Any old port in a storm. - English proverb
The belief that people can become “addicted” to things that do not produce chemical dependency (food, sex, the internet, etc) is fallacious in two ways. The first, which we have discussed before, is a confusion of the concept of addiction (physical and psychological dependence on a substance which affects biochemistry in such a way as to render normal physiological function impossible without the substance) with the related concepts of habituation (psychological reliance on a substance which is not physiologically addictive) and obsession (psychological fixation on a behavior). This confusion is exploited by “sex addiction” profiteers who intentionally confuse the normal changes in brain chemistry which result from pleasure or mood shifts with the abnormal changes produced by addiction. The second fallacy is just as important, but much more subtle, and it may be that the majority of those who employ it are just as oblivious to its wrongness as those who are deceived by it. It’s related both to a woman of limited options choosing sex work as the best of those options, and to the fallacy of universal mores, “the false belief that everyone feels the same way about sex as [the believer does]…the “no woman could willingly choose prostitution” crowd [adheres to a version of this and so imagines]…that those who choose sex work are ashamed of ourselves and hate our lives.”
Addiction rhetoric is based in the notion that a behavior like porn-watching or internet game-playing can be psychologically isolated from all others in the same way an addictive drug can be separated from other ingested substances. If a person is addicted to nicotine, that addiction is not affected by the food he eats or most other chemicals he ingests (with the obvious exception of those which interact with the same receptors in the brain). Simply put, the nicotine addict is drawn toward nicotine; the only choice involved is whether to give in to the craving or to endure the withdrawal symptoms. There are no foods he can eat, no medicines he can take, no activities he can engage in, which will wipe away those symptoms, though of course they might help to distract him from the discomfort they inflict.
Those who promote the “addiction” fallacy want people to believe that the same is true of porn; that the “porn addict” will suffer some sort of withdrawal if deprived of porn, and that no other stimulus (including actual sex) can ameliorate the effects of the “erototoxins” magically released by porn through his eyeballs. But this is arrant nonsense; while there are some people who become psychologically fixated on porn (or television, or World of Warcraft, or whatever), the vast majority of those described as “addicts” under this rhetoric are neither addicted, nor fixated, nor even obsessed; they simply indulge in their chosen activities more often than some external observer has decided is “good” or “proper”. This is where the universal mores bit comes in: just because Joe’s wife and preacher define his wanting sex every day and twice on Sunday as pathological does not mean it actually is; as long as he is happy and productive and does not harm anyone by his actions, nobody has the right to declare that there is anything “wrong” with him. Similarly, if a college student who is healthy and does well in school is perfectly happy spending 40+ hours a week on his Nintendo, what business is that of anyone else’s?
Obviously, this is not the case with all people described as behavioral “addicts”, and possibly not even most of them; a large fraction are unhappy with their obsessive behavior and would prefer to spend less time, money and energy engaging in it. But while the families of these people often paint the obsessive behavior as the cause of problems, more often the opposite is true: the reason for the obsessive behavior is that the person is unhappy with all the other aspects of his life except the “addiction”. Just as a woman with limited options may choose sex work as the best of the few options open to her, so the “addict” is often a person who is unhappy and dissatisfied with his life, and his so-called “addiction” is actually just the activity which best takes his mind off of his misery. If an outcast teen spends hours playing a fantasy game in which he is the conquering hero, who can blame him? If a pressured businessman with an unhappy marriage finds respite in porn, is it really such a surprise? In many cases, it isn’t that people are drawn to their fascinations, it’s that they’re repelled from everything else; the rest of their lives are so painful that those activities are the best of all options available to them. It may be that given the choice, the boy might prefer to be socializing with a group of accepting friends and the man to be having sex with his wife. But denied those choices, a behavior that gives respite from nigh-constant pain is as good a safe harbor as any.
I received a request for clarification on one point, and I think it’s an important one so I’d like to include it here. I don’t mean to imply that hooking is anything like the behaviors wrongfully labelled “addictions”; what I’m saying is that the anti-whore crowd wants to pretend sex work is something people get drawn into by malefic forces (just as so-called “addicts” are supposedly drawn toward their obsessions), when in fact both are cases of people choosing the most attractive of the available options. The majority of sex workers choose sex work from a number of valid options, and even women of high opportunity cost (those with degrees and other advantages) consider it a rational economic choice for reasons I’ve explored at great length in this blog, so I wasn’t referring to them at all; my comparison was only with those who prohibitionists claim are “forced” into it, as they claim internet or porn aficionados are “forced” into their choices by “addiction”. I apologize for any confusion.