SYDNEY, Australia—Supposed academic research by husband and wife psychologists is getting a lot of press for being the first comprehensive study on internet porn addition conducted in Australia. Media outlets around the world are announcing the "startling results" of the study, which include that 43 percent of those surveyed started to view porn between the ages of 11 and 13. But is the information reliable?
The psychologists, Professor Raj Sitharthan and his wife, Dr. Gomathi Sitharthan, are affiliated with the University of Sydney but conducted this survey through a private group, the Australian Centre for Addiction Research, which also provides addiction counseling for those seeking treatment. Much of the centers focus seems directed toward issues related to alcohol and drug abuse, but as with other addiction centers around the world, the newest trend in therapy is for so-called sex or porn addiction, which remains a very controversial subject even within the therapy industry.
In Australia, a Western democracy that nonetheless adheres to a consistently conservative view of sex and porn—despite the fact that it also claims the world's only political party with sex in the name and is home to some very popular adult trade shows—the idea that internet porn is a problem is nothing new. The country was the first to float the idea of implementing mandatory porn filters at the ISP level. Push backs by civil libertarians and a complicated implementation plan have resulted in years-long delays, but the idea remains alive despite the fact that no one serious believes that it would effectively inhibit anyone but tech idiots from accessing desired sites.
In the meantime, as in the United States and elsewhere, the idea of porn as an inherently addictive product along the lines of hard drugs has taken hold of the popular imagination, and is being repeated by health professionals, politicians and members of the media as if it is a fait accompli. The problem is, no studies exist that prove the theory conclusively, and if anything, the current one by the Sitharnans deserves to be taken with as many or more grains of salt as any that came before it.
It is, in fact, not research, but an unscientific online survey that anyone can take anonymously. As such, the "startling results" could just as well be pure hogwash. But try telling that to the media.
"Porn addiction can be cured, Australian study finds," screamed the headline of the Courier Mail.
"In the first study of its kind in Australia, University of Sydney researchers say they have uncovered the severe impact of porn addiction on users and their families," claimed the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Register proclaimed, "Study reveals high price of smut addiction."
And even the University of Sydney released a press release whose title made the questionable claim, "Study exposes secret world of porn addiction."
In one of the more ironic claims, however, ABC News stated of the Sitharthans, "They believe the [internet porn addiction] trend is also because the internet allows pornography users to remain anonymous."
Just like with the survey!
But perhaps most egregious is the fact that the media, as is its wont, insists on taking the data culled from the survey as the Holy Grail of porn addictions stats, and extrapolating the findings to the population as a whole, completely contradicting the researchers themselves!
In article after article, the data is delivered without caveat, including in the ABC News article, which fails to include in the written article the following comments by Professor Sitharthan from a video report that accompanies the article.
"We're talking about a small minority, or a small group, of people where excessive viewing does become a problem," he said. "It's that group that we need to target on; not everyone who uses porn."
Of course, later in the video, he also stated, "The starting age to view porn was between 11-13 years, which actually surprised us, given that at such an early age people do seem to have some form of access to sort of look at porn material."
As mentioned, there is no way for the professor to make that claim with any real confidence that it has been proven correct. But even more problematic, the study only generally seeks to qualify what sort of porn is being viewed, and offers only the following categories:
* magazines (Playboy, Penthouse, etc.)
* R-rated videos
* educational books or videos
* Internet (images or pop-ups)
* xxx-rated videos or downloaded clips via the Internet
A field is available where people can add in other types of porn, but the examples provided do not prompt the answerer to define the specific type of porn they watch, but only the general rating or the medium. The result is that all people who mark "Internet," for instance, are thrown into the same pot, even though the answer really tell you nothing about their preferences or experiences.
But considering the skew of a majority of the survey's questions, the point of the exercise seems less to learn about what people are experiencing than to lead them into therapy. The following questions taken from the survey are a small representative sample of the negative bent of the entire survey:
* How often do you find that you stay on-line longer than you intended?
* How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time on-line?
* How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?
* How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend on-line?
* How often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend on-line?
* How often does your job performance or productivity suffer because of the Internet?
* How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do on-line?
* How often do you snap, yell, or act annoyed if someone bothers you while you are on-line?
If you didn't feel bad about your online activity going in, you sure will by the time you're done. But some other questions are so odd that one can't help wondering if the researchers themselves just discovered the internet and are only now realizing its significance.
* How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?
* How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be boring, empty, and joyless?
* How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?
We're not sure what any of that means, and are equally unsure whether the Sitharthans do, either. But the general sweep and vague and ill-informed definitions of the survey are of no apparent interest to anyone reporting on it ... but, it seems, us.
Needless to say, being AVN, our motives in questioning the survey will themselves be called into question. WE are, after all, apologists for the porn merchants who want to enslave the world's children before they even have a chance to have a childhood.
Or maybe we would desperately like to see research that, no matter the findings, we can cite without having to point out the many faults and fallacies brought to bear by therapy professionals whose findings are for all intents and purposes preordained.
The Internet Porn Addiction survey can be taken here.