing.

The match-up between the size and power of the porn industry and the sex addiction treatment franchise is no contest.  If pornography is a whale then sex addiction treatment is a paramecium. This is true even as the demand for sex rehab and counseling continues to grow (see also my post Sex Addiction is Real: Just ask a Sex Addict). Am I saying that the kind of hype that the pro porn researchers put out is bought and paid for? No. I don’t know where the funding comes from.  And I have no idea how such an article slips past the reviewers in an otherwise reputable journal. But in this case the result is deceptive and harmful regardless of the motivation.

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