Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sex Addiction and the Internet

How many adult Orthodox Jews purposely access porn sites on the internet? I have no clue about the answer to that question but a JTA article seems to imply that there are probably a lot of Orthodox Jews who do. And that of course is one of the major objections rabbinic leaders have to the internet.

To the extent that the internet makes porn more accessible to the Orthodox public, I share their concerns. As I have said numerous times my only quibble with them is what to do about it. Although there are other objections to the internet that can be debated, the focus of this essay is the addiction to internet porn.

After reading the article and thinking about it I am more convinced than ever that the solutions do not lie in internet bans or in the constant haranguing that goes on against it. As it pertains to adults I’m not even sure there is a solution without professional help. For those who are attracted to pornographic websites and spend excessive amounts of time there, there is no amount protection for them. No matter how religious they are. These people are obsessed with sex and are probably sex addicts. Bans mean nothing to them. They have to feed their addiction.

The truth of the matter is that anyone who has been religiously educated already knows the taboos involved with porn. Pornography was not born with the advent of the internet. It’s been around since the beginning of time. The source is of course the libido – the sex drive. All normal people have it. But not all people know how to control it. In many cases it controls them. Why that happens is a question for people who are much smarter than I am. But the fact is that people with obsessive-compulsive disorders and addiction problems need to feed those addictions usually with a goal of immediate gratification.

Orthodox Jews are not immune to sex addiction. I believe that people who are victims of these Taavos span the spectrum of religious Hashkafos. In fact I would bet that statistically there are people you may know well who frequently access porn sites, they may even be in your family without any knowledge of it on your part. They exist in all walks of life including Chinuch. They keep their obsessions and addictions to themselves. But privately they feel compelled to come back for more. The internet makes it easy for them.

For people like this – bans and admonitions don’t work. No amount of Mussar is going to influence them – other than making them feel guiltier for their clandestine behavior. They are not going to use filters. They actively seek the porn to feed their obsessions and addictions.

And that will almost always lead to disaster at some point in time. Families can become devastated when they are caught. And they are almost always caught as the frequency of their behavior increases.

Does the fact that normal people have a sex drive mean that porn sites will eventually ensnare them? I don’t think so. I have a healthy libido and have never had the desire to visit any porn site. Not even once. Not even out of curiosity. I do not have addiction problems and therefore no need to constantly feed them. I think that is true of most Frum Jews – although if I understand correctly porn sites are the most widely accessed sites on the internet.

I realize this might seem like a contradiction but I just have more faith in our people than I do in statistics. Perhaps the reason porn sites are so successful is the constantly changing values in our culture. Sex is everywhere. Sex sells. We are bombarded with sexual messages in this culture. A huge portion of the country sees nothing wrong with it. Sex is treated as casually as eating apple pie. The sixties motto of ‘if it feels good do it’ has become the attitude of an increasing number of people who over the last 40 years had an increasingly liberal attitude towards sex. Porn sites? What’s the big deal? Who does anyone hurt by watching porn in the privacy of their own home?

With that kind of attitude pervading the culture it should not be a surprise that porn sites have such success!

I have to believe that the vast majority of people who grew up with religious values will shun those sites. That includes most Orthodox Jews. I therefore believe that despite the statistics most Orthodox Jews who have healthy libidos do not access porn and have no desire to do so. But – obviously most does not mean all. The question remains, how many of us are there that do? And what do we do about it?

The only real answer is treatment by mental health professionals. People obsessed with sex and sex addicts need professional help, not bans or tirades against the internet. Those of us who have even a modicum of religious values and are not sex addicts do not make porn a part of our lives.

This does not mean we don’t have to be vigilant. Pornographic sites are all too ubiquitous to be able to completely avoid them. And there are children to consider. Whether they are normal or not, porn is not something we ever want them to encounter. So yes, by all means where there are children filters are an absolutely necessity. And they are not foolproof. All due diligence need be applied to protect children from inadvertent access to a pornographic site. There are many things that can be done to help parents out in this task. I am not going to list them here as it is not the purpose of this post.

The purpose of this post is to examine the real problem: obsessions with and addictions to sex . If one has even the slightest question about whether he or she has addictive tendencies – or whether their children do, see a professional. That is the real solution to the problem of internet porn. You can’t ban an addiction.

Update: (4:25 PM CST) I have altered this post to make my point clearer and because of comments that have challanged some of my original thinking and thereby changed my views a bit.